Music: Choros in Manhattan

  • Share
  • Read Later

Best-known South American composer is Heitor Villa-Lobos, talkative, self-taught Brazilian, a man of tremendous energy who has written more than 1,400 pieces, and has said, "Better bad of mine than good of others." Last week, in connection with a big show of paintings by Brazil's Candido Portinari (TIME, Aug. 12), Manhattan's enterprising Museum of Modern Art did up Brazil's music in a package of six concerts. The Museum's elegant audiences and radio listeners gathered that African thumps and easygoing Portuguese tunes were Brazil's chief heritage. Wherever its music was going, Villa-Lobos was in the driver's seat: most of the pieces, including some that were bad-better, were by him.

Most popular Brazilian musical form is the chôro (pronounced shoro}, in which one instrument in an ensemble improvises on a theme, in about the same way that a U. S. jazz musician "takes a chorus" for a solo ride. Villa-Lobos has composed 14 choros, ranging from a guitar solo to a magnificent, jungle-rhythmed piece, Choros No. 10, for chorus and orchestra.

At the final concerts Pianist Artur Rubinstein, an early admirer of Villa-Lobos. played apiece called Rudepôema ("Savage Poem") which Villa-Lobos had intended to be both a portrait of the pianist and the most difficult piano work ever composed. Whether or not its brilliantly wham-banging measures actually portrayed mild-looking Mr. Rubinstein, Rudepôema sounded like a stumper for any virtuoso.

But the audience liked better the slinky, tuneful, banal choros and dances which were played by gourd-rattling Romeo Silva and his orchestra, familiar to many a visitor to the New York World's Fair. It liked better still a tall, dark soprano, Elsie Houston, who in a green dress looked and sounded like some jungle bird.

Brazilian despite her name, Elsie Houston is a great-great-great-granddaughter of the grandfather of Texas' great Sam Houston. She studied singing in Europe, sang in nightspots, married a surrealist poet whose name she will not tell because he is anti-Nazi, and still in Paris. Singer Houston has been in the U. S. since 1938, is currently at Manhattan's Rainbow Room, where she performs voodoo songs by candlelight. At the Museum's opening concert she went through her routine with a pair of candles which, by order of the fire department, were enclosed in chimneys. In the darkened house Elsie Houston was something to see as she slapped a tom-tom, crooned incantations to Brazil's goddess Yemanga, to Ogum, the god of war, to Exu, the devil.