Alberto Nepomuceno (1864-1920), a Brazilian conductor and composer, was born in Fortaleza, the capital of Ceará. His parents were Vitor Augusto Nepomuceno and Maria Virgínia de Oliveira Paiva. He began studying music with his father, who was a violinist, organist, teacher, and chapel master at the Cathedral of Fortaleza. In 1872, Nepomuceno and his family moved to Recife, where he started studying piano and violin. He became a staunch advocate for republican and abolitionist causes in Brazil.
In 1885, a series of songs in Portuguese by Nepomuceno premiered at the National Institute of Music in Brazil. The concert aimed to challenge those who believed that Portuguese was unsuitable for bel canto. As criticism spread, he embarked on a battle against newspapers and music critics, fighting for nationalism in classical music.
In the capital of the Empire, he continued his piano studies at the Beethoven Club, where he performed alongside Arthur Napoleão and Princess Isabel. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed as a piano teacher at the club, which had Machado de Assis as its librarian. Machado de Assis, who became a close friend, also wrote lyrics for Nepomuceno’s musical works.
He became an active advocate for the republican and abolitionist causes in Pernambuco and Ceará, participating in various campaigns. However, he did not neglect his musical activities. At the age of eighteen, he took on the role of conductor for the concerts at the Carlos Gomes Club in Recife. He also performed as a violinist in the premiere of the opera “Leonor” by Euclides Fonseca at the Santa Isabel Theater.
Upon returning to Ceará with his family, he aligned himself with João Brígido and João Cordeiro, defenders of the abolitionist movement, and began contributing to various newspapers associated with the cause. Due to his political activities, his request for government funding to study in Europe was denied.
In the year prior to the abolition of slavery, he composed “Dança de Negros” (1887), one of the first compositions to incorporate Brazilian ethnic motifs. The first performance of this work, which later became “Batuque” from the “Série Brasileira,” was presented by the composer in Ceará. Other pieces were composed during the same period, such as “Mazurca,” “Une fleur,” “Ave Maria,” and “Marcha fúnebre.”
Despite being viewed with suspicion by the imperial family due to his political views, Nepomuceno, due to his significance in the Brazilian music scene, was even invited by Princess Isabel to have tea at the Imperial Palace.
After the Republican Coup, Alberto Nepomuceno began his activities at the National Institute of Music as an organ professor in 1894. Following the death of Leopoldo Miguez in 1902, he was appointed as the director.
The fight for the nationalization of classical music was expanded with the start of his activities at the Association of Popular Concerts, which he directed for ten years (1896-1906), promoting the recognition of Brazilian composers. At the request of Viscount of Taunay, he restored several works by the composer Padre José Maurício Nunes Garcia and supported popular composers such as Catulo da Paixão Cearense.
One of the first projects initiated by Nepomuceno was the reform of the Brazilian National Anthem and the regulation of its public performance. He had a plaque placed in the Institute in honor of Francisco Manuel da Silva, with the inscription: “To the founder of the Conservatory and author of the Anthem of his homeland.” He was also appointed as the musical director and principal conductor of the Symphonic Concerts of the National Exhibition of Praia Vermelha, in celebration of the Centennial of the Opening of the Ports. In these concerts, he presented to the Brazilian audience for the first time contemporary European composers such as Debussy, Roussel, Glazunov, and Rimsky-Korsakov, as well as Brazilian composers Carlos Gomes, Barrozo Neto, Leopoldo Miguez, and Henrique Oswald.
His last concert at the Municipal Theater took place in 1917. Very ill and weakened, he passed away in 1920 at the age of 56. According to Article 34 of Law 5,700 (09/01/1971), the Law of National Symbols of Brazil, the performance of any vocal arrangement of the Brazilian National Anthem other than that of Alberto Nepomuceno is not allowed.
Reference: Brazil Imperial – Artefatos e Imagens da História do Brasil no Período do Primeiro e do Segundo Reinado (1822-1889). O Mais Importante Compositor Cearense: Considerado o Pai do Nacionalismo na música Erudita Brasileira. Brazil, July 06, 2023. Instagram: Brazil Imperial @Brazil_Imperial. Available in: Brazil Imperial on Instagram: “O Mais Importante Compositor Cearense: Considerado o Pai do Nacionalismo na música Erudita Brasileira. Alberto Nepomuceno (1864-1920) um…” Accessed on: July 16, 2023.
Matheus is an entrepreneur at Araujo Media, where he serves as CEO and Creative Director. He shares analyses on his personal blog "matheusaraujo.me" and is currently pursuing a degree in Advertising and Propaganda. Moreover, he has a passion for history, particularly that of Brazil, which led him to become the founder and editor of the Brazilian History portal.