Timeline: Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Camargo Guarnieri spent most of his career under the shadow of his name and of fellow Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos. Like Villa-Lobos, Guarnieri brought the music of Brazil to the concert stage through symphonies, operas, dance music and song. After all, with a name like Mozart what else could you be but a composer?
Mozart Guarnieri was born in São Paulo, Brazil in 1907. His father was a huge opera fan, naming all of his sons after famous opera composers. Mozart’s brothers were named Rossine, Verdi and Bellini. Mozart’s mother was his first piano teacher. She taught him the basic techniques of the instrument, but he quickly became much more interested in improvising his own ideas. When Mozart began to study music seriously, around the age of 10, he quickly adopted his mother’s maiden name, Camargo, and signed his compositions M. Camargo Guarnieri.
In his teens, Guarnieri helped support his family by playing for silent films and café bands, while also studying at the Musical and Dramatic Conservatory of São Paulo. He published his first work at the age of 13. A few years after that, Guarnieri boldly approached visiting maestro Lamberto Baldi, asking for private lessons. Baldi was so impressed by this young person’s talent and tenacity that he never charged him for the time. Guarnieri’s music showed the influence of Brazilian popular styles. His songs and dances began to garner attention in his own country and around the world.
Musical nationalism is a great way to describe Guarnieri's music; Brazilian melodies and rhythms in classical forms and structures.
He was only 21 when he was appointed to teach at the conservatory. A few years later, Mozart Guarnieri was tapped by the Department of Culture in Brazil to be a choral conductor. This all led to Guarnieri being awarded a fellowship in 1938 that allowed him to travel to Paris and study with Charles Koechlin and Nadia Boulanger. At this point, he became interested in larger musical forms such as concerti and symphonies.
With the outbreak of World War II, Carmargo Guarnieri returned to Brazil. He was appointed conductor of the São Paulo Orchestra and later the Director of the São Paulo Conservatory. His music became popular in the United States, winning awards and leading to opportunities to conduct his own work in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Musical nationalism is a great way to describe Guarnieri’s music; Brazilian melodies and rhythms in classical forms and structures. His Third Symphony was written to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the city of São Paulo. He wrote seven symphonies in all, six piano concerti, two operas and many chamber and solo piano pieces. Arguably, his most important works were his over 200 songs, written in many different cultural styles that represented all of Brazil; from Portuguese to Afro-Brazilian to Amerindian.
Mozart Camargo Guarnieri passed away in São Paulo in 1993 at the age of 85.
Find out more and follow the Timeline at VPR.org/timeline.