By André Diniz and Diogo Cunha
Zeferina was coming down Rua Visconde de Itaúna all perfumed up and coquettish with her becoming outfit. Just like every Saturday, she was walking toward the dance to be held at the Clube das Flores (The Flowers Club), one of the most exciting places in Cidade Nova. She liked to dance all night long, because she would always wait until the party was over. Zefa was dating Zezinho, the most charming cavaquinho player in the neighborhood. When she would get to the popular two-story house where there was no room enough for more than 100 people, she would sit down at her exclusive table, next to the musicians: Zezinho, Alberto, and Rogério on the guitars and Alexandre on the flute. An ideal Choro quartet!
These musicians, known as chorões (or weepers), would juice up any party thrown in the second half of the 19th century. They would play foreign rhythms, such as polkas, waltzes, schottisches, and quadrilles on numerous occasions: weddings, birthdays, religious events and even those held for the royal court of Dom Pedro II. A style was born from these musical performances, nestled by the Rio de Janeiro culture, which would afford consolidation in the 1920’s with the flute played by Pixinguinha, the greatest Choro name.
We do not know whether Joaquim Antonio da Silva Callado was present at the Clube das Flores on that day, but having been born in 1848, it is pretty certain that he must have attended many dances of the kind.
Son of a band leader, since his childhood Callado was very familiar with the sound of guitars, cavaquinhos and wind instruments at home. His family used to attend the events promoted by local musical associations and enjoyed carnival celebrations. The young boy would always follow his parents, and at 19 carnival would be the theme of his first composition, the quadrille “Carnival of 1867.” At first he was enamored of the piano, but it was the flute that made him one of the most popular instrumentalists of his time. Because of the flute Joaquim Callado would be forever known as the “father of chorões.”
A nice and gallant mestizo, Callado improved his studies with maestro Henrique Alves de Mesquita, who taught many chorões of the time. More fluent in musical language than his peers, he started to be invited to play in countless parties thrown in Rio de Janeiro. He gradually approached the guitars and cavaquinhos with his flute, and eventually formed and started promoting the basic Choro Ensemble. Afterwards he set up his own group, the pioneer Choro Carioca (Choro from Rio de Janeiro) or Choro de Callado (Callado’s Choro), in which maestro Chiquinha Gonzaga started her musical life in the bohemian circles of the city. The Choro Jam Sessions kept developing the virtuoso technique that Callado started with his flute.
The role played by a flutist in these groups or “ideal quartets” was extremely relevant, since he was the one who would enhance the enjoyment for rhythm of “by-ear players,” thus gingering up their musical quality. The flutist would challenge the other players, amuse himself and sometimes, with his harmonic “traps,” “knock out” the cavaquinho and guitar players. The jam sessions warmth, the performances playfulness and the instrumentalists provoking one another gradually set the keynote of freedom and improvisation, and why not say, the gender’s “Rio de Janeiro touch.”
Callado has 66 catalogued compositions that roam through the principal rhythms of the 19th century: polkas, quadrilles, waltzes, and lundus, which were of fundamental importance to the emergence of Choro. His beautiful melodies pay a tribute to women like “Ermelinda,” loved ones like “A família Meyer” (The Meyer Family), or are even used in names with a double meaning, like in A Flor Amorosa (The Loving Flower), his most famous composition, with which he most certainly would be making a reference to someone of the feminine universe. By the way, after the death of the musician, the popular poet Catulo da Paixão Cearense wrote the lyrics for the polka “A Flor Amorosa,” of 1880, thus establishing the tradition of Choros with lyrics, which has been bringing about so many controversies in the history of the style.
Joaquim Callado became a teacher of flute in the only public conservatory of music in the Rio de Janeiro of the time. Popular, cherished by the city, no Choro Jam Session would be held without the sound of his flute or one of his melodies.
In the carnival of 1880, as he had been doing every year, Callado played at the Pedro II Theater. He had been feeling tired, but the celebrations of carnival’s King “Momo” had a special place in his soul of musician since his childhood. After the ball he went back home shivering and running a very high temperature. He remained in bed for some days, suffering from an obscure disease. On March 20, 1880 died Callado, the flutist, the father of Choro, who left a musical legacy for a legion of instrumentalists such as Patápio Silva, Pixinguinha, Benedito Lacerda, Altamiro Carrilho...
Works such as this songbook help to recover and keep alive a musical language that ranks among the richest of the Brazilian culture. And it all started with Callado!