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Life and Work of Edvaldo Cabral

Life and Work of Edvaldo Cabral
by Napoleão Costa Lima


Edvaldo Eulálio Cabral was born in the city of Campina Grande in the State of Paraíba on June 28th, 1946, and died in Recife, Pernambuco on July 17th, 2003. Even though he is relatively unknown, it can be said that he is one of the most innovative Brazilian composers in recent times. His compositions focus mainly on musical elements of the music that is characteristic of northeastern Brazil. The works of Edvaldo Cabral demonstrate his highly developed sense of form, both in terms of structure and development. He succeeded in combining elements of traditional music with the demands of even the most sophisticated classical music.

Edvaldo Cabral in 1989

Personal style and composition technique

In his compositions, Edvaldo Cabral makes extensive use of counterpoint associated with a personal approach to tonal functions. Many of his ideas concerning his harmonic procedures came about in composition classes that he gave to his students, as well as by the elaboration of accompaniments of melodies on the guitar. Starting from the main chords, the tonic and the dominant, he systematized the use of "substitute chords" that, at any given moment, would replace the main chords. According to his concept, the building of harmonics was established from the harmonic series of the tonic or the dominant or, as well as from the combination of both series.

One of the most striking features of his composition technique and his unmistakable personal style is his art of obtaining a counterpoint from a single melodic line by systematically moving notes to another octave that form it. This is his technique for "melodic dispersion", so called by a procedure adopted by A. Schönberg concerning the development of a series of twelve tones. For example, the following passage extracted from his Frevo are very special effects resulting from applying this characteristic:

used in place of, for example:

Frevo with Clemilson Dantas

Edvaldo Cabral had a deep knowledge of the procedures and rules related to the Schönberg School and Serialism. In this context, it is interesting to observe that, while composing in this style, his attitude was a little "uncommitted" with scholastic strictness. We can even observe a certain tendency in rescuing simultaneously aspects of tonality. For instance, in his song Penélope Cabral introduces a series while maintaining chord accompaniment of a constant formula (that would still go against the rules) and develops the melody in an atonal approach but, unexpectedly, in a climactic moment, he changes back to the tonality completely.

In Obsessão (Obsession) - a serial study in the maracatu beat, the series is presented in a singular way using chords and in two different steps, each with six notes. The six notes which are displayed in only one measure are then repeated three more times, thus building a dominant rhythmic structure which is derived from the aforementioned maracatu beat.

Obsessão midi.mp3

Before composing Obsessão, one of his latest and most expressive pieces for solo guitar, Edvaldo Cabral had already made several attempts in dodecaphonic music. Among these, one of the most significant compositions was his Fantasia for guitar duo.

Among his most important compositions we can find Tema, Variações e Fuga and Sonatina. Both are works of very deep musical content and belong to the greatest works of the guitar repertoire.

Tema, Variações e Fuga was written in the mixolidian mode, which is typical for Brazilian northeastern music and characterizes a style whose roots came from the Iberian Peninsula, specifically, the Moorish-Arabic influence. This influence, which starts from the time of Brazil's discovery by the Portuguese, remains quite pure and reflects today clearly in the music of the northeastern cantadores and repentistas.

The most innovative aspect in this composition by Edvaldo Cabral is without a doubt the organic form but not conventional as he develops the theme/variations sequences. Instead of short blocks, as they commonly occur in this genre, the formal process follows a coherent development imposed through an inner need of expression which is rendered in a logical sequence of feelings.

In his Sonatina, a singular work of infinite poetry, Cabral exploits, to the maximum, his technique of "dispersion" of the melodic line. This was his last completed composition for solo guitar. Its four movements are paired off with the indication attacca in between each pair: Nostalgia and Frevo, Modinha and Marchinha. The musical unit of the piece is emphasized through the correspondence of motifs between the four movements. The Marchinha with its amazing melodies and rhythmic subtlety is one of the most fascinating pieces written for the guitar.

Nostalgia e Frevo with Jaelson Farias

Marchinha midi.mp3

Education and career

From 1968 to 1974, Edvaldo Cabral studied the guitar in the School of Arts at the Federal University of Pernambuco with the Spanish virtuoso José Carrión ( biographfical note 1). At that time, Edvaldo stood out as a guitarist, mainly as part of a duo with his brother Edilson Eulálio (also a student of José Carrión), with whom he won first prize for this category at the III International Guitar Seminar in Porto Alegre, in the State ofRio Grande do Sul, Brazil (1971).

In 1973, his brother Edilson became a member of the Quinteto Armorial, an instrumental group then in formation that would enjoy great popularity and international renown. However, it considerably restricted the duo's activities. Despite this, during a concert tour to the United States, Edvaldo and his brother Edilson played as a duo alternately with the Quinteto Armorial (but not together with the quintet except for Edilson).

