In November 1920, the French composer Darius Milhaud, recently returned from Brazil, had this to say about the state of music in that country:
It is to be wished that Brazilian musicians would understand the importance of composers of tangos, maxixes, sambas and cateretês like Tupynamba or the genius Nazareth. The rhythmic richness, the ever-renewed fantasy, the verve, the liveliness, the melodic invention of a prodigious imagination that are found in each work of these two masters make the latter the glory and the jewel of Brazilian art. Nazareth and Tupynamba precede the music of their country as those two great stars of the southern sky (Centaurus and Alpha Centauri) precede the five diamonds of the Southern Cross.
Milhaud wasn’t talking idly, for between the two of them, Marcelo Tupinambá (or Marcello Tupynambá, as the pen name of Fernando Álvares Lobo used to be spelled) and Ernesto Nazareth furnished eleven of close to thirty Brazilian melodies quoted by the French composer in his best-known work, Le Boeuf sur le Toit (1919). In fact, Tupinambá alone composed seven of those tunes.
In his time, Tupinambá (1889–1953) was the King of Tanguinho. Thanks to Milhaud’s copying of the Brazilian composer’s 1919 hit tango “Tristeza de Caboclo” , the entire classical music world is acquainted with this tune under the title “Tango des Fratellini.”
But while Nazareth’s reputation remains secure, Tupinambá is practically forgotten. The young pianist and researcher Alexandre Dias, who is the moving spirit behind much of the recent Nazareth revival, is mounting a similar effort on behalf of Tupinambá. He has been recording Tupinambá tunes for several years (watch videos), and has created the website Marcello Tupynambá—pai da canção brasileira in collaboration with Marcelo Tupinambá Leandro, great-grandson of the composer.
The website is (so far?) only in Portuguese, but no knowledege of the language is required to comprehend much of the content. The video section will acquaint you with some of the composer’s vast body of work. Soon there is to be an audio section as well.
Graphic artist and illustrator Fernando Romeiro is an amateur guitarist and a João Gilberto fan. Each year, he creates a special present for João’s birthday.
Two years ago, when the Boss of the Bossa Nova turned 80, Romeiro sculpted a miniature João Gilberto in concert figurine, complete with guitar, bench, and microphone.
Yesterday was João’s 82nd birthday, and Romeiro marked the occasion with a splendid gift to all guitarists: a book of 36 transcriptions, which represent all the songs included in the three seminal albums of bossa nova: Chega de Saudade (1959), O Amor, o Sorriso e a Flor (1960), and João Gilberto (1961).
The book, available for free download in pdf format, takes its inspiration from Almir Chediak’s Lumiar Songbooks. In addition to guitar tabs, it contains lyrics and useful notes about each song.
The educator Carlos Góes published this book of folk
quatrains in 1916
Darius Milhaud treated all popular music—whether a hit song, a jazz composition, or an instrumental dance tune—as “folklore.” The carnaval of Rio de Janeiro, which greeted the young composer upon his arrival in February 1917, was described in his autobiography as “my first contact with Brazilian folklore.”
The carnaval of 1917 was the one dominated by “Pelo Telefone,” which, wrote Milhaud, “exploded in every corner and haunted us during the entire winter.” That Milhaud paid attention to carnaval songs and popular hits in general is clear by the number of them that made their way into Le Boeuf sur le Toit.
The following are hit tunes of the 1910s quoted in Le Boeuf, listed here according to the rank they reached in their respective years.
Instituto Moreira Salles’ book release concert for O Boi no Telhado. Before the music, there are spoken introductions by Manoel Aranha Corrêa do Lago and Paulo Aragão. Then the choro ensemble Calderata Carioca plays individual tunes quoted by Milhaud in Le Boeuf sur le Toit, followed by Le Boeuf sur le Toit itself, in an adaptation by Paulo Aragão.
Among the scholarly chapters in the book is my modest contribution, “Parceiros em surdina.” The English version of this chapter, titled “Milhaud’s silent partners,” may be read on my website as part of the Boeuf Chronicles series.
Over the years, several Brazilian journalists and filmmakers have contacted me about the Native Brazilian Music saga. First was the film director Marcelo Serra, who interviewed me on camera while I was in Rio de Janeiro 11 years ago. He has been proposing to produce a film titled “Missão Stokowski” and is still hoping to raise production funding.
Next came the journalist Aloisio Milani, who wrote the article O Tesouro Perdido da Missão Stokowski, published in the weekly magazine Carta Capital in April 2002. (The article is no longer on the magazine’s website but may be read on Milani’s blog.)
The latest manifestation from Brazil has come from the journalist Cristiano Bastos, who wrote the article A Caça ao Tesouro, published in the November 2012 edition of Brazilian Rolling Stone. The magazine also provides a hotsite with additional information, including links to Web sources.
But Cristiano Bastos didn’t stop at the article. He initiated some action, mobilizing Museu Villa-Lobos and Itamaraty (the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations) to go after the Native Brazilian Music recordings. As a result of that effort, the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, DC contacted Sony and requested repatriation of the phonograms.
The matrices have been found in the Legacy vaults, and the ball is now in Sony’s court.