Alfred Heller, a protégé and friend of Heitor Villa-Lobos, formed The Villa-Lobos Music Society, Inc. in 1986. During its nearly twenty-five years in existence, it has been dedicated to sustaining and increasing awareness of the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos, of his passion for music education, and of his philosophy that music is the universal language capable of bringing together all peoples, and inspiring love and respect for the natural world.
Alfred and I began our journey with a desire to advance this mission, and create an event that would share our love and appreciation of his music and incorporate all of the things that were ‘close to the heart’ of Villa-Lobos, thereby continuing his legacy and inspiring others to pursue the ideals he treasured.
In 1958, Alfred watched Villa-Lobos orchestrate the score Villa-Lobos wrote for the MGM film Green Mansions, based on the classic novel of the same name by naturalist William Henry Hudson. Then, in 1959, Villa-Lobos asked Alfred to prepare soprano Bidú Sayao for Villa-Lobos’ first recording of this music.
Hudson’s Green Mansions is a tale of exotic romance set in the Amazon rainforest, a place Villa-Lobos knew well and loved deeply. As is the case with much of his music, Villa-Lobos’ score for this film was filled with the sounds of nature and the folkloric melodies of the diverse cultures of his country. Since Villa-Lobos was not only a masterful composer, but also a great storyteller through music, his music infused Hudson’s compelling story with a special passion and sensitivity.
Alfred and I revisited the film score, and knew that with an adaptation of Hudson’s story we would have a unique opportunity to present a groundbreaking event. Telling this story through dance became an obvious choice.
Villa-Lobos was influenced very early in his life by the performances he saw of the Ballet Russes when they toured Brazil. Afterwards, he wrote the first of his works for ballet. Of course, much of his music, though not written specifically for ballet, is ‘danceable’ in character, and full of the dance rhythms of folkloric music. Through the universal vocabulary of dance, we knew we would have the opportunity to transcend language barriers and communicate all facets of Villa-Lobos’ message to a worldwide audience.
Additionally, the setting in the Amazon rainforest provided an opportunity to give even more purpose to our event by re-invigorating social awareness and presenting educational programming related to the issues so close to Hudson’s and the composer’s heart, and so relevant to the world today, including the preservation of our natural habitats, tolerance and human rights, as well as music, dance, science and the visual arts.
With the 125th anniversary of the birth of Heitor Villa-Lobos upon us, we decided that this was the time to celebrate his life by committing to this project and fulfilling this dream. We began to adapt Hudson’s moving story as a full-length dance work, with a score entirely from Villa-Lobos’ wonderful instrumental and vocal compositions. Then we assembled a team of experienced and imaginative design professionals to support our ideas, and our vision began to evolve. Together, we not only developed the creative vision and physical designs, but discovered that our passion for humanity would have a voice with this unique and extraordinary dance event we call Green Mansions.
We hope to celebrate this very special 125th birthday anniversary, and give the gift of this extraordinary new dance work to Villa-Lobos and to the world, now and for many years to come.
Karen Cottrell and Alfred Heller
The Villa-Lobos Music Society, Inc.
a 501(C)(3) arts organization