Saturday, September 22, 2012

José Mauricio Nunes Garcia, Afro-Brazilian Composer & Organist, Born Sept. 22, 1767

[La Passion du Baroque Brésilien; Missa de Nossa Senhora do Carmo; José Mauricio Nunes Garcia; Association of Choral Singing; Cleofe Person de Mattos, Director; Camerata de Rio de Janeiro; Henrique Morelenbaum, Director; Jade 75443-2 (1991)]

In May 2012, John Malveaux announced that had purchased the piano reduction of The First Choral Masterpiece in Black Music History, the Requiem Mass (1816) by José Maurício Nunes-García. The music is for Four-Part Chorus of Mixed Voices and Alto, Tenor and Bass Solos with Piano Accompaniment. It was written to commemorate the death of Portugal's Queen Mother.

José Mauricio Nunes Garcia (1767-1830) was an Afro-Brazilian composer and organist who was the grandson of slaves. Antonio Campos Monteiro Neto has generously made his information available to We received word from him on March 12, 2012 that his website on José Mauricio Nunes Garcia had been updated at Antonio wrote: "This long delay occurred because I had to rewrite all his biography, due to new documents found at the Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro."  
"From Nunes Garcia are known 240 musical pieces, but research shows that his actual production would be almost twice this number. This quantity, and the quality of his works made him one of the most important composers of Brazil, in most of his lifetime a colony of Portugal."

"Today, thanks to the outstanding work made by musicologist Ms. ,Cleofe Person de Mattos (1913-2002) the main facts of the composer's life are established, and his remaining works are cataloged. To her memory we dedicate this website."  The website is in both Portuguese and English.

Monteiro Neto gives details of the youth's music education: 

“According to Manuel de Araújo Porto Alegre, his early biographer, he had "a beautiful voice and a great musical memory"; "reproduced everything he heard", and "created melodies of his own and played the harpsichord and the guitar without ever have learned to". In 1779, at twelve, he began to teach music. José Mauricio never had a piano or a harpsichord, and trained himself by teaching harpsichord to the society´s ladies. To learn the organ, he was assisted by some good organists in the churches. José Mauricio completed his education in the "Royal Classes", with lectures in history, geography, latin grammar and philosophy, and rhetoric as well."

The Webmaster of the Brazilian site recounts the process Nunes Garcia followed to be ordained as a priest in the Archdiocese, or See, of Rio de Janeiro.  Studies for the priesthood led to the ordination of Nunes Garcia in 1791.  A productive period followed for the composer.  When he was exposed to the movement for independence from Portugal, the composer began composing works influenced by Brazilian folk music. 

Monteiro Neto continues: "He took part in meetings at the Literary Society, founded in 1794, until its closing and the arrest of its leaders in 1797, after they had been accused of revolutionary activities against the Portuguese Crown."
"The Tempest and Zemira  are overtures from 1803 which mark the composer's diversification of his compositions into the instrumental genre," according to Monteiro Neto.  

A royal wedding in 1817 gave the composer access to skilled musicians from Portugal.  The year 1817 was also when José Mauricio Nunes Garcia composed the first Brazilian opera, Le Due Gemelle (The Two Twins). His output in 1818 included, we are told by Monteiro Neto, a Novena (CPM 67), a Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Carmel (CPM 110), a Qui Sedes and Quoniam (CPM 163) and three Motets, as well as a Mass for Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.  We are further informed by Monteiro Neto that in December 1819 he conducted the first Brazilian performance of Mozart's Requiem (K 626).

The score of Le Due Gemelle  was destroyed by fire in 1825.  Nunes Garcia wrote his last work, St. Cecilia's Mass, in 1826.  Financial problems are believed to have contributed to the composer's death in 1830.  A number of recordings of his works are described at the website of Monteiro Neto.

Comment by email:

A Question and Supplements to the blog:
              I continue to be insecure about his family name.  By Brazilian practice it should be García (and is so recognized by the Library of Congress), with Nunes as his mother's maiden name.  Then why was this priest's son (yes, and from an extra-curricular venture, which might explain it) also named Nunes-García?  Eileen Southern gives his name as Nuñes (in Portuguese it would be Nunhes).
              That aside, I published "The life and works of Nunes-García" in The Black perspective in music, v14n1 (1986/Spring) p93-102.
              As for his 1816 Requiem, my edition was published by Associated Music Press in 1977 (piano-vocal score), with performance materials on rent.  We performed this in Finlandia Hall in Helsinki, which was later recorded in Finland on Columbia M-3331.  Subsequent major performances have been given by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with the Brazeal Dennard Chorus, conducted by Leslie Dunner, and by the New York Philharmonic and the Morgan State University Choir, conducted by Paul Freeman.  The latter performance was with the nation's music critics all in attendance at Avery Fisher Hall, each of whom relayed their unanimously enthusiastic  -- if not astonished -- reviews to their home town newspapers.  This was the origin of the statement that this work was Black music history's first choral masterpiece.
              There must be, however, a warning.  A pirated and faulty edition has been issued, lacking my permission and that of Columbia Records and Associated Music Publishers.  A law suit is forthcoming which will also affect purchasers of that illegal version.
              In my BPIM article, I provided a selective works list.  The full list will appear within the multi-volume reference work, now in progress (since 1968).

Dominique-René de Lerma

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