Highlights of Musical

About the works

The Coming Decline of Frevo

Tambourine Playing in Brazil

The African Influence in Brazilian Music

Frevo Steps and Music

Art and Artists

In Terms of Music from São Paulo

A Mistaken Analysis of a Brazilian Rhythm

Scales in Brazilian Folk Music

The Indians of Petrópolis

Índios or Cabôcos of Petrópolis

Notes on Playing Marbles

Variations on the Boi

Variations on the Baião

Variations on the Maxixe





A Gazeta – São Paulo, December 26, 1959.

          The music of the frevo – actually, a simple march, since in Pernambuco you hardly ever hear anyone refer to it as “frevo,” but simply as “marcha” – is born with orchestration complete. This means that melody, harmonization, crescendo, successive climaxes, sharp contrasts, orchestrated special effects, etc. all come from the imagination of the composer himself, a musician who writes note by note what he wants heard. If a composer “by ear” comes along it is only due to unusual circumstances, where an authentic musician is forced for some reason to orchestrate the composition. Normally the composer of a Pernambuco march [“frevo” or “marcha-frevo,” if you prefer] is a musician, professional or semi-professional, who cares about the moralization of his artistic class.

          The names of a few of today’s most qualified composers will suffice to prove this point: Nelson Ferreira, orchestrator and pianist; Levino Ferreira, formerly a saxophonist who now plays bassoon for the Orquestra Sinfônica do Recife; Zumba, saxophonist; Felinho, saxophonist with extraordinary technique; Carnera, former professional cornet player, etc. Among those who wrote “sung marches” [“frevos-canções”]: Capiba, formerly a band musician, then pianist for silent movies and distinguished accompanist for famous recitalists visiting the Northeast; the aforementioned Nelson Ferreira; Marabá, former band musician; the Valença Brothers, pianists [actually, the true authors of the renowned marcha that became characteristic of Rio de Janeiro at the hands of Lamartine Babo, “O Teu Cabelo Não Nega,” which has an introduction taken from an old style of Pernambuco marcha, or “marcha-frevo”], etc.

          Today’s mechanical means for reaching listeners, like disks and radio, give composers greater opportunities and allow their compositions to become better known. Despite this, however, the writers print or copy their works and distribute them to different orchestras and groups in the Northeast well in time for Carnival. At that time the groups contract numerous musicians, especially trombone players. They first rehearse amongst themselves, then open the rehearsals, so the dancers learn the new songs and remember the old ones. These rehearsals train those who will participate in the Carnival parade, who dance not only to the marchas themselves, but also to the melodies and respective orchestrations on which the steps are actually based. Rhythm, melody, orchestration and steps make one whole in the frevo dance.

          In Recife, on more than a few occasions I saw skilled Carnival parade dancers refuse any [...]

          [...] unacceptable to dance separate from the whole composition. That’s why weeks before Carnival the groups hold the necessary rehearsals, spending huge amounts on the musicians.

          This is why I am amazed when dancers come to big southern cities to show off, dancing forgotten frevos with orchestrations they only hear at the time they actually dance them... The reader may be sure these are not serious Carnival dancers; rather – because those who know better do not critique them - they are performing to get a few bucks and then go brag about having danced on television. And we can’t forget to mention the dodgy dancers who try to change the Pernambuco marcha into a galope!

          The oldest known marchas were sung, like we see today in the groups of people in Recife known as “blocos”; these have few wind and percussion instruments, but a huge chorus sings with a harmonic background of a huge number of guitars. I counted eighty guitars in one of these blocos during a Recife Carnival. This type of marcha inspired composer Nelson Ferreira’s “Invocação,” which was a Carnival success throughout Brazil. He subtitled it “frevo de bloco,” an explanation that would serve the needs of the commercial recording. In any case, the imitation of the marchas de bloco is one of the best I have heard. After the first Pernambuco marchas appeared, all sung, composers and players began to introduce “the sauce” that excited the parade dancers. They distorted the marcha’s original characteristics so much that it became what is now called the modern or street marcha [or “marcha-frevo” or “frevo de rua”]. However, since not everyone can join a group that hires musicians to play the Carnival repertoire, and since the bloco marchas are like the group’s property and only they can play them, there is a need for recordings of sung marchas, “frevos-canções,” that are as legitimate as the instrumental ones. These may even be more authentic, because they are accessible to the people in general and are also adopted by the groups.

          Frevo music is not folk, but has semi-erudite roots, even though it is for the commoners and popular in nature. However, no one knows who invented the steps, and many of them are already perfectly traditional and even have curious names.