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


The Boeuf chronicles, Pt. 6

The mysterious Portuguese fado
that wasn’t.

Daniella Thompson

9 May 2002

Ernesto Nazareth in 1903

About his encounter with Brazilian music, Darius Milhaud wrote:

The rhythms of this popular music intrigued and fascinated me. There was an imperceptible suspension in the syncopation, a nonchalant respiration, a light pause that I found very difficult to grasp. So I bought a large quantity of maxixes and tangos; I made an effort to play them with their syncopated rhythms that pass from one hand to the other. My efforts were rewarded and I could finally express and analyze this “little nothing” so typically Brazilian. One of the best composers of this genre of music, Nazareth, used to play the piano in front of the door of a cinema on Avenida Rio Branco. His fluid, elusive, and sad playing also helped me acquaint myself better with the Brazilian soul.

In 1918, while Milhaud was in Rio, Ernesto Nazareth was playing at the Cinema Odeon, to which he had dedicated his most famous tango. Milhaud wasn’t the only European musician to hear Nazareth and marvel at his creations. Pianist Artur Rubinstein visited Brazil the same year (see a photo of Rubinstein and Milhaud in Rio) and was equally impressed.

Cinema Odeon, Rio de Janeiro

Still, when Milhaud touched upon the sources of Le Boeuf sur le Toit, there was nary a word about Nazareth. The composer did refer briefly to the tune we’re about to discuss: “I assembled a few popular melodies, tangos, maxixes, sambas, and even a Portuguese fado [...]”

Tune No. 6: “Ferramenta” (1905)

“Ferramenta” (see the score) is neither Portuguese nor a fado. It is a tango composed by Ernesto Nazareth, who bestowed upon it this appellation. Why? Because the tune was dedicated to the celebrated Portuguese aviator Captain António da Costa Bernardes, popularly known as Ferramenta, who ascended in the balloon “Nacional” above Rio de Janeiro in May 1905. The piano score published by Vieira Machado (V.M. 1268 & Cª) depicts a man in a balloon bearing the legend “Nacional” next to the dedication Homenagem ao arrojado areonauta [sic] Antonio da Costa Bernardes.*

* In his book Ernesto Nazareth na Música Brasileira, Baptista Siqueira erroneously identifies Ferramenta as João da Costa Bernardes and reports that he was killed in his aerostat in 1907, as reported in Revista da Semana, 4 August 1907.

The playing directions for “Ferramenta” are Gingando, Sapateado, Bem ligado, Com doçura, Desafiando, Com enthusiasmo, and Resoluto.

“Ferramenta” is unique among the tunes quoted in Le Boeuf sur le Toit, for it appears three times and plays a key role in the rondo’s structure. Section A of the tango closes each of the major Boeuf cycles, following four iterations of the rondo motif. The second appearance ends at the temporal center of Le Boeuf. In Louis de Froment’s recording, “Ferramenta” may be heard at 2:49 min., 7:07 min., and 12:39 min.

Fundação Joaquim Nabuco’s database lists the following early recordings for “Ferramenta”:

Autor: Ernesto Nazareth
Título: Ferramenta
Gênero: Tango
Intérprete: Banda do 52° de Caçadores
Gravadora: Columbia
Número: B-64
Matriz: 11789

Autor: Ernesto Nazareth
Título: Ferramenta
Gênero: Tango
Intérprete: Banda Phoenix
Gravadora: Phoenix
Número: 70729

We’ll hear an excerpt from Almirante’s Rádio Tupi program O Pessoal da Velha Guarda, recorded in 1947. The tune was arranged by Pixinguinha, who conducts the Orquestra Pessoal da Velha Guarda.

Not included in this excerpt is the radio announcer’s long preamble, in which he tells us that the aviator Ferramenta became so successful and popular as to inspire this curious street ditty that can be read two ways:

Olá, seu Ferramenta,
Você sobe ou arrebenta.

Hello, sir Ferramenta,
You rise or crash.


Olá, seu Ferramenta,
Você sobe e arrebenta.

Hello, sir Ferramenta,
You rise to glory.*

= = =

* Arrebentar a boca do balão means to have the best of luck and win everything to which one is entitled.



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