On May 13, 1888 -- a quarter of a century after slavery had been abolished in the United States -- Princess Isabel, in her father's absence, signed the "Golden Law," freeing all slaves in Brazil without compensation to their owners. A black Brazilian born only a decade later, Alfredo da Rocha Vianna, Jr. (Pixinguinha), was destined to experience discrimination in both his professional and private life, a life that was otherwise highlighted by music and affection.
Known primarily as a virtuoso flautist, Pixinguinha actually recorded more on sax than on flute. He opted for the tenor sax, when in the early 1920s he realized that he needed a bigger sound and greater sonority to play the larger halls in Paris, much bigger than the venues the Oito Batutas (Great Eight) were used to playing in Rio. The group had been taken to Europe by Arnaldo Guinle (whose family was the "big money" in Rio and were also involved in music and show business as well as the owners of a major hotel in Copacabana). It was on this trip that Pixinguinha acquired a silver Selmer tenor sax and began to develop a sound reminiscent of Johnny Griffin's.
Before the "talkies," pianists and sometimes small orchestras were contracted by the movie houses to accompany action on the screen. The Oito Batutas started this way. Pixinguinha on flute, Ernesto dos Santos (Donga) and Raul Palmieri on violão, Otávio Viana (China) on violão and voice, Nélson dos Santos Alves on cavaquinho, Luís Pinto da Silva on bandola and reco-reco, Jacob Palmieri on pandeiro and José Alves Lima on bandolim and ganzá. The Batutas were the first ensemble to employ (in addition to the traditional flute, violão, and cavaquinho) instruments like the reco-reco, the pandeiro, and the ganzá. Their repertoire included maxixes, lundus, modinhas, batuques, and cateretês.
The Batutas, however, were not allowed to play on stage. They played in the foyer of the theater. The stage was only for prestigious white musicians. Their music, nevertheless, spoke to the Brazilian spirit. There were even those who bought tickets just to listen to Pixinguinha and paid no attention to the films shown. One of their biggest fans was the composer Ernesto Nazaré, who at that time was the pianist at the Odeon theater.
In time Pixinguinha became a musical ambassador. When the king and queen of Belgium visited Brazil in 1920, the Oito Batutas played for them, and they went on to delight the European aristocracy when in 1922 Arnaldo Guinle arranged the aforementioned European tour for the group. As soon as news of the European tour broke, newspapers in Rio and even in the Northeast of Brazil ran articles by writers who were outraged by the idea of "arrogant and ridiculous blacks" representing Brazil. Among those who complained were Gilberto Amado, a writer and politician in the Brazilian House of Representatives and Hermes Fontes a man who had been a friend of the group but who joined the opposition and openly displayed a racist position. The articles charged that the music of the Batutas was too primitive, too barbarian, and too negative to represent Brazil.
With the odds against them, the Oito Batutas made the European journey, caught fire with the French, and conquered Paris. Oito Batutas brought to life the best of Brazilian instrumental music. Intellectuals and music connoisseurs frequented their performances and requested them for their gatherings. Oito Batutas received phenomenal reviews and remained on the marquee in Paris so long that they never completed their European itinerary. On their way back to Brazil, however, they did stop in Buenos Aires, where they recorded for RCA Victor of Argentina, and where the newspaper La Razón published a poem about Pixinguinha. Here are the first and last stanzas:
Negro, tu tienes dos alas
y volando por los nidos
recogiste los sonidos
en caprichosas escalas.....
Vuela... cóndor tropical
a tu bosque, a tus montañas
y devoras esas entrañas
con tu flauta colosal
Black man, you have two wings
And flying through the nests
You collect the sounds
Of capricious scales
Fly...... tropical condor
To your grove, your mountains
You devour our innards
With your colossal flute.
In 1940 the conductor Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) asked Villa-Lobos to select a few musicians for a series of recordings that would present the best of Brazilian popular music to a Pan-American congress of folklore. Among musicians that Villa-Lobos contracted was a man who sparkled with his own frevos, choros, and maracatus -- Pixinguinha. Two albums on Columbia were released some years ago that documented these historic performances.
Presumably because of financial difficulties in the 1940s Pixinguinha was motivated to join Benedito Lacerda's group with the understanding that he would be playing tenor sax. Lacerda was a warmhearted man who had amiable relationships with all the musicians in this band, a band which worked for RCA Victor. Because Pixinguinha was a superb flautist, joining Lacerda's group on sax might have been construed as an imposition. True or not, both sides gained from the resulting music. With Pixinguinha on board they attained a pinnacle of performance that until that time had not been reached in Brazilian popular music. Pixinguinha did more than just assume a role in the group, he improvised superb counterpoint on tenor underneath Benedito's solo flute lines and together they composed such innovative works as "Ingênuo," (Naive) "Um a zero," (One to Zero) and "Segura Ele" (Hold Him).
