Speak out, maestro!

It was 1910. I was four years old when I saw the Halley Comet. I was just starting to play piano”

Radamés_Fala Maestro!

The following statements have been extracted from interviews with Radamés Gnattali between 1976 and 1985:

– Interview recorded at Museu da Imagem do Som, Rio de Janeiro, for the Top Personality Cicle, on August 28th, 1985.

– Interview to the journalist Luiz Carlos Saroldi for Especial JB Radio Broadcast, on October 11th, 1977, Jornal do Brasil FM Radio.

– Interview to the journalist Mara Caballero for the Jornal do Brasil (newspaper) on December 1st, 1976. (In that very same year, Radamés had just completed 70 years old on January 27th).

– Interview to O Pasquim Newspaper, 6-12 May, 1997 Edition.

– Interview to the poet, composer and writer Hermínio Bello de Carvalho, for the  TV show CONTRA/LUZ at TVE (Governmental Educational Television) of Rio de Janeiro, recorded in 1985.



“I was born in January 27th, 1906, at Fernandes Vieira St. Porto Alegre [RS], the eldest child among my brothers. I shouldn’t be called Radamés, but Ernani. One of our relatives had a baby and gave him that name first so, when it came to me, my mother called me Radamés. Some time later, when my brother was born, my mother could finally call him Ernani. Afterwards Aída came, and then Alexandre and Maria Teresinha”.

Alessandro Gnattali (Alexandre, in Brazil)

“My father worked as a carpenter when he first came from Europe, in 1896. He had this dream about studying music and he has dedicated all his free time to study piano, contrabass and bassoon. He managed to become a composer, writing concert music and soon he built up his own orchestra which he conducted for a very long time”.

Adélia Fossati Gnattali

“My mother was a wonderful housekeeper. She did all the work by her self (all of it) and she still would find time to teach music to all her children. She was an extraordinary woman that love to read. As a 15 year old boy I had already known Dostoievsky, Crime and Punishment, and all that”.

Early school learning
“My early school learning started Italian language. It was a small school down the street, where the entire neighborhood used to send their children. We had our own gathering parts, as a sort of private club, for Italians only. Ours was called Montenegro, in honnor to ‘Helena de Montenegro’ that was the daughter of the King of Italy [Nicolau I from Montenegro] – and we were offered lots of activities: wooden balls game, dancing and Italian language for the children, offered by an Italian lady.

First “little” arrangements

[The 9 year old boy Radamés was condecorated by the Italian Consul with a medal for conducting and playing with a small children orchestra belongin to the Italian Society, performing his own “little” arrangements (…) His mother used to tell that the other children stoped playing, one by one, because the “little arrangements” were not so easy! Radamés got flustered, but he continued playing all the way].

“Oh, that was a joke, we were just kidding” – said Radamés.

In High School I studied at Colégio Anchieta, up to 14 years old. I did not like it, because I had a stammering speech, so I really hated the oral tests. I did not want to stay in school, I was lazy, and my father went very angry with me sometimes. When he finally asked what I really wanted to do, I told ‘I wanted to be a musician’ – and he took me out of school. I stayed home and had private teachers for the Portuguese, Math and all that stuff.

High School

“I’ve started it with my mom, at 3 or 4 years old, with the piano. When I was 14, I entered the Conservatory, directly to the fifth grade, as a Professor Guilherme Fontainha’s[1] student. We used to study for 9 years there at the time. Now it has changed, I guess, I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve been there, studying Bach, Chopin and Beethoven, for 9 years”.

“I’ve studied flute and clarinet. The eight years of violin, together with the piano, were very useful, because it’s been very good to get acquainted with the strings. I also studied with a cousin, great violin player[2].Then I entered a string quarter playing viola[3], and for two years I have played an important repertoire and learned a lot. This is why I recognize the strings so well. And I also know trumpet and a little bit of saxophone”.

“I have studied harmony with some professores, such as Agnelo França[4] here in Rio [during aproximately a year], but I did not like it. I also studied with Paulo Silva[5] and one day I asked him if studying counterpoint techniques would help me get off that situation…[Radamés was insecure about his formal composition studies]. And he said I should go on with work, because studying counterpoint wouldnot help at all”.

“I have studied harmony with some professores, such as Agnelo França here in Rio [during aproximately a year], but I did not like it. I also studied with Paulo Silva and one day I asked him if studying counterpoint techniques would help me get off that situation…[Radamés was insecure about his formal composition studies]. And he said I should go on with work, because studying counterpoint wouldnot help at all”.

