Francisca (Chiquinha) Gonzaga is one of the most important Brazilian composers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Born in 1847 in Rio de Janeiro, her personal life was considered scandalous for her time. Her father never forgave her for leaving her husband, and she was disowned by her family. She was the first professional woman composer and conductor in Brazil, and was the first woman to play the piano in choro groups.1 She also fought for the abolition of slavery, for the replacement of monarchism with republic, and for copyrights. Chiquinha became famous during her lifetime, and her music, which mixed elements from classical and popular music, was played by lower classes in the streets and theaters, and also in the salons of the elite. However, nowadays most of her works are not well-known or performed. 


Gonzaga's output is comprised mostly of dance music, including waltzes, polkas, Brazilian tangos, and gavottes, among others. Her more prolific genres for the piano are the waltz and the tango, and their difficulty levels range from level six to level ten.2 In addition to the technical, reading, and musical skills that can be gained while studying Gonzaga's music, her pieces offer excellent opportunities to develop the feeling and internalization of rhythms through movement activities.

It is common to include off-bench and movement activities in the early levels of study. However, when students reach the intermediate level and start to play more complex pieces, this aspect is often neglected. Including dance music in their repertoire can offer opportunities for students to feel the rhythms and melodic flow in their bodies.


The waltz that arrived in Brazil came mainly from France. It was more intimate and less brilliant than the Viennese one and influenced the style of Brazilian waltzes.3 In Brazil, it incorporated elements from national genres, such as the modinha (a type of sentimental song), and the choro. Chiquinha composed thirty-seven waltzes, most of them belonging to the salon style. Some were published with specific classifications, such as brilliant waltz, concert waltz, and sentimental waltz. They were directed mostly to amateurs and, therefore, do not present many reading challenges, and most of them are in keys with few sharps or flats. They present various characters (sometimes within a piece) and tempi, but they present few character, tempo, and dynamic marks. The melodies are generally lyrical and expressive. Some of the technical demands include big leaps in the left hand, arpeggios, scales, repeated notes, and parallel intervals.

The waltz Perfume (Feno de Atkinsons) was composed in 1892, but remained unpublished until 2011. It has the classification "salon waltz," and has a romantic, touching character. It is written in A-flat major and modulates to D-flat major; different from many of Gonzaga's waltzes, which contain few sharps or flats. It requires a cantabile tone and a delicate dance movement throughout. It can be placed in level seven, and some of the technical demands include the presence of dotted rhythms in the right hand, double acciaccaturas, repeated blocked octaves in the left hand (which demands attention to avoid excessive tension), descending arpeggios in the right hand (which should flow smoothly and may feature agogic nuances leading to the next melody note), parallel sixths in the right hand, and chromaticism.

Musically, this piece demands voicing the top notes of chords and double notes which appear frequently in this waltz. This can be practiced by holding and connecting the top notes and releasing the bottom ones. It also requires the use of different tone colors and dynamics for the different sections of the piece. Some agogic nuances can be applied to contribute to its expressivity. An interesting aspect of this waltz is that the accompaniment alternates between a pattern of a quarter note in the bass followed by a half-note chord in the A and A1 sections and a traditional waltz accompaniment for the B and C sections. (See Excerpt 1.) In the A section, the student should be careful to keep the waltz movement and not accent the left-hand chords.

To experience this dance movement, the teacher can demonstrate the simple waltz box step to the student (including the raising up and falling down of the body associated with this step). The teacher can then ask the student to dance while the teacher plays the piece. The teacher should play the two types of accompaniments, so the student can perceive that, whereas the accompaniment changes, the flow of the dance movement continues. The rise and fall associated with the steps will also help the student feel that the downbeats (body down) are stronger than the chord, or chords, that follow (body up). It will help the student understand that, in this case, the half-note chord in the accompaniment corresponds to an up motion in the dance and, therefore, should not be accented.

