Heitor Villa-Lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1887, and has, by virtue of both his immense output and colorful and accessible musical language, become the most celebrated Brazilian composer of all time. His work not only richly typifies the diverse and kaleidoscopic Brazilian scene but also, in its abundance, originality, and vitality, provided the key which unlocked Brazilian art music once and for all from the shackles of European late-Romanticism.
After the death of his father in 1899, Villa-Lobos, determined to escape the medical career planned for him by his mother, spent time playing (probably cello and guitar) in the ad hoc musical groups which performed and improvised in Rio's cafes, on street corners, and at parties and weddings. He then traveled in Brazil, absorbing musical influences from his country's three main ethnic strands - Portuguese, African and Amerindian. This all resulted in the realization that the glorious aural amalgam which so impressed his soul was indeed the means by which concert music in Brazil would be revitalized and given a voice of its own.
After some success and much controversy as a composer in Brazil, Villa-Lobos made his way in 1923 to Paris, at that time the cultural center of Europe, where every aspiring musician, artist and writer felt it obligatory at least to put in an appearance. The artistic ambience of Paris during the 1920s was particularly suitable for the acceptance and promotion of Villa-Lobos during his subsequent periods of residence there, until a final departure in 1930. Indeed, even before his own arrival several of his works were heard and applauded in the French capital, played by his compatriots or by European artists who had met the composer in Brazil. African music and jazz were particularly in vogue and the strange sounds of the music of the East so beloved by Debussy and Ravel still echoed loudly. The clear-cut, quixotic melodies of Milhaud and Poulenc were favored, while Stravinsky's rhythmic vitality affected everyone. Villa-Lobos's highly colored, strangely conceived, and rhythmically assured music thus found an ideal home in Paris during the 1920s.
The fantasy piece for flute and cello, Assobio a Jato ('The Jet Whistle'), was written in 1950 in New York and was first performed on 13 March 1950 in Rio de Janeiro. It is dedicated to Elizabeth and Carleton Sprague Smith (flautist and musicologist), and continues Villa-Lobos's predilection for writing high- and low-voiced instrumental duos. The piece is primarily a musical joke, playing on the natural characteristics of both instruments. Divided into three short movements, the colorfully lyrical, bustling world of the eclectic Villa-Lobos is encapsulated here in the fluid lines and virtuosity of both partners.