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Composer, instrumentalist, arranger and conductor.


Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 23/03/2020

By: Júlia Morim - N/I

Alfredo da Rocha Viana Filho, born in Rio de Janeiro on 23 April 1898 (or 1897, the date indicated on his baptismal certificate), better known as Pixinguinha, was a composer, instrumentalist, arranger and conductor of great influence in Brazilian music, especially with regard to the musical genre ‘choro’.

His nickname was given to him by his grandmother, of African origin, who called him ‘Piziguim’. After contracting smallpox, he began to be called ‘Bexiguinha’ (kid with smallpox) and later ‘Pexinguinha’. (CABRAL, 1978, p.23). On his records and in the press, his name was written in different ways (Pechinguinha, Pichinguinha, Pexinguinha) until the mid-1920s, when it became the way we know today: Pixinguinha. No one knows for sure the meaning of the name, but it may be ‘little idiot’ or ‘glutton’.

The youngest son of Alfredo da Rocha Viana and Raimunda Maria da Conceição, he had thirteen siblings: four from his mother’s first marriage and nine from her second (with his father), of which he was the last. His father, in addition to working for the Central Telegraph Office, was a flautist and liked to invite friends and family to his home for choro sessions, to the point that the house became known as “Viana Hostel”.

The day after the choro nights, Pixinguinha tried to play what he had heard in his room on the flute by ear. The first instrument that they taught him how to play was the cavaquinho (similar to a ukulele). In the midst of a family of musicians, since as well as his father, almost all the children played an instrument, his destiny could not have been different.

Pixinguinha began in music early. In 1911, while still a teen, he was part of the carnival ranch orchestra Filhas da Jardineira (Daughters of the Gardener), where he met friends João da Baiana and Donga. In that same year he made his recording debut as part of the group Choro Carioca, led by Irineu de Almeida, his flute teacher.

While attending school, Pixinguinha was hired to play at dances and parties. He also played in the October festivals at Our Lady of Penha Church and in choro sessions, where he let inspiration flow and played beyond the set-list. His first job was in a bar called La Concha, in Lapa, where he sometimes performed in his school uniform. He left school around the age of fifteen and, supported by his family, became a professional musician.

Tall and black, he drew attention, as he acknowledged in an interview with the Museum of Image and Sound: “I was an energetic kid. My colour, size and flute made me interesting.” (CABRAL, 1978, p.23).

For Cabral (1978), Pixinguinha was a genius: A flautist of great creative and interpretive ability. In his time, recordings had to be made at the first attempt to keep costs down, as technical resources were minimal. In this context, Pixinguinha stood out as much for the dexterity and confidence with which he played the flute as the ability to improvise. As a flautist, he was part of various groups, including the Oito Batutas, which, in the 1920s, toured Brazil, Europe and Argentina.

Distinctly remembered for his resourcefulness on flute and saxophone, Pixinguinha played a key role as an arranger. Until the mid-1940s, he had a strong presence as an orchestrator on recordings, at time during which he composed numerous arrangements.

His compositions, recorded by many icons of Brazilian music, are highly sensitive and beautiful. These include 1917’s Rosa, which gained notoriety after being recorded by Orlando Silva, in 1937:

Tu és divina e graciosa (You are divine and graceful)
Estátua majestosa do amor (Majestic statue of Love)
Por Deus esculturada (Sculptured by God)
E formada com ardour (And formed by ardour)
Da alma da mais linda flor (From the soul of the most beautiful flower)
De mais ativo olor (With the most active scent)
Que na vida é preferida pelo beija-flor (That in life is the hummingbird’s favourite)
Se Deus me fora tão clemente (If God were so gracious to me)
Aqui nesse ambiente de luz (Here in this ambience of light)
Formada numa tela deslumbrante e bela (Formed on a stunning and beautiful screen)
Teu coração junto ao meu lanceado (Your heart together with my speared)
Pregado e crucificado sobre a rósea cruz (Nailed and crucified on a rose cross)
Do arfante peito teu (By your heaving chest)
Tu és a forma ideal (You are the ideal form)
Estátua magistral. Oh, alma perenal (Magisterial Statue. Oh, eternal soul) 
Do meu primeiro amor, sublime amor (Of my first love, sublime love)
Tu és de Deus a soberana flor (You are the sovereign flower of God)
Tu és de Deus a criação (You are the creation of God)
Que em todo coração sepultas um amor (Who in each heart entombs a love)
O riso, a fé, a dor (Laughter, faith, pain)
Em sândalos olentes cheios de sabor (In aromatic sandalwoods full of flavour)
Em vozes tão dolentes como um sonho em flor (In voices so soft like the sound of a flower)
És láctea estrela (You are the milky star)
És mãe da realeza (You are the mother of royalty)
És tudo enfim que tem de belo (You are all that is beautiful)
Em todo resplendor da santa natureza (In full splendour your holy nature)
Perdão se ouso confessar-te (Forgive me if I dare to confess to you)
Eu hei de sempre amar-te (I will always love you)
Oh flor meu peito não resiste (Oh, flower my heart can’t resist)
Oh meu Deus o quanto é triste (O my God how sad it is)
A incerteza de um amor (The uncertainty of love)
Que mais me faz penar em esperar (Which gives me pain as I hope)
Em conduzir-te um dia (To lead you one day)
Ao pé do altar (To the foot of the altar)
Jurar, aos pés do onipotente (To swear at omnipotent feet)
Em preces comoventes de dor (In prayers moved by pain)
E receber a unção da tua gratidão (And receive the anointing of your gratitude)
Depois de remir meus desejos (After redeeming my desires)
Em nuvens de beijos (On clouds of kisses)
Hei de envolver-te até meu padecer (I will keep you until my suffering)
De todo fenecer (Until the last)