[1] Guilherme Fontainha (1887-1970). Graduated in Europe, musichologist and pianor professor, Fontainha has directed the Instituto de Belas Artes (Fine Arts Institute), at Rio Grande do Sul State, as of 1916. Later, in Rio de Janeiro, in 1931, he assumed the Direction of  the National Music Institute, belonging  to the old Universidade do Brasil, which is nowdays the Faculty of Music, part of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro/ UFRJ.

[2] Olga Fossati (1897- 19–?), great violin player, received an Award in Belgium, when she was just 14 years old. She has recorded at Casa Edison (Odeon Records, in Brasil), in Rio de Janeiro, around the thirties.

[3] Quarteto Henrique Oswald: formed by Luís Cosme and Sotero Cosme (violins), Radamés Gnattali (viola) and Carlos Kromer (cello).

[4] Agnelo França (1875-1964). Composer, pianist, conductor, harmony university professor at the Federal University of  Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). He was a harmony professor of Radamés, H. Villa-Lobos, Luciano Gallet.

[5] José Paulo da Silva (1892-1967). Instrumentalist, composer, conductor, harmony, counterpoint and fugue university professor at the Federal University of  Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). He has published several didactic music books, such as Harmony Manual, Counterpoint Course, Fugue Manual, Music Language, among others.

First concert

“I was 18 years old when I performed my first piano concert in Rio de Janeiro. It was 1924, my graduating year. Fontainha [Guilherme Halfeld Fontainha, Porto Alegre Musical Conservatory’s Director] brought me to Rio, to introduce me to a friend. I always thoight he was expecting to get me a job at the Music Institute. And he did find one later on, around 1925. The program featured Liszt and a organ concert by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, transcripted for piano. Most critics and personalities were there for me, even Guiomar Novaes”.


“After that concert I went back to Porto Alegre for my finals. The other students seemed really upset because I had been out for over three months and they felt I should not have the right to go through the final examination. But Fontainha has escorted me to Rio and he was the Director after all, so, not only I have gone through the exams but also I won the Golden Medal of Araújo Vianna Award”.

First critic
First critic  (1)
First critic  (2)
Youth in Porto Alegre

“At the age of eighteen, while I studied theory, piano and violin at the institute, I’ve also started playing piano at the movie theatres to make a little money. In 1924, I’ve  gathered the live orchestra at Cinema Colombo, located at Floresta neighborhood and I made ten thousand réis[1] per day. The repertoire featured a pot pourri of French and Italian songs, waltzes, polkas and operettas. We read all that it was written on the music sheets while the silent movies went on. I also gathered a small orchestra [the Ideal Jazz Band] at Confeitaria Colombo[2].


[1] The word réis corresponds to the Brazilian currency at the time

[2] At the time Radamés played at Cinema Colombo and Confeitaria Colombo; (two different places, although the names are similar)

Malandro (c. 1924/26) – “Strong sucess of the Ideal Jazz Band”, one of the first Radamés’ compositions
Malandro (c. 1924/26) – uma das composições mais antigas de Radamés

Nota: Malandro (c. 1924/26)“Strong sucess of the Ideal Jazz Band”, one of the first Radamés’ compositions [1].

[1] The word Malandro also used to be Radamés’ nickname when he was a little boy, according to his sister Aída.


“(…) I used to play with a carnival orchestra in Porto Alegre, organized by Sotero Cosme, so called Os Exagerados (The exaggerateds). We played on carnival costumes and I played cavaquinho”.

The concertist

“Writing music is easy. Playing is much worst!”

“I didn’t listen to music very much at those days. I played Villa-Lobos and Nazareth. My father used to buy all of it. But I only started listening to music when I was 24 or 25, when  I finally had a record player. I had graduated in Porto Alegre and I came to Rio de Janeiro with the perspective of beeing a concert pianist. I suppose I had the qualifications. But there were no conditions to make a living out of a concert piano player carreer. Now a days, there are institutional support, as scholarships, but there was nothing at that time.  I had to plunge into popular music to survive”.

“I really envy those pianists, such as Estrela [Arnaldo Estrela], Moreira Lima [Arthur Moreira Lima], all those guys they make their living out of playing piano, and I guess that what I really really like is to play piano. But I also know that one needs to study at least eight hours a day and do not have to worry about making money. I would really like to be a great concert piano layer.”

