The Boeuf chronicles, Pt. 8a

Chiquinha Gonzaga’s biography

Daniella Thompson

15 October 2011

Chiquinha Gonzaga on her 85th birthday

The following biography is an edited version of a text extracted in 2002 from the Biblioteca Nacional website.

Childhood and Youth

Natural daugther of Rosa Maria de Lima, Francisca Edwiges was born on 17 October 1847 in Rio de Janeiro. Francisca’s birth put her mother, a poor mestizo woman, in difficult circumstances, mainly because she did not know if the child’s father would admit his parenthood. José Basileu Neves Gonzaga, a promising young officer from a wealthy family, was strongly advised not to marry Rosa. However, he recognized Francisca as his daughter and registered her as such.

Like all middle-class girls of the 19th Century, Francisca Neves Gonzaga was educated to become a fine young lady of Pedro II’s court. Her father brought her up in a very rigorous way, preparing her for a promising future, namely, a good marriage through which she might become a real “lady.” From her very early years, she was taught to read and write, make calculations, and, principally, to play the piano. Music became her great passion. She grew up listening to polkas, maxixes, waltzes, and modinhas, cheerfully participating in family parties. In the year 1858, at the age of 11, she composed her first tune.

In Brazil’s patriarchal society, men were entitled to everything, while women’s lot was staying at home and leading a domestic life in the company of the household slaves. Very few women dared to challenge their fathers and husbands. When they did, they were inevitably sent to houses of correction or to the seclusion of convents.

After the Portuguese royal family came to Brazil in 1808, women began to circulate a little more in society. They now went to the occasional ball at Court, to soirées, or to the theatre and opera.

Little by little, Rio de Janeiro underwent changes, slowly becoming a metropolitan center as the demands of international trade increased. Fashion and customs began to acquire European character. The Rio harbor became the financial and commercial center of the Empire, where coffee, slaves, and all sorts of foreign goods were traded, much to the satisfaction of the new consumers.

But the social changes were not sufficient to modify the austere patriarchal system. The young Francisca Gonzaga could not but obey her father’s orders. In 1863, aged 16, she was married to Jacinto Ribeiro do Amaral, a handsome young man of 24, medium height, blue eyes, and of a respectable, wealthy family.

Chiquinha Gonzaga and the Chorões

Her husband compelled Chiquinha to stay away from the piano, and soon, still a teenager, she rebelled against her married life. She paid a high price for her newfound independence. Her father disowned her while her son, João Gualberto, was still a baby. Searching for a new life and for the opportunity to follow her dream—becoming a composer—Chiquinha came into contact with the bohemian world of Rio de Janeiro. She was welcomed in its musical milieu, making the acquaintance of people who would have a significant role in her education.

She met famous musicians, like the flutist and composer Joaquim Antônio da Silva Callado (1848–1880), who became her friend and protector. Known as Callado Jr. until his father’s death, he received a classic musical education but played popular music from an early age and may be considered “the creator of ‘choro’ and the nationalizer of Brazilian popular music,” according to Edinha Diniz in Chiquinha Gonzaga: uma história de vida. His first published composition, the polka “Querida por Todos” (1869), was dedicated to Chiquinha.

Callado invited Chiquinha to become the piano player of his band, O Choro do Callado. Chiquinha began to play in balls and theatres, being paid two thousand réis per night.

Chiquinha started to frequent parties and meetings of chorões and, in 1877, she composed the polka “Atraente,” which was published just before Carnaval and became an instant hit.

Chiquinha ... welcomed every one in her house most kindly, always pleased and smiling. When asked to play a choro, she didn’t wait to be begged but opened the piano and, with her agile, admirable fingers, began playing one of the innumerable choros composed by her.

–Alexandre Pinto, O Choro (1936)

Chiquinha and the Vaudeville

For Chiquinha Gonzaga, composing music for the Teatro de Revista (vaudeville) meant earning money, conquering audiences, and being recognized as a composer. In 1880, she wrote a libretto and tried to put it to music. It was the play of manners Festa de São João, which was never published. Only in 1885 did she manage to have a première as a conductor, having composed the one-act operetta A Corte na Roça with Palhares Ribeiro as her partner.

