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October 29, 2008

Villa-Lobos's "BB#5"

By: Bernard Chazelle

When I was 9, several friends and I went to see a movie. The event changed our lives. It featured a guitar piece that we found so compelling we immediately informed our parents we wanted to learn to play classical guitar. My parents bought me a guitar and wished me good luck. Luck struck. One of these friends turned out to be a prodigy who got so far ahead of us that in no time he turned every school recess into a guitar clinic for our benefit. To this day, I have no idea how he learned so fast so effortlessly while the rest of us had to struggle so hard for such pitiful results. Most of us continued to play (often together) until we left for college. I was probably the least gifted member of the group. Interestingly, two of them became professional guitarists; the "prodigy" is today one of the world's most acclaimed guitarists (I'll blog about him some day.)

Oh yes, the movie, "Forbidden Games," is simply the most powerful film about children in war. The ending was so heartbreaking I never had the courage to see the movie again. The musical piece is actually quite easy to play. Pretty soon, any aspiring classical guitarist will get tired of that tune and turn to the great Brazilian composer, Villa-Lobos, for material. And that's when you quickly realize that your fingers are much too far from your brain to do what they're supposed to do.

Villa-Lobos's most famous piece is probably his fifth Bachianas Brasileiras. My school buddies and I all agreed that Victoria de los Angeles sang the definitive version. Many other great sopranos have since covered it with great success. Amel Brahim-Djelloul is a rising young star. Here is a lovely video: the concert was on the beach (you can tell from the wind).

PS: Got to love her smile at 1:46.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at October 29, 2008 07:28 PM

God I love that piece. I used to play the cello and got to perform it once. Saw the Portland Cello Project do it last year live opening for Pink Martini. It gives you chills.

Posted by: Anna in PDX at October 29, 2008 09:29 PM

Thank you, Bernard, that was gorgeous!

Yes, chills, absolutely.

Posted by: Mark C at October 29, 2008 09:47 PM

Man, i come here for the political insight, but you really are making me rethink my musical boundaries...this was fantastic.

Posted by: sloweducation at October 29, 2008 10:55 PM

Ah, "Jeux Interdits". Not just sad. That film also has some of the most disturbing undercurrents I have ever seen, like the one where Michel kills bugs with a pencil in an imitation of the air raids that are going on outside. "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; They kill us for their sport.", anyone?

The director, Rene Clement, also made probably the most underrated Charles Bronson film of all time, "Rider on the Rain", which also starred Marlene Jobert (Bond hottie Eva Green's mom.), the print out right now is very poor in quality, but it's a very atmospheric little thriller, worth your time.

Also, the boy who played Michel, Georges Poujouly, grew up to star in another French classic, "L'ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud" ("Elevator to the Gallows"), with a score by by Miles Davis. Jeanne Moreau is the lead. You should upload the score here sometime...

Posted by: En Ming Hee at October 30, 2008 05:54 AM

Wow. Talk about coincidence. I had never even heard of Jeux Interdits until my friend gave a copy to me for my birthday last month. She hadn't watched it since she was a child; but she had vivid memories of it making her and her brother cry uncontrollably into the corn potage that their mother had fixed for them. I decreed that I would not watch it unless it was with her over corn potage; which we finally got around to doing this past Monday.

It's a wonderful film, and quite funny (though in an unnervingly morbid way) as well as being so sad. I'll never look at a cross the same way again. And the first ten minutes are probably the most harrowing depiction of war in film I've ever seen.

An interesting thought just occurred to me-- if I'm not mistaken, not counting deserters, there wasn't a soldier in sight the entire movie.

Posted by: Quin at October 30, 2008 02:01 PM

you know, i can never 'listen' to classical music, but watching the performance is often as good as being there, (minus the acoustics though) so this was good.

chills indeed. great performance. i'll put up forbidden games on my to-rent list. thanks :)

Posted by: almostinfamous at October 30, 2008 02:13 PM

Thanks for the post. V-L also arranged it for guitar & voice, as noted in comment#1. In the 1950's Laurindo Almeida and his wife Salli Terri did a great recording of that version.
Bit of trivia: The text is an emergency substitution because Villa-Lobos couldn't get the rights to the text he wanted!

Posted by: Bob Weber at October 30, 2008 06:43 PM