Villa-Lobos - Samba-lele

Interpreting the Music

Samba-lele by Villa-Lobos is set for the ABRSM Grade 5 Piano exam 2013- 2014.

Teaching & Learning the Piece

Villa-Lobos: Samba-lelê

• D major
• Brazilian dance style
• Syncopated rhythms
• Very chordal
• Melody migrates between the hands
• Quite stretchy for small hands

Heitor Villa-Lobos, one of Brazil’s most famous composers, based this piece on a children’s folk-song. It would seem that he may have intended it to be used to accompany singing, as the “dal segno” marking effectively adds another two verses and choruses. In an exam the “dal segno” should be disregarded.

The lyrics of the children’s song, a performance and some explanations of the song can be found here:

The direction “Poco lento” should not be taken to mean that the music should be played “slowly”. The 2/2 time signature indicates a two-in-a-bar feel, which will underpin the busy quavers with a relaxed swaying minim pulse. There are many different styles of Samba in Brazil, the most famous (and flamboyantly dressed) being the dance of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival. The constant back-and-forward movement of the feet takes place under a rather slow progression around the room or along the street.

The musical material falls into three sections, with plenty of repetition, making it a good choice for students who struggle with complex variations through a piece. Almost the entire second page consists of material already learned, so in effect the notes of the whole piece are contained in 16 bars: 1-5 (introduction), 11-14 (18 is very similar to 14)(verse) and 19-22 (similar to 26)(chorus)plus the last two bars. However, the same notes are not always played the same way!

Close attention to articulation, dynamics and accents will be needed to ensure a correct and interesting performance.

Pedal, which is not marked apart from [con Ped.] at the beginning, will be essential. Broadly the pedal should be changed with each chord change. It will be effective to use less pedal in the section from bar 19 - bar 26 (and corresponding section starting at bar 40), perhaps just touches for each chord, without making the section sound overly legato, or even just on the first beat of the bar and on any long notes such as at bar 20, RH minim.

At the earliest stages of note learning the student needs to be aware of which notes are repeated and which are held down. The pattern in bar 1 RH is much repeated so it is vital to get into the right habit. Some careful coordination at slow speed will ensure that the ties, accents and fingerings all fall smoothly into place. Since it will be pedalled, those with small hands can play the octave quavers without trying to hold down the lowest note of the RH chord. However, for this to be successful the pedalling needs to be correctly timed.

For hands that cannot span a ninth, the E in bar 12, 16 etc can be played with the RH, and will sound no different as it should be caught by the pedal.

The LH looks almost immobile, based over a drone-like D pedal note that occasionally shifts an octave and is otherwise only replaced by an A in bars 21, 25, 42 and 46. However, in the bars where dotted lines show the melody moving into the bass clef, the LH needs to take over the melody while the RH plays the A octaves above. A strong thumb will be needed to bring out the melody at the top of the chord.

Rhythm may present a challenge to some students. The minim pulse is too slow to be useful at the note learning stage and it may be better to use crotchets or even quavers as the unit for counting. The syncopations can be established by tapping quavers in groups of four and then missing out the third one.

An articulation mark that may cause confusion is the tenuto line with staccato dot, seen in the chorus (e.g. bar 19 RH). This means playing rather heavy, detached notes with arm weight, but not an accent or spiky staccato. Notice that the introduction’s accents on the first beat (bars 1-9) are absent in bars 28-31 but the LH has tenuto markings. In the last repetition of the introduction (bars 48-51) the dynamic marking is p but the accents have returned. These seemingly minor details are worth pointing out to your student, and insisting on their inclusion, to develop their awareness of how to perform in a way that is faithful to the score. It can be a useful starting point for a wider discussion of how to make the same music sound different.

Dynamics are only given at major points of change: f in bar 26 and p in bar 48. A good performance will ensure there is variation within these overall levels. At bars 9-10 a little diminuendo will signal the end of the introduction and enable the start of the verse in bar 11 to sound fresh, at a renewed mf. Similarly a slight tailing-off in bar 18 will allow the chorus to come through with a sense of something new.

As it is a song, listening to a vocal version or singing it through (not necessarily with the Portuguese words!) will help the student give the phrases some flexibility. However, as it is a song for children it does not need to be over-nuanced – a slightly unsophisticated charm works better musically.

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