:: The articles in this series were originally
:: published in Daniella Thompson on Brazil.


Doutor Tanguinho

Marcelo Tupinambá was
one of Brazil’s early kings
of popular music.

Daniella Thompson

16 March 2002

Marcelo Tupinambá

In November 1920, Darius Milhaud published in La Revue Musicale an article titled “Brésil,” describing the state of Brazilian erudite music, which was heavily influenced by French Impressionism at the time. Concluding his remarks, the composer advised:

Il serait souhaitable que les musiciens brésiliens comprissent l'importance des compositeurs de tangos, de maxixes, de sambas et de catérétés comme Tupynamba ou le génial Nazareth. La richesse rythmique, la fantaisie indéfiniment renouvelée, la verve, l'entrain, l'invention mélodique d'une imagination prodigieuse, qui se trouvent dans chaque œuvre de ces deux maîtres, font de ces derniers la gloire et le joyau de l'Art Brésilien. Nazareth et Tupynamba précèdent la musique de leur pays comme ces deux grosses étoiles du ciel austral (Centaure et Alpha du Centaure), précèdent les cinq diamants de la Croix du Sud.

It is to be wished that Brazilian musicians would understand the importance of composers of tangos, maxixes, sambas and cateretês like Tupynamba or the genius Nazareth. The rhythmic richness, the ever-renewed fantasy, the verve, the liveliness, the melodic invention of a prodigious imagination that are found in each work of these two masters make the latter the glory and the jewel of Brazilian art. Nazareth and Tupynamba precede the music of their country as those two great stars of the southern sky (Centaurus and Alpha Centauri) precede the five diamonds of the Southern Cross.

Milhaud wasn’t talking idly, for between the two of them, Marcelo Tupinambá (or Marcello Tupynambá, as the name used to be spelled) and Ernesto Nazareth furnished eleven of close to thirty Brazilian melodies quoted by the French composer in his best-known work, Le Boeuf sur le Toit (1919). In fact, Tupinambá alone composed seven of those tunes.

Not that Milhaud ever admitted to borrowing from Tupinambá and Nazareth. He never revealed the identity of his sources. In his autobiography, first published in 1949, he divulged only this:

Still haunted by the memories of Brazil, I assembled a few popular melodies, tangos, maxixes, sambas, and even a Portuguese fado, and transcribed them with a rondo-like theme recurring between each successive pair.

Five years earlier, in unpublished Mills College lecture notes titled Influence of Latin-American music on my work, Milhaud was even less forthcoming:

After writing the “Boeuf sur le Toit” in which I had used Brazilian folk tunes, [...]

The very first “Brazilian folk tune” quoted in Le Boeuf sur le Toit is Tupinambá’s maxixe “São Paulo Futuro” (1914; lyrics by Danton Vampré), composed when its author—whose real name was Fernando Álvares Lobo—was an engineering student of 25. It was the hit of a theatrical revue by the same name whose sketches portrayed an ideal São Paulo at a time when the city was undergoing severe administrative problems. “São Paulo Futuro” also has the distinction of being the first maxixe with lyrics to have been recorded in Brazil.

Listen to Roberto Fioravante’s 1968 recording.


Tupinambá (1889–1953) was the king of tanguinho, but it almost didn’t come to pass.

In 1918, Fernando Lobo was practicing civil engineering in the provincial city of Barretos, SP. Recently engaged to Irene Ferreira de Menezes, he had forsworn musical work, considered a vulgar occupation (the artistic pseudonym had been adopted to protect his family’s name). Happily, the story doesn’t end there.

The São Paulo music publisher João Campassi, partner with Pedro Angelo Camin in the recently founded CEMB (Casa Editora Musical Brasileira), pursued the composer to Barretos, offering attractive terms for songs. According to Benedicto Pires de Almeida’s book Marcelo Tupinambá—Obra Musical de Fernando Lobo (1993), Lobo steadfastly refused to earn any money from music, arguing that in Brazil, musician was synonymous with drunkard. Campassi was no fool and had a word with Irene. Showing her an illustrated catalog of luxurious pianos, he suggested: “If the senhora will convince her fiancé to write six tunes for us, only six, light tunes, for piano, that he composes so easily, and that we will publish, retaining the copyrights, a piano will be yours.”

