As promised, I have prepared a first biography, that of Alberto Nepomuceno.
Alberto Nepomuceno (1864-1920)
Though later overshadowed by Heitor Villa Lobos, Alberto Nepomuceno was the founder of the Brazilian national school.
He was born in Fortaleza, capital of the north-eastern state of Ceará, in Brazil. He began his musical studies with his father, Víctor Augusto, a violinist and the organist of the Cathedral of Fortaleza. In 1872 his family moved to Recife capital of Pernambuco, where he continued his studies with his father until the latter’s death in 1880. In 1882 he became the director of the Recife Carlos Gomes Club and the following year was active as a violinist at the Santa Isabel Theatre. In 1884 he returned to Ceará and in 1885 moved to Rio de Janeiro, where he was active as a pianist at the Beethoven Club and formed a duo with the ’cellist Frederico Nascimento. In 1886 he took up his duties as teacher at the Beethoven Club while still learning harmony.
Even though he his sympathies lay with the Republicans, he was given a degree of official recognition by being received by the imperial family.
In 1888 he played his Dança de Negros (Negro Dance) at the Iracema Club in Fortaleza, a piece with local colour.
In August of the same year he left for Rome to further his studies, enrolling at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia and studying with Giovanni Sgambati. He was able to continue his studies thanks to an official award and in 1890 he entered the Stern Conservatoire in Berlin, graduating two years later. His String Quartet No.3, written in 1890 and subtitled “Brazilian”, is one of the earliest attempts to weave Brazilian folklore into a work cast in classical forms.
It was in Berlin that he became acquainted with Hans von Bülow, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and met Walborg Bang, a pupil of Edvard Grieg, whom he married in 1893 in Christiania (Oslo). The couple lived for a time in Bergen, in Troldhaugen, Grieg’s country house.
Grieg was to prove a major influence both musically and as a model for Nepomuceno’s establishing of a Brazilian national school. His Suite Antiga (Suite in the Ancient Style), which he wrote in Troldhaugen in 1893, is clearly fashioned after Grieg’s Suite from Holberg’s Time. Grieg enjoyed the work and insisted it be published by his own publisher, Peters.
The same year saw the writing of his Piano Sonata in f minor, the first work in this form to be written by a Brazilian.
Retuning to Brazil via Paris, he was able to meet Saint-Saëns and Vincent d’Indy.
In 1895 the couple was back in Brazil, and he became organ teacher at the Instituto Nacional de Música in Rio de Janeiro. Between 1896 and 1906 he was active at the Popular Concert Association, promoting Brazilian composers. Considering that at the time Portuguese was not considered appropriate for opera or art song, it took some courage on his part to present a series of songs written in the vernacular at the Instituto Nacional and he was much criticised for this.
In 1900 he met Mahler in Vienna and discussed the staging of his opera Artemis, but nothing came of this. In 1910 he conducted concerts of Brazilian music, including some of his compositions, in Brussels, Geneva and Paris. It was in the latter he met and became a friend of Debussy.
In 1913 his opera Abul was staged in Rome.
Walborg and Alberto had a daughter, Sigrid, who was born with only her left hand. It was for her he wrote two sets of pieces: the 1906 Five Small Pieces, which were premièred by her at a school concert in 1907, and two nocturnes, which she played in concert in 1919.
He resigned his position at the Instituto Nacional de Música in 1916, devoting the last fours years of his life to composition and to promoting younger composers, including Villa-Lobos.
He died in Rio de Janeiro.
I am still working on the others (Janacek, Vaughan Williams and Henrique Oswald).