Ernesto Nazareth

Composition Types

Choral (9)
New Works (1)


Born: March 20, 1863 Died: February 4, 1934
Ernesto Júlio Nazareth was the most popular composer of Brazilian national music. He had a profound influence on the course of future Brazilian music, both popular and classical. Fellow countryman Heitor Villa-Lobos called him "the truest incarnation of the Brazilian musical soul."

He was born into a modest family in the Morro do Nheco (later Cidade Nova) district of Rio. His father, Vasco Lourenço da Silva Nazareth, was a customs official. His mother, Dona Carolina, was a pianist and gave the boy his first music lessons. She died when he was ten years old, and his father continued his education, arranging for further piano lessons from Eduardo Madiera and Lucien Lambert. They taught him good piano technique and familiarized young Ernesto with European music. He was particularly pleased with the shorter, fanciful pieces of Frédéric Chopin. It is likely that he was also influenced by the American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), who died in Rio and was one of the first to mix European and Brazilian musical elements.

At the age of 14, Ernesto wrote his first composition, the polka Você bem sabe, which was published the same year. He continued to write popular short pieces, and joined several musicians in giving a concert when he was 17 at the Club Rossini in São Cristóvão. That same year, Nazareth joined a band of chorinhos, performers of the urban variety of folk music he loved. The strolling serenaders used guitar, mandolin, flute, clarinet, and the small Portuguese guitar called the cavaquinho and had evolved the nostalgic song form called choro.

Nazareth was one of the first to blend polka and maxixe with the habañera, resulting in a new dance rhythm that Nazareth called the "Brazilian tango." It is not closely related to the more sultry Argentine tango, but is faster and more joyful. In similar fashion Nazareth added Brazilian elements to European forms, creating what he called the "Brazilian march," "Brazilian polka," "Brazilian waltz" and "Brazilian fado."

He married, and, to support his growing family (he had four children), sold the full rights to what would be one of his most popular compositions, the tango Brejeiro. He was employed by the music publisher Casa Carlos Gomes to demonstrate new publications. When silent films came along, he was one of a few musicians to provide concerts before the films were shown, on the piano and with the theater orchestras, in one of which Villa-Lobos was a cellist. He eventually came to be one of the most popular movie theater musicians, drawing crowds that came to hear him at least as much as to see the film. Another of his popular works, Odeon, is named after the most famous of these theaters.

In 1918, his daughter Maria de Lourdes died during the worldwide Spanish influenza epidemic. He began showing signs of depression, which worsened after his wife died in 1929. Despite these tragedies, he had attained national fame, and attracted large audiences in one of Brazil's largest cities, São Paulo, where his admirers presented him with a new piano. When the new radio station, Radio Sociedade, went on their air in 1930, it chose his music for its first presentation.

Then he was struck by deafness in his right ear, deepening his depression. He began to exhibit irrational behavior, and was ultimately hospitalized in the Colônia Juliano Moreira in Jacarepaguá, a forested part of Rio. On February 1, 1934, he went for a stroll. Some speculate he was attempting to escape the hospital, but, nonetheless, he got lost in the woods and was found dead three days later.

There are 33 Ernesto Nazareth recordings available.

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Composition Types

Choral (9)
New Works (1)