About this work
Among the Heitor Villa-Lobos's first actions on arriving back in Brazil, after living in Paris for 13 years, was to announce that he had discovered a link between Brazilian music and the great timeless qualities of the melodies of Johann Sebastian Bach, and would demonstrate them with a series of works called Bachianas Brasileiras. This composition quickly followed. It is scored for a small orchestra of ten wind instruments, a standard string section, piano and celesta, and a percussion section of standard instruments and four native Brazilian rattles (ganzá, chocalhos, matraca, and recoreco). It is the most popular of all the eight purely instrumental Bachianas Brasileiras and is one of the rare pieces in the series that includes descriptive music. Here Villa-Lobos describes scenes of the Brazilian countryside and its people. (As usual in the Bachianas series, Villa-Lobos provided dual titles, one stating the name of a form known to Bach and the other identifying its Brazilian characteristic.)
"Prelúdio; O Canto do Capadocio." The first movement is a lovely and insinuating Adagio with a somewhat faster (Andantino mosso) central dance-like section. The Brazilian title means "The Song of a Capadocio." "Capadocio" is the name of a popular published guitar method that was widely taught in Brazil. It also meant a musician, a kind of slacker who would sing, woo the women, and generally float through life with his music and love. Villa-Lobos transcribed this movement for cello and piano (A. 251 in Appleby's catalog).
"Aria; O Canto da Nossa Terra." Not unexpectedly, a Bachian melody that some have compared to the aria sections of Bach's cantatas dominates this movement. The Brazilian title means "The Song of Our Land." It opens in the tempo "Lento assai." It is in a three-part form, with a "Tempo di marcia" in the middle. This has a pulsing rhythm driven by the piano and melody primarily given to the saxophone.
"Dansa; Lembrança do Sertão." Villa-Lobos, who loved the mid-range instruments of the orchestra, gives the flowing dance melody to the trombone over a fluent rhythm in the strings. There is a more assertive dance rhythm in the central section. The title means "Memories of the Sertão," the hot, dry northeastern region of the country.
"Toccata; O trenzinho do Caipira." This is the famous "Little Train of the Caipira," and the composer's full array of percussion is held back until this concluding movement to portray the creaking and puffing of this stalwart back-country "little engine that could." It is irresistible, fun music. While its bright rhythms attract attention, the listener soon realizes that the train's melody is extraordinarily beautiful.