The professor

“I knew that things worked out very confusingly in Rio [the capital, Rio de Janeiro]. I knew you needed a recommendation. I defintely came to Rio in 1931. I counted on Fontainha’s support [his piano teacher in Porto Alegre], but he never really offered me any concrete help. Finally, he announced there would be a vacancy at the Music School [Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – UFRJ] as a professor, if I wanted to try and compete. I left eveything and all my family in Porto Alegre and I came. I studied hard for four or five months, waiting for the concourse announcement. I went to Getúlio [President Getúlio Vargas] with a recommendation letter from Raul Pilla, a very well known politician, but he was Getúlio’s political enemy. I left the letter at the reception desk. A few days later, a telegram called for an interview with  President Vargas.

– What do you want?


– I just want t make sure the vacation is still avalable and the concourse will happen at the end of the year. That’s all.

– You have my word!

But the concourse has never happened.”

“I think that no one can really teach music to anybody. I don’t know how to teach. I have no patience. Just had one only student. He was four years old, talented, and I really wanted to teach, with all my experience – but teach what? Teach how? – I don’t know how”.

Professional life

The first years in Rio de Janeiro

“That was a hard time when all of us, musicians, went through a starving and miserable life. All of us, Murilo Mendes [poet and writer] (…) our head quarter was Portinari’s home in Laranjeiras. We used to go there; he would paint all the time and we would stay there, just chatting”. [Radamés refers to his first years in Rio in the thirties; married, he had no job and needed to make his living, so playing popular music became an option].

Starting in the Radio

“I came to Rio in 1924 and started playing for the radio. I was eighteen years old [1]. Clube do Brasil Radio had a huge studio at Largo do Machado neighborhood. There was only one piano, no orchestra, so far.That’s how I really started. Years later, in 1930, I’m not quite sure about the date, I started playing with the orchestra. Then, I moved to Cajuti Radio, Mayrink Veiga Radio, and afterwards to the National Radio”.

“At Marink Veiga I played everything, from classics to pop music. Money wasn’t so good. I played piano at all the radio orchestras and accompanied all the singers working there. The recently hired violinist had a better salary. So, I left. When I left, they had to hire four pianists to do what I used to do. A committee of the orchestra members came to my house, sent by César Ladeira, asking me how much I would ask to come back. But I didn’t. Keep your radio up there, man, I don’t want any of it anymore”.

The arranger

“Victor [RCA Victor records] produced my first recording sessions. The trio sets – piano, clarinet and drums – [as in the choros Cabuloso and Recordando, 1937] were played by Luís Americano, Luciano [Luciano Perrone] and my self. Then a group showed up with a bass saxophone, and I’ve composed for them a few arrangements for the singer Orlando Silva. One of those crazy encounters. Crazy but nice, because you keep learning all the time”.

“At Radio Nacional, there was this jazz orchestra, we played Argentinian tango and I was the pianist. There was no Brazilian music orchestra at that time. There was only regional music ensemble groups and huge saloon orchestras, with chords and flutes, for extracts from operettas and operas. Music sheets came already printed from abroad. I started making the first arrangements for trio – me at the piano, Iberê [Iberê Gomes Grosso] at the cello and Romeu Ghypsman, at the violin. I have started with small pieces, such as small choro songs and waltzes. We had no script at the radio those days; a simple break in the broadcast, any radio transmition problem, we would improvise! This is how I started writing music at the radio. After that, the singers enjoyed the arrangements and I couldn’t stop”.

“Orchestration was very much in fashion those days, during the thirties. Specially by Mr. Evans, RCA Victor directo, that always requested arrangements for Orlando Silva, Francisco Alves and Sílvio Caldas recordings. He also hired Pixinguinha and I to produce the arrangements for all the medium and complete orchestras in the company. He wanted them to sound more professional in order to compete with the foreign artists, whose waves of orchestrations were spread all over in the market. But Brazilian music was struggling in that market too. Mr. Evans has even brought maestro Galvão from São Paulo, for the first arrangements. Pixinguinha would work on the carnival marches, in which he was unbeatable and the romantic music was handled by me and the other maestros”.

 “I guess I would have become reach if I had considered the so many proposals I had by the composers at that time. Partnership proposals. But I never wanted to. I just thought this was abominable! I’d rather keep by modest salary as an arrangement maker, that could barely  buy a decent pair of shoes. Our pay would be around fourty of fifty thousand réis [Brazilian money at the time]”.