Two factors contribute to the enduring nature of Pixinguinha's music. First, his music stemmed from Portuguese and African roots: from the lundu, the choro, the samba de roda, and the maxixe. Through these forms Pixinguinha wove improvisation. Second, Pixinguinha had been exposed to and employed European trends in instrumentation and harmony. He introduced this dance hall instrumentation to Brazil at a time when the Modernist movement, which had started in São Paulo in 1922 and spread throughout Brazil, created a commotion in the arts that intellectually assaulted the old patterns in theater, literature, poetry, and especially in music which no longer had to be based on the continental Portuguese model.
The earliest recordings of Pixinguinha's music, "Sofres Porque Queres" (You Suffer Because You Want To) and "Rosa," (Rosa) both from 1917, demonstrate the advanced nature of his arranging and compositional style. Renowned composer Radamés Gnattali called him a genius. Villa-Lobos referred to him as musician without qualification. And more recently, Mauro Senise said that Pixinguinha was a genius in harmony whose works lose nothing as time goes by. Musicologists today see Pixinguinha as the starting point for Brazilian orchestral arrangers. His works provide the student a transparent analysis of the principles of Brazilian harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, and regional nuances.
When "Carinhoso" (Affectionate) was recorded in 1928, it created some puzzling reactions. The choro appropriately titled had a seductive melodic line but some very unusual harmony for the time. Some critics classified it "Americanized" because they believed that it had something to do with American jazz. "Carinhoso" wasn't as Americanized as people thought, although it did represent a change in the structure of the choro. With "Carinhoso," Pixinguinha abandoned the traditional three part form of choro that he had adopted in his first masterworks "Um a Zero," "Lamentos," and above all, "Ingênuo" and gave it a seemingly simpler structure -- an introduction and two parts. Notwithstanding its simple structure, it was harmonically sophisticated. Almost ten years later when the choro was recorded again by Orlando Silva with lyrics by João de Barro but with the same harmonic structure preserved, the world was ready; no ears found it strange. The orchestrations of Pixinguinha were the vital element for the RCA Victor recordings by Francisco Alves, Mário Reis, Sílvio Caldas, Orlando Silva, and Carmen Miranda during the 1930s. He was one of two giants during the Golden Era of Brazilian music (the other being Radamés Gnattali).
Many facts have surfaced acknowledging that Pixinguinha was ahead of his time. Interestingly in 1974, at the peek of Scott Joplin's rediscovery, Gunther Schuller transcribed the piano rags of Joplin for small band (trombone, trumpet, clarinet, tuba). Schuller utilized the traditional instruments of the small groups in New Orleans and adhered to the syncopated rhythms stylistic of ragtime. But his arrangements had a chamber music quality. In as much as Schuller had never heard Pixinguinha's recordings, and the even greater probability that Pixinguinha would have known nothing about Joplin (dead, buried, and forgotten since 1914), Schuller's results were startling. The orchestral timbre and voicing were identical to those of Pixinguinha's from 20 years earlier.
Pixinguinha's lyrics still deserve a more extensive study. "Carinhoso," "Lamento" (in the singular), as well as "Rosa" evolved and were surprisingly enhanced with the addition of intricate poetry. The prominent "Página de Dor" (Page of Pain) by Pixinguinha and Cândido das Neves, which was written on a napkin on the table of a cheap bar, is a prominent example.
A well-known photo showing Pixinguinha at home in his rocking chair wearing pajamas conveys a rather down-home image of the man. Referring to the picture and the image it portrays, Henrique Cazes (an extraordinary cavaquinho player and the person principally responsible for the rediscovery of many of Pixinguinha's orchestral compositions) said that it is time to take the pajamas off Pixinguinha and dress him in conductor's tails. Posterity has not been completely fair to the great maestro.
The photo brings to mind the great American jazz musician, Louis Armstrong (Satchmo). Both of these men had unassuming images that constantly placed their compositions and exceptional playing in the back seat. Satchmo's biographers have tried for years to undue the image of him as simply a folksy clown. Armstrong and Pixinguinha both revealed an early talent on wind instruments, innovated the music of their time, fronted small cutting-edge ensembles, and had nicknames.
The unassuming side of Alfredo da Rocha Vianna, Jr. starts with a nickname that some people unduly attribute to the word "pizindim" which would translate to "good boy" in one African dialect. Others subscribe to the theory that his nickname stems from "bexiga." Pixinguinha's bout with smallpox as a child left little bladder-like sacks (colloquially called bexigas) on his face and body resulting in the nickname "bexiguinha."
The image also stems from the close bonds he inspired from his family and friends. In 1972 his wife, Beti, entered the hospital suffering from a digestive disorder. Pixinguinha, at the same time, suffered his fourth heart attack and was also hospitalized. But everyday Pixinguinha asked his son to bring roses to him. Pixinguinha would dress up, and take the roses to Beti, and pretend that he was there visiting her. She never knew that he had had his fourth heart attack. Beti was operated on but never left the hospital. With her death, Pixinguinha collapsed emotionally and lost all interest in life.
