Choro: On how Imperial music became something popular

The choro style of music has its origins in lundu, a musical rhythm which blends African roots in to European inspirations. Initially, it has the flute, the violin and the cavaquinho (Brazilian ukulele) as its main instruments (known as the “pau e corda”, or ‘stick-and-rope’, trio), but was quick to incorporate wind and string instruments.

This is an urban style of music – considered the first of its kind – which ended up being considered an élite type of dance in national pop music during the second half of the 19th Century. In reality, the choro was just an adaptation, to popular tastes, of the songs that were played at the high society balls of the Imperial period; in the end, however, the style ended up taking on new characteristics, adapting to the features of Brazilian culture.



Improvisation: one trait of choro

The chorão, who is the musician specialised in choro music, should understand everything about the art of improvisation and also be ready to launch unexpected modulations for the accompaniers. Choro also allows the participation of a large number of people and a wide variety of instruments.

The big name singer who consolidated this musical style was of course Pixinguinha, but well before him, back in the 1870s, the number of choro groups really expanded in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. At that time, the most prominent names included Joaquim Antônio da Silva Calado, Ernesto Nazaré, Chiquinha Gonzaga e Anacleto de Medeiros.

Other dance styles such as quadrilhas (Brazilian country dancing), polkas, tangos, maxixes (Brazilian round dances), xotes (Brazilian schottische dances) took the radio stations by storm in the early 20th Century. Other instruments were also incorporated into the choro style, including mandolins, clarinets, saxophones and trombones. One of the best known ways of presenting the choro is the substyle known as “chorinho”, faster and more communicative.



The style was born in working-class neighbourhoods of Rio de Janeiro

This musical style was born from the hands and ears of workers from Government companies in Rio de Janeiro, who played just for the pleasure of making music in their backyards and houses. Their motivation was simply that of taking the musical styles of the big Imperial ballrooms over to the working-class neighbourhoods, but creating a blend of this music with Brazilian and African cultural elements, which are better known to this public. This meant that the choro style of music soon became very well known, and also made inroads within the Brazilian élite.

The first original song of this style is the polka ‘Flor Amorosa’ (Amorous Flower) which was composed in 1867 by Mr Calado, who had his own group known as “O Choro de Calado”, which made totally improvised presentations, without any rehearsing at all. Viriato Figueira and Chiquinha Gonzaga were some of his partners within this group. Other compositions of note within this first phase of choro were “Atraente” and”Gaúcho”, both by Chiquinha Gonzaga.

In 1919, Pixinguinha formed the group known as ‘Oito Batutas’ and consolidated this musical style with his compositions “Carinhoso” (Amorous), “Rosa” (Rose) and “Sofres porque Queres” (You suffer because you want to). Some years ago, it was the turn of famous maestro Heitor Villa-Lobos to take the choro over to erudite music and definitely turn it into a classic.