Next week I travel to Charleston, SC, to give a presentation with songs about the Brazilian maestrina Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga. Chiquinha’s music is timeless–people are still dancing and singing “O Abre Alas”, and musicians around the world play compositions that she wrote in the 19th and early 20th century. Chiquinha is considered the “mother” of Brazilian popular music. Along with Joaquim Callado and others, she mixed African rhythms with European music to create something new. She was a woman before her time–the first woman in Brazil to conduct an orchestra and she wrote over 300 songs and musical pieces. She was an original founder of the SBAT, Sociedade Brasileira de Artistas Teatrais, which sought to support playwrights, lyricists and composers. Chiquinha is also known for her political activism. She was an abolitionist and an in favor of a republic.
The enthusiastic audience filled the grand living room, seated on the floor and on chairs in the balcony. Some stood in the back, spilling into the kitchen and the hallway, and on the steps of the loft. A big picture window that spanned the entire wall behind the performers, looked like the realistic backdrop of a stage. Glimpses of another time, of a Philadelphia night of yesteryear, framed the musicians.
Andrea Clearfield, founder of the Philadelphia Salon, was the mistress of ceremonies. Short and thin, with dark curly hair and dancing eyes, she happily introduced the evening’s performers and the pieces. She started the Salon over 25 years ago, and every last Sunday evening of each month, musicians and lovers of music, have gathered in her home to hear new and old music performed by local and regional performers.
I had been to the Salon a few times as an audience member, but this was my first time performing. I was a bit nervous. I was to sing three of Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga’s songs—Romance da princesa, Santa and Lua branca. Reese Revak, my accompanist, was to play Gaúcho (aka Corta-jaca) one of Chiquinha’s most popular maxixes. (Brazilian tango). This was the first time most, if not all of these people would hear Chiquinha’s music. I had sung these songs out west last year, but to a mostly Brazilian audience. Of course, they understood, they knew. But now, Chiquinha was about to make her debut in Philadelphia–some 80 years after her death.
I felt that Andrea’s Salon would be the perfect place to introduce Chiquinha’s music to Philadelphia. After all Andrea, just like Chiquinha, started as a classical pianist and began to compose her own music. Like Chiquinha, “saraus” (salons) were where she developed her musical ideas and discovered what other musicians were doing. Andrea is busy all year round composing new music, performing it in the Philadelphia area, around the country and the world. Andrea has maintained this salon tradition for nearly three decades in Philadelphia—nurturing and encouraging new music and musicians—just like Chiquinha.
Chiquinha Gonzaga was one of the first in Brazil to break with tradition and try to create something innovative and Brazilian. She combined European music with African rhythms. Choro was both a style and a “happening.” The idea of choro was to improvise—to get together with other musicians and jam! Along with flutist, Joaquim Callado, Chiquinha experimented with the polka and the lundu, turning out a new rhythm—quintessentially Brazilian, beginning a century of invention in music.
Then, it was our turn. I realized that this performance was really about showcasing Chiquinha’s music. I usually am more concerned about my singing, my vocalism and my own presentation. In this case I did feel like an instrument, the channel for Chiquinha’s communication with the world outside herself—the 21st century Philadelphia new music community. As I sang, somehow her spirit was there. Where we in Rio de Janeiro, at the turn of the 20th century or in Philadelphia 2014? Invisible, was she seated at the piano next to Reese? Her small hands pantomiming the accompaniment as I sang. Perhaps she stood in front of the piano in a floor length 19th century dress, with her famous brooch at her neck, and ribbon in her dark long hair, conducting Reese as he played Gaúcho. Or maybe she just smiled, bobbed her head and tapped her foot to the rhythm of the maxixe…
Through me, Chiquinha Gonzaga made her debut and was well received in Philadelphia. The audience did not speak Portuguese but they claimed to understand the meaning of the songs. It sounds cliché , but it’s true: Music is a universal language—connecting heart to heart, suspended in time and space.
For more information about Andrea Clearfield: http://www.andreaclearfield.com/
1. Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Tomás Antonio Gonzaga, one of the “Inconfidentes” (rebels) was a poet and also a distant relation of Chiquinha Gonzaga. This attempt of independence, in 1789, the “Inconfidência Mineira” failed, but the inconfidentes are revered in Brazilian history. Tomás Antonio Gonzaga was also a poet, and known for his poem: “Marilia de Dirceu.”
2. SBAT: Sociedade Brasileira de Autores Teatrais. (Society of Brazilian Theatrical Authors). Fransisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga and other composers and writers founded this organization in 1917 to protect the rights of composers and bookwriters/librettists who worked in musical theatre. The organization still exists today and the original and main site is located in the Centro in Rio de Janeiro. There are also other branches in cities around Brazil. http://www.casadoautorbrasileiro.com.br/sbat
3.Confeitaria Colombo. Confeitarias were popular during the late 19th century and also the early 20th century. Chiquinha and other musicians often played in the confeitarias. http://www.confeitariacolombo.com.br/site/
Rua Gonçalves Dias, 32 / Centro – Rio de Janeiro Tel.: 21 2505.1500
4. Paço Imperial:
this is the place where the Emperor and Princess isabel reigned before Brazil became a Republic, and when Rio de Janeiro was the capital of the country. Chiquinha Gonzaga and others involved in politics, would have mobilized outside this structure. The “Lei Aurea” (Emancipation of Slaves in 1888) was signed in this building.
