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Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907 - 1993)

Mozart Camargo Guarnieri was born in 1907 in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. He was the fourth child of a family wholly named in homage to great composers (Rossini, Bellini and Verdi).

He received his first musical lessons from his father who immediately noticed his great talent.  After some years, he moved with his family to São Paulo and Guarnieri began his studies in the Dramatic Conservatory of São Paulo.  Due to their poor savings, Guarnieri needed to work in his father's barbershop and could study music only in his free time.  At the age of 21, he met the writer Mário de Andrade, who became his mentor of nationalistic aesthetics. But Guarnieri himself is considered to be a "national" instead of a "nationalistic" composer.  In 1938 a scholarship took him to Paris following the intervention of Alfred Cortot. He went back home at the beginning of the 2nd Great War.

Guarnieri was one of the founders of the Brazilian Academy and Music, and one of the directors of OSUSP - Symphonic Orchestra of University of São Paulo. He received over 100 titles of composition from around the world. Aaron Copland was very enthusiastic about him, having written the following words:  "Camargo Guarnieri is in my opinion the most exciting 'unknown' talent in South America. His not inconsiderable body of works should be far better known than it is. Guarnieri is a real composer. He has everything it takes - a personality of his own, a finished technique and a frecund imagination. His gift is more orderly than that of Villa-Lobos, though nonetheless Brazilian. [...] What I like best about his music is its healthy emotional expression - the honest statement of how one man feels. [...] He knows how to shape a form, how to orchestrate well, how to lead a bass line effectively. Most attractive in Guarnieri's music is its warmth and imagination, which are touched by a deeply Brazilian sensibility. At its finest, his is the fresh and racy music of a 'new' continent."

Guarnieri wrote over 700 pieces. In informal conversations, he used to ask his friends to play two notes on the piano, which he would write down and use as basic material for his future compositions. This was the way he wrote his Piano Sonata, based in the 7th interval played on piano by the Brazilian pianist Laís de Souza, to whom it is dedicated.

At the height of his career, Guarnieri addressed a letter to the musical community of Brazil, in which he condemned the dodecaphonic technique of composition and urged the younger musicians to seek inspiration in the rich folk tradition of the country. In his own words: "I want to alert you of the great threats to the musical culture of Brazil, due to our young composers' infatuation with progressive theories of music that are inimical to the true interests of Brazilian music [...] These composers preferred to ignore the rich musical traditions of Brazil and produce music according to false and sterile aesthetic principles [...] that favor improvisation and charlatanism, pseudo-science instead of original research, and scorn talent, culture, and the exploration of the rich experiences of the past, which are the bases of the true work of art."

He died in São Paulo at the age of 85, right after receiving the title of Greatest Contemporary Composer of the Three Americas, offered by OEA (Washington).


--Felipe Sarro (more on the author)


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