And Carinhoso:

Meu coração, não sei por quê (My heart, I don’t know why)
Bate feliz quando te vê (Beats happily when I see you)
E os meus olhos ficam sorrindo (And my eyes are smiling)
E pelas ruas vão te seguindo, (And on the streets they follow you)
Mas mesmo assim foges de mim. (But even so you escape from me)
Ah se tu soubesses (Ah, if you knew)
Como sou tão carinhoso (How caring I am)
E o muito, muito que te quero. (And how much, how much I love you)
E como é sincero o meu amor, (And how sincere is my love)
Eu sei que tu não fugirias mais de mim. (I know you wouldn’t run away from me)
Vem, vem, vem, vem, (Come, Come, Come, Come,)
Vem sentir o calor dos lábios meus (Come feel the warmth of my lips)
À procura dos teus. (In the search for yours)
Vem matar essa paixão (Come satisfy this passion)
Que me devora o coração (That devours my heart)
E só assim então serei feliz, (And only then will I be happy)
Bem feliz. (Very happy)

In 1942, Pixinguinha made his last recording as a flautist. He exchanged the flute for the saxophone, the reason for which he never explained. Perhaps, at that time, the saxophone represented modernity. He performed wonderful counterpoints on the saxophone, unusual in Brazilian popular music, and created a style, “Pixinguinha style.” During this period, he recorded several CDs with flautist Benedito Lacerda.

Pixinguinha was married to Dona Beti and had one son, Alfredinho. Employed by the Rio de Janeiro City Council from the 1930s, in 1951 was he appointed professor of music, a position he held until retirement.

After a heart attack in 1963, his health began to decline. In 1971, his wife became ill and had to be hospitalized. The situation was too strong for such an already weakened heart and he was also admitted to the same hospital. Without her knowing his situation, every day Pixinguinha dressed himself in a suit and went to visit her. Dona Beti died in 1972. In 1973, Pixinguinha suffered a stroke and could not resist. On 17 February 1973, Brazilian music lost the one who had popularized choro in the country.

In the late 1970s, his name was given to a nationwide project that aimed to attract audiences by providing quality shows at low prices. The Pixinguinha Project promoted the meeting between two or more generations of artists of different styles and/or origins, such as the duos of Cartola/João Nogueira, Marlene/Gonzaguinha and Nara Leão/Dominguinhos. According to its creator, Hermínio Bello de Carvalho, the choice of the project’s name was because “Pixinguinha was our God. When I say our, it’s because if there is a name that is often remembered as a kind of foundation of our music, it is his we remember” (CARVALHO, 2013).

On 4 September 2000, Federal Law no. 10,000 established 23 April, Pixinguinha’s date of birth, as the National Day of Choro. Since then, on this date, several commemorative activities have been promoted across the country.

In 2005, his work – music, documents and photographs – was preserved by the City of Rio de Janeiro. Part of it is exposed at the Moreira Salles Institute and at the Museum of Image and Sound in Rio de Janeiro.

Recife, 7 May 2014.
Translated by Peter Leamy, April 2015.

sources consulted

ALENCAR, Edigar de. O fabuloso e harmonioso Pixinguinha. Rio de Janeiro: Cátedra. Brasília: INL, 1979.

BRASIL. Lei Federal n. 10.000, de 4 de setembro de 2000. Available at: <>. Accessed: 10 abr. 2014.

CABRAL, Sérgio. Pixinguinha vida e obra. Rio de Janeiro: FUNARTE, 1978. (Coleção MPB, 1).

CARVALHO, Hermínio Bello de. O pai do Projeto Pixinguinha. 2013. Entrevista concedida ao Projeto Brasil Memória das Artes, da FUNARTE. Available at: <>. Accessed: 10 abr. 2014.

SILVA, Marília Trindade Barboza da; OLIVEIRA FILHO, Arthur Loureiro de. Filho de Ogum Bexiguento. Rio de Janeiro: FUNARTE, 1979. 

how to quote this text

Source: MORIM, Júlia. Pixinguinha. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: day month year. Ex: 6 ago. 2009