59. Chiquinha Gonzaga [365 Composers for 2013]


28th February – Chiquinha Gonzaga


Gonzaga (17th October 1847 – 28th February 1935) is our composer for 28th February, to mark the day of her death.
Nationality: Brazilian
Lifespan: 87 years
Genre: Nationalism
Education: Privately
Fame Ranking: 5

Born Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzaga but known as “Chiquinha”, Gonzaga was a successful composer, pianist and conductor who rose from lowly beginnings. Her mother was a “mestiza” (a mix of European and indigenous genes) and therefore at the time considered to be a second class citizen; her father was a wealthy white man. Despite the racial controversy of such a mixed union, Gonzaga’s father recognised his family, married Gonzaga’s mother and provided an education for his daughter.

Married at 16, Gonzaga soon produced three children, but her marriage was not to last. Her husband forbade her to pursue her musical interests; in particular he refused to allow her to play the piano and guitar. Gonzaga could not remain in such a situation, and she fled. Her father sided with her husband and disowned her, leaving her little choice but to survive on her wits, and her music. Performing in public earned her enough money to survive on her own and Gonzaga became the first woman in Brazil to win a divorce on her terms. She was also an activist for social freedom and took part in several important movements such as the abolition of slavery in Brazil.

Gonzaga first found success as a female composer in a male dominated world in the late 1870s. She participated in several musical groups and was particularly connected with the theatre and dance, so naturally she composed many works in this genre. Although the majority of her oeuvre is light-hearted in outlook, she did also compose some religious works. Her music is distinctly Brazilian in flavour, utilising the syncopated rhythms and timbres associated with Brazilian dances such as the “quadrilha” and “desafio”. Gonzaga composed many works for the Carnival in Brazil, inspired by living close to the action. She wrote the first purposely written carnival march, “O Abre Alas” (“Make Way”), which remains popular to this day.

Listen to Gonzaga’s “Atraente” Polka, her first commercial success:


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