M. Camargo Guarnieri: A Portrait, by Ricardo Peres

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I will never forget the day I met Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993). At the time, I was already living in the United States but was spending holidays in Brazil, my home country. It was a winter evening of July, 1988 (Brazilian winter, mind you. Nothing to write home about...) and my teacher, Caio Pagano, a long-time friend of the composer, took me along to Guarnieri's São Paulo apartment for a visit. I remember being quite shy upon arriving and shaking hands with the Maestro. He was then considered the greatest living Brazilian composer and I was merely a young pianist of 22. So, you can imagine, I was very ceremonious about this encounter and figured that the best thing to do was to listen as much as possible. This way I felt I was sure to learn from his insights and ideas about music and performing, in short, sure to increase the understanding of my own craft (I would also run no risk of making youthful and impertinent remarks...). 

"The conversation was quite lively..."

The conversation was quite lively and he was the absolute center of attention amongst the six people gathered there. The problem was, they were talking about everything except music.  Guarnieri was then 81 years old already, and had thousands of stories, anecdotes, jokes, you name it, with which to entertain his guests. And, let me tell you, could he talk! He had the energy of a bull  and the enthusiasm of a 20 year old. It was simply impossible not to appreciate his infectious personality. But still, no mention of musical topics, whatsoever. 
After one hour of this, I began to feel a bit frustrated. There I was, in his living room, without a chance of learning a single thing related to music, or even about his own works. I thought, "This is ridiculous. I've got to do something otherwise I will have wasted the whole evening". So, overcoming my shyness, I very politely sneaked in a general question about music in an attempt to shift the conversation to that topic. Guarnieri began his answer with a story as illustration. So far, so good. Then enters this woman he met in the story and..., forget about music! 
Now the topic became women. And never before have I heard anyone speak about the opposite sex with so much passion and for so long. He went on FOREVER, giving me all sorts of advice, tips, poetry to read concerning women, etc., etc., ad infinitum! As much as I appreciate the topic, really, that was not the reason I was there. 
In any event, it was a long while till a split second of silence came up ( he had to take a breath after passionately discussing women, love and sex for 45 minutes non-stop...). I jumped at the opportunity and, again trying to shift the discussion to musical matters, asked him about his specific impressions of Villa-Lobos treatment of the voice. He then began his answer by singing examples of a few songs, I don't exactly recall which, and speaking of textures of different voices and "by the way, I once heard  a soprano do this one song, and boy she was beautiful, dark hair, really sexy...", I lost again, and just when he was really getting into it. I tell you, I was about ready to jump through the window....
So, he went on and on, all over again, about the innumerable times women inspired him, what marvelous creatures, etc. At that point, I honestly gave up. I thought to myself, "This is useless. I might as well go along with it...". 
So I relaxed and just listened for a while when, suddenly, a miracle happened and he actually started talking about great pianists of the past. Something related to music after all! He had heard many legendary pianists in concert and was commenting on performance styles, technique, pedaling, all things that were going to make - or so I thought - my evening worthwhile. Then he mentioned the great Alfred Cortot, for whom I had, and continue to have, infinite admiration. So I asked if he had actually met Cortot. He said, "Oh, yes, many times. We got along great. You know, once we were at a reception after one of his concerts and I sat at the piano to show him a piece of mine. He was very impressed with my playing in the pianissimo passages and asked how did I manage to get such subtle and delicate sounds out of the piano. So I told him, 'Well, I close my eyes and imagine I am caressing the legs of a beautiful girl...' ". 
As it turned out, Cortot's comment was "C'est pas possible!" And, frankly, that was my feeling as well. The evening ended shortly after the Cortot's story and all I managed to get was 5 minutes of music conversation out of a 4 hour visit! 
I never saw Guarnieri again. I returned to the United States and he died a few years later, in 1993. But as time went by and I began to really investigate Guarnieri's works, I came to realize how important for me our meeting had truly been. Granted, we barely talked about music. But think about it: does music itself talk about music? 
Music is an expression, a consequence if you will, of something else. A language capable of extremely high levels of abstraction and magnificent powers of communication. But, surely, the message of music is not music itself. Music for music's sake would not make of music a necessity. The need comes from having to communicate a universe of sentiments, ideas, psychological and emotional states, in short, of humanity, that simply cannot be expressed through any other medium. 
The language of music is not of a linear, cartesian nature. It is a much more all-embracing medium. It is universal, paradoxical and of a dionysian nature. It does not explain; it intoxicates. And it intoxicates us with the entirety of those individuals who wrote it and who make of Art an autobiographical statement and of music the language capable of  presenting all facets, even if contradictory ones, of the autobiography. It is a complex idiom that serves complex purposes, it is about ideas that go beyond mere intellectual ones. It is another ball game altogether. 

The music of Guarnieri seems to exemplify the above points very well. It is a collection of his stories, moments and perceptions; it speak about some of the women he loved. It is inherently autobiographical and, therefore, rich of vitality, enthusiasm, colors and sensuality. It is his portrait.