 “If I had earned a least a small part of everytinhg I wrote, from 1930 up to now a days, I would certainly be rich. But I realise that the arrangements are still marginalized. The arranger musician gets such a thin slice of it around here! – amost nothing”

[1] According to Radamés, President Vargas appointed someone else. Radamés was so much disappointed that he has completely abandoned the idea of becoming a music professor.

[2] Escorted by his professor and Director of the Fine Arts Institut in his state, Rio Grande do Sul, Radamés came to Rio de Janeiro specially to play and to present his first at the National Institute of Music, nowadays the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

Fading with a historical myth

“That is Ary’s idea!”

“The worldwide famous song Aquarela do Brasil was composed in 1939 for the theatre magazine Joujoux e Balangandans. That famous introduction [tan, tan, tan – tan, tan, tan], Ary [Ary Barroso Brazilian composer] wanted the contrabass to play it. I told him: You make the song, I set up the arrangement! And I decided to set that up to the saxophones, because it had more impact. That’s it. That is not mine”.

You make the song, I set up the arrangement! “

And I decided to set that up to the saxophones, because it had more impact. That’s it. That is not mine”.

Rádio Nacional (National Radio)

“I should never remember those days. A shame. That was a seriously mass and exploitation. Musicians were exploited. Directors, the top executives, they were rich, drinking whiskey all around”.

“I worked there for 30 years and I have never had any distinguished position[1]. One day, I come in and I see my name assigned as Artistic Director. So I went to Pedro Calmon [general director] and asked him what was I supposed to do. And he went: You are supposed to improve the quality of our broadcast. I said: Fine! Let’s start then by cutting off this program here, and this one there, cause those are really bad”. And he said: No, I can’t cut these off, because the sponsorship is very important… So, I said: All right, then I won’t be director any longer. And I resigned”.

“The National Radio was a real mess. There was no working law to support us. We were public employees, but the laws never conserned our population: musicians! There were new laws, but our estability was never conserned on those”.

“The National Radio had a jazz and a tango orchestras and I played the piano in both of them. There was no orchestra specialized in Brazilian music at the time. We had small Brazilian string groups and a small orchestra, with string and flutes for the operettas received from Europe, all done, all printed. I started writing a few arrangements for trio – piano by me, cello by Iberê [Iberê Gomes Grosso] violin by Romeu Ghypsman. The first pieces were small, like songs and waltzes. We had no script at the radio: an eventual pause or technical problem in the broadcast and I had to play something instead. So I started writing music, people liked it, the singers seemed to like it too and asked me for new arrangements”.

“Music quality at the National Radio was good, because Leo [maestro Leo Peracchi] and Lyrio [maestro Lyrio Panicali], we worked seriously and we were responsible for all the musical quality produced there. The orchestra was good, because the station figured as an example of working opportunity to musicians, with shows abroad, although we had a bad payment”.

[1] Radamés has joined the National Radio in 1936, on its foundation year. He started as piano player and has quickly became an arranger and maestro.

A Million Melodies[1]

“I used to work all the week long at the National Radio and rehearsed for two hours in the evening. Somebody at the radio proposed a new broadcast called Um Milhão de Melodias, a half hour presentation of a suite of top successful songs, with nine themes, one after the other. Zé Mauro looked me in the eyes and and I said: I can do it, but I won’t work as a pianist anymore! That is over! I will come over here every Wednesday for the show and that’s it. They wanted me to make it with no extra salary. Come on! The show was on Wednesday. I worked Thursday, Friday and Saturday, then I sent the material to the copyist and that’s all. Monday and Tuesday were saved for me. The show was a sort of hit parade. I had to write nine arrangements every week for this show (…) Paulo Tapajós and Haroldo Barbosa, both very acquainted to the international hit parades, would pick up the repertoire”.

“I was in charge of Um Milhão de Melodias broadcast. Lyrio Panicali conducted the Dramatic Orchestra and Leo Peracchi, the Symphonic Orchestra. Yes, the National Radio did have a symphonic orchestra! I did unimagible things up there. I have myself many symphonic compositions made at that time[2]. The National Radio was not a private company, so they were not forced to respect the market laws and the people’s taste. They were free to present whatever they wanted to. When Gilberto de Andrade assumed the Radio Station he said: You may do what you want, make your plans! And don’t be modest!. It was a governmental structured company so they had no concerns with marketing problems what so ever. Globo [Brazilian communication network], instead, they have a commercial structure, so they have to offer the contents requested and limited by the sponsorship!”