The waltz, Bella Fanciulla Io T' Amo was published after 1893, and includes the classification "love waltz." It opens in G major, but modulates to C major. It does not have a tempo marking, but can be played at a moderate tempo with agogic nuances for expressivity. This three-page waltz contains various technical and expressive demands and can be considered as a level six piece. It presents some rhythmic challenges such as triplets and dotted rhythms. In the A section, the top voice of the right hand frequently plays the rhythm: half note, eighth rest, sixteenth rest, then sixteenth note. (See Excerpt 2.) The right hand also needs to coordinate a middle voice playing accompaniment chords. In practice, the student may separate these layers and tap the top voice in one hand, and the middle voice in the other hand (or sing the top voice and tap the middle one). These layers may also be split between hands to work on voicing. This waltz also features ornaments, parallel sixths in the right hand, and some arpeggios. It is very romantic, delicate, and expressive, and the student should direct attention to phrasing, touch, legato lines, and dynamics. The right hand should keep a cantabile tone. Dynamics should be added according to phrase direction, character, and harmony. To help the student understand the phrase structure and melodic flow, the teacher may play the piece and ask the student to make arches with her arm following the rise and fall of the melodic phrase. She can then mark the phrases in the score. In addition, as this is a sentimental waltz, it may feature agogic nuances. To help the student internalize these inflections, the teacher may ask her to conduct while the teacher plays the piece and she should follow the nuances indicated by the student. They may also switch roles and then mark the chosen nuances in the score.


The Brazilian tango is a different genre from the Argentinian tango. The Brazilian tango has a stronger influence of African-Brazilian syncopations. Its dance was called maxixe, which originated in the lower classes of Rio de Janeiro in the years between 1870 and 1880. It is a predecessor to the samba and had a sensual appeal. Because of that, it was considered an immoral dance and composers started to use other terms to designate its music, especially tango brasileiro. In this genre, the rhythm and the phrases were adapted to the swing of the dance,5 and, therefore, the melody and rhythm should convey certain spontaneity and fluidity. Students should listen to interpretations of Brazilian tangos by pianists and also choro ensembles to better comprehend the swing necessary for the interpretation of this genre. Chiquinha composed thirty tangos6 for piano and, like the waltzes, many present different classifications, such as tango choro, tango característico and tango carnavalesco. The Brazilian tango is rhythmically rich, featuring different types of accompaniment, such as the syncopated maxixe/lundu (another type of African-Brazilian dance that influenced the Brazilian tango) patterns, habanera rhythm, or polka rhythm, and demands good coordination between hands.

The tango O Jagunço was probably composed and published in 1897, and it carries the classification "characteristic Brazilian tango." Chiquinha marks allegretto and tranquillo in the beginning. It presents an introduction and a transition with dotted rhythms in the left hand and features percussive sounds, while the main sections present more melodic material. It is a playful, cheerful level eight piece. Some of the demands encountered in this piece are: repeated blocked fifths in the left hand, repeated chords in the right hand, running notes in the right hand, and voicing. (See Excerpt 3.) To practice the dotted and syncopated rhythms in the accompaniment, the student could play those rhythms on a percussion instrument (such as a tambourine, since the Brazilian tambourine, or pandeiro, often accompanies this type of music) while the teacher plays the melody. By using a percussion instrument, the student could focus on larger gestures, which will help him internalize the rhythm and the swing necessary to execute it.

In conclusion, Gonzaga's music deserves to be included in the repertoire of piano students, not only for the quality of the works themselves, but also for the opportunities to develop multiple technical and musical skills. In addition, they offer great opportunities for intermediate and early advanced students to experience body movement. The use of dance music and movement activities discussed here can help students understand phrase structure, and melodic and rhythmic flow, and can be applied to their performance of all kinds of repertoire.


1. These groups were popular music groups that played music based on European salon dances in a Brazilian way, playing the melody in a spontaneous manner and adding African-Brazilian syncopations.

2. All levels referenced in this article correspond to Jane Magrath's The Pianist's Guide to Teaching and Performance Literature (Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., 1995). 

3. Alexandre Zamith Almeida, "Verde e Amarelo em Preto e Branco, as Impressões do Choro no Piano Brasileiro" (Master's Thesis, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, 1999), 35. 

4. All excerpts are from the open source website "Acervo Digital Chiquinha Gonzaga," accessed May 31, 2019, 

5. Mário Séve, "O fraseado do choro: algumas considerações rítmicas e melódicas," Anais do SIMPOM 3, no. 3 (2015): 1151. 

6. Including the Maxixe de Carrapatoso e Zé Povinho.

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