“Odeon” by Ernesto Nazareth

nazareth3.jpgErnesto Nazareth was a Brazilian pianist and composer born in Rio de Janeiro in 1863. He died in 1934. Described as the “true incarnation of the Brazilian musical soul” by his compatriot Heitor Villa-Lobos, Nazareth composed and published more than 200 short piano compositions with strong popular flavor. Of these, 88 are tangos, many of which are still popular in Brazil and the rest of the world.

Nazareth was an impressive sight-reader and improviser. He was hired by a music store in Rio to play music for customers interested in buying sheet music. He was also hired as a pianist at the Odeon movie theater around 1924 to play in the waiting room.

The tango “Odeon” was probably written around that time. It is one of the best known tangos he composed. You can hear it not only in the original piano version, but also in guitar and other arrangements (you can find some of them in the iTunes store).

“Odeon” –and Nazareth’s music in general– can be a powerful motivator for intermediate piano students who have become “burned” by traditional repertoire. I remember a junior recital at the University of Minnesota during my student years that included a set of 3 or 4 tangos, performed by an Asian student. She liked this music so much that it truly was the best thing she performed that day!

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Buy it here:

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Ernesto Nazareth: Brazilian Tangos and Dances - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com
Ernesto Nazareth: Brazilian Tangos and Dances Composed by Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934), edited by David P. Appleby. Collection for solo piano. Series: Alfred Masterworks Editions. 40 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (AP.16775)
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I think Odeon’s beauty is the result of the happy combination of many elements: a perfect balance of “saudade” (nostalgic feeling) with upbeat rhythms, a long and expansive left hand melody in the refrain, “jazzy” harmonies in the right hand, and a slight touch of “Tico Tico” and Camen Miranda in the last episode (maybe?).

There are other tangos besides “Odeon” that an intermediate student can handle well. To name two of the most popular: “Remando” and “Brejeiro” (which sounds suspiciously similar to Milhaud’s Scaramouche, composed later).

A tip: don’t play these tangos too fast. Remember that this music also has a big deal of nostalgia (ask any Brazilian!). Just watch the video (in Portuguese) of composer Francisco Mignone. Mignone met Nazareth at the music store where the older composer played for customers. The young and enthusiastic Mignone jumped at the piano and played “Brejeiro” for the composer at a dashing tempo. Nazareth response: “that’s not how you should play it!” and played it for him slower, more clearly and more singingly. Nazareth then told him that performers often ruined his music by playing it too fast.

Mignone on Nazareth (video on YouTube):

“Odeon” is in the public domain. You can download a free copy at the International Music Score Library Project.

If you want to buy good anthologies of his Tangos, Alfred Publications has a good compilation of 10 or 15 pieces (Brazilian Tangos and Dances. Van Nuys: Alfred, 1997). Also check A Collection of his Finest Piano Works. San Francisco: GSP, [no date] on Amazon.

-Alejandro Cremaschi

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