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About this Piece

Villa-Lobos’ international reputation as one of the most influential Brazilian artists of all times was thoroughly established in the late 1940s and continued to strengthen throughout the 1950s until his death. His role as an ambassador of Brazilian and Latin American culture was recognized by critics and fellow composers both in Europe and the United States, a perception that was further consolidated by the array of international prizes, honorary titles, and tributes that began to accumulate. Indeed, no other Brazilian composer has achieved a comparable degree of universal recognition.

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 belongs to a group of nine works for various instrumental and vocal media, written between 1930 and 1945 with the purpose of melding the compositional techniques of Johann Sebastian Bach with elements derived from the musical traditions of Brazil. Together with the Choros, the Bachianas Brasileiras are unquestionably the most significant and better-known works by Villa-Lobos, and altogether crucial for the establishment of his international reputation, with Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, for soprano and eight cellos, internationally the most popular work by any Latin American composer.

Villa-Lobos’ fascination with the music of Bach, whom he considered the source of all folk material in every culture, dates back to his childhood. His aunt Zizinha often played for him The Well-Tempered Clavier, and later in his career Villa-Lobos even transcribed some of the pieces for various media. One of the most pervasive techniques employed by Villa-Lobos throughout the series of Bachianas is based on circle-of-fifths progressions in which the seventh of one chord resolves into the third of the next chord and so on, thus creating a series of links that hold the structure of the work together, a technique identified as a regular compositional procedure not only in the works of Bach but also those of other Baroque composers such as Vivaldi and Rameau. Its role in creating harmonic coherence parallels that of the sequence in achieving melodic unity, another feature of Baroque music that is employed by Villa-Lobos. Imitative procedures, also a distinctively Baroque technique, can be found in several Brazilian genres as well, a circumstance that undoubtedly offered Villa-Lobos greater flexibility in bringing together the two musical idioms. Other common features include the use of ostinato figures, pedal tones, and moto perpetuo.

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4, composed between 1930 and 1941, includes four pieces: “Preludio” (1941), “Coral: Canto to Sertao” (1941), “Aria: Cantiga” (1935), and “Dansa: Miudinho” (1930). The work was originally written for piano solo, but an orchestral version was prepared by Villa-Lobos himself in 1941. The “Preludio” is the most abstract of the four pieces, and its sober and meditative character recalls the sustained majesty of the Baroque sarabande.

–From an essay by James Melo, courtesy of the author and Naxos Music Group