It was an offer Lobo couldn’t refuse—an imported piano was worth four million réis (compare the value with that of the Brazilian currency in 1940).

The composer’s signature on a CEMB advertising bill

The first tune Tupinambá sent in under the contract was the tanguinho “Tristeza de Caboclo” (1919; lyrics by Arlindo Leal). Campassi & Camin, his publishers, soon recouped the cost of the Matuschek piano, for they sold 120,000 sheet-music scores of “Tristeza de Caboclo” in one year. The melody of this tanguinho is known in the classical-music world as Milhaud’s “Tango des Fratellini,” named after the celebrated Cirque Médrano clowns who danced in drag to its strains in Jean Cocteau’s ballet Le Boeuf sur le Toit or The Nothing Doing Bar (1920).

Listen to pianist Marcelo Guelfi’s 1983 recording of “Tristeza de Caboclo.”

The three Fratellini brothers by Fernand Leger

In the early 1920s, Lobo’s eyesight deteriorated to the extent that he was forced to abandon engineering and make his living solely from music. He moved to São Paulo, where he remained for the rest of his life. Rio de Janeiro was the center of popular music, but his absence from the capital didn’t stop Tupinambá from becoming a nationally popular composer. In 1923, Pixinguinha’s Oito Batutas recorded his tunes “Até a Volta” and “Até Eu” (their repertoire also included his “A Vida É Essa”; “Toada”; “Tristeza de Caboclo”; “Ruana”; and “Chão Parado”). Among the singing stars who recorded his songs over the past 80 years we find Bahiano, Bidu Sayão, Francisco Alves, Gastão Formenti, Vicente Celestino, Abigail Maia, Mário Pinheiro, Belmira Stella, Patricio Teixeira, Jesy Barbosa, Sílvio Caldas, Elisinha Coelho, Trio Melodia (Nuno Roland, Paulo Tapajós & Albertinho Fortuna), Ely Camargo, Roberto Fioravante, Inezita Barroso, and Marisa Monte,* not to mention the numerous instrumentalists who have done so.

The composer was closely involved in the nascent broadcasting industry, conducting orchestras in various radio stations. He was always present on historic occasions. In 1929, when radio Cruzeiro do Sul went on the air with its definitive programming, the inaugural broadcast included Tupinambá’s waltz “Coração” (lyrics by Ariovaldo Pires, aka Capitão Furtado).

Radio Bandeirantes’ inaugural broadcast on 6 May 1937 presented Tupinambá along with his colleagues, the conductors Miguel Izzo, Leo Peracchi, and Lyrio Panicali. When TV Tupi commenced broadcasting on 18 September 1950, the singer Lolita Rodrigues performed “O Hino da TV” (aka “Canção da TV”), composed for the occasion by Tupinambá (lyrics by Guilherme de Almeida).

Tupinambá composed at least 265 tunes, among them cateretês, waltzes, maxixes, tangos, and even some erudite pieces. However, he was best known for his early northeastern-flavored, sertão-inspired songs. Thus, the engineer from São Paulo came as close as anyone to creating “Brazilian folk tunes.”

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* In her album Mais, Marisa Monte recorded the song “Borboleta,” claimed to be of northeastern folkloric origin, with a melody that is identical to that of the tanguinho “Maricota, Sai da Chuva” (Marcelo Tupinambá/Arlindo Leal; 1917), another tune quoted by Milhaud. The original folkloric song, “Borboleta de Natal,” was collected in Segipe by Sylvio Roméro, who published it in the book Cantos populares do Brasil (1897). The musical score of “Borboleta de Natal,” adapted for piano and voice by Annibal de Castro and published by Vieira Machado in 1898 or 1899, has an altogether different melody.



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