R e c o r d i n g s
Heitor Villa-Lobos (March 5, 1887 – November 17, 1959)
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he was heavily influenced by the folk music of Brazil and by the European composers Chopin and Debussy. He received very little formal musical training and as a child he would observe his father, an amateur guitarist, from the top of the stairs as he and his friends would play music in their living room. He wrote 14 Choros between 1920 and 1929, although none of them in numerical order. He would be in the middle of writing one Choro and then have an idea for another, so he would assign it a higher No. in the hopes of writing more Choros in between. That is why Choros No.10 “Rasga o Coração”, for chorus and orchestra was written in 1925, but No.9, for orchestra, was written in 1929. His 6 Preludes were written in 1940 and were dedicated to Mindinha, (Arminda Neves d’Almeida), herself a musician, and Villa-Lobos’ companion from 1936 until his death in 1959. His Preludes and 12 Etudes, the latter commissioned by Andres Segovia in 1920 and became the basis for his Choros. Prelude No.1 and Choro No.1 are considered part of the required repertoire for the guitar.
Frederic Chopin (March 1, 1810 – October 17, 1849)
Chopin was a child prodigy who grew up and completed his musical training in Warsaw, Poland. His parents were both musicians. His father, Nicolas, played flute and violin and his mother, Justyna, played the piano and taught privately at their home, which was also a prestigious boarding house for boys. However, young Frederic’s first teacher was his sister, Ludwika. By the age of 7, young Frederic had composed 2 Polonaises, in G minor and B-flat major and was giving piano recitals, which prompted his comparison to Mozart and Beethoven. He later settled in Paris due to the Russian suppression of Poland in 1830. There he made a living as a composer and piano teacher. In Paris, he also met and fell in love with the noted French writer, George Sand. After some time, Frederic, George and her 2 children moved to the island of Majorca, Spain in hopes of improving Frederic’s ailing health due to a
pulmonary disease. After finding out that they were not married, the people of Majorca made it very difficult for them to find lodging, but they eventually found a place in the city of Valldemossa. He succumbed to what was thought to be tuberculosis on the morning of October 17, 1849, but in 2008 the cause of death was determined to be cystic fibrosis. His Nocturne in E-flat major is one of his more recognized compositions and was arranged for the guitar by the Brazilian guitarist Laurendo Almeida. This piece is very special to me not just because of the beauty of Chopin, but due to the fact that Laurendo Almeida was a long time family friend of my father’s who I got to know at a very young age and was one of my mentors growing up.
Antonio Lauro (August 3, 1917 – April 18, 1986)
orn in Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela, Antonio learned guitar from his father, an Italian immigrant, until his father’s untimely death when Antonio was very young.He had his formal training in Caracas where he studied piano and composition, but it wasn’t until 1932 when he went to a recital of Agustin Barrios in Caracas that he decided to dedicate his studies to the guitar as opposed to that of the violin and piano. He was a fan of the Venezuelan Waltz, which was very popular at the time and consisted of beautiful melodies and rhythmic syncopations. He wrote many waltzes or “Valses”. One was the last movement of his Suite Venezolana called “El Niño” which he dedicated to Leonardo, his eldest son. He wrote the first 3 of the Cuatro Valses Venezolanos from 1938 to 1940. The 1st was dedicated to his niece, Tatiana, the 2nd to his sister, Andreina and the 3rd, to his daughter, Natalia. The 4th is entitled “Yacambu” named after an area in western Venezuela. The most popular of them all was the one for his
daughter Natalia. It had many names. Andres Segovia recorded it under its most popular title, “Vals Criollo”, but it was also published under the title “Vals No. 3”. The music of Lauro has become very popular amongst guitarists around the world. John Williams has been quoted as saying Lauro is the “Strauss of the guitar.”
Carlos Federico Reyes (October 15, 1909 – October 1, 1999)
My father was born in the city of Asuncion, Paraguay. He grew up on a farm to parents that were not musically inclined. He only had a second grade education, but during that last year he went to a school assembly where a classical guitar performance changed his life. That guitarist was Agustin Barrios. He fell in love with the instrument, but his father forbid him from playing it, because he felt that it would only lead to playing in bars.My father would hide in the barn and practice his guitar by running tissue paper in between the strings to muffle the tone. He later learned how to sing and play the clarinet, harp and bandoneon and eventually went into the military and played in “La Banda de Policía” (the police band). While in the military he became that country’s Bob Hope and entertained the troups for 14 years. After leaving the military he began formal classical guitar studies with Dionicio Basualdo, a protégé of Agustin Barrios. He was a free-lance musician for many years. His first time in the States was as a
guitarist and background singer for Xavier Cugat and his big band. Later on he formed a very successful 5-piece group that toured all over South and Central America. It was on one of their tours to Colombia that he met my mother. Due to his years of service as a musician in the military, the President/dictator at the time, Alfredo Stroessner, appointed him Musical Ambassador and he traveled all over South, Central, and the western part of North America bringing Paraguay’s music to the people. Shortly before his appointment was to expire, his uncle told him that since his wife was expecting their 1st child he needed to move to the U.S. His composition, “Gratitud” is dedicated to his teacher Dionicio Basualdo. He wrote it while living in a small room across the street from the Cathedral in Asuncion. The introduction includes 5 harmonics, which depict the ringing of the bells at the Cathedral at 5 a.m. when my dad would wake up. The glissando passage depicts him getting up and stretching and the beginning of the waltz section depicts the start of his day.
