Villa-Lobos Etude 2 Analysis

It was suggested to me to work on an analysis of Etude No. 2 from Heitor Villa-Lobos' Twelve Etudes for Guitar by an excellent Chilean guitarist. Because this work is still under copyright I have only included the notes within the first beat of each measure as a guide. Please use your score to follow along with this analysis in conjunction with the pdf below.

This little etude is an excellent example of harmonic practice at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The use of extended harmonies, borrowed chords as well as unexpected resolutions give this piece its "modern" sound without ever leaving the tonal system.

Let's take a look at the most interesting features.

Formally, I hear this piece in two parts; part one comprising measures 1-12 and part two, measures 13-27.

Part One

Villa-Lobos begins with the typical tonic to dominant (A-E7) in the first two measures but surprises us with the unexpected move to A#dim7 in measure three. This is a secondary leading-tone diminished seventh chord of the ii chord (Bm) which resolves as it normally would, but Villa-Lobos adds the sixth (G#) to the B minor triad for color. In traditional harmony this is referred to as an added sixth chord, not to be confused with a sixth chord or triad in first inversion. We also find this same type of harmony in measure sixteen.

In measures five and six the return to tonic is first major and then minor as shown. The A minor triad is what is called a borrowed chord or a harmony taken from the parallel minor key of A minor in this case.

We get the same thing in the next two measures but now with the dominant (E). It is first major as it normally occurs followed immediately by the minor form which again is borrowed from the parallel minor key.

Measure nine introduces V/V (B7) which moves to V (E7) in measure ten and is extended through measure twelve ending section one with a typical move to the dominant.

Part Two

Part two begins with a move from tonic (A) to submediant (F#m) before introducing the C#9 harmony in measure fifteen. I hear this following section (mm. 15-18) as being in the key of C# minor (iii) with first the introduction of the note D# and most definitely with the introduction of the B# in the dominant harmony (G#7) in measure eighteen. Villa-Lobos builds our expectation for a resolution to C# minor with the strong cadential formula i-six/four to V7 in measures seventeen and eighteen (reminiscent of his Etude No. 1 from the same set just before the series of diminished sevenths) but surprises us by moving to C#7 setting up the final fifth progression of secondary dominants.

This is basically a iii-vi-ii-V-I progression but altered to form a series of dominant seventh chords resolving through the circle of fifths eventually reaching tonic. This as you know is very common in jazz harmony. Notice the intervening diminished seventh chord in measure twenty-two. The inherent ambiguity of this harmony can cause us to expect many different resolutions. I first heard this as a possible move to C# minor (enharmonic B#dim7) but since the move is to E9, I now hear it as an extended V/V as shown.

The final harmony of interest is the FMaj7 in measure twenty-five. This harmony is again considered borrowed from the parallel minor key and makes for a very striking and beautiful cadence.

The final section of my analysis shows the harmony and voice-leading in block chord form which can only be played on a keyboard for the most part, but I hope gives you some idea of how the chords connect. Don't be intimidated by the tempo that you hear this piece performed. It makes an excellent and satisfying study at any tempo. Take your time and enjoy it!

Click here to purchase and download a PDF of the complete analysis for $5.00.

5 comments

  • Tony Hyman
    Tony Hyman
    Thanks John.When I first heared Villa Lobos about ten 12 yrs back , Prelude 4 I think it was,I was literally shocked out of my tonal thinking boots.Spesially the "animato" section. I even wonderd what Heitor smoked in that famous pipe we see him with.Then all made sense when I read that he mixed with the likes of Pisasso with the then cubist art thinking back in the "avante garde days" 1920's through30's. Segovia said that Villa Lobos' voicings were unusual yet playable and this is one example I believe. From a technical perspectiveit stretches the imagination with the most unusual slurs from my limited perspective , furtunatly I was advised to treat some of his written slurs as hammer-ons eg G# to D# measure 18.He definitly takes us outside the envelope or comfort zone of tonal harmony rules into the clinical cubisti world of Picasso and the anything gose world of the Impressionists were the illusion or the acceted concept of a "good musical" ear gets tested to the limit if one is locked into tonal thinking only. Villa-Lobos is the best bad medicine I can think of to ruffel a few fearthers of the so called "Great Ears" community .The ears get tken on a roller coaster trip as we move through the rest of the Etudes progressively. Through this I also understand John Williams when he says a "good ear can be a hinderence" in some respects.Whether he is refering to H.V.L I cant say.I think attemting to gradually aim for "allegro" from a strictly technical view is what H.V.L. mind , thats what Etudes are after all.But as you say it remains a joy at any speed.Thanks for your interest in sharing yor knowledge once again. Your friend Tony

    Thanks John.When I first heared Villa Lobos about ten 12 yrs back , Prelude 4 I think it was,I was literally shocked out of my tonal thinking boots.Spesially the "animato" section.
    I even wonderd what Heitor smoked in that famous pipe we see him with.Then all made sense when I read that he mixed with the
    likes of Pisasso with the then cubist art thinking back in the "avante garde days" 1920's through30's.