Little by little, Chiquinha became known in the theatrical milieu of Rio de Janeiro and participated as a composer and conductor in several productions: A Filha de Guedes (1885), O Bilontra e a Mulher-Homem (1886), O Maxixe na Cidade Nova (1886), and O Zé Caipora (1887).

Ô Abre Alas que eu quero passar...

Around 1899, Chiquinha moved to the Andaraí district, where Carnaval parades were very popular, bringing together local dwellers and people from all over the city. One day, as she was at home, listening to the rehearsals of the cordão Rosa de Ouro, she sat at the piano and composed a march in honour of the group. Thus the first Carnaval song was born. Up to then, no composer had created a song for a Carnaval cordão. What existed were popular refrains, without an elaborate melody (Diniz, p. 186). The march “Ô Abre Alas” became her biggest success, and to this day it is played in all Carnaval balls.

The best medium for publicizing the new march was undoubtedly the theatre. Chiquinha included it in the play Não Venhas, and the public adored it. It was Carnaval invading the theatre “at a time when the social classes kept their boundaries very well defined. Chiquinha does not hesitate to bring to the salon what formerly belonged to the streets.” (Diniz, p. 186)

A Successful Conductor

In the eyes of Chiquinha’s contemporaries, it was impossible for a woman to be successful and earn a living as a musician. Chiquinha was the pioneer who proved them wrong. After the tremendous success of the polka “Atraente,” her compositions could be heard in salons, theatres, and streets. Beside conducting, she also played the piano in choro bands and gave piano lessons, which guaranteed her livelihood.

From 1885 onwards, she was often invited to compose and conduct operettas and vaudeville plays. Her popularity increased steadily, and she was even called “Offenbach in skirts.” Her maxixes and polkas were highly praised by the press, and this, in addition to her status as conductor, guaranteed her acceptance in higher social circles. “Being a conductor for her was the equivalent of having a university degree.” (Diniz, p. 136) Each score signed by her meant immediate success, full houses, and several editions sold out. At the performance of A Filha de Guedes, “she had an ovation and received gifts from her many admirers, several bunches of flowers and a beautiful crown...”

In 1889, Chiquinha organized a concert in honor of Maestro Carlos Gomes. The announcement stated, “Francisca Gonzaga will conduct all her musical compositions. The Imperial Family will be present at the concert.” The concert was successful, the program opening with Gomes’ opera O Guarani. Then Chiquinha conducted and played her popular compositions, accompanied by amateur musicians—something quite new for the elitist audiences of the Teatro São Pedro.

Having conquered the musical sphere, Chiquinha began a crusade for authors’ rights. in 1913, she launched a campaign to recognize the Sociedade Brasileira de Autores Teatrais (SBAT), after having seen in a Berlin music shop several of her compositions, recorded and published by Fred Figner without her permission. She demanded and received satisfaction from the publisher, initiating the first discussions about copyright in Brazil. In 1916, the National Congress approved the Brazilian Civil Code, whose Law No. 3,071 dealt with literary and artistic property, reinforcing authors’rights.” (Diniz, p. 213) Brazilian authors were beginning to enjoy legal protection and recognition of their rights. This was the time for Chiquinha Gonzaga to put an old idea into practice: to create an organism to represent Brazilian authors. “On 27 September 1917, at the ABI (Associação Brasileira de Imprensa) [...] the Sociedade Brasileira de Autores Teatrais was founded [...] and its first board of directors was constituted by Oscar Guanabarino, Viriato Corrêa, Gastão Tojeiro, and Chiquinha Gonzaga.” (Diniz, p. 214) SBAT has established itself as the institution that protects theatrical authors, and Chiquinha Gonzaga is remembered since then as a symbol of that struggle.



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