Agustin Pio Barrios “Mangoré” (May 5, 1885 – August 7, 1944)
"As a guitarist/composer, Barrios is the best of the lot, regardless of era. His music is better formed, it's more poetic, it's more everything! And it's more of all those things in a timeless way." – John Williams, guitarist
Agustin was the 3rd youngest of seven boys to Don Doroteo Barrios, a vice-consul for Argentina in the district they lived in and Dona Martina Ferreira, a schoolteacher who had a deep appreciation for literature, drama and music. His first exposure to the guitar was at age 7 watching his father play guitar as his uncle, Pedro, played violin and his other uncle, Cornelio, played flute. Eventually, young Barrios learned the basic rasqueado rhythm guitar accompaniment for the polkas, guaranias and sambas they played. He learned to read and write from the priests of the Jesuit missions in the area and by his early teens, he had a few classical guitar solos in his repertoire. Sosa Escalda, a Paraguayan guitarist who studied in Argentina, heard the child prodigy and insisted his parents let him take their son to Asuncion to commence his formal training of the instrument and enroll in the Colegio Nacional – The National High School.
In the early 1930’s, after a negative reaction from audiences while on tour in Argentina, he decided to have a professional make-over and took the stage name of Cacique Nitsuga Mangoré, Cacique means Chief; Nitsuga, is Agustin spelled backwards; and Mangoré, was the Chief of the Timbúes Indians who were tribal members of the Guaraní Nation of tribes that covered the eastern Andes of Argentina to the southern coast of what is now Brazil back before the Spanish conquests. During these years, Barrios would give complete performances in full-feathered Indian dress. He would be billed as “The Paganini of the Guitar from the jungles of Paraguay” It was obvious his mother’s love for drama was passed down to Barrios as shown by the theatrical persona he presented during this time period.
I can remember my father telling me the story that when he was in 2nd grade Barrios showed up at his school and walked across the playground to the assembly room dressed as Nitsuga Mangoré. Due to his imposing frame and distinctive Indian facial features, it caused a commotion amongst the students. My dad wondered, “Where did this Indian come from?” Later that afternoon he witnessed a performance that changed his life just as it did for Heitor Villa-Lobos and Antonio Lauro when they first witnessed the beauty and passion of Barrios’ compositions and his playing, in general. In fact, the majority of his early recitals were completely improvised, which later he gave names to and became formal compositions.
He concertized throughout South and Central America and for a brief time in Europe. He is known for being the 2nd guitarist to record an album. At one point he had a 5-year contract to record 5 albums a year. He wrote many compositions. Some were in the form of gifts to the families he stayed with while on his tours. According to my dad and Jose Candido Morales, a former student of Barrios’ I met as a child, Barrios had 100’s of compositions he had written and stored in a trunk he had kept in the concert hall he was performing in. One evening, a major fire brought down the hall and all of his manuscripts were lost.
His compositions fall under 3 categories: Imitative – In the style of Bach, Chopin and others, His compositions, Jha Che Valle(Oh, my homeland) and Danza Guaraní are examples of his Folkloric style, and Liturgical – He was a very spiritual and religious man and studied Theosophy. According to Wikipedia, “Theosophy holds that all religions are attempts by the Occult Brotherhood to help humanity in evolving to greater perfection, and that each religion therefore has a portion of the truth.”His compositions, La Catedral, actually written while in church, Oración and Choro da Saudades would fall under this category.
It is said that one day he heard a few knocks on his door. When he opened it a poor old lady held out her hand with her palm up and asked Barrios, “Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios?” (An Alm for the love of God?). Barrios was so touched by the woman’s plight that it became the title of his next composition. The beginning notes depict the knocking on the door and continue throughout the piece. It turned out to be his last composition. A month later Barrios died of a heart attack on August 7th, 1944 in San Salvador, El Salvador, where he is also buried. Many attempts have been made by the government of Paraguay to bring his remains back home, but El Salvador has denied the request stating he lived out the end of his life there and they have adopted him as a fellow countryman.
Aside from music, Barrios was an avid gymnast, something he learned as a child and performed publicly with his brothers as a child when they formed their own little circus. He was also a poet, writing many of the poems his brother would recite as Barrios accompanied him on the guitar and his aptitude for calligraphy helped him become an accomplished caricaturist.
For me, Barrios is an extremely important part of the classical guitar repertoire. His music is truly heartfelt and soulful. I feel very blessed to have studied with my father, who studied with a student of Barrios’ and tried to pass on the beauty and artistry of Agustin Pio Barrios “Mangoré” on to me.