Tom Moore Interviews Marisa Rezende

Composer Marisa Rezende, born and raised in Rio, is a fundamental presence
in the musical life of the city, not only for her compositions, but as
perhaps the most important teacher of the next generation. We spoke in
Portuguese during the 17th Bienal of Contemporary Music.

TM: What was the musical environment in your family like?

MR: There was a piano at home. My mother studied a little, and my father
played quite a bit by ear, without ever having studied piano. My mother says
that quite early, when I was not even four years old, she noticed me playing
a ìm˙sica de rodaî. She thought that perhaps it was by chance, and she
asked me to repeat it, and I did. After that I was always playing, so that my
start in music was spontaneous, and quite early. My aunts and grandmother
were always singing, but it was very informal ñ there was no one who was
involved in music in a professional way.

I began to study with a teacher at five years old, who taught me to read
before I had begun school, so that I could take piano lessons. I remember my
father, when I was very young, and playing samba, insisting that I play it
right. ìItís stiff! Itís stiff! Make it swing!î He was joking, but it
was very important. Some things from this period were fundamental in relation
to being relaxed, treating it as a game, to not being afraid of the

TM: Your family is from Rio de Janeiro. What is their background?

MR: My mother used to say that her family had been carioca for four
hundred years, since she did not know of a single relative that was not from
Rio. My father, and my paternal grandparents, were also from Rio. The
previous generation was from the state of Rio, from Campos, close to the
state of Espirito Santo. So we are from here.

TM: Was the family Portuguese originally?

MR: Very probably. My motherís surname was Costa Pereira, and my
fatherís was Nunes de Barcellos ñ everything pointing to Portugal.

TM: You mentioned samba, playing music by ear. What was the musical scene
like in the city when you were a child?

MR: My mother always used to take me to the Theatro Municipal to hear all
the pianists who came through. I heard Guiomar Novaes many times, [Alexander]
Brailowsky as well. When the first international piano competition took place
here, I must have been twelve or thirteen, and I went to all the
performances. My mother was very focused on giving me experience with the

As far as the rest ñ nightlife, bars ñ we had no connection. My father
was a doctor. He liked to play, and I am sure that he went out on the town
when he was younger, but not when I was a child. I have memories of blocos on
the street during Carnaval. My experience with popular music comes from
listening to him play by ear, and so I also began to play by ear. I listened
to radio, which we heard a lot of when I was young, and my experience of
classical music came from study. I started at five and stayed with the same
teacher until I finished my education as an adult.

TM: Where did you do your undergraduate studies?

MR: That is a very complicated story. I began to do my bachelorís in
composition here in Rio, at the Escola de Musica. But I married very early,
and a year and a half after starting school we went to live in Boston,
Massachusetts, where we spent four years. I had two daughters there.

I came back with two daughters, and started the course in composition
where I had left off. And three years later we moved to Recife. I lived in
Recife for many years. So I got to Recife in the middle of the course in

I had done three and a half years here in Rio, but as soon as I got back
from Boston I became pregnant with my third daughter. I have three daughters
who are very close in age. I finished my undergraduate work eleven years
after I began, in Recife.

TM: Were you active musically in Boston?

MR: Almost nothing.

TM: When was this?

MR: We went in í64, and returned at the end of í67.

TM: A very interesting period in the USA. Did you feel a culture shock
when you got to Boston?

MR: Yes ñ it was all very different, the way people functioned, winter
was something completely new. It was difficult ñ we had little money, no
relatives there, and two children to look after. It was a complicated period.
I took some adult education courses at Harvard at night. It was glorious ñ
to be able to get out of the house at night and go somewhere.

My husband had gone to do his mastersí at MIT. He was supposed to have
returned after the one year of his fellowship, but it became obvious that it
made no sense to return to Brazil, since he was there, and it was better to
continue. It was something completely unplanned.

TM: Most of your training was in Recife, then?

MR: When I left Rio to go to Boston, I was already a finished pianist. I
had completed the technical course in piano, and was playing a lot, with
recitals and so forth. So my training in piano was all here in Rio.

