Performance Today®

with host Fred Child

Women in Music Weekly Highlight: Chiquinha Gonzaga

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Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzaga By Unknown - Public Domain,

Chiquinha Gonzago established a career for herself as a professional musician in nineteenth century Brazil at a time when it was widely considered scandalous to do so. Gonzaga became Brazil's first professional female conductor and composed over 2,000 pieces, including 77 operettas. Her best-known work and compositional debut, "Atraente" (Attractive) was published in 1881. "Atraente" changed the musical landscape of Brazil by introducing a style of music that combined different musical elements like polka, waltz, ragtime and Afro-Brazilian rhythms. This style eventually became known as "choro."

Chiquina Gonzaga grew up in a strict military home and had a broad education. She began playing the piano at 11 years old. Gonzaga continued to play music even after entering into an arranged marriage when she was 16 years old. The union was short-lived after her husband, Jacinto Ribeiro do Amaral attempted to make her choose between him and music. Although they had three children together, Gonzaga was only allowed to take their oldest son, Joao Gualberto with her. The separation from her husband resulted in a nasty divorce suit that dragged on for many years. In 19th century patriarchal Brazil, it was unacceptable for women to leave their husbands. Gonzaga was then disowned by her family and shunned by her community.

Despite the prejudice she experienced, Gonzaga was determined to pursue a career in music. After the success of "Atraente," Gonzaga began making a name for herself by teaching privately and writing scores for musical theatre. She even became active in the abolitionist movement, using the revenue from selling her scores so that she could fund the Liberating Confederation. She even paid for the emancipation of an enslaved musician, Jose Flauta. Gonzaga also penned the first carnival march in 1899, "O abre alas!" (Open Wings).

Because her music had become so popular, other musicians began sampling her music without her permission. When Gonzaga discovered that her work was being abused. she helped to found the first society to protect and copyright artistic works in Brazil in 1917, the Brazilian Society of Theatre Authors (SBAT). Chiquinha Gonzaga pushed through the societal barriers of her time to carve out a life lived on her own terms. Her career in music paved the way to define the progression of Brazilian music. Her life opened doors for female empowerment and the professionalization of women in music.