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A History of The Birth of Choro

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Elisa Meyer Ferreira

Oi amigos do Mandolin Cafe!

April 23 we celebrated National Choro Day in Brazil. So, taking the suggestion of my "newsroom" (haha), I decided to write about the beginnings of this genre of music I love. I took the opportunity to invite someone to help me with the subject, who, in my opinion, is one of the people who has the deepest knowledge about Choro history. Fortunately, it happens to be my sister, Corina Meyer Ferreira!

The translation of the word Choro is "crying," or "weeping," meaning that Choro would be a more sentimental or weeping/sad way to play European music. According to the writer and researcher José Ramos Tinhorão, the origin of the name is due to the melancholic feeling transmitted by the phrases played by the low strings of the guitar. Those are only a few of the hypothesis—my favorite—about the origin of the name Choro and the music we heard from our masters when we started to play.

The Choro is considered the first urban music to be genuinely Brazilian, which accompanied our people since the Imperial time. Yes, Brazil had an Imperial time when the process of Independence began, and in 1822 what used to be "The United Kingdom of Portugal, Brasiland Algarves," became officially the "Empire of Brazil" and established "Dom Pedro I" as its first emperor.

As explained by the author of Chiquinha Gonzaga's biography, Choro is a musical language, a certain way of playing music. The musical editions the market provided used to feature the piano. It is easy to understand that the popular musician, who plays by "ear," by transposing the melody to its own instrument would get a different result. Usually a mestizo (a term used for ethno-racial classification to refer to a person of mixed European and Indigenous American ancestry. In certain regions such as Latin America, it may also refer to people who are culturally European even though their ancestors are not), would play European music using their own cultural repertoire, which included syncopated cadence of batuque (drumbeats) from their African heritage. Thus, they respected the melody, but comprehended the rhythm in a special way, playing it spontaneously, creating something original. Even when a piece returned to the piano the form was already modified. "The interference created on the structure of music showed to me irreversible" (Diniz, 2009).
Joaquim Callado
This language is preserved and remains to the current day by a small amount of "chorões" who care about research and preservation of the genre. This tradition of more than a century of existence is passed orally, from the eldest musician to the younger one. The orality of choro is due to the fact of the majority of chorões play by ear and not have formal musical knowledge, although this number has changed a lot since then. Typically, woodwind musicians were classically trained. Joaquim Callado, the composer of the first published Choro, "Flor Amorosa," graduated in flute from the Imperial Conservatory. Many other musicians like Pixinguinha, Benedito Lacerda, Altamiro Carrilho, Radamés Gnattali had formal music education and could read and write music. These "educated" musicians would get together with musicians that played by ear and challenge each other in improvisation.

It established the most original and reduced group of our country: O Choro do Callado. There was, since its beginning, a soloist instrument, two guitars and one cavaquinho where only one of the members knew how to read music. All the others should be improvisers of the harmonic accompaniment (Diniz, 2009). That's how Choro first emerged, and I think that's why it is such a rich and complex form of music.

Later, besides being a Brazilian way of playing the European music Choro also became a musical genre with its official mark point in 1880, with the polka "Flor Amorosa," by the flautist Joaquim Callado (1848 – 1880). This piece is the oldest sheet music found until nowadays with the description "Choro" on it. Therefore it is considered the first Choro piece ever and Callado the "Father of Choro."

The first recording of "Flor Amorosa" was made only in 1902 by Irmãos Eymard for Casa Edson, the same year when the first recording was made in Brazil.

Many chorões have recorded this piece, including Jacob do Bandolim, who did so in 1949 for Continental. This is the version I learned it from by ear when I was 7 and beginning my mandolin studies.

The third version is the video where I play "Flor Amorosa" with Época de ouro, the group founded by Jacob do Bandolim. Some of the musicians playing with me were original members. That was the time I mentioned before, when I had just finished learning my first choro by ear with Jacob's recording. Because, as we say in Brazil, "I kill the snake and show the stick" (meaning when you say something you have to prove it... hehe). I can't describe the honor of being accompanied by this amazing and historical musicians at such a young age.

However, obviously, choro wasn't created in one day by one person. There was a group of musicians and composers who collaborated on its birth and development throughout the years. Composers such as Chiquinha Gonzaga, Ernesto Nazareth, Pattapio Silva and Anacleto de Medeiros, Viriato Figueira were some of the important minds from that initial period of creation of Choro.

Now I'll leave you with a question to think about: why do you think we celebrate the National Choro Day on April 23?


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Updated May-02-2023 at 6:56am by Mandolin Cafe



  1. Glassweb's Avatar
    Thank-you Elisa... it seems as though your right hand worked quite well from "the get-go" (the start)! I only wish my right hand functioned as amazingly as yours... and your left hand is no slouch either!
  2. Nick Royal's Avatar
    Elisa, thanks for our educational work for Choro. Hope you all come back to Santa Cruz, CA before long.
  3. Alfons's Avatar
    Fantastic! Thanks to Elisa and Corina for this interesting educational piece and the historical recordings. All 3 of them were great! And the answer to your homework question is of course that April 23 is the birthday of Pixinguinha. (Thanks to google and the Brazil Embassy UK for that one.)
  4. Tim Logan's Avatar
    Excellent - thank you. Listening to you play is absolutely enthralling!