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


The Boeuf chronicles, Pt. 26

Nepomuceno takes his turn.

Daniella Thompson

31 October 2002

Alberto Nepomuceno

Many years after he had left Rio de Janeiro, Darius Milhaud still remembered the classical composers he came to know during his two years in Brazil. In 1942 or ’43, while at Mills College, he wrote in the unpublished article Bresilien Music [sic]:

Alberto Nepomuceno, who was called the father of nationalism in Brazilian music, was a charming and modest man whom I knew very well. He was an excellent teacher and played the piano remarkably. Among his works are an opera and orchestral compositions such as the Prelude of Gara Tuja, a symphony and a Brazilian Suite.

How very surprising, then, that Milhaud never so much as hinted that Nepomuceno (1864–1920) was also the author of Quatro peças líricas op. 13, of which the fourth peça was “Galhofeira,” quoted in Le Boeuf sur le Toit.

In his article “Brazilian Sources in Milhaud’s Le Boeuf sur le Toit: A Discussion and a Musical Analysis,” Manoel Aranha Corrêa do Lago makes the following observation:

[...] the period between Milhaud’s arrival in Rio (1917) and the composition of LBST (1919), the year following his departure from Rio, coincides chronologically with an important transitional period in the history of Brazilian popular music. What would constitute the new musical features during this period was not very apparent or yet sufficiently differentiated from the maxixe. It was only natural, therefore, that LBST would be a portrait not of the “times to come,” but of the music of the Belle-Epoque which was about to wane. It also explains why Milhaud’s “Brazilian” music, in LBST and elsewhere, reveals greater affinity with the world of Alberto Nepomuceno and even Alexandre Levy, art music composers of the previous generation, than with that of Villa-Lobos.

In A linguagem musical de Alberto Nepomuceno, Caio Sílvio Braz said about the composer:

Nepomuceno was no mere precursor. He left more than 200 compositions, a hundred songs, orchestral pieces, trios, etc. He built the foundation of modern Brazilian music. We can anticipate Villa-Lobos by hearing [Nepomuceno’s] “Brasileira” of 1919 or Ernesto Nazaré in the “Galhofeira” of 1894, and so many others inspired by popular music, which he knew so well and knew how to value [...].

Nepomuceno was Brazilian culture’s central figure in his time, a confirmed idealist, “the most cultivated and most capable of the composers of his time” [...].

A Nepomuceno family reunion

Brazil’s National Library devoted several web pages to Nepomuceno’s life and work. In one of them we learn:

On the 4th of August 1895, Nepomuceno gave a historic concert, which marked the beginning of a campaign for which he was severely criticized. He presented for the first time at the Instituto Nacional de Música a series of his songs in Portuguese. The war for the nationalization of Brazilian classic music had started. The concert hit directly on those who maintained that the Portuguese language was inappropriate to the bel canto. The dispute took the press, and Nepomuceno fought a true battle against the critic Oscar Guanabarino, a hearty defender of Italian singing, declaring: “A people who does not sing in its language is a countryless people.”

Nepomuceno’s war cry was heard just one year after he composed Quatro peças líricas.

Tune No. 26: “Galhofeira” (1894)

“Galhofeira” is the final of Nepomuceno’s Quatro peças líricas, op. 13, for solo piano, the first three being “Anhelo,” “Valsa,” and “Diálogo.” In the description of the Library of Congress Nepomuceno Collection, “Galhofeira” is judged the best example of the composer’s “vivacious and spontaneous dance-like urban tunes as the maxixe and the choro.”

A three-minute piano piece, “Galhofeira” is ideally suited for recording on a 78-rpm disc. But it’s not one of the six Nepomuceno compositions that received a total of eight recordings between 1902 and 1964 according to the Funarte database at Fundação Joaquim Nabuco.

In Le Boeuf sur le Toit it appears following the 13th iteration of the rondo motif, played in counterpoint with section A of “São Paulo Futuro,” which was the first tune in Cycle I. “Galhofeira” begins at 13:55 min. into Louis de Froment’s recording.

By way of comparison, we’ll hear an excerpt from Arnaldo Estrella’s piano interpretation of the original tune.

Arnaldo Estrella

Other pianists who recorded “Galhofeira” include Maria Ines Guimarães, Clélia Iruzun, Homero Magalhães, Cristina Ortiz, Miguel Proença, Marcelo Verzoni and Felipe Sarro.

Milhaud would return to “Galhofeira” in 1926, when he quoted it in “Souvenir de Rio,” part XI of Le Carnaval d’Aix, Op. 83b for piano and orchestra.



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