By Radar’s fame came from his work as a pianist and arranger in the
mythological Rádio Nacional and his popular music records, but it was in classical music
that he left his mark as a great composer.
(Porto Alegre, January 27, 1906Rio de Janeiro, 1988)
Radar é água alta
Radar is high water.
(He is) the fountain that never dries up.
The waterfall of love.
The choro interpreter, king of shuttlecock.
Radar is a concert artist,
composer, pianist ,
orchestra leader, great maestro.
And, more than anything, a friend,
He sails with you,
It’s a donation bill
He helps everyone
And what’s more, he helped me.
Hello, Radar, I’m calling you
Let’s have a beer
This is Tom Jobim speaking.
(poem by Tom Jobim dedicated to his great friend Radamés Gnatalli)
Who has heard it has never forgotten. So, you should remember. Example one: the
tcham-tcham-TCHAM, tcham-tcham-tcham-TCHAM! that introduces the true Brazilian
postcard of music known as "Aquarela do Brasil." Example two, this for the more
conversant in Brazilian music: the soft bed of guitars, violins, and cellos that spread
about their sheets for the tender voice of the young Orlando Silva to lay and roll in the
original recording of "Carinhoso." Or still: the revolutionary base of the
fantastic film like instrumentation of Copacabana, with the voice of Dick Farney
(eight violins, two violas, a cello, oboe, piano, guitar, bass and drums played with
little brushes. Bossa nova twelve years before the bossa nova).
You don’t remember any of the three?? At least you remember the little band of
"Rancho da Goiabada," by João Bosco with Aldir Blanc, don’t you? (No?!? Then
put down this magazine and go buy some MPB records, man!).
The author of all these feats is just one person. Answering to his baptized name of
Radamés Gnatalli and, at the end of his life, to the nickname of Radar. Piano
player, arranger, maestro, band-leader, classical and popular music composer. Instructor
of people like guitarist Rafael Rabello and Tom Jobimand partner of Tom’s father,
Jorge Jobim, in at least one lost song.
By the way, on a cold morning in ’91"at that hour that all the annoying
people are still sleeping"Tom, who was fighting with the Brazilian press, hung
on the phone for more than a hour for an interview only because the subject was Radamés.
According to Jobim, "a big Gaúcho (someone from the state of Rio Grande do
Sul) of Italian and German blood, fond of wine, beer and maté (tea)".
Jobim was jubilant with the fact that the name of his teacher was given to a hall in
the Araújo Vianna Auditorium, one of the biggest places for shows in Porto Alegre,
located a few blocks from the house where Radar was born: "Radamés was an advanced
soul, a spirit ahead of his time, a pioneer that wrote music for the future, a father. He
wasn’t just talented, he was a very generous man".
Radamés was a radar. A radar that pointed out, caught and signaled what was the best
that was done in Brazilian music during a period of more than 60 years. In reality, more
than radarhe was a real transmitter of signals picked up by several musical
Born on Fernandes Vieira Street, heart of Bomfima neighborhood of Jews, Italians
and blacks, from a young age the boy was prepared by his family to be a concert
pianist. With a preference for European stages. his father began life as an Italian
cabinet-maker and died a Brazilian maestro. And he wanted to see his son at least in the
Scala of Milan. He ended up having to be content with the middle of the road between the
south hamlets and the Old Continent: his bambino became famous as a tenacious adopted Carioca.
But before this, he made history in Porto Alegre, a city located in the extreme south
of Brazil, capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, neighbor to Uruguay and Argentina
and very distant in cultural terms from other Brazilian cities because of its large number
of European immigrants, cold climate, and a certain modesty and reservedness far from the
The ever versatile prodigal son, it was in Porto Alegre that Radamés won his first
award at just 9 years of age, in 1915. And straight from the hands of the Italian Consul.
His work: to direct with total success a small orchestra of six musicians in arrangements
written by himself. Our Mozart of Bomfim was also already tearing up the piano and the
violin. And he was the biggest star of a family of musicianswhich also included the
violinist Olga Fossati, his cousin and first music teacher.
His mother, Adélia Fossati, was a respected piano player and also gave music lessons.
The father, Alessandro Gnatalli, besides also being a piano player and teacher, little by
little became renown as maestro, bassoonist and proud anarchist. Good Italian that he was,
he became a union leader and, at the front of the Musician’s Union of Porto Alegre, he
organized the firstand only musicians’ strike ever in the city, in 1921.
But in spite of his classical foundation, the seduction of the music of the streets
didn’t delay in entering the window in the new Gnatalli house, now on João Telles
Streetand still in Bomfim. Result: in the beginning of the 1920s, the young man
besides being good at violin and the piano became also famous for his mastering of the
guitar and of the cavaquinhoa small guitar with four strings of steel
frequently used in samba and choro.