On a hot afternoon in February 1973, Pixinguinha was at Igreja Nossa Senhora da Paz, in Ipanema, waiting for the arrival of his godchild's father so that the child's baptism could begin. Pixinguinha started to feel ill and loosened his belt hoping to relieve his discomfort. Becoming distressed with the delay and hammered by the heat, he was taken to a cooler area in the rear of the church. The maestro died inside that church. When he closed his eyes for the last time, heaven wept.
Ah! se tu soubesses
Como eu sou tão carinhoso
E o muito e muito
Que eu te quero
E como é sincero
O meu amor
Eu sei que nunca
Fugirias mais de mim,
Vem, vem, vem, vem,
Vem sentir o calor
Dos lábios meus
À procura dos teus
Vem matar esta paixão
Que me devora o coração
E só assim então
Serei feliz, bem feliz
Ah! if you knew
How much I care
And how much
I love you
And how sincere
My love is
I know that you would never
Come, come, come, come,
Come and feel the heat
Of my lips
That look for yours
Come and kill this passion
That devours my heart
I will be happy, very happy
My heart, my heart.
Tu és forma ideal,
Estátua magistral, Oh! alma perenal
Do meu primeiro amor, sublime amor
Tu és, de Deus a soberana flor
Tu és, de Deus a criação,
Que em todo o coração sepultas o amor,
O riso, a fé e a dor
Em sândalos olentes, cheiros de sabor,
Em vozes tão dolentes como um sonho em flor
És, láctea estrela,
És mãe da realeza,
És tudo enfim que tem de belo
Em todo o resplendor da santa natureza.
Perdão, se ouso confessar-te,
Eu hei de sempre amar-te
Oh! flor, meu peito não resiste,
Oh! meu Deus quanto é triste
A incerteza de um amor
Que mais me faz penar, em esperar,
Em conduzir-te um dia
Ao pé do altar
Jurar, aos pés do Onipotente
Em preces comoventes de dor,
E receber a unção de tua gratidão
Depois, de remir, meus desejos
Em nuvens de beijos
Hei de te envolver até meu padecer,
De todo o fenecer.
You are the ideal shape
Magisterial statue, Oh Perennial Spirit
Of my first love, sublime love
You are God's sovereign flower
You are God's creation
Who in every heart burns a love
A smile, faith, pain
In fragrant sandalwood filled with flavor
In voices as melancholy as a flowering dream
You are a milky star
You are the mother of the royal
You are everything there is of beauty
In all the splendor of holy nature.
Forgive me, if I dare confess
That I will always love you
Oh flower, my heart cannot withstand
Oh my God, how sad is
The uncertainty of a love
That keeps me, in penance, waiting
To lead you one day
To the foot of the altar
And swear, at the feet of the Omnipotent
In painful moving prayers
And receive the unction of your gratitude
After redeeming my desires
In clouds of kisses
I will envelope you till my suffering
Has completely expired.
Duets with Pixinguinha and Benedito Lacerda recorded between 1946-1951. (Revivendo)
The only recording of the group from their tour in Buenos Aires in 1923. (Revivendo)
*Carnaval, Sua História, Sua Glória:
A 15 CD collection bringing together several of Pixinguinha's greatest orchestrations of Carnaval music. (Revivendo)
*O Cantor das Multidões -- Orlando Silva:
A 3 CD box set including several orchestrations and the compositions: "Rosa," "Carinhoso," and "Páginas de Dor." (Odeon)
*Som Pixinguinha/Gente da Antiga:
Two LPs recorded by Pixinguinha in the 1970s.
(BMG-Ariola-Two in One series)
*Pixinguinha de Novo:
Carlos Poyares and Altamiro Carrilho interpret flute music of Pixinguinha. (Marcus Pereira)
Arrangements from 1948 which were discovered in the National Library. Performed by the group formed by Henrique Cazes. (Kuarup)
Paulo Moura and Clara Sverner interpret Pixinguinha's greatest hits in arrangements for piano and clarinet. (Sony)
*Disfarça e Chora:
Zé Nogueira, Andréa Ernest Dias, Marçal, Luciana Rabello, and others preserve the tradition. (Warner)
* I have found only one reliable source for these recordings
Brazil CDs -- (617) 666 -3747 specialist in hard to find imports.
** Solo and duet guitar sheet music for Pixinguinha's better known compositions ("Um a Zero", "Lamentos," "Rosa," "Carinhoso") is available from GSP -- (415) 896 -1122.
Bruce Gilman plays cuíca for Mocidade Independente Los Angeles, received his MA from California Institute of the Arts, and teaches English and ESL in Long Beach, California. You can reach him through his E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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