The beginning of the course in composition was here in Rio also. I learned
fugue and counterpoint with Morelenbaum and Virginia Fiuza. When I got to
Recife, it was very odd, because the course in composition didnít exist
anymore. There were a couple of students who had to complete some course or
other. So I had class with a musicologist, Padre Jaime Diniz, who has since
passed away. He was a very interesting person, but was not a composer.

TM: Someone with a considerable interest in contemporary music.

MR: He liked contemporary music, but he worked with Baroque music from
Pernambuco. He has books on organists in Brazil. He had a chorus ñ I sang
in his chorus for a long time. I got to Recife in 1972, when he was already
close to sixty.

It was he who introduced me to the Ludus Tonalis of Hindemith, Bartok,
lots of thingsÖ.

TM: How did you start your career as a composer?

MR: After eleven years of undergraduate work, I went immediately to the
United States, to Santa Barbara, where I did a mastersí in piano, but I
wanted to do composition while I was doing the program in piano, and the
first two works that remain in my catalogue are from this period in Santa
Barbara ñ a trio for oboe, horn and piano, and a trio for strings.

TM: Who was teaching composition in Santa Barbara at the time?

MR: It was already Peter Fricker. There were other people as well ñ
[Edward] Applebaum, Emma Lou Diemer, but I studied with Frick, and did some
other courses with David Gordon. This trip to the United States was very
important for me. It was a good school, with a good library, good recordings,
scores ñ I loved that. It was wonderful.

The building worked, places for everything, easy, calm ñ I took
advantage of everything. It was a short time ñ the middle of í75 until
the end of í76, because the children were getting big, and going to school.
I said that I wanted to go back and do the doctorate, and went back in 1982
to UCSB to do the doctorate in composition.

TM: During your first stay at Santa Barbara you still considered yourself
to be a pianist, and during the second you had come to think of yourself as a

MR: For many years I did both. I played as soloist with orchestra many
times in Recife ñ Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Brahms ñ I played a lot of piano,
not just a little. When I went to do the mastersí I knew that I knew how to
play piano ñ I got by very well. I was petrified by the idea of studying
music there in the United States, I spoke English, and understood it, but had
never studied music there, didnít know the literature, and I thought it was
a better idea to study piano, since I knew that I would only have a short
time. I went back to Brazil for quite a stretch between the mastersí and
the doctorate, and it was like this ñ part of the year there were concerts,
and I didnít compose. And the other part of the year, there were no
concerts, and I composed. Even today I play in Musica Nova ñ I play less,
and play fewer things that take work. I donít play the Tchaikovsky with
orchestra anymore. And as time has gone by I am working more and more on

But I miss the instrument. I love to play.

TM: Your compositional esthetic is something that comes from Brazil? What
were the influences of your study in Santa Barbara, your compositional

MR: I canít really say. Everything that I heard and that I liked made an
impression on me. The fact that of my having gone to Recife, where I studied
composition with someone who was not a composer, but a musicologist, left me
more open, freer Ö.

If I had studied here in Rio, with a professor who was more rigid, it
might have gotten in my way.

I was able to choose ñ I was working with consonance in a period where
people did not accept this easily. Why? It was in my head, in my ear, I liked
itÖ.why not? So my path was a little alternative.

There in the United States I heard everything that was available, but I
never wanted to compose in the style of Boulez. I went to hear Boulez and
Stockhausen in Los Angeles ñ there was a very nice festival of contemporary
music at the California Institute for the Arts. I loved all that, and learned
from all of it. I made a mixture, but I canít say ìOh yes, I see that I
have influence from this one or that oneÖ.î

I donít know what sort of influence Peter Fricker had, because in my
writing there is nothing similar to his. He taught me a great deal, taught me
to carefully look over my scores ñ he did a very good job.

TM: California has the reputation of being a place with a tradition of
independent composers, freer than other places like New York, Boston,
Princeton, Philadelphia.