Sixty years later, he would remember with longing this phase: "Sotero Cosme, Luís
Cosme, Júlio Grau, myself and some other musicians formed a Carnaval group, kind of
modern for the timeOs Exagerados (The Exaggerated). Every one played an instrument.
And since I couldn’t bring the piano, I began to play the cavaquinho". But his
mischief didn’t take him away from his studies. So much so that he was directly admitted
to the fifth year of piano at the School of the Arts, where he became the professor’s
favorite, who was the renowned Guilherme Fontainha, also director of the school. During
this time, another classical instrument became a part of his repertory: the viola.
To make some moneyand have a good time, the boy played piano, guitar and cavaquinho
during the movies in the Colombo theater and in various dance orchestras. Also, he was
beginning to write his first compositionsstill strictly classical, but already with
a strong Brazilian theme.
Before his graduation in piano, he gave a much-talked-about concert at the National
Music Institute in Rio. All the time that he wasn’t studying in the first season in Rio,
Radamés was spying inside the Odeon Theater, his ears dazzled by Ernesto Nazaré,
official piano player of the theater and one of the most respected popular composers of
the time. Radamés discovered there thatto be popular and respectedis
possible. However, he continued with his studies until graduating, in Porto Alegre, in
1923as it couldn’t be any other way, with the highest grade and the Araújo Vianna
Medal, made of gold.
Between 1924 and 1926, the boy stayed in a come and go phase on the "sea
bridge", between Porto Alegre and Rio always standing out be it in concerts and
recitals or dances, cinemas, theaters and radio. But he still found time to put together
the Henrique Oswald String Quartet, at the side of the Cosme brothers, his inseparable
friends. They played daily and became one of the best chamber music groups in the Brazil
of then. Radamés played viola. And they appeared in many shows throughout Rio Grande do
His official debut as composer took place in 1930, at 26 years of age. At a concert in
the São Pedro Theater, he introduced two Preludes for Piano. Directly afterwards, he
moved permanently to Rio. There was no other way: the classical frock was changed forever
to the straw hat. Good-bye Europe. Ironically, he would only visit the European stages
that he father dreamed of decades later, playing popular Brazilian music at the front of
his inseparable quintet. And, according to percussionist Luciano Perrone, "we were a
Luciano Perrone, by the way, besides being Radar’s faithful percussionist during his
lifemore than 50 years, certainly, was one of his best friends. They met in
1925, during Luciano’s honeymoon, in a resort in Lambari, in Rio. Radamés was playing
piano, and he had percussion instruments at his side. He addressed Perrone with a terse
"sit there" and they were intimate friends for the rest of their lives. The
partnership would found the Brazilian way of playing percussion, the creation of the pair.
Crazy with joy to find someone that wanted to hear his stories, the old man spent hours
on the phone recounting them. Like the real version of one of the most classic legends of
Brazilian music. One day, tired of the inconveniences he put up with by the
"illiterate" percussionists that he had to direct in the recordings of the
arrangements that Radamés was making for RCA Victor, Perrone suggested: "Radamés,
why don’t you change the format of these arrangements? Instead of so many percussionists,
try using other instruments in the orchestra to also create a beat……" Typical
Because it’s not going to turn out right.
The next day he arrived with the arrangement. Spectacular.
Taking advantage of a suggestion of rhythmic division dictated by Perrone himself, the
two ended up inventing the orchestration of the samba, unheard until then (what was done,
at the maximumsince samba wasn’t for an orchestra, was to write melodies for wind
instruments or harmonies for the string instruments and leave just the beat and the swing
only with a rhythmic base. From this first arrangement, quickly, Radamés was inventing an
orchestra language that had nothing to do with what was done before him, and much less
with the American orchestrations for the same formation (brass, reeds, rhythmic base of
the piano, bass and percussion). He who thinks that his orchestrations are Americanized is
because he doesn’t know a thing.
This was at the end of the 1930s and the first song arranged in this concept was not,
as the legend goes, "Aquarela do Brasil." Aquarela was, in reality, the first to
really take off with this concept. Anyway, from this date onand thanks to the
popularization of radioRadamés would become the best, most requested, and most
imitated arranger of a generation of ingenious men in the area. A generation that had only
three namesPixinguinha, Lírio Panicalli and Léo Peracchi.
