No 1: Branquinha
No 2: Moreninha
No 3: Caboclinha
No 4: Mulatinha
No 5: Negrinha
No 6: A Pobrezinha
No 7: O Polichinelo
No 8: A Bruxa
The first suite (1918) is dedicated to Lucilia Villa-Lobos, the composer’s wife whom he had married in 1912. There are strong elements of polytonality—which Villa-Lobos concurrently developed after Milhaud’s lead—in that in various places in the music the right hand plays on the white keys, with the left hand on the black, and the influence of Stravinsky’s Petrushka may not be far away.
Branquinha: The first suite opens with a delicate texture, high on the keyboard, which soon reveals a lyrical theme that seems to contradict the Très animé et gai marking. The form is a simple ABAB with a brief vivo codetta.
Moreninha: This lively little piece, whose dynamic is always half-stated, is akin to a moto perpetuo and is based upon a favourite Villa-Lobos tonality of C sharp. The simplicity of the ABA structure conceals some brilliant and original keyboard writing, and the final chord thwarts all expectations.
Caboclinha: A simple 3+3+2 accompaniment figure sustains this beautifully atmospheric, authentically Brazilian—in its evocation of folksong—piece, with its almost sensuous dance-like melodic fragments creating a crescendo-diminuendo structure.
Mulatinha: The mulatto figure is almost literally a colourful mixture of ideas, mainly pentatonic, but a built-in accelerando does not hide the underlying polytonal basis.
Negrinha: A brilliant toccata-like study similarly contrasts A flat major and C major.
A Pobrezinha: Here our sympathies are invoked, Lentement et mélancolique, for this waif, her soft yet uncertain B–C sharp–E chords supporting rather than troubling her.
O Polichinelo: This was the last music Arthur Rubinstein played in public—his final encore. It was a piece he played—and altered slightly—often, and it recalls, more than any other item in this Suite, Petrushka, three movements from which Stravinsky arranged and dedicated to the virtuoso in 1921, despite one of them being virtually unplayable as written. Villa-Lobos’s ‘Punch’ is playable, and became one of the most famous of all the Brazilian’s shorter works.
A Bruxa: This is a very different piece. The uncertain, troubled atmosphere is all-pervasive, and the three sections—Lente, Preste, Lente—are not wholly organic, except for the consistency of Villa-Lobos’s favourite key of C sharp.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 2000