Toada (for 7-stringed guitar) with Edvaldo Cabral and Baião (version for duo) with Edvaldo Cabral and Edilson Eulálio

Some time later, Edvaldo decided to continue the work of the duo but this time with Napoleão Costa Lima ( nota biográfica 2), his colleague at the University School of Arts. They accomplished several performances in which both had presented as soloists and as a duo until the end of 1975 when Napoleão Costa Lima went away to do his post graduate work in Germany.

Edvaldo Cabral was an excellent guitarist. In his repertoire as soloist, there were works like Cavatina by Alexandre Tansmann, Tarantella by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Tres Piezas Españolas by Joaquin Rodrigo. Edvaldo Cabral has referred to Tansmann as an inspiration or reference point for his technique of "dispersion" of the melodic line, a technique that Edvaldo took advantage of and very much developed.

In 1977-78, Edvaldo Cabral started studying harmony and hounterpoint with the well-known Father Jaime Diniz ( biographfical note 3). In one of his first classes in counterpoint, Edvaldo presented to Father Jaime, instead of his homework, a complete choro, that later got the title of Lembrando Padre Jaime (Remembering Father Jaime). This choro was written for a melodic instrumental part (a flute) and for the guitar and, additionally, was increased by other experimental counterpoint lines.
Lembrando Padre Jaime, beginning of part A:

From 1977 to 1998, Edvaldo Cabral taught the Guitar at the Federal University of Paraiba in Campina Grande. It was at this time that the majority of his compositions were written, mainly his chamber music compositions, which were motivated by the formation of his instrumental ensemble, Laboramus.

The Camerata Laboramus

In 1992, Edvaldo Cabral created in Campina Grande the ensemble Laboramus . The word laboramus, in Latin, has the meaning of "we work" or "we accomplish". It emerged, thus, as a kind of word play and as an abbreviation for a "laboratory of music” (labora + mus) because it dealt about with an experimental group. This group represented the first step in the creation of an experimental orchestra but unfortunately, the Music Department of the Federal University of Paraiba never gave its financial support.

Laboramus, nevertheless, was very productive which resulted in stimulating creative production of inestimable value and made possible many important compositions for guitar in various formations. With Laboramus, Cabral accomplished several performances in Campina Grande and in many others Brazilian cities. We could assume that, without the founding of this ensemble, Edvaldo Cabral would hardly have composed the majority of his chamber music because he never had composed anything that would not be performed in public.

The Camerata Laboramus in 1997. From the left to the right: João Neto de Medeiros, Jaelson Farias, Edilson Eulálio and Edvaldo Cabral. Edvaldo plays the glissom attached to the guitar and the support stick, one of his inventions.

Laboramus had gone through some modifications in its formation. The group formed as a guitar quartet, but cultivated repertoires for solo, duo and trio performances. Utilizing the glissom (see below), that sounded similarly to a violoncello, the possibilities of diversifying musical colors grew considerably. At opportune moments they improvised with some implements of percussion and many times whistling was performed instead of using a melodic instrument. Edvaldo mastered the art of whistling and was able to whistle as well as play elaborately on the guitar at the same time. His recording of Melancolia (the 2nd movement of his Serenata) is an excellent example which we can listen to in the following track:

Melancolia with Edvaldo Cabral, whistle and guitar + Clemilson Dantas, glissom

In 1996, the group name was changed to Camerata Laboramus, a name that remained until its partial extinction in the year 2001 when Edvaldo Cabral went to live in Recife until his death in 2003.

In 1999, the Camerata Laboramus concentrated all its efforts on the fulfillment of a project to record a CD which would present the work of the ensemble in a broader way. Camerata Laboramus recorded music in quite precarious circumstances due to a lack of support from the Music Department of the University (UFPB) in Campina Grande. Despite relatively high personal investment by the composer, the project never took off. In the future, Matepis Produtos Musicais plans to publish this historical material that remains from this project.

Since 2006, the guitarists Clemilson Dantas and Jaelson Farias, Camerata Laboramus ex-participants formed Duo Laboramus with the intention to continue Camerata's work and rescue the repertoire created by Edvaldo Cabral, whether for the solo guitar or for a guitar duo with and without using a glissom (see below).

The inventor and his glissom

Besides being a composer, Edvaldo Cabral stood out as an inventor in creating various accessories for the guitarist. His guitar suppot to position the guitar on the left leg was created around 1976/77 as a substitute for the foot stand and today it is widespread around the world. The support was soon copied and diversified as to its features. Today it has spread worldwide. The idea for this invention, after having been publicly presented at a music festival in São Paulo before being patented, was soon copied, its features diversified and was launched onto the market.

