Notable Twentieth-Century Latin American Women (English)

A Biographical Dictionary

Cynthia Margarita Tompkins and David William Foster ( 2000 )

CHIQUINHA GONZAGA (BIRTHNAME: FRANCISCA EDWIGES NEVES GONZAGA) (October 17, 1847–February 28, 1935) Brazil: Composer, Musician

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Chiquinha Gonzaga was a pioneer in both her professional and social lives as the first female composer, conductor, performer, music teacher, and writer in Brazil to utilize her own work to ensure her personal survival. She was involved in many important changes that swept through Brazilian society at the turn of the century. She had to struggle in order to assert herself as an accomplished musician within a male-dominated environment; in the same way, she worked for the end of slavery and the opening of a republican society. She questioned social rules and traditional female roles throughout her life and established and lived under an order she forged for herself.

Gonzaga’s mother, Rosa María de Lima, was a mestiza (of mixed European and indigenous blood) who had Francisca, her first child, while still single. Her father, Lieutenant José Basileu Neves Gonzaga, recognized Francisca Gonzaga’s paternity eight months later and formed a family with Lima. His action was highly unusual for that time. His family did not approve of the marriage because of Lima’s social position, the circumstances of the marriage, and racial prejudice. Nevertheless, Francisca Gonzaga had a family, siblings, and access to an adequate education. A priest instructed her in writing, reading, mathematics, and religion and provided her with an introduction to foreign languages. A conductor, Lobo, and an uncle, Antonio Eliseu, were responsible for her musical formation.

Gonzaga was married at the age of sixteen to Jacinto Ribeiro do Amaral, a businessman chosen by her family, with whom she had three children. Problems in their marriage, including her husband’s forbidding her to play the piano and guitar, led Gonzaga to leave him. The ensuing scandal was crucial for her career and future attitudes. In line with prevailing societal attitudes, her parents disapproved of her behavior and did not allow her to return home. To support herself, she began to play the piano professionally in ensembles and created a family of other musicians. She met an engineer, João Batista de Carvalho Júnior, with whom

Chiquinha Gonzaga, circa 1865.Photo by Modesto Photographo Courtesy of Edinha Diniz.she lived. Their union produced a daughter but, in approximately 1875, Gonzaga left both of them. Again, she was met with a social condemnation that worsened her already tarnished reputation.

At the same time she faced social sanctions for her dismissal of traditional female roles, she achieved professional success. She played at pastry shops and cabarets and composed a hit in 1877, the polka “Atraente” (Attractive). Taking advantage of the flourishing popularity of musical theater, she began to write songs and even lyrics for musical plays, a principal source of her growing importance in popular music. While living in a poor neighborhood, she observed the popularity of street festivals and celebrations. This inspired her to compose the first written carnival march, “Ó abre alas” (Make Way, composed between 1897 and 1899), which is still popular today. During this period, she worked not only in Brazil but also in Portugal, and there are records of her visits to that country in 1902 and 1904, with a longer stay from 1906 to 1909. Meanwhile, she met a Portuguese musician, João Batista Fernandes Lage, thirty-six years her junior, and took him as her lover. Chiquinha Gonzaga, now a mature woman, foresaw another scandal in the making. Thus, in 1902, she introduced João Batista as her son and, with this pretense, they lived together until her death in 1935.

Her philosophy toward life and her desire to break down social barriers and flout conventions fuel the lyrics of her still popular carnival march, “Ó abre alas”; “Make way / I want to pass through / Rosa de Ouro [a carnival group] is going to win / Throw open your wings / I want to pass through / I am a bohemian / that I cannot deny.”

This composition, set against the background of carnival, can be considered a statement of self-affirmation and independence. The emphasis on the first-person pronoun, placed in a carnival march, produces a dialectical meaning. The self-affirmation of Gonzaga, as a composer, is underscored by the first-person pronoun as both singular and female. However, its performance assumes a collective character because it is sung by a large group of people who are having fun in the carnival crowd. When her music was played and sung during carnival by the population, which was part of a thoroughly male-oriented society at that time, a new order is invoked as Gonzaga and other Brazilian women abandon their passivity to take an active new role. This is made clear when she asserts her undeniable bohemian behavior, a behavior restricted to men at that time. There is also a sense of profanity and mockery because she employs the march, originally a “serious” musical form used in solemn situations such as military parades and funeral processions, in a carnival context. Therefore, a conventionally rigid and ordered form is used in a context of extreme flexibility and disorder. Furthermore, Gonzaga indirectly criticizes society, the military life, and her family, especially on her father’s side—all of them bound by strict rules that, in turn, they tried to impose on her.

Ultimately, “Ó abre alas” has as its main characteristic the striking display of paradox in order to challenge it. The dualities of male and female, individual and collective, passive and active, rigid and flexible are all being challenged, as well as seriousness and joy and discipline and insubordination. “Ó abre alas” questions the rules of society and gender. It transforms the social axis from male to female. Through the pairing of rhyming verbs, Gonzaga turned negation into victory and denied the status quo in favor of a new kind of consciousness, the realization of female freedom.