Result: As happened with Ary Barroso, it didn’t take long, in the 1940s, for Disney
StudiosDisney himself was enchanted with "Aquarela"to invite
Radamés to live in the United States and do the musical direction in some of Disney’s
films. As happened with Ary (who couldn’t manage to stay in the United States because they
"don’t have Flamengo [a Rio soccer team])", he didn’t want to leave Brazil. He
At that time he had already formed a dream group for any composer, one of the best
instrumental formations that Brazil had seen: Chiquinho, also from Rio Grande do Sul, on
the accordion; Zé Menezes on the guitar, fiddle, cavaquinho and an innovative
electric guitar; Radamés on the piano; Vidal on the double bass and the insuperable
Perrone on drums. At times reinforced by his sister Alda on a second piano. It was the
Radamés quintet. They were the base of almost all the maestro’s orchestrations, they
recorded records, and went on tour. The group lasted for decades on end, always with the
Between the 1960s and 1970s, with the decline of live radio, Radamés lost his great
projection vehicle. On Rádio Nacionalthe most powerful station in the history of
Brazilhe directed dozens of programs, some of which remained on the air for decades
on end. In spite of all the efforts of Tom Jobim to call attention to his teacher, during
all the years of bossa nova, Radamésa lover of elegant
orchestrationsbecame "out". He began to dedicate himself more to classical
music, which in some way he disliked. are From this time are masterpieces like Concerto
Carioca and a fantastic suite for electric guitar and piano, a duo recorded with
Laurindo de Almeida, the ingenious Brazilian violinist, that won five Grammies.
But the virtual resurrection of the old man for new generations occurred at the end of
the 1970s with Camerata. After years comfortable at home, composing and arranging,
Radamés was engrossed with the idea of getting the quintet back together. He began to
travel with frequency throughout Brazil, with both formations. He got back his prestige,
backed by names already mentioned, plus the composer and singer Dorival Caymmiauthor
of Carmen Miranda’s biggest hits, like :O Que é Que a Baiana Tem?"João
Gilberto and a few others.
Then, at the height of the activity of this unexpected comeback at brink of turning 80
years old, God was cruel to him. Radamés died after a long period of physical suffering
agony of more than two years on top of a bed, fruit of two brain ischemias. Roberto
Gnatalli, his nephew, maestro and another diligent disciple, speaks emotionally of the
months that the elderly Radamés spent in a coma, almost a vegetable: "Radamés
didn’t deserve that. He died when his talent was at its peak." One of the last
phrases said by the uncle to his nephew before he stopped recognizing people: "What
the fuck, Roberto, now that everything was going so well…"
If Radar’s fame came from his work as a pianist and arranger in the mythological Rádio
Nacional and his popular music records, it was in classical music that he left his mark as
a great composer: He considered himself a neo-classical nationalist musician and
was, according to the cavaquinho player and producer Henrique Cazes, "by far, the
Brazilian classical composer that produced the most". Cazes, famous musician and
chorus producer, is one of the nostalgic friends of Radar’s. And, like the prematurely
departed Rafael Rabello, was a part of Camerata Carioca.
Camerata was created specifically to present a new version of "Suíte
Retratos," written originally by Jacó do Bandolim, and it was a group of young choro
musicians that in 1979, brought Radamés back to the stage. The young men idolized him:
"Radamés was younger than us, always with that slightly crabby, priceless
humor". Cazes is also the founder of the Radamés Gnatalli Association, that strives
to bring together Radamés original sheet music, spread throughout the entire country. A
thankless venture, in fact: "He saw someone play well, was charmed and wrote a song
for the guy. There’s just one detail: he gave him the original sheet music as a gift and
didn’t even make a copy".
Among this sheet music there is oneextremely rareof an arrangement for
piano and sextet on… a box of matches. And also from the concerts, for practically all
the instruments that you can imagine, and always written especially for some virtuoso
friend: flute, violin, guitar, harmonica (!), saxophone, mandolin, accordion (!!), tumbadoras
(!!!). Not to mention "Divertimento para Marimbafone (?!?) e Orquestra," or the
already cited and splendid "Suíte Retratos," mandolin, folk band and string
Religiously, Radamés defended the exercise as a necessary evil for the composer as
much as for the violinist that studies eight hours per day or an athlete that runs 20 km
every morning. Radamés himself, when his health permitted, woke up every day at four and
wrote until ten. Cazes tells that many times the fever of the composer to write music was
so great that he didn’t worry if the music would be played one day or not.
Paulinho da Violathe greatest composer of samba born after the 1940sis
another that remembers: "He wrote things for absurd groups of instruments, that he
knew would never be heard. But he didn’t care, he wrote anyway". One very interesting
detail is that Radamés wrote vertically (explanation: normally the arranger writes the
melody first, after the bass, the harmony and so on. Radar wrote all these things at the
same time, one measure at a time).
Paulinho always was a timid fan of Radar. He watched him from a distance, hidden behind
his father, César Faria, violinist in the Regional Época de Ourofounded by another
great friend and inspirer of Radamés: Jacob do Bandolim. Paulinho and Radamés only met
for the first time in 1980, when the first composed in homage to the second the choro
"Sarau para Radamés." Paulinho invited him to play the music together with him,
on a TV Globo special: "He picked up the sheet music, which was difficult, and
started playing. He knew it all".
