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published on January 21, 2010

Brazilian Classical Music

by Tom Moore

Ciete Silvério (SP state press office)
Conductor John Neschling during a concert of the São Paulo State Orchestra in Campos do Jordão
Until recently, it has been difficult for international listeners to get a sense of the breadth and importance of the repertoire for orchestra produced by Brazilian composers in the 20th century. Very little Brazilian music got any airplay. Almost none was recorded abroad. While many important works continued to be presented by Brazilian orchestras, Brazilian labels rarely recorded them under optimal conditions. We were left with live performances, and often not the best ones at that.

All this has changed thanks to an ambitious program linking the Symphonic Orchestra of the State of São Paulo (OSESP), and its conductor John Neschling, with Bis Records of Sweden. Together they have released more than a dozen CDs of Brazilian classical music since 2002. Here are some that are definitely worth checking out.

Francisco Braga - BIS-CD-1280, entitled Jupyra, features two works by composer Braga (born, Rio de Janeiro, 1868, died, Rio de Janeiro, 1945), for whom a street in Copacabana is named. Like almost all Brazilian composers, Braga went abroad to study, spending 1890-1894 at the Paris Conservatory with Massenet. The tone poem Cauchemar (1895) is highly French in its style, as one might expect. The one-act opera Jupyra was written in Italy (to an Italian libretto, not a Portuguese one), and was premiered in Rio. Braga went on to be professor of composition at the National Institute of Music (formerly the Conservatory, and presently the School of Music of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – UFRJ). Both of these works are floridly late Romantic in idiom, with the opera recalling the contemporary works of Puccini.

Francisco Mignone - Mignone (born São Paulo, 1897, died Rio de Janeiro, 1986) boasts streets named in his honor in São Paulo, Teresópolis, and Guaratiba. He studied in São Paulo, and later at the Conservatory in Milan. By 1933 he had taken a position at the School of Music in Rio de Janeiro. Bis CD-1420, entitled Francisco Mignone: Maracatu de Chico Rei; Festa das Igrejas; Sinfonia Tropical, features his first ballet, Maracatu de Chico Rei, from 1933, a very picturesque and entrancing piece based on Afro-Brazilian folklore, in an idiom recalling that of Respighi.

Camargo Guarnieri - The six symphonies of Guarnieri (born, Tietê, São Paulo, 1907, died, São Paulo, 1993) are presented on three discs from Bis – CD-1220, CD-1290, CD-1320 entitled Guarnieri: Symphonies Nos. 2 And 3 / Abertura Concertante, Camargo Guarnieri: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4; Abertura Festiva and Camargo Guarnieri: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 6; Vila Rica Suite, respectively. (Surprisingly, Guarnieri has no street named for him in either São Paulo or Rio, but does in the capital of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte). His father, from Sicily, was part of the massive immigration to São Paulo from Italy in the early 20th century, and all of Guarnieri’s early musical study took place in the home country, although in the late 30s he studied briefly in Paris. The symphonies recorded by Bis date from 1944 (nos. 1 and 2) to 1981. Symphony no. 7 is from 1985. Guarnieri belonged to an anti-dodecaphonic school, but wrote in a modern idiom nonetheless. In some ways one might think of him as belonging to the esthetic of Aaron Copland, with use of folk material in pieces like the Vila Rica Suite (named for the city of Ouro Preto in Minas Gerais).

Claudio Santoro - Santoro (born Manaus, 1919, died, Brasilia, 1989) studied violin at the School of Music in Rio de Janeiro, where he went on to study composition and serial technique with immigrant and important pedagogue Hans Joachim Koellreutter, who arrived in Brazil in 1937. After the World War II he studied with Boulanger in Paris. Bis CD-1370, entitled Claudio Santoro: Symphonies 4 & 9; Ponteio; Frevo, includes two from a total of 14 symphonies (no. 4, “Of Peace”, 1953, and no. 9, 1982), as well as two folk-related works, the Ponteio (1953) for string orchestra, and the Frevo (a dance-form from Recife), arranged for orchestra from the original for piano, 1953.

Heitor Villa-Lobos - The most well-known of the composers featured by Bis and OSESP is that icon of Brazilian music, Villa-Lobos (born and died, Rio de Janeiro, 1887-1959), who has never been far from the record bins. Nevertheless, the seven-disc set (at the price of three) from Bis (CD-1830-2), entitled Complete Choros & Bachianas Brasileiras is highly recommended.

CDs presenting works by living Brazilian composers are much more difficult to track down and acquire, since Bis has not yet devoted a similar program to their output (here’s hoping!). The Academia Brasileira de Musica offers recordings on their own ABM label, as well as from the catalogue of the old RioArte label. Composers in the series have included Ricardo Tacuchian, Jocy de Oliveira, Guilherme Bauer, David Korenchendler and Ernani Aguiar.

Tom Moore is a classical musician and translator who fell in love with Rio de Janeiro on his first visit in 1998. From 2004 to 2007 he was a visiting professor at UniRio in Urca, just down the street from Sugarloaf. He has been active in promoting the classical music of Brazil, commissioning new works from Carioca composers, and has worked closely with Sergio Roberto de Oliveira. He has contributed to numerous magazines in the United States and Europe, including Fanfare, Goldberg, Early Music America, Historical Performance, and 21st Century Music. His recordings of baroque music are available on the Lyrichord (USA) and A Casa Discos (Brazil) labels: Telemann: Six Sonates en Trios dans le Goût Italien; Trio Sonata in G major; Telemann: Quatuors (6) ou Trios, Sonata In D For Cello and Continuo; George Philipp Telemann: Six Flute Duets, TWV 40:130-135; and Boismortier: 6 sonates en trio. Read more on BrazilMax by Tom Moore.

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