Ernesto Nazareth's Music: an Update, by Ricardo Peres


Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934) made a living playing the piano in cafes, at parties and in waiting rooms of movie theatres. In general, his works depict those situations quite well, in particular the one referring to movie theatres. His popular choro "Odeon", for instance, was a piece he wrote in homage to his work place, Odeon Cinema, where he was employed for four years. As well, many musical ideas were inspired by images of films from those days, as the attentive listener who is acquainted with early 20th century films will probably agree. There are also those pieces which are related to aspects of his own daily life.

Nazareth was a "street musician", so to speak, and could not have avoided realizing the impact that the newly arrived automobiles had, going around honking their horns: "F"n-f"n" ! Then there is the sort of piece that one wonders whether it comes from watching people or from Nazareth's own personal experience, but still relating to his contemporary scene. It is the case of "Escorregando", which literally means "losing balance" while walking. Considering that in Brazil there is neither snow nor ice, the title in fact suggests someone losing balance for another a few extra beers, for example. Something tells me that this is precisely the case... . Regardless, his works are fun, full of swing and charm.

There is much musicological debate on whether these works should be called "Brazilian tangos" or "choros". The difference being, essentially, one regarding the pace in which the pieces are played, whereas the "Brazilian tango" is supposed to be played slower than the "choro". Personally I prefer to call them "choros" because such a name has more of a Brazilian flavor, while a tango is an Argentine entity and Nazareth's music surely does not belong to the Argentine culture. Besides, to a great extent, the pace used when performing a work is not indicative of style, but has much more to do with one's temperament and audience. The style of music called "choro" comes from an interesting origin. Around the turn of the century, both in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, young men used to hire street musicians to play serenades. These "concerts" took place under the balconies of young ladies and had the aim of moving the girls to tears. "Chorar" in Portuguese means "to weep" and it seems that the musicians often outdid themselves as they ended with the nickname "choroes", and the music they played, "choro".

From balconies to society parties, to cafes and finally, to the concert hall. I think that decisions such as pace and the like should be made according to the audience one is addressing and never according to stagnant musicological concepts that attempt to freeze the way performers and listeners naturally evolve through time. Everything suffers change - from the way we make coffee to the way we get to work. Why should our approach to music performance remain the same? The fact that a certain idea began in a certain way does not dictate that it should remain that way forever. You are no longer in a balcony with a performer under it. Rather, the performer is inside your CD player while you comfortably sit in your living room. Let's define our own terms when dealing with music performance, taking into account our own, updated settings.