5. Rua do Ouvidor. This street still exists in Rio de Janeiro. It was one of the few not removed or enlarged by the Pereira Passos’ reforms in the early 20th century. It is like a small slice of life, of “street”, rua or alma (soul) from that period in a confusing conglomeration of streets and avenues in the Centro today.
6. Instituto Moreira Salles or IMS. The IMS in Rio de Janeiro is located in the Zona Sul in Gávea. This was an important stop for me because they house archives of many important works, including the papers and scores of Chiquinha Gonzaga. You can visit the café, gardens, exhibitions or the archives. I also met my Brazilian roommate, Díonisia at the café in IMS. I rented a room in Dionísia’s apartment, at the time she lived in Leblon, when I studied at PUC-Rio in Gávea. Dionísia had never been to the IMS in spite of living in Leblon and later in Barra, which are not far from Gávea. A retired dancer, choreographer and dance ethnographer, she was just as delighted with the surroundings as I was! It is a tranquil, lovely and artistic place. I was able to see digitized, original scores and notes from Chiquinha’s musical theatre works, Bota do diabo and Dama de ouros. http://ims.uol.com.br/Home/D1
7. Theatro Municipal. The Theatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro was erected during the Pereira Passos’ Reforms. This building is absolutely breathtaking–inside and out. In addition to a tour of the inside of the theatre, I also had the pleasure of attending, “Il Turco in Italia,” which was performed in concert. My friend and colleague, Brazilian baritone Igor Vieira, stood out among the cast of local opera singers. Even in a concert version, Igor brought to life the character, vocally and dramatically. The miniseries “Chiquinha Gonzaga” uses the Theatro Municipal as a back-drop. It is a “play within a play” and the elderly Chiquinha watches a play of her life at the Theatro Municipal. http://www.theatromunicipal.rj.gov.br/
8.Academia Brasileira de Letras. I attended a round-table here. Although this organization was not founded until the 20th century, late in Chiquinha’s life, she was influenced by (and knew some of) Brazil’s great writers. http://www.academia.org.br/abl/cgi/cgilua.exe/sys/start.htm?tpl=home
9. Forrobodó! Chiquinha Gonzaga’s most famous musical. Revived at the Teatro Ginástica with the addition of 20th century sambas and songs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUvWSLi6Qeg
- The Art of Conversation: Making History Come to Life in Ouro Preto (deslumbrar.wordpress.com)
Quando cheguei no Rio de Janeiro no dia 11 de agosto de 2013, depois de uma semana no antigo Ouro Preto, sinceramente, tinha esquecido do meu propósito original da viagem—para pesquisar mais sobre Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga e explorar as partes da cidade que ela conhecia durante sua longa vida. Porém, o meu professor de escrita, o Paulo, me lembrou direitinho da minha motivação de etnografia musical.
Recém-chegada em sua casa, estava conversando com ele e sua vizinha, Cecilia. Falamos sobre a vida e a música de Chiquinha. Curiosamente, Cecilia era atriz de teatro e trabalhava na SBAT, Sociedade Brasileira de Autores Teatrais, organização fundada por Chiquinha Gonzaga. Além de convidar-nos para visitar a SBAT no dia seguinte, Cecilia ligou para sua amiga Edinha Diniz. Ela é a mais recente biógrafa de Chiquinha Gonzaga. Cecilia e ela tinham ido ao teatro juntas esse mesmo dia! Eu li dois dos seus livros e me senti honrada de ter a oportunidade de falar com ela.
Durante a semana, segui um roteiro que me levaria para o que restava do Rio de Janeiro que Chiquinha conheceu e para lugares modernos que mantêm ou divulgam sua obra. A apropriada culminação deste “passeio” pelo tempo e espaço foi assistir à ótima apresentação de “Forrobodó” no 17 de agosto de 2013. Apreciar a peça teatral mais famosa e bem sucedida da maestrina foi a maneira perfeita de vivenciar e encarnar o espírito de Chiquinha – através da sonoridade da sua composição musical e o humor da revista no palco. Nesta moderna versão de Forrobodó, representavam-se fiel o carioca contemporâneo e o seu antepassado do Rio do Belle Époque.
A continuação — fotos do roteiro!
When I arrived in Rio de Janeiro on August 11, 2013, after a week in old Ouro Preto, I had actually forgotten my original purpose for the trip–to research about Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga, and explore the parts of the city that she would have known during her long life. However, my writing teacher, Paulo, immediately reminded me about my ethnomusicologist motivation.
Soon after getting to his home, I was speaking with him and his neighbor, Cecilia. We spoke about Chiquinha’s life and music. Curiously, Cecilia is a stage actress and works at SBAT, the Brazilian Society for Theatrical Authors, which was founded by Chiquinha Gonzaga. In addition to inviting us to visit SBAT the next day, Cecilia telephoned her friend Edinha Diniz, the most recent biographer of Chiquinha. She and Cecilia had just gone to the theatre together that very day! I had read two of Diniz’s books and I felt honored to have the opportunity to converse with her.
During the week, I followed an itinerary that showed me what was left of the Rio de Janeiro that Chiquinha would have been familiar with, and also modern sites that maintain or divulge her work. The culmination of this excursion through time and space was to attend the excellent performance of FORROBODÓ on August 17, 2013 FORROBODÓ is Chiquinha’s most famous and most successful musical. . It was the perfect way to live and incarnate her spirit — by way of the sonority of her musical composition, and the comedy happening on stage in the musical review. In this modern version of FORROBODÓ, the contemporary “carioca” (Rio dweller) and the his/her ancestors from the Belle Epoque were well interpreted.
Forthcoming: photos of the Chiquinha trail!