Heitor Villa-Lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) on 5 March 1887. His father, a teacher and a civil servant, was also a musician; he teached his son both the clarinet and the cello. Heitor also learned the guitar on the quiet, against the will of his mother who wanted him to become a doctor. At a very young age, Villa-Lobos plays in “chôros”, bands playing popular music and, at only 16, practices as an independent musician.
In 1905, he leaves his tough life and visits the North of Brazil. The year that follows, after having visited South (which he finds quite disappointing), he composes Canticos Seranejos for a small orchestra (1907). Leaving his harmony studies, which he finds uninteresting, he travels through the different Brazilian states with his musician friend Donizetti. At the time, they live from many small performances in villages.
Back in Rio, he writes operas, strings works, piano works, as well as liturgical works. Quickly enough, his music overcomes borders. Villa-Lobos, with the help of patrons, stays in Paris where he meets many artists, such as F. Schmitt, P. Picasso, F. Léger… In order to live, he sells some of his scores and teaches.
In Paris, he finds a favourable ground for his most important works and proves to be a great conductor, despite his “atypical” conducting. In Europe, in London, Vienna, Berlin, Brussels, Liège and others, he conducts his works as well as works from other avant-garde composers. In the US, where he stays for the second time in 1947, he premieres the opera Magdalena.
His last years darken because of the discovery of a cancer in 1948 ; this doesn’t stop him from writing an important number of works until his Quintetteinstrumental in 1958. He dies the year after, in Rio de Janeiro, 17 November.