NAZARETH: Tangos, Waltzes and Polkas
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Ernesto Nazareth ( 1863-1934)
Tangos, Waltzes and Polkas
Even until a few years ago, only very few pianists ofserious intentions dared to include music by ErnestoNazareth in their repertoire, since he was not held to betruly a so-called 'classical' composer. His workssuffered from a certain amount of prejudice and werenot among those played in schools of music or inclassical piano competitions, yet I cannot rememberhaving met anyone who did not like his music. Thecharisma of Nazareth's works was, even then, morepowerful than all of the discussions as to whichparticular genre his music belongs.
During Nazareth's own lifetime, musical andcultural tastes were based on those prevalent in Europe.
This subordination to European culture did not, for along period, allow genuinely Brazilian classical musicfully to blossom. The trendsetters were from the oldcontinent. On one occasion, the attempt to include fourof Nazareth's works in the concert programme of theNational School of Music in Rio de Janeiro led to suchprotests that the police had to be called in to intervene.
Nazareth's dances aim to please a discerningconcert audience and are surely successful in doing so.
These works are, first and foremost, original, and areexpressions of the Brazilian soul. With them, thecomposer certainly wrote musical history and laid thefoundations for an authentically Brazilian style ofclassical music.
Nazareth's output is made up predominantly ofBrazilian tangos, over eighty in all, and more than fortywaltzes, and it is particularly in the latter that the ratherintriguing influence of Chopin on his work canundoubtedly be felt. Nazareth studied the Polishcomposer's scores in order to teach himself how toimprove his method of composition, and he also oftenperformed Chopin's works on the piano. Like Chopinhimself, he devoted a large part of his creative energiesto writing for the piano, the instrument of which hehimself was a master.
The first Brazilian tango appeared in the year 1871,nine years before its melancholy Argentinian brother.
The term tango was used for the first time in Brazil todesignate certain characteristic pieces which were verysimilar in style to the habanera, the latter having arrivedfrom Cuba in 1866, soon to become very popular. It wasthrough his tangos that Nazareth achieved the greatestdegree of originality.
Ernesto Nazareth was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1863and witnessed both the emancipation of the slaves andthe establishment of the republic. In his youth he wasengaged by music publishers and paid to play in theirestablishments, thus encouraging people to buy themusic he played, which included his own. Later, afterthe invention of the silent film, he was given a contractat the Odeon cinema, where he enlivened the films withhis accompaniment or entertained the public in theentrance lobby. Audiences were enchanted by theoriginality of his compositions. One famous nameamong those who heard him was Villa-Lobos, whoconsidered the music of Nazareth to be the veryembodiment of the soul of Brazil.
Nazareth's life was marked by a series of emotionalcrises culminating in permanent and incurable mentalillness, which led, in 1933, to his being committed to apsychiatric clinic from which he escaped in thefollowing year only to drown in a reservoir. His burialtook place during the Carnival, a festival that dominatesboth heart and soul in Brazil, and thus his death passedalmost unnoticed. The story has it that, when Nazareth'slifeless body was found, his arms were bent, as if hewere playing the piano.
The titles of his works are often very humorous orrefer to everyday situations in Brazil, especially to thelife of the cariocas, or inhabitants of the city of Rio deJaneiro. Sometimes the titles suggest the instrumentswhich are imitated in the piece. Of the works I havechosen to record the boisterous Espalhafatoso isfollowed by a mischievous Brejeiro and the melancholywaltz Confid?¬ncias. Escovado, well dressed or cunning,is followed by Nen?¬, baby, a child or loved one, a workused by the composer Catullo da Paix?úo Cearence as thebasis for his song Sertaneja. The polka Ameno Resedabears the name of an old Carnival group from Rio. Theleft hand imitates the cavaquinho, a small guitar used bypopular musicians in Brazil. This is succeeded by thewaltz Turbilh?úo de Beijos, whirlwind of kisses, andGa??cho, the Brazilian cowboy, and also the name givento the inhabitants of the southernmost state in Brazil, theRio Grande do Sul, to whom Nazareth dedicated thispiece after a visit in 1932. Plangente, in lamentation, isa tango written in the style most nearly approximating tothe habanera, and Topazio Liquido, liquid topaz, refersin its title to topaz-coloured beer, and was dedicated bythe composer to an old brewery. Ouro Sobre Azul, goldon blue, refers to something very beautiful or becoming,and Sarambeque is a suggestive dance of African origin,which was also danced in wealthy white households inthe eighteenth century. The romantic waltz Ep??nina hasa girl's name as its title, while the ambiguously namedEscorregando, suggests sliding, going down well (as adelicious meal goes down) or telling a tall story. InTenebroso, gloomy, Nazareth instructs the player toimitate a guitar in the lower register, and in Odeon, anold cinema in Rio showing silent films in whichNazareth worked as a musician, the left hand alsoimitates a guitar. Apanhei-te Cavaquinho (I havegrabbed you, cavaquinho!) has the left hand imitatingthe cavaquinho in this choro, while the right hand takeson the r??le of a flute. This combination of instruments ismuch loved in Brazilian popular music.Iara Behs (www.iarabehs.com)
English translation by Alan Metcalfe