About this Recording
8.557687 - NAZARETH: Tangos, Waltzes and Polkas
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Ernesto Nazareth ( 1863–1934)
Tangos, Waltzes and Polkas

Even until a few years ago, only very few pianists of serious intentions dared to include music by Ernesto Nazareth in their repertoire, since he was not held to be truly a so-called ‘classical’ composer. His works suffered from a certain amount of prejudice and were not among those played in schools of music or in classical piano competitions, yet I cannot remember having met anyone who did not like his music. The charisma of Nazareth’s works was, even then, more powerful than all of the discussions as to which particular genre his music belongs.

During Nazareth’s own lifetime, musical and cultural tastes were based on those prevalent in Europe. This subordination to European culture did not, for a long period, allow genuinely Brazilian classical music fully to blossom. The trendsetters were from the old continent. On one occasion, the attempt to include four of Nazareth’s works in the concert programme of the National School of Music in Rio de Janeiro led to such protests that the police had to be called in to intervene.

Nazareth’s dances aim to please a discerning concert audience and are surely successful in doing so. These works are, first and foremost, original, and are expressions of the Brazilian soul. With them, the composer certainly wrote musical history and laid the foundations for an authentically Brazilian style of classical music.

Nazareth’s output is made up predominantly of Brazilian tangos, over eighty in all, and more than forty waltzes, and it is particularly in the latter that the rather intriguing influence of Chopin on his work can undoubtedly be felt. Nazareth studied the Polish composer’s scores in order to teach himself how to improve his method of composition, and he also often performed Chopin’s works on the piano. Like Chopin himself, he devoted a large part of his creative energies to writing for the piano, the instrument of which he himself was a master.

The first Brazilian tango appeared in the year 1871, nine years before its melancholy Argentinian brother. The term tango was used for the first time in Brazil to designate certain characteristic pieces which were very similar in style to the habanera, the latter having arrived from Cuba in 1866, soon to become very popular. It was through his tangos that Nazareth achieved the greatest degree of originality.

Ernesto Nazareth was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1863 and witnessed both the emancipation of the slaves and the establishment of the republic. In his youth he was engaged by music publishers and paid to play in their establishments, thus encouraging people to buy the music he played, which included his own. Later, after the invention of the silent film, he was given a contract at the Odeon cinema, where he enlivened the films with his accompaniment or entertained the public in the entrance lobby. Audiences were enchanted by the originality of his compositions. One famous name among those who heard him was Villa-Lobos, who considered the music of Nazareth to be the very embodiment of the soul of Brazil.

Nazareth’s life was marked by a series of emotional crises culminating in permanent and incurable mental illness, which led, in 1933, to his being committed to a psychiatric clinic from which he escaped in the following year only to drown in a reservoir. His burial took place during the Carnival, a festival that dominates both heart and soul in Brazil, and thus his death passed almost unnoticed. The story has it that, when Nazareth’s lifeless body was found, his arms were bent, as if he were playing the piano.

The titles of his works are often very humorous or refer to everyday situations in Brazil, especially to the life of the cariocas, or inhabitants of the city of Rio de Janeiro. Sometimes the titles suggest the instruments which are imitated in the piece. Of the works I have chosen to record the boisterous Espalhafatoso is followed by a mischievous Brejeiro and the melancholy waltz Confidências. Escovado, well dressed or cunning, is followed by Nenê, baby, a child or loved one, a work used by the composer Catullo da Paixão Cearence as the basis for his song Sertaneja. The polka Ameno Resedá bears the name of an old Carnival group from Rio. The left hand imitates the cavaquinho, a small guitar used by popular musicians in Brazil. This is succeeded by the waltz Turbilhão de Beijos, whirlwind of kisses, and Gaúcho, the Brazilian cowboy, and also the name given to the inhabitants of the southernmost state in Brazil, the Rio Grande do Sul, to whom Nazareth dedicated this piece after a visit in 1932. Plangente, in lamentation, is a tango written in the style most nearly approximating to the habanera, and Topázio Líquido, liquid topaz, refers in its title to topaz-coloured beer, and was dedicated by the composer to an old brewery. Ouro Sobre Azul, gold on blue, refers to something very beautiful or becoming, and Sarambeque is a suggestive dance of African origin, which was also danced in wealthy white households in the eighteenth century. The romantic waltz Epônina has a girl’s name as its title, while the ambiguously named Escorregando, suggests sliding, going down well (as a delicious meal goes down) or telling a tall story. In Tenebroso, gloomy, Nazareth instructs the player to imitate a guitar in the lower register, and in Odeon, an old cinema in Rio showing silent films in which Nazareth worked as a musician, the left hand also imitates a guitar. Apanhei-te Cavaquinho (I have grabbed you, cavaquinho!) has the left hand imitating the cavaquinho in this choro, while the right hand takes on the rôle of a flute. This combination of instruments is much loved in Brazilian popular music.

Iara Behs (www.iarabehs.com)
English translation by Alan Metcalfe

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