    Segovia said that Villa Lobos' voicings were unusual yet playable and this is one example I believe.

    From a technical perspectiveit stretches the imagination with the most unusual slurs from my limited perspective , furtunatly I was advised to treat some of his written slurs as hammer-ons eg G# to D# measure 18.He definitly takes us outside the envelope or comfort zone of tonal harmony rules into the clinical cubisti world of Picasso and the anything gose world of the Impressionists were the illusion or the acceted concept of a "good musical" ear gets tested to the limit if one is locked into tonal thinking only.
    Villa-Lobos is the best bad medicine I can think of to ruffel a few fearthers of the so called "Great Ears" community .The ears get tken on a roller coaster trip as we move through the rest of the Etudes progressively. Through this I also understand John Williams when he says a "good ear can be a hinderence" in some respects.Whether he is refering to H.V.L I cant say.I think attemting to gradually aim for "allegro" from a strictly technical view is what H.V.L. mind , thats what Etudes are after all.But as you say it remains a joy at any speed.Thanks for your interest in sharing yor knowledge once again.
    Your friend Tony

  • Ryan
    Ryan
    This was very helpful in a project I'm working on. Thanks!

    This was very helpful in a project I'm working on. Thanks!

  • Andrew
    Andrew
    Very nice analysis of a compelling study. Thank you

    Very nice analysis of a compelling study. Thank you

  • Marvin scott t.
    Marvin scott t.
    Thank you sir I now feel as if you have done my homework so that I may have fun with it in an effort to make it mine... Thank again, and again

    Thank you sir I now feel as if you have done my homework so that I may have fun with it in an effort to make it mine... Thank again, and again

  • william ash
    william ash
    Thank you, John, by searching for a harmonic analysis of this etude I stumbled on your website. Very nice! Thank you for your very thoughtful analysis of this amazing study. I just wanted to add that measure 4 seems to me a "blended" harmony, beginning in Bm as you suggest--with the G# an added 6th--and serving as the expected resolution of the preceding A#dim7. But then in the second half of the bar we can hear that G# as the 3rd of an E7 chord, with the F#'s now serving as an added 9th (or simply E9). This then makes an expected resolution back to the A chord in measure 5 completely satisfying. Also interesting (all following points to be found in the Zigante critical edition) is that the final note of measure 4 is D in some manuscripts--consistent with both harmonies, and consistent with all the other measures of the Etude not to introduce a new pitch different from the 2nd note of each measure. But in the 1928 and 1953 manuscripts, the final note of the measure is E, indicative of acknowledging the preceding harmony has evolved to E9--just in time to hear the evolution of the series of notes in the second half of the measure as harmonically dominant to A. So since the D pitch--as the 7th of the E9 chord--would more naturally resolve to a C# (the 3rd of A major)--which it doesn't--I personally prefer the E here, dropping the perfect 5th down to tonic A in measure 5. This is very sophisticated harmonic writing indeed!

    Thank you, John, by searching for a harmonic analysis of this etude I stumbled on your website. Very nice!

    Thank you for your very thoughtful analysis of this amazing study. I just wanted to add that measure 4 seems to me a "blended" harmony, beginning in Bm as you suggest--with the G# an added 6th--and serving as the expected resolution of the preceding A#dim7.
    But then in the second half of the bar we can hear that G# as the 3rd of an E7 chord, with the F#'s now serving as an added 9th (or simply E9). This then makes an expected resolution back to the A chord in measure 5 completely satisfying. Also interesting (all following points to be found in the Zigante critical edition) is that the final note of measure 4 is D in some manuscripts--consistent with both harmonies, and consistent with all the other measures of the Etude not to introduce a new pitch different from the 2nd note of each measure. But in the 1928 and 1953 manuscripts, the final note of the measure is E, indicative of acknowledging the preceding harmony has evolved to E9--just in time to hear the evolution of the series of notes in the second half of the measure as harmonically dominant to A. So since the D pitch--as the 7th of the E9 chord--would more naturally resolve to a C# (the 3rd of A major)--which it doesn't--I personally prefer the E here, dropping the perfect 5th down to tonic A in measure 5.
    This is very sophisticated harmonic writing indeed!

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