Luís Carlos Bragaexcellent performer of the difficult seven-string guitar, one
of the founders of Camerata Carioca, was a part of the group that recorded Sarau on one of
Paulinho’s records. Until today he enjoys remembering the grimaces of the poorly disguised
impatience of the old man every time that someone in the band made a mistake and they had
to start over. Evidently Radamés never was the author of a mistake.
With regard to Radamés fantastic reading of music and improvisation capabilities, the Gaúcho
Marcelo Sfoggia, dentist and doctor in recording, remembers a fantastic nightlong party in
his house in the 1980s. Without stopping the conversation, Radar rapidly touched the
piano’s keyboard in Marcelo’s living room, apparently distracted. Immediately after, he
started playing. In a quick pass with his fingers, he memorized the different keys that
were out of tune or stuck. When he played, he substituted one note for another, and the
piano sounded perfect.)
Another of the more devote followers of Radamés, the guitar player Rafael Rabello was
considered by people like Paco de Lucia nothing less than the greatest guitar player on
the planet. He died prematurely, at 36 years of age, for reasons never very well
explained, Rafael defined Radamés as "a visionary, an anarchist". And he
finished: "What Villa-Lobos did with rural and folkloric Brasil, Radamés did with
urban Brazilian folklore. More or less what George Gershwin did in the United States. He
never stopped being an anarchist, like his Italian father and striker. But, above all, he
was a humanist. Without exception, he helped all the big names of Brazilian music".
Rafael remembers that it was his instructor that put together the first MPB orchestra,
and also was one of the first to record with percussion in Brasil. And he also was,
exactly for these reasons, very much accused of being a jazz man by the purists of the
time, which, by the way, infuriates Tom Jobim by the similarity of what happened to him in
the 1960s: "the critics, as always, are completely out of it".
Rafael, Henrique, Paulinho and Tom when they spoke for the interviews that gave birth
to this profile were unanimous in remembering that, besides a great musician, Radamés was
also a great guy. And the owner of a carefully cultivated crossness, that was the delight
of the regulars of his table in the Restaurante Lucas, in Copacabana, in Rio. It was there
that every afternoonwhen he left TV Globo, where he worked as an arranger that
he met with his friends. All in a strict age group between 20 and 80. But, between us,
preferentially between 20 and 30.
Henrique says: "He never liked to spend time with old people. He liked that we
would take him places. When we traveled with the Camerata, he seemed like a child without
his mother: he would eat vatapá at midnight and afterwards we had to go walking so
he could digest the food.". Aluísio Didier, maestro, pianist and friend at Globo
network, disagrees a little: "He was a man of many friends, of friends that lasted
30, 40, or 50 years, a very devoted guy".
Aluísio, by the way, collected through the years a series of witticisms of his hero,
transformed into a precious home video-book called Radamés. Only one: right at the
table at Restaurante Lucas, the head talk went on for hours. They discussed whether
Vivaldi, the baroque composer, was or wasn’t repetitive. And Radamés quiet, visibly
annoyed. After dozens of arguments and beers, they became tired of the discussion and upon
one of those sudden silences in which one prepares for the next subject and only then,
looking at the bottom of his beer glass, the old man muttered: "Vivaldi was the
Martinho da Vila of Baroque". Discussion closed (Martinho is an excellent, however
tremendously repetitive, samba composer).
Just one more, which is another good one, told by Henrique. They always asked him if he
still was a sympathizer of the Communist Party, as he was in his youth. Radamés would
respond: "The Communists would tell me: ‘make your music and we’ll make the
revolution.’ I made a bunch of songs and they, until now, nothing!" And another quick
one, to finish up: the protest singer Taiguara, at the height of his most impassioned
phase, asks him for an arrangement. Radamés arrives at the studio, delivers the music and
the musicians do a run through. Taiguara is enraptured, embraces him and says with eyes
full of tears: "Radamés, this arrangement is a victory for the proletariat!"
Without either pulling away or returning the embrace, the old man replies, indifferent:
"Victory of the proletariat, the fuck, Taiguara. This arrangement is mine!"
1964 Retratos with Jacó do Bandolim and Orchestra (re-released on CD)
1984 Tributo a Garoto with Rafael, for the series Todos os Sons, from Ariola.
1992 Suíte Retratos with Rafael, Joel do Nascimento and Chiquinho do Acordeon.
Also, re-released on CD, by Kuarup Discos.
Translated by Barbara Maglio, who can be reached at
Arthur de Faria, the author, a journalist, writer, and
musician from Rio Grande do Sul, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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