Heitor Villa-Lobos

One of the foremost Latin American composers of the 20th century, Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote music that combined indigenous melodic and rhythmic elements with Western classical music.

Villa-Lobos learned music from his father, one of Rio's finest amateur musicians, and by the end of his teenage years, he had become a professional cellist, earning his living playing in cafes and other centers of Rio's elaborate night life. From the age of 18 to 25, Villa-Lobos lived a Bohemian lifestyle, traveling the Brazilian countryside, learning the indigenous music of his homeland. Afterwards, he studied at the National Institute of Music in Rio de Janeiro, where he refined his unique and personal style, one that, in his own words, "is natural, like a waterfall."

After another ethnomusicological trip to the Amazonian interior in 1912, Villa-Lobos returned to Rio de Janeiro. In 1915, he had great success with several works premiered in a concert of his own music, and by 1923, he had attracted enough official favor to win a government grant to study in Paris. Between 1923 and 1930, Villa-Lobos lived throughout Europe, mostly in Paris, where his unique musical style gained him great notoriety and put him in contact with international figures like Varese and Stokowski, who premiered his works in New York and Philadelphia in 1929.

Upon his return to Brazil in 1930, Villa-Lobos was made director of music education in Rio de Janeiro. From this point onwards he became the main representative of Brazilian music throughout the world. In 1944, he made a trip to the United States to conduct his works, to great critical and popular acclaim. Important new works were commissioned by American orchestras, and he even wrote a movie score for the 1945 Hollywood film The Green Mansions. The 1940's were a period of international success, with premieres throughout the world, often conducted by Villa-Lobos himself. Heitor Villa-Lobos died in Rio de Janeiro in 1959 having composed some 2,500 works, many of them finding their place in the modern repertory.