Accidentally discovering and performing some music by Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth: Coração que Sente
In November, I fell in love with some music I accidentally discovered.
What happened was that I was looking for some music for flute and guitar to play, with me on flute and one of my friends on guitar, and I did a simple search in the local library online catalog, and at the top sorted by date was “Brazilian folk tunes for flute and guitar”, which came with a CD of sample performance tracks, so I picked it up.
What followed was a series of explorations that resulted in unexpected changes in my life.
Exploring the Brazilian music in the score book
I listened to some tracks on the CD of this book of arrangements and found the music (Brazilian polkas, tangos, waltzes) really enchanting. Most of the music was by a composer Ernesto Nazareth, who lived 1863-1934. I wouldn’t call this music “folk tunes”: it’s a sophisticated combination of popular and classical styles using catchy dance rhythms.
I’m a real sucker for waltzes, so at first I thought I would pick one of the beautiful waltzes to choose to suggest to play with a partner on guitar. It came down to “Confidências” or “Coração que Sente” (English translation: “Heart that Feels”). The latter was much easier and shorter, as I learned while sight reading through it with the CD track, so I thought I was done.
Finding astounding performances of “Coração que Sente” on YouTube
Looking for performances of the piece on YouTube to get an idea of how people play it, I immediately entered a strange new world.
First of all, I learned that the original music was for piano. OK. Then, while listening to and/or watching a dozen or so videos of performances of this piece (OK, I was obsessed), I found a huge variety of interpretations, and some of them spoke to me more than others. Some I found light and boring. The ones that interested me were the ones that were extremely intense and probing. You might think this music was just fluff, but I found a dark undercurrent behind it that spoke to me, in that its different sections (the piece is roughly in rondo form) present clear emotional contrasts, with longing, melancholy, and manic excitement.
Arthur Moreira Lima
A very intense performance I found was by a pianist named Arthur Moreira Lima in 1975, used after the fact as soundtrack on YouTube for a silent film using footage from 1929. What an odd pairing!
Lima goes all out in Romantic expressiveness, with extensive rubato and dynamic and rhythmic flexibility. It was completely different from the relatively straight, danceable version on the flute/guitar CD demo.
You have to listen to his performance (ignore the film or watch it, as you wish):
João Carlos Assis Brasil
Even more extreme than Lima was this weird guy João Carlos Assis Brasil, who is apparently so unknown in the English-speaking world that Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry on him, although I found this random pieced-together bio.
His live performance here from 2013 is the single most extreme, yet deepest, interpretation of this waltz I found (he adds his own ornamentation). I was deeply moved by it. (Warning, bad sound quality.)
Other good performances
Fernanda Canaud, with a very expressive performance (including her own extensive embellishments), uses drastic changes in articulation and tempo for contrast. I particularly liked how naturally she seemed to express her personality through the piece:
Maria Theresa Madeira captures well the moods of the different sections of the piece; I really like the rhythmic alertness and drive throughout:
Some random YouTube guy named Ilton, playing a really crappy upright piano, but with amazing rhythmic expression that I totally love (if he played this on a good piano, I would consider his interpretation one of my favorites, period):
Luciano Alves, 2013, in an elegant performance:
Marcelo Bratke in a relaxed, easygoing, dream interpretation with a lilt (but after all the intense interpretations, I find this tame, I confess):
The performance that made me decide to learn and play the piece
So I spent a lot of time listening to and watching performances of the piece, but one performance was the one that made me decide to go learn and play the piece! It was this one by some random guy Marcelo Chiarella:
Why? Because I could relate to his playing:
- He wasn’t some famous pro pianist, as far as I could tell.
- The sound quality was good and the recording was as though I were standing right there, made me feel like I was in his home, and nobody else there.
- I could see his hands up close.
- I liked various things he did with expression (especially when he wasn’t pedaling).
And I knew that I could be much more expressive and personal (remember, the title in English translation is “Heart that feels”) while playing this piece solo, on piano, than in a flute/guitar duet. So I decided to go for it.
Finding an official free score
I had to find a score. Luckily, it turned out that there was some big 150-year anniversary celebration for Ernesto Nazareth in 2013, and I found an official free PDF score on the page for the piece.
That page also had a story about the title of the piece and why it was composed. It was in Portuguese, so I tried with the help of Google Translate to translate it (I only studied Portuguese for several weeks many years ago), and pieced together (I hope I didn’t get this too wrong) that Nazareth dedicated it to a student of his, Gabriella Crauz, who had showed great emotion as Nazareth described the last days of a dying nephew, as though she had been there herself experiencing what he experienced as he saw the sights in the city one last time. (If you know Portuguese, please correct me if I got the story wrong.)
This story only added to the sense I already had that this seemingly simple piece hid a depth of emotion that some performers already revealed for me.
My performance of “Coração que Sente”
As I started working on the piece, I had to decide where and when to perform it. It turned out that I learned that friends who mean a lot to me decided to move. This was really tough news to me, and they have always invited me and Abby to their December holiday party, where I play music, so I decided that I was going to perform the piece at their (now farewell) party and openly dedicate my performance to them, because they are human beings of deep feeling, hence “Heart that feels”.
I performed the piece at the party the day after Christmas. In my nervousness, I completely lost my train of thought a couple of times and botched things up inexplicably (I had gone through the piece with no errors so many times at home), but I made it through, and my gesture was appreciated.
I then decided to quickly record myself at home soon after (and still botched some things up), so here I am. This is for Henry and Gina:
Other music by Ernesto Nazareth
I spent all this time talking about just one piece by Nazareth, but he wrote much more, and more substantial pieces.
I totally love Fernanda Canaud’s performance of “Batuque”, “Coração que Sente”, and “Odeon” (the performance of “Coração que Sente” is very different from the one I posted above: more inward, refined, beautiful rather than super-dramatic):
Here is Nazareth playing his own pieces in recordings from 1912-1930:
Here is a one-hour special documentary video “Nazareth Revisitado”:
A note on the English-language-oriented Web
I found a whole world of music and musicians that barely register in the English-language-oriented part of the Web. Most of what I found when trying to look up Nazareth or various Brazilian pianists was in Portuguese. So it’s been really humbling to remember that many in the English-speaking world might not even know about all these Brazilian composers and musicians who are not big enough stars to warrant international fame.
I am grateful for accidentally discovering an entire world of Brazilian music and performers of it through my search in the local library catalog for music to play.
I am grateful for friends who inspire me by their examples as human beings of genuine and great feeling.comments powered by Disqus