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Chiquinha Gonzaga Brazil's Most "Rebellious" Composer

Updated: Dec 29, 2021

Chiquinha Gonzaga

Chiquinha Gonzaga (Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzaga) born in 1847. Gonzaga's music represents and led to the birth of the Brazilian national sound. Chiquinha Gonzaga's compositions reflect African, European, and Amerindian influences in Brazil. She lived a bohemian life in a time when rebellious women for whom society often shunned. Still, Gonzaga became one of Brazil's most recognized composers. Chiquinha Gonzaga has composed about 300 popular songs, 70 operas, 29 piano works, and many sacred works. Gonzaga's father, José Basileu Gonzaga, a Caucasian military officer, was from a reputable family in the noble elite society. Rosa Maria Neves de Lima's, her mother was a mestizo woman of slave descent. Gonzaga's birth was troublesome to Rosa, as she feared retaliation by society by being impregnated by a White member upperclassmen. José family was against the relationship as they too feared that José being involved with a slave descendant would almost deter his social climb and career. However, José's friend Duque de Caxias a vital army marshal, assisted José in receiving professional success. Soon after Gonzaga's birth, her parents were married, and Gonzaga was deemed her father's favorite child. Upholding Brazilian tradition, Gonzaga was taught by a priest, Trindade. Her studies concentrated on the catechism, reading and writing, mathematics, and languages. Her music education was facilitated by maestro Elias Alvares Lobo, where she was exposed to the ordinary sounds of the streets: vendors that would improvise little tunes advertising their products through singing or whistling. She showed an early interest in music and, by the age of 9, composed her first piece, 'Canção dos Pastores,' which she composed at age 11.

By the time Gonzaga reached puberty, Gonzaga was viewed as "rebellious," a title given to women who refused to assume the slave role of womanhood. Fortunately for Gonzaga, the facilities where "rebellious women" were no more. In 1863, to settle her rebellious ways, Gonzaga's father arranged a marriage for her with Ribeiro de Amaral, a 24 year-old imperial army official. Gonzaga was only 16 years old when she was wedded. Her husband did not like music and considered the piano his rival. After bearing two children, Joao and Maria, while living on a naval ship with her husband, tension between the two grew intense. After Gonzaga brought a guitar aboard and taught herself how to play it, Amaral angrily confronted Gonzaga about playing the guitar and singing with the slaves. Amaral asked Gonzaga to choose between him and music. Gonzaga in her rebellious nature, chose music, and left her husband to return home with her parents. Unfortunately, it was discovered soon after that she was pregnant again with a third child, which forced Gonzaga to return to her husband abruptly after her parents refused to support her financially. Gonzaga attempted to reconcile her marriage but was unsuccessful. After the birth of her third child Hilario, Gonzaga left her husband for good. With her divorce finalized, she received custody of her oldest child Joao, Maria, her second daughter's custody was given to Gonzaga's mother, Rosa who prohibited Gonzaga from contacting Maria. Rosa raised Maria as a motherless child. Her third child, Hilário, was raised by her maternal aunt.

Still abandoned by her family, at the age of eighteen, Chiquinha was forced to teach piano, french, and geography classes for a living. She never had a true passion for teaching and preferred to devote her life to composition and performance, focusing on theater music and popular pieces to be played at home, balls, and movie theater lobbies. In 1865, she moved to Rio de Janeiro, where she continued her musical studies and worked as a piano teacher, adopting the name Chiquinha. At age 18, she married Marcellino de Freitas, only 16, at the wedding. They had one daughter in 1867 but were soon separated. In 1870, Gonzaga married again, this time to Antonio Floriano Brant Pontes. Again, this marriage ended in divorce.

In 1883, Chiquinha Gonzaga had her first great success with the opera "A Lição de Canto," performed in Rio de Janeiro. She followed this success with many other compositions in various genres, including waltzes, polkas, tangos, lundus, maxixes, Fado, quadrilles, mazurkas, choros, and serenades. Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner's classical style influenced Gonzaga's music. Her songs are also inspired by her own experience of love and loss, poverty and violence. Most of her songs feature lyrics written by poets such as Joaquim de Souza Andrade, Catulo da Paixão Cearense and Gonçalves Dias. The operetta Forrobodó in 1912 and was another major success for Gonzaga. The music of Chiquinha Gonzaga is rooted in the traditional song form known as the Modinha, which originated in Portugal during the Renaissance period. In 1917, due to the popularity of her music, many people began to use her music and content without permission, which led to Chiquinha founding the Brazilian Society of Theater Authors (BSTA). The BSTA in Brazil, to create copyright protection for Brazilian artists. In 1934, the year of her death, at age 87, she wrote her last composition, the opera "Maria."

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