Gonzaga, however, was not just concerned with gender. Other important contributions to Brazilian popular music were songs Gonzaga composed for the burleta Forrobodó (1912) by Luiz Peixoto and Carlos Bettencourt. This play, a huge success, was performed more than 1,500 times in Brazil. The burleta is a particular musical theater genre adapted to Brazilian taste. It comes from operetta and has its roots in the Italian opera buffa or comic opera. Forrobodó was the name of a suburban nightclub attended mainly by Afro-Brazilians and lower-income people. The performance shows the audience the types of people found in Brazil: the mulata(dark-skinned woman), the mulato (dark-skinned man), the malandro (the idler), the Portuguese immigrant, and the French prostitute. The variety of characters mirrored the spectrum of Brazilian people, the mixture of races and colors, which the audience enthusiastically accepted. It is considered the first time that daily life and the common idiom were performed on a Brazilian stage.

Gonzaga composed songs that, if analyzed in their function, demonstrate the specificities of this Brazilian musical theater genre. Forrobodó has danceable musical numbers that express the peculiarities or stereotypes of its characters, such as the sensuality of the mulata or the social maneuverability of the malandro, through a wide use of syncopations and rhythmic variations that, in conjunction with the lyrics, allow for a better portrayal and profile of the character. Gonzaga also employed an ample variety of rhythmic styles, well known and popular in Brazil at that time, such as the waltz, polka, modinha (a type of ballad), carnival march, quadrilha (quadrille), and desafio (challenge). This mixture of foreign rhythms with ones nationalized or created in Brazil is very common in Brazilian popular music and has always played a fundamental role in Brazilian musicianship.

Gonzaga was sensitive to this inherent eclecticism, and this was her main musical characteristic—a whole and unbiased approach to Brazilian music that celebrated its diversity. In 1914 Gonzaga’s instrumental composition written in 1895 and called “O corta-jaca” (a type of dance step) or “Gaúcho” (cowboy) with a maxixe rhythm (a precursor of the samba) was performed on the guitar at an official party held at the government palace. This was a double scandal in Brazilian society because the type of the music played was associated with lower-class society; moreover, the instrument used, the guitar, was related to bohemians and drunkards. Furthermore, it was a markedly popular song written by a woman of questionable reputation. However, this tune became so famous that Darius Milhaud quoted it in his experimental polytonal medley Le Boeuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Rooftop, 1919–1920). Obviously, there was recognition of Brazilian popular music and Gonzaga’s work. Gonzaga’s innovations went beyond music to policy and the legal rights of writers. For example, in 1917, she founded the first association for theatrical authors’ copyrights (SBAT) to protect people who write plays and music for the theater.

She was attacking a system of exploitation of the authors by publishers, a system of which Gonzaga was one of many victims. This association is still active, and its headquarters, in Rio de Janeiro, maintains Gonzaga’s archive with all the material that she produced. Unfortunately, most manuscripts have not been well preserved. Gonzaga’s last work was composed in 1933, for the operetta Maria, when she was eighty-five years old. The playscript was by Viriato Corrêa, an accomplished Brazilian author of romance who was not very familiar with theatrical writing. Throughout the play Gonzaga made corrections and adjustments to Corrêa’s lyrics, often recycling her old material. Gonzaga’s works include waltzes, mazurkas, polkas, habaneras, Brazilian tangos, modinhas, choros (literally, laments), maxixes, carnival marches, and many other popular genres as well as religious pieces. She wrote for piano, band, vocal, orchestra, and chamber ensembles. Through her work, she engaged in social and political arenas, selling her manuscripts to raise money to free a slave musician or participating in meetings to change the political regime. In every case, she demonstrated a unique personal and determined reaction to the problems posed to her, constantly risking misunderstanding and scandal, but also creating opportunities for her sometimes revolutionary ideas. Her work contributed substantially to her vision and critique of society. Her actions and way of life made opinions concrete, which, in turn, opened up new horizons for Brazilian women.

Further Reading

Cohen, Aaron I. “Chiquinha Gonzaga.” In International Encyclopedia of Women Composers, 2d ed. New York: Books & Music, 1987.

Fernandes, Adriana. “Chiquinha Gonzaga.” In The Feminist Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, forthcoming.

Magaldi, Cristina. “Chiquinha Gonzaga.” In The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers, edited by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.

Adriana Fernandes


Tompkins, Cynthia Margarita, and Foster, David William. “CHIQUINHA GONZAGA (BIRTHNAME: FRANCISCA EDWIGES NEVES GONZAGA).” . Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. The American Mosaic. Greenwood Publishing Group. 28 Jun 2007.

Chicago Manual of Style

Tompkins, Cynthia Margarita, and Foster, David William. “CHIQUINHA GONZAGA (BIRTHNAME: FRANCISCA EDWIGES NEVES GONZAGA).” In , Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. The American Mosaic. Greenwood Publishing Group.


  1. toni

    No creia ver algo asi en este blog ,en cambio he quedado gratamente agradecido con el de hoy

    • wandrei

      Agradecemos su visita y el mensaje, compruebe a menudo. Wandrei Braga


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