Celebrated throughout the country on Mach 5th), National Classical Music Day honors the birth of maestro and composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, considered the greatest exponent of the genre in Brazil. Composer of about a thousand pieces and founder of the Brazilian Academy of Music, Villa-Lobos, who would be 132 today, was one of the main individuals responsible for taking Brazilian music to the most prestigious stages of Europe (the cradle of classical music) in the early 1900s.
Born on March 5th, 1887 in the Laranjeiras neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Heitor Villa-Lobos began his musical training at the age of six with his father, Raul Villa-Lobos, dedicating himself to the cello and the clarinet. With Aunt Fifina, he went on to study the piano and had his first contact with the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, which would become an important lifelong reference. Later, he joined the National Institute of Music, where he studied cello and harmony.
During his youth, he also had contact with popular Brazilian music, especially through Rio de Janeiro’s chorões (serenaders who played choro). He made several trips through Brazil, spending seasons in states such as Espírito Santo, Bahia, Pernambuco, Paraná and Amazonas, whence he absorbed several new influences that helped shape his style.
In 1915, Villa-Lobos was billed for the first time as a composer in concerts, theaters and cinemas in Rio de Janeiro. The modernity of his works attracted the attention of critics who would often decry his style, unusual for the time. In the 1920s, the modernist movement became increasingly influent, reaching its climax in the Modern Art Week of 1922. Villa-Lobos participated actively in the Week, performing three concerts during the event. It was at this time that he began composing even more avantgarde works.
In 1923, he made his first trip to Europe, performing in Paris and returning to Rio de Janeiro in the following year. He returned to the French capital in 1927, this time for a three-year season. He gained international prestige during this second tour, performing and conducting orchestras in all the major European capitals of the time.
Back in Brazil in 1930, he embraced the cause of musical education, an effort that culminated with the creation of the National Conservatory of Orphonic Singing in 1942. In 1944, he expanded his presence in the international scene, performing in the United States, conducting some of America’s most prestigious orchestras, and even composing works for films and musicals. In 1945, he founded the Brazilian Academy of Music, inspired by the Brazilian Academy of Letters and the French Academy. Heitor Villa-Lobos died of cancer in Rio de Janeiro on November 17th, 1959.
The composer’s legacy is preserved through the Villa-Lobos Museum, located in a mansion in the Botafogo neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. Managed by the Brazilian Institute of Museums (Ibram), the space has a collection of more than 53,000 items comprising scores, correspondence, newspaper clippings, records, movies, books, decorations, musical instruments and personal objects. Visitors can check out the collection from Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.