Edvaldo also created a support pole, another accessory to position the guitar. It consists of a long wooden or bamboo stick which rests on the ground with the upper part attached to the head of the guitar (see photo above).

His principal creation, nevertheless, was the glissom, an accessory attached to the guitar which makes it possible to obtain an entirely innovative sound. This sound is very close to the sound of the bow on string instruments such as the violoncello and the contrabass. The following audio example presents this sound produced by the guitar using a glissom in a guitar quartet performance.

Modinha with Camerata Laboramus

Edvaldo Cabral playing the guitar with glissom (Campina Grande, 1998)
The glissom is composed of a long wooden rod inserted into a small piece of wood which is tied with two of the guitar strings to the bridge without causing any change to the instrument's surface. At the upper end of the stick there is another piece of wood with a mechanism of tuners where three or four fine nylon or similar resistant threads (for example, an overlock thread) are bound. From there the threads extend to the bass strings where they are entwined close to the bridge (about 3cm from it).

Sound is produced by means of friction along these glissom threads that transmit vibrations to the guitar strings. To do this the performer uses small fingertip gloves on his thumb, ring finger and small finger by applying a special rosin-based mixture to their surfaces.

To change to normal guitar fingering on performance of successive pieces the attached glissom can remain in place. Then it is only necessary to remove the fingertip gloves and move the glissom threads next to the bridge so that the guitar bass strings can vibrate more freely.

It is also interesting to note that it is possible to combine, in the same music piece, the use of the glissom with normal right-hand fingering of the guitar strings. However, there are some limitations because the sound quality of the guitar bass strings is affected just a little by the glissom threads. Furthermore, the guitarist has in his right hand at his disposal only the index and middle fingers since the remaining fingers are prevented from normal right hand fingering. This is due to the use of finger gloves (with the rosin mixture) which cannot be quickly removed during a performance. But, depending on the demands of the piece, one can also remove the glove from the ring finger as Cabral himself has sometimes done using for the glissom only the thumb and little finger.

According to a disciple of Edvaldo Cabral, Clemilson Dantas, Edvaldo composed a beautiful piece entitled "Xote with Variations" (a work performed by Cabral in some concerts but now considered lost), in which he simultaneously or alternately combined the use of a glissom with normal guitar fingering to obtain very interesting musical results.

In the history of the guitar, the glissom, as an 'instrument apart', occupies a unique and special position. It is not a 'development' of the guitar itself nor a 'development' in the way to play the guitar as some have erroneously concluded. It is an instrument that does not work autonomously but in total dependency on the guitar. In this sense, its performance is a kind of 'parasitism' between musical instruments using the guitar resonance box as a sounding board and the guitar strings as a means to change the note pitches or obtain some peculiar effects.

Of course, it is possibole to imagine the glissom attached to other string instruments, for example the cello but it does really work in a relevant way. Nothing is essentially added. Yet, with the guitar, the connection of the two, glissom and guitar, seems to be perfect. It seems to be something intrinsic. The glissom lends new soul to the guitar, a new sound; it gives it new musical features, new possibilities for action without, however, taking away its sovereignty, i.e., without wanting to affect its essence that remains, however, untouched.

The "discovery"

In 1999, when Napoleão Costa Lima was returning to Brazil, he "discovered", with enthusiasm, the works by Cabral to which he has been dedicated to from then on. "The compositions by Edvaldo Cabral are an enormous enrichment to the guitar repertoire and will come to prominence all over the world", he said at that time. From 2000 to 2003, Napoleão Costa Lima worked with the composer on all the pieces that were to be published, encouraging and influencing Cabral then in his more recent compositions. This effort became more and more intensive with enormously fruitful results which are expressed through the edited works.


Edvaldo Cabral has been gaining increasing acknowledgment, even though late, as one of the most important composers among those who write predominantly for the guitar.

His works have been performed and appreciated in European countries and in America. Recently his life and work became the subject of a doctoral dissertation at the University of Montreal, Canada (Thesis presented by Ezequias Lira).

More audio examples in: List of Works by Edvaldo Cabral


Biographical Notes

1) José Carrión Dominguez was born in 1924 in Valladolid, Spain, and died in 1987 in Recife, Brazil. A virtuoso guitarist and violoncellist, he was also a distinguished pianist. He had prepared himself to perform works for all three instruments with orchestra in a unique concert but this project ended without completion.

In 1965, Carrión performed, for the first time in Brazil, the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo. On other occasions he performed works like the Guitar Concerto in D Major by Mário Castelnuovo