Arts & Entertainment

“Father of Brazilian music” remembered on centenary of his death

By Waldheim Garcia Montoya

Recife, Brazil, Dec 24 (efe-epa).- Defying the received wisdom of his time that Italian was the only language suitable for art song, Alberto Nepomuceno (1864-1920) dared to embrace Portuguese and folk genres such as samba in the process of creating a truly Brazilian tradition of classical music.

A century after his death in Rio de Janeiro at 56, the “father of Brazilian music” remains unknown to many of his compatriots.

“Among the principal characteristics of the maestro is that he devoted himself to writing music with a nationalist aim that encompassed the pluri-culture of Brazil,” Edwin Pitre Vasquez, head of the Ethnomusicology Research Group at Parana Federal University, told Efe.

As a teacher at the National Institute of Music, he organized a landmark 1895 concert featuring art songs with Portuguese lyrics and popular pieces by composers such as Catulo da Paixao Cearense and Chiquinha Gonzaga.

“A people who do not sing in their own language have no homeland,” was Nepomuceno’s response to the hostile response of Brazil’s foremost music critic, Oscar Guanabarino.

One of Nepomuceno’s students at the institute was Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), South America’s best-known composer.

Born in Fortaleza, Ceara state, Nepomuceno was introduced to music at an early age by his father, a violinist.

After a spell in Recife, where he had to abandon formal studies to support his mother and siblings after the death of his father, Nepomuceno moved to Rio de Janeiro, then Brazil’s capital and an internationally recognized cultural hub.

In Rio, he became friends with prominent figures including Machado de Assis, regarded by many as Brazil’s greatest writer, with whom Nepomuceno would go on to compose “Coraçao triste” (Sad Heart).

A sojourn to Europe to pursue his musical studies with the likes of Giovanni Sgambati and Theodor Lechetizky led to an encounter with the woman who would become his wife, Norwegian pianist Walborg Bang, a former student of Edvard Grieg.

Years later during a European concert tour, Nepomuceno forged a friendship with Claude Debussy.

“Alberto Nepomuceno is one of the great names of classical music in Brazil and in the world, with a collection of works that range from nationalism to modernism, and in Ceara we award a prize in his name every year,” state Culture Secretary Fabiano Piuba told Efe.

The prize is meant to promote “orchestras, chamber ensembles and bands” in Ceara and across Brazil, the secretary said.

“We are remembering the centenary of Alberto Nepomuceno’s death through this prize, the diffusion of his work and always holding him up as a reference of erudite and classical music in Brazil,” Piuba said.

The tributes to Nepomuceno have included a concert of his art songs by two contemporary icons of Brazilian classical music, baritone Caê Vieira and pianist Silas Barbosa, at Rio de Janeiro Federal University. EFE wgm/dr

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