Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote this ‘Chôros No. 1’ in 1920 in Rio de Janeiro. It was originally published under the title of ‘Chôro típico’, then ‘Chôro típico brasileiro’. Later, it bacame the first piece of a series of 14 chôros titled ‘Chôros’. This ‘No. 1’ is the only work for solo guitar (of the 14 chôros), and depicts the most typical mood of the urban 'choro'.
Since ‘chôros’ is the plural of ‘chôro’, this piece should be called ‘Chôro No. 1’. However, the usage of ‘Chôros’ in the plural for the title of a single piece by Villa-Lobos is universally accepted, e.g. ‘Chôros No. 1’, Chôros No. 2’, etc.
Arguably, the editions published by a famous French publisher Max Eschig under the titles of ‘CHÔROS (Nº.1)’ or ‘Chôros—No. 1’ would be the most widely distributed versions of this piece. The intention of this ambiguous spelling of the titles might have been ‘Work No.1 of the cycle of Chôros’. In this article, I'm going to stick with the conventional spelling to avoid the confusion.
At this time in Brazil, a fusion of different music styles such as European (Waltz, Mazurka, Polka, Schottische, Tango, Fado, etc.), Afro-Brazilian (Lundu, Batuque), African American (Ragtime) and Brazilian (Samba, Maxixe), was becoming trendy in popular music culture. It is safe to say that Villa-Lobos pursued this movement of cultural fusion within classical music tradition which he grew up with, and achieved to create his own identity as a ‘Brazilian composer’ who proudly presents ‘Brazilian classical music’ to the world.
The ‘choro’ is a vague music style. It is said that the term ‘choro’ derived from the verb ‘chorar (to cry)’ in Portuguese, thus it is a Brazilian version of sorrowful music similar to Portuguese ‘Fado’, Spanish ‘Flamenco’, or North American ‘Blues’. But, surprisingly, most of choros including this No. 1 by Villa-Lobos give us an impression of somewhat of quite the opposite character. Two-beat brisk and happy music: rhythmically complex melodies with lots of syncopations, almost trying to trick the listeners, combined with the accompaniment which is often played in a sort of contrapuntal fashion (contracanto).
The ‘choro’ was played and developed as improvisational music in an ensemble setting like ‘bands’ or ‘orchestras’, especially at pubs/bars and dance places, just like Jazz. With more emphasis on the aspect of the dance, the sad music to ‘chorar (cry)’ might have graduately transformed to jolly and rhythmical music in this lively urban city of Brazil.