“Eu trabalhava todo dia na Rádio Nacional. Ensaiava duas horas por noite. Aí, o [inaudível] foi lá na Rádio, falar com o José Mauro e comigo para fazer um programa de música popular de meia hora, com nove músicas, ligadas uma na outra. O programa era o Um Milhão de Melodias. Aí eu disse pro Zé Mauro: eu posso fazer isso, mas não venho mais trabalhar aqui como pianista, não. Acabou esse negócio. Agora eu venho aqui para fazer o programa nas quartas feiras e acabou. Não ia ganhar mais por isso, não. O programa era na quarta-feira. Eu trabalhava quinta, sexta e sábado. Fazia tudo e entregava ao copista. A segunda e a terça-feira eram para fazer o que eu quisesse. (…) O programa todo era uma espécie de parada musical. Eu fazia nove arranjos por semana, para esse programa. (…) Quem escolhia as músicas era o Paulo Tapajós e o Haroldo Barbosa, que era o discotecário da rádio e estava por dentro de todas as músicas de sucesso, do mundo inteiro.”

“Eu só fazia o Um Milhão de Melodias. O Lyrio Panicali fazia a orquestra dramática e o Leo Peracchi a música sinfônica. Porque tinha orquestra sinfônica na Rádio Nacional.

Eu podia fazer qualquer coisa na Rádio Nacional. Tenho muita música sinfônica lá[3] . Não tinha esse negócio comercial. A Rádio Nacional não precisava de dinheiro. Quando o Gilberto de Andrade tomou conta da estação, ele disse: vocês façam o que quiserem, gastem o dinheiro que tiverem.
Aquilo era do governo. A Globo, por exemplo, é uma estação comercial, tem que dar ao anunciante o que ele quer.”

[1] In 1943, the Rádio Nacional promotes the Premier broadcast Um Milhão de Melodias ( A million melodies) sponsored by Coca-Cola. The show was produced to leverage the soda in Brazil, but it stayed on for thirteen years.
[2] Actually, Radamés has composed and presented premier conserts of many symphonic and chamber music work at the National Radio dedicated to his coleagues, musicans at the local orchestra, such as the trompetist Marino Pizziali (Fantasia Brasileira nº 2), o trombonist Waldemar Moura (Fantasia Brasileira nº 4), the drummer Luciano Perrone (Samba em três andamentos) and yet the guitar players Garoto e José Menezes (Concertinos nº 2 e 3 for guitar and orchestra, respectivly), the violin player Irani Pinto (Valsa, Samba-canção e Choro), the saxophone player Sandoval Dias (Brasiliana nº 7), among other great guys.
[3] To enrich the new broadcast Um Milhão de Melodias, the sponsor (Coca-cola) garantees free funds for Radamés in order to enlarge the orchestra to become a symphonic ensemble, with over 60 musicians. The Orquestra Brasileira de Radamés Gnattali was composed by the top professionals among the classic and popular brazilian musicians in Rio de Janeiro.

Orquestra Brasileira de Radamés Gnattali (Radamés Gnattali Brazilian Orchestra)

“(…) jazz, for instance, is based on piano, drums, contrabass and guitar. So, I figured: in order to put on a good Brazilian orchestra, we need a goodbase. So I had two guitars, one cavaquinho, played by the best [Garoto, José Menezes e Bola Sete] . Sometimes it could be three cavaquinhos, accordion, contrabass [Pedro Vidal], the splendid drummer, Luciano Perrone; João da Baiana, with pandeiro (all pandeiro players should listen to his pandeiro), Heitor dos Prazeres, drumming his caixeta [sort of wood-block], or prato e faca (plate and knife), and Bide, who played ganzá. We made an amazing sound.”

[1] Aníbal Augusto Sardinha (Garoto);  Djalma de Andrade (Bola Sete).

The composer

“My favorite pieces are the twelve concerts for piano, four for violin, three for cello, one for saxophone, mandolin, and harpsichord… I’ve got a bit of everything, even a cantata, inspired in the umbanda [Afro-Brazilian ceremony], lyrics by Bororó [Alberto de Castro Simões da Silva], called Maria Jesus dos Anjos, for choir and orchestra, presented by the actor Milton Gonçalves and performed at Municipal Theatre. Bororó has composed a few themes and the lyrics. Pai Jerônimo composed those typical rhythmic and melodic themes, called pontos; I have two of my own there and then I have arranged all that setting onto structured music”.


