Chiquinha Gonzaga: a Brazilian woman composer is born

By Instituto Moreira Salles

The life and work of the Brazilian composer Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847 - 1935)

exhibit is about the life and work of the first Brazilian woman
composer: Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847 - 1935). A pioneer, she broke the
barriers of gender, as the first woman to inscribe her name among the
main creators of Brazilian music.

Chiquinha Gonzaga (Acervo IMS/SBAT) (1865)Musica Brasilis

A pioneer is born

Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzaga was born in Rio de Janeiro, on October 17, 1847. Her mother was a freed black woman slave and her father was a high-ranking military man, who educated her to be a court lady. She was taught how to read and write, and learned mathematics, religion, and how to play the piano. Since she was a child, music had been a calling and at the age of eleven, she composed her first music piece for a Christmas party.

I Am Chiquinha Gonzaga (2017) by Musica BrasilisMusica Brasilis

Chiquinha Gonzaga (Acervo IMS/SBAT) (1877)Musica Brasilis

Until music do us part

Chiquinha was sixteen when she married a promising entrepreneur, chosen by her father. Her husband did not like music and considered the piano to be his rival. Chiquinha did not accept the restrictions to her music and left her husband for another man. The adultery was the cause of a life-long divorce lawsuit filed by her husband at the Ecclesiastical Court. Abandoned by her father as well, at the age of eighteen Chiquinha was forced to teach piano classes for a living.

Divorce and Atraente (2017) by Musica BrasilisMusica Brasilis

Atraente cover (Acervo IMS/SBAT)Musica Brasilis


Her first edited piece, the polka song Atraente in 1877, was a huge success. In just a few months, there were 15 editions.

Atraente (Chiquinha Gonzaga) Show with Clara Svener (2017) by Musica BrasilisMusica Brasilis

Chiquinha Gonzaga (Acervo IMS/SBAT) (1894)Musica Brasilis

Beloved by all

After two unsuccessful marriages and becoming distanced from her family, Chiquinha had to make a living from music. She joined the group led by Joaquim Callado, considered the father of the genre choro, who dedicated a piece to her entitled "Beloved by all".

Chiquinha Gonzaga at 47 years old with her famous golden brooch and the medal received from French government.

Outdoor mass for the abolition of slavery (Acervo IMS) (1888) by Antonio Luiz FerreiraMusica Brasilis

The abolitionist

Determination and courage made Chiquinha take part in the great social battles of her time, mainly the abolition of slavery. She used to sell sheet music of her compositions to raise funds for the cause.

The abolitionist (2017) by Musica BrasilisMusica Brasilis

Chiquinha Gonzaga (Acervo IMS/SBAT)Musica Brasilis

Chiquinha Gonzaga with her Orchestra.

Corso Carnavalesco (Acervo IMS) (1928) by Augusto MaltaMusica Brasilis

O Abre Alas

She was already a famous artist in 1899 when she composed, at the turn of the century, Ó Abre Alas, in a style called "marcha-rancho". The song became an anthem of the Brazilian carnival.

O abre alas. (2017) by Musica BrasilisMusica Brasilis

Cover of Journal of Theater edition with ForrobodóMusica Brasilis


Chiquinha Gonzaga composed dozens of plays in the most varied genres. The operetta Forrobodó premiered in 1912 and was a huge success: 1,500 consecutive representations.

Primeira página manuscrita Forrobodó (Acervo IMS/SBAT) (1911)Musica Brasilis

Forrobodó (2011) by Musica BrasilisMusica Brasilis

Gaúcho, O corta jaca (Acervo IMS/SBAT)Musica Brasilis

Corta Jaca at Catete 

In 1914, her tango Gaúcho was played by the first lady of the country, Nair de Teffé, in a official reception at the Palácio do Catete, which caused a scandal, but redeemed the popular genres.

Gaúcho (2017) by Musica BrasilisMusica Brasilis

Chiquinha Gonzaga (Acervo IMS/SBAT)Musica Brasilis

My rights as an author

Chiquinha Gonzaga was a composer of great success in a time when there was no law to protect the composer's rights. She created the first society for copyright protection in Brazil: the Brazilian Society of Theatrical Authors (SBAT).

SBAT (2017) by Musica BrasilisMusica Brasilis

Chiquinha Gonzaga (Acervo IMS/SBAT) (1932)Musica Brasilis

Open the skies

Chiquinha had long lived in the company of Joãozinho (João Batista Fernandes Lage), who was 36 years younger than her. Later called João Batista Gonzaga, he was known as her adopted son. We owe him the preservation of her legacy. Gonzaga passed away, at the age of 87 in Rio de Janeiro on February 28, 1935.  

Covers of music sheet (2018) by Musica BrasilisMusica Brasilis

Credits: Story

This exhibition has been based on the collections of Instituto Musica Brasilis and Instituto Moreira Salles

Curator: Rosana Lanzelotte
Edition: Carol Gomes and Bia Gomes: Integrar
Video excerpts from II Circuit BNDES Musica Brasilis (2011) and VIII Circuito Musica Brasilis (2017)
Final video (sheet music): Dani Ferrari
Video subtitles: Joe Cortez

Helena Varvaki revives Chiquinha Gonzaga ( texts by Filomela Chiaradia and direction by Manoel Prazeres)

"Atraente" - Clara Sverner (piano)
"Entra firme seu Manduca" from the operetta Forrobodó (Licio Bruno (baritone) - Camerata Musica Brasilis - Direction: Ricardo Kanji)
"Gaucho" e "O Abre Alas" - José Staneck (harmonica), Marina Spoladore (piano), Ricardo Santoro (cello)

Images: Instituto Moreira Salles

Acknowledgments: Edinha Diniz

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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