Pixinguinha: still an inspiration

When it was announced in the 1920s that a black musician was going to
represent Brazil in Europe, Brazilian newspapers ran articles by writers who
were outraged by the idea of a “barbarian and primitive music” representing the
country. The barbarian was composer and instrumentalist Pixinguinha and his
band who were enthusiastically received in Paris. “Un flautiste d’une
virtuosité épatante” (A flautist of tremendous virtuosity) wrote a French daily. From then
on nobody would stop his glorious career which would produce more than 600

Bruce Gilman

April 23, 1998 will bring the centennial of Pixinguinha’s birth. On that same date next year, an installation of his
statue at the site of the extinct Gouveia Bar (where Pixinguinha and his friends gathered at the end of the day) will
launch the centennial celebrations. As grand as celebration plans are, they will not do justice, can never pay proper
homage to the importance of this man. A forefather of samba and a musician’s musician, he dedicated himself to
choro without ever compromising his standards of excellence. Composer, arranger, virtuoso instrumentalist, conductor, band
leader, and teacher; Pixinguinha was Brazilian Music

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.




Meu coração,

Não sei porquê,

Bate feliz

Quando te vê

E os meus olhos

Ficam sorrindo

E pelas ruas

Vão te seguindo

Mas mesmo assim,

Foges de mim

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





My heart

I don’t know why

Beats happily

When it sees you

And my eyes

Start to smile

And through the streets,

They follow you

Even though,

You flee from me.

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

Elude me

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

And then

I will be happy, very happy

My heart, my heart.




Tu és divina e graciosa

Estátua majestosa do amor,

Por Deus esculturada

E formada com o ardor

Da alma da mais linda flor

De mais ativo olor

Que na vida é preferida pelo beija-flor.

Se Deus me fora tão clemente,

Aqui neste ambiente de luz

Formada numa tela, deslumbrante e bela

O teu coração, junto ao meu, lanceado,

Pregado e crucificado sobre a rósea cruz

Do arfante peito teu.

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 deseaw6kx

Em nuvens de beiaw6kx

Hei de te envolver até meu padecer,

De todo o fenecer.






You are divine and gracious

Majestic statue of love

Sculpted by God

And molded with passion

From the soul of the most beautiful flower

With the most engaging aroma

That in this life is preferred by the hummingbird

If God should show me clemency

Hear in this atmosphere of light

Formed on a screen dazzling and beautiful

Your heart will be next to mine, pierced

Nailed and crucified on the rosy cross

Of your heaving breast.

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.




*Naquele Tempo:

Duets with Pixinguinha and Benedito Lacerda recorded between 1946-1951. (Revivendo)

*Oito Batutas:


The only recording of the group from their tour in Buenos Aires in 1923. (Revivendo)


*Carnaval, Sua História, Sua

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)

*Orquestra Brasília:

Arrangements from 1948 which were discovered in the National Library.
Performed by the group formed by Henrique Cazes. (Kuarup)

*Vou Vivendo:

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.

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