“Jacob [Jacob Bittencour] and I were very close friends, as well as Heitor dos Prazeres, João da Baiana [João Machado Guedes], Bide [Alcebíades Barcelos], Marçal [Armando Marçal] e Luciano Perrone. Each and one of them meant something special to me. We exchanged special things. When I met Pixinguinha, people were not very fond of Brazilian popular music. Great success was tango and fox-trot. Jazz has gained the world  because it did not required a big and expensive orchestra. It was just piano, contrabass or just a couple of wind instruments. Jazz is the more sophisticated popular music in the world. And of course it has an influence on me”.

“My music is entirely Brazilian though, based on folk and urban themes of Rio de Janeiro. But nothing comes out of nothing so, there will always be influences”.

Points of View

Musical taste

“I love music so very much. Anywhere I go there is always something to learn about it. Always. When I listen to music, I’m just listening, as if I was appreciating a Portinari painting: I like or I do not like the sound, I don’t care about the technique”.

Classic music in Brazil

“It doesn’t work out around here… I would have prefered to make a living dedicated to the classics. But it is so hard in Brazil. Maybe in the socialist countries that might be possible, but to make a living out of the authors’ rights … no way”.

“Who makes a living from concert music in Brazil? If I had insisted to live on it, I would have become crazy,or comitted suicide”.

“First time I traveled abroad was to go to Buenos Aires, to assume the broadcast Hora do Brasil, in 1941. Those were the golden years at the National Radio. I was invited to organize the orchestra, so I took with me some of my favorite guys: Luciano Perrone [drums], Mariano Pizziali [trumpet], Zacarias, [saxophone]. The rest of the orchestra was to be selected up there, among the locals. I lived for eight months in that fantastic city. They respect you out there. About a week or so upon arrival, a journalist organized a lunch with the local musical community [Tribute to Radamés]. Surprised, I argued: I don’t deserve it, I did nothing yet! – but they answered me they were grateful for what I had already done in Brazil. It was a lunch for 50 people at Colon Theatre, gathering critics, artists, singers and writers. I could hardly believe in my eyes. Not for the tribute, which was amazing, but for the sense of importance that culture has in that country. Who cares for concert music here in Brazil? Coming back, I was so disappointed that I’ve decided I should never leave the country again – because to return is just too bad, too painful. It is really sad, you know?”


Popular music

“I always enjoyed working with popular music. I believe this is why I’ve been able to produce something that sounds Brazilian after all. I learned through the people; there are things that you can only learn from the people”.

“Popular music has always interested me, maybe I was viewing the future, who knows? Premonition? Maybe. In Porto Alegre, we played argentinian tango”.

“Samba was resricted to Rio [the capital, Rio de Janeiro]. São Paulo did not play samba songs. Well, samba was not so popular in São Paulo until quiet recently [laughts among the interviewers]”.

“I learned how to play piano with the ínao guys. I used to listen to [Professor] Fontainha records [probably jazz] and learning how to put up the saxophones. That was my education”.

“I was never frustrated to write and play popular music. It gives me a great pleasure and I really like it. I enjoyed the simple possibility to mingle with Pixinguinha, a fabulous guy, with Garoto, Dino [Horondino José da Silva], João [João da Baiana], Jacob [Jacob do Bandolim], all excelent musicians. If I had gone to Europe, maybe I could have become a great pianist – I believe I was qualified – but then I would never have become a Brazilian composer”.

Bossa nova

Bossa nova is the most important production in Brazilian music. But Garoto used to play some very unusual chords already. Bossa nova did not start just like that. João Gilberto had observed Garoto, as well as Baden, changing the traditional harmonies. Also, composers started to play guitar much better, so their musical creation was better too. They had this unusual musical sensibility, so their songs sounded really different, like Tom Jobim songs. His harmony is very good, as well as in Johnny Alf’s songs, just great”.

Two beat samba

“Bossa nova became famous all over the world because no one knows how to play samba. The samba schools have preserved it otherwise it would be finished. Even the National hym is performed as a march. The samba swing, that is difficult to do. No one does. Maybe the jewish musicians , but no one else. The bossa nova rhythm does not use the same samba accent [on the second beat], but it has left us other things, things that came definitely to stay in our music forever. No one can deny. So we have two sambas, instead of one”.