Could you speak about your activities at the Escola de Musica, and with
the group Musica Nova?

MR: When I came back from doing the doctorate at the end of 1984, my
daughters were already in undergraduate school, and beginning to move to Rio.
I had already been wanting to move to Rio for some time, a competition
opened, and I came to teach composition here. I was very happy to come back
to Rio, because I had missed Rio and the people here, my parentsÖ.it was a
great experience, because I had many good students ñ I wonít mention
names, because if one does, one forgets, but you know most of my students.

We began the group in 1989. It was an important experience, because the
group rehearsed twice a week, and the function of the musicians was to play
the studentsí compositions. They would play the pieces before they were
completed, so people could hear them, and change things, discuss them with
the musicians, and this gave a lot of energy to the course. Later I managed
to bring Rodolfo [Caesar], and we began to work with electroacoustic music,
which was a struggle, but we managed it. Then Rodrigo Cicchelli came, and we
had the beginning of a nucleus bringing together people with a different

It was good. I didnít like the place ñ the classroom building is very
disagreeable, very noisy, with people giving class and three hundred
different things sounding around you ñ it was very wearing. The
bureaucratic and administrative part was not something that appealed to

I retired, a little early, in 2002, when I was 58. I thought ìjust
because I have retired doesnít mean that I canít go back to give classes,
teach students at homeî, but I havenít, since every other year I have had
commissions for pieces for orchestra. I am writing the third. Itís odd, in
a country where the orchestras almost donít play contemporary scores. So I
have a big score to complete. I keep very busy, so I have not taught very

TM: The piece from this yearís Bienal [Vereda] was from 2003. After this

MR: Ö there is one that went to the OSB in commemoration of 40 years of
the Sala Cecilia Meireles, called Avessia, which for me was a backwards
fanfare. The one which I am working on now is for the arrival of the Royal
Family, to be played next year. The piece evokes the Botanical Garden, since
it was D. Joao VI who founded it.

TM: In Vereda the clarity of writing was impressive, and the fact that
your voice is completely individual and original, but one which communicates.
Where did this voice come from? It doesnít seem to belong to any school,
and doesnít sound ìBrazilianî, but it is an open voice, which
communicates emotional states. A woman in the audience, after hearing it,
asked me, ìWhat does this piece meanî? , but she also was speaking of
classical music more generally. What does classical music mean for you?

MR: A mÈtier, a style of writing, in search of details, which would not
happen if I were writing music that was lighter, more popular. I have already
written music for theater, music for installations in the visual arts, in a
language which is less elaborate. I think that classical music presupposes a
certain level of elaboration in any parameter, whether it is timbre, harmony,
whatever, a more intense level. So what happened? In 2000 or so, I wrote a
piece for piano, Constrastes, in which I froze some sonorities ñ I had not
moved toward set theory ñ I knew that it existed, but had not done anything
with it. Then I worked with Orlando [Alves], who did a mastersí with me,
and who is a maniac about this. I donít like all that mathematics, but
interestingly, and it was not a situation where

I said ìI am going to do thisî, but I did it. This question of
exploring a particular sonority ñ Vereda, in the first twenty seconds,
presents all the material, in terms of pitches, which the entire piece will
work with. So there is something very closed there. Now, the fun is to give
that material many different faces, since, because I am on the same ground, I
can change clothes as many times as I like, and I will still have the same

I like consonance. I donít close off when I sense that I have a passage
with a more emotional charge, and one which also recalls something from the
past. I let it come out, I acknowledge it. That is how I am as a person ñ a
mixture of many things. I still am emotionally moved by things which were
important for my parents, for my grandparents. My experiences of breaking
with the past, in my personal life, in my emotional life, were all very
difficult. What I see in tradition is a sort of solidity, which anchors me,
which is good for me, which I cultivate. I am not a person of the last
century. I am a person who experiences all the anxieties of people who live
in Rio today, and in a certain way this also comes out in my music, but what
I value emotionally are things that have to do with things which are very

image_description=Marisa Rezende
product_title=Above: Marisa Rezende