A daughter of a marshal and a mulatto girl, Gonzaga received a good school education and took piano lessons at an early age. At the age of 11, she composed her first piece for a Christmas party. At the age of 16 she married an official of the Imperial Navy against her will, but left him in 1870 because he forbade her to perform any musical activity outside the family. After a second marriage also failed, the 29-year-old decided to live as a single mother and to work as an independent musician. She earned her income by working in a music store, also offering piano lessons to customers. In addition, she composed polkas, waltzes and tangos, which she performed at balls and meetings of choro musicians. There she met the flautist Joaquim Antônio da Silva Callado and soon became the first woman to play in his group “O Choro do Callado”. Chiquinha Gonzaga is regarded as the first pianist of the choro. Obliged to adapt the piano sound to popular taste, she became one of the first major composers of choro music. Her first commercial success was the polka “Atraente” in 1877. Over the years she wrote about two thousand works for various formations in such varied styles as waltz, polka, fado, quadrille, mazurka, Brazilian tango, habanera, choro, marca, dobrado, lundu, maxixe and modinha. In 1885 her first operetta “A Corte na Roça” premiered in Rio de Janeiro. The greatest success of her 77 stage works came in 1911 with the operetta “Forrobodó”, which after the premiere was performed another 1,500 times en suite – a record never since equalled in Brazil. The last work by the then 87-year-old Chiquinha Gonzaga was her first opera “Maria” in 1934.
The Brazilian pianist and composer Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzages (stage name: “Chiquinha”) was born on October 17, 1847 in Rio de Janeiro. She died on February 18, 1935. October 2022 will mark the 175th anniversary of her birth.
What is less known is that Chiquinha Gonzaga composed the first carnival hit in the world with the song “Abre Alas” in 1899, thus laying the foundation for the annual carnival anthems of the samba schools at Rio Carnival. The text of the song “Abre Alas, que eu quero passar” (Clear the way, I want to pass through here) can almost be viewed as Gonzaga’s life motto, for despite her successes, she constantly had to defend herself as a publicly active woman against the criticism and hostility of a society dominated by men.
The video shows the Brazilian formation “Choronas”, founded in 1994, with the polka “Atraente” by Chiquinha Gonzaga at a concert in the Teatro Anchieta do Sesc Consolação in São Paulo (November 28, 2011).