Bossa nova abroad
Bossa nova is Brazilian and made Brazilian music well known worldwide – actually, it is the only thing that has made Brazil that famous. Brazil is the only place in the world to use that rhythm, tapping the surdo on the second beat [weak beat,  like in the traditional samba]. No one plays like that in the world. People are used to listen to the percussion rhythms tapped on the strong beat. Bossa nova has changed the samba and made it easier to play. Anyone can play bossa nova. I was watching a French film the other day where they played Carolina, a song by Chico [Chico Buarque de Holanda] and they did it beautifully”.


“One of my records at Continental, an orchestration composed for popular music, has received an ambiguous critic. They said it was beautiful but it sounded like classic music. As a matter of fact, the sonority was different. Then, when I first presented my Concerto Carioca N.º 1 with the Symphonic Orchestra of the Municipal Theatre, conducted by Morelembaum [maestro Henrique Morelembaum] people would still comment: Shame – how is it possible? The Municipal Theatre presents a concert with samba! Thank God there is no such reaction anymore”.

“When I received the Shell Award, in 1983, (…) I’ve decided to perform the Concerto nº 3 – Seresteiro, para piano e orquestra, which themes are very Brazilian so I added a regional ensemble (Brazilian string choro ensemble). The purists never accepted that mixture, but being my concert and my award I thought I could choose the repertoire I wanted to, isn’t that so?”


“I had a house in the countryside of Areal [Rio de Janeiro State] and the community there had this Italian priest, and we used to talk a lot. One day he said to me: I am worried because you do not come to church. You do not pray! I answered him that I prayed in my own way, but I did not go to church. One day, I played a concert at the Municipal Theatre of Rio de Janeiro and he listened to it through the radio. When we met again, he said: Now I understand how do you pray!”


“I got married the first time to Vera [Vera Maria Bieri], a young pianist from São Leopoldo [Rio Grande do Sul State] and we’ve been together for 35 years. She passed away. I could never live with someone that would not be a musician. It just wouldn’t work out. My second wife Nelly [Nelly Biato Gnattali][1] is also a pianist and singer (…). We played together. She had also worked at the National Radio in novels and in the movies as an actress, and she is now [1985] studying at the Medical School, to become a doctor”.

Bad temper

“I don’t know… I don’t think so, I don’t think I’ve got a bad temper (…) what I really don’t like is stupidity  – it makes me really upset, you know?” I think that everything is all right. Bad temper, why is that? Why do people say I’ve got a bad temper? I think that’s because when you work and concentrate, people just don’t understand what you do – that’s why they think you are the bad tempered” (laughs).

[1] Radamés believed the jewish people have the most exceptional musicality in the world.

[2] Nelly Martins, nome artístico de Nelly Biato Gnattali, segunda esposa de Radamés. Cantora, gravou vários discos nas décadas de 1950/60. Como atriz, protagonizou diversos filmes e novelas de televisão. Nascida no Rio de Janeiro, em 1942, diplomou-se como professora de piano na Escola Nacional de Música. Formou com Radamés um duo pianístico com atuação em programas de rádio e televisão, gravando um elepê na gravadora Codil, em 1969. Nelly abandonou a carreira artística, formando-se em fisioterapia e, posteriormente, em medicina.

Master good fellows

Ernesto Nazareth (composer, piano player)

“When I first met Nazareth he was a 25 or 26-year-old boy. He played at Cinema Odeon, at the corner of Rio Branco and Sete de Setembro streets [Rio de Janeiro downtown area]. One day, I was passing by and I listened to that amazing sound. It was Nazareth playing his piano. I had no money to get in, so I just stopped outside and kept listening. There was always a crowd to listen to him outside the movie theatre in the street. I believe people don’t play Nazareth as they should because they think he was just a pianeiro [popular pianist from the twenties and the thirties in Brazil that played by heart with great swing]; but he was a great pianist. He would not use staccato. He played well, using the pedal, and he played as if he was playing Chopin”.

Garoto (Aníbal Augusto Sardinha, multiinstrumentalist on fingering chords)

“I bought me a flute and started to study a few chorinhos [choro songs]. Garoto received the São Paulo Quatrocentão Award [Award of São Paulo four hundred year anniversary] and with that money he bought a ranch next to me and we became neighbors in the countryside. He used to stay with us while his house was not ready. In the evening, we used to play together. He played his guitar and I played my flute. The worst flutist in the world accompanied by the best guitar player”.

Iberê Gomes Grosso (cello player, professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro -UFRJ]

“Iberê was such an amazing guy. We have worked together for fourty years, all over the place (…) My cello compositions were made specially for him, just for the way he played. I have written the Cello concert, then one of the Brazilianas and a Cello sonatta (…) We have gone to Europe, and to Israel, sponsored by the Itamaray (Brazilian Government). This trip helped me getting to know him even better, as we were together day and night. We used to rehearse in the afternoon, then we would go out for a drink – beer, brandy – and back to the hotel. He was always very careful with me, he was always checking if I needed anything. During that trip I also found out this other side of Iberê, his religious side, as he would knee and pray before going to bed.

Pixinguinha (Alfredo da Rocha Viana Filho, maestro, instrumentalist, composer, arranger)

“I met Pixinguinha in the thirties playing with his group at the Eldorado dancing, at Praça Tiradentes [Tiradentes square]. It was a small jazz orchestra, just like many others at the time. At the piano, the extraordinary Centopéia, Ganzá, by Vidraça. While they played, I learned”.

“We worked together at the RCA Victor. Pixinguinha played the flute with the group Diabos do Céu. He made the arrangements and they sounded like samba. Pixinguinha was a great flutist and composer. I was the pianist and I made the arrangements for the romantic repertoire, such as samba-canção and waltzes. Pixinguinha was the flutist and Romeu Ghypsman the guitar player”.

We developed a strong friendship, Pixinguinha and I. He was an incredible man, a great spirit, just like my father. Besides being a wonderful flutist, I really appreciated his work as a composer.

Tom Jobim (Antonio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim, maestro, composer, piano player, arranger)

“I lived at the Igrejinha building [Copacabana beach] and Tom used to show up frequently for a chat. He was depressed and asked me for advice: Come on, Tom, no one will teach you anything. I know what you mean, it happened to me too. You have to let it come out, that’s all. Don’t hold it up, or it won’t come out. You don’t need to search for help, because no one can teach you that stuff. You go back there and compose something great for piano and orchestra. You conduct and I play the piano. And there he went”.

Tom Jobim says: (…) I was scared to death at the National Radio, with all those musicians starring at me. They can be really wretch. They control the time in their watches and they might stop the rehearsal because the time is over. Radamés has helped me to face these wild things in my life.

Chiquinho do Acordeom (Romeu Seibel, accordion player)

“Chiquinho and I have been together since the National Radio times. Zé Mauro, the Radio Director, often asked me: why don’t you put an accordion in the orchestra?.  And I would always say no! One day, this tiny and thin guy shows up, coming all the way from the south of the country, and started playing. Then I immediately said to Zé Mauro: Now we can do it!


José Menezes (multiinstrumentalist with fingering chords)

“Menezes has also started with me at the Rádio Nacional. We had three exceptional guitar players at that time: Menezes, playing guitar, cavaquinho and viola caipira, Garoto [Augusto Aníbal Sardinha] e Bola Sete [Djalma de Andrade].”


Pedro Vidal Ramos (contrabass player)

Vidal played contrabass at the National Radio orchestra. He came by chance one afternoon to replace a musician. When I saw him playing, I called the director and asked him to hold the man: Hire him, he is going to be our contrabass for the popular music.


Luciano Perrone (symphonic percussionist and drummer)

I met Luciano in 1929, when we started working together. He was the one to invent this thing, to transfer the rhythm over to the wind instruments. He was a great orchestra drum player. It was his suggestion. I tried and it worked so well. Now a days, we don’t play anymore, because it is all just rock. So, we are leaning apart like retired guys”.


Luciano Perrone says: (…) Radamés does not mix up things. When he does popular music, it is really popular. When he does concert music that is purely concert music. One does not touch the other.


“I’m not happy with the musicians’ situation in Brazil, but I’m happy with myself. I am happy. I have married twice, with two happy marriages. I have good friends, I always had. Luciano [Luciano Perrone] invites me for lunch every month. I have enough money for my beer. When I don’t, Tom is always there for me”.

[1] Tom Jobim and Radamés were neighbors for many years in Jardim Botânico neighborhood, Rio de Janeiro.