“Artists live with God – but give their little finger to Satan. I sleep with the angels and dream of the devil.” – Villa-Lobos
Rudepoêma is Heitor Villa-Lobos’s paramount masterpiece for solo piano, and one of the most impressive and difficult compositions in the entire piano literature. It was completed while Villa-Lobos was in Paris in the 1920s, during his second journey to Europe to promote his music abroad. During his maturation as a composer, Villa-Lobos was inspired by the music and aesthetic of many composers, including the ballets of Igor Stravinsky, at the time one of the most prestigious composers in Europe. Villa-Lobos was particularly inspired by Stravinsky’s rebellious attitude towards musical form and function, on view in his seminal work Le Sacre du Printemps (1913), and sought to emulate this aesthetic while creating Rudepoêma. Villa-Lobos used many musical features from both Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps and Petrushka (1911), including a tableau structure that openly resists traditional aspects of musical form and development. Yet, despite sharing in Stravinsky’s own style—as a post-Romantic or Modernist rebel— while Rudepoêma appears to embody the avant-garde, and reject musical tradition, the opposite is in fact true: he adds many traditional elements to the piece, including tonal function, motivic unification, and harmonic progression. Source
Villa-Lobos is not as acclaimed as much for his keyboard works as he is for his choral and chamber music. (…) He was not a pianist, his instrument was the cello. Nevertheless, his piano output is extraordinary: there are fifty-four piano works, the majority of which are collections or suites; five concertos for piano and orchestra; one suite for piano and orchestra; Momoprecoce; a fantasy for piano and orchestra; and Chôros No. 8 and 11, also for piano and orchestra. Piano writing is characterized by a very personal use of established compositional devices. Sousa Lima thought Villa-Lobos remarkable in that he showed great expertise in all matters relating to piano technique and even more so since he was discovering new approaches inventing new textures for the keyboard. Further Sousa Lima was impressed with Villa-Lobos’s ability to solve rhythmic problems and produce authentic yet contemporary sound. Source
Villa-Lobos was endowed with an exuberant personality, which allowed him easily to befriend the most diverse people, and much of this exuberance is reflected in his music. Perhaps no other Villa-Lobos composition for piano solo embodies his rich, turbulent, and overflowing creative personality as much as the Rudepoêma (1921-1926), his longest and most complex work for the instrument, and undoubtedly one of the seminal piano pieces of the twentieth century. Source
In 1918, in Rio de Janeiro, he met the world-renowned concert pianist Arthur Rubinstein and the French composer Darius Milhaud and through them, was introduced to the music of Claude Debussy, which proved to be a revelation to him. In this year, he wrote his first oratorio Vidapura (1918), his Third Trio for piano, violin and cello (1918), and Prole do Bébé No. I (1918), which uses many French impressionistic techniques as well as new compositional devices of his own. Rubinstein performed Prole do Bébé in Rio de Janeiro on May 7, 1922, to much acclaim, which did much to enhance Villa-Lobos’ esteem among the cognoscenti. Source
Rudepoêma was dedicated to Arthur Rubinstein who became a lifelong friend of the composer. Villa-Lobos’s dedication suggests how extensively the personality of Arthur Rubinstein influenced the composition of the work: Source
My sincere friend, I do not know if I have been able to put all of your spirit into the Rudepoêma, but I am honestly able to say that, as far as I can tell, I have caught your true temperament on paper as I might have done with an intimate snapshot. Hence, if I have succeeded, it will be you in fact who will have been the real composer of this work.
There is reason to believe that Rubinstein did not see as much of himself reflected in the work as Villa-Lobos believed to be the case. The title of the work derived from Villa-Lobos’s affectionate nickname for Rubinstein (“Rubi”), to which the pianist objected, prompting Villa-Lobos to call him “Rudi” instead, according to a statement by their common friend, the composer Francisco Mignone, on a phone interview to Sonia Rubinsky in 1985. The title, then, may be a play of words on the nickname “Rudi” and the Portuguese adjective “Rude” (“savage” or “rough”). Thus, Rudepoêma could conceivably mean both “Rubinstein’s Poem” and “Savage Poem”. Villa-Lobos himself described the work as “rude, brutal, and barbaric, full of the music of free sounds, like the exuberance of storms in the virgin forests of Brazil”. The bewildering variety of textures, rhythmic structures, melodic motives, and sound effects that characterizes the Rudepoêma is unparalleled in Villa-Lobos’s piano music. The piece is conceived as a loosely structured sonata form with a double exposition, rhapsodic development, and a recapitulation followed by a slow section that leads directly into the coda. The diversity of motives is held together by the recurrence of the opening figure in the bass, which reappears in several guises throughout the piece. Villa-Lobos explores the entire spectrum of keyboard techniques, blending traditional keyboard writing with some rather unorthodox sonorities. In its scope and variety, the Rudepoêma can be legitimately considered a summation of Villa-Lobos’s pianistic style, as well as a panorama of the rhythmic and melodic elements that give Brazil’s traditional music its particular colour. Source
This piano piece is part of my iTunes March Studio Playlist that you can listen to here.
Sources and more
- AN ANALYTICAL STUDY OF THREE SOLO PIANO WORKS BY HEITOR VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959) (BRAZIL), MARCHENA, MARTHA CUBA.
- Rudepoêma: Masterpiece of Modernism, or Latent Sonata Form? An Analytical Study of Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Greatest Piano Masterpiece, Staupe, Andrew P
- WHEN A POEM HAS NO WORDS: PERSONAL THOUGHTS IN MUSICAL REPRESENTATION, MEANING, AND VILLA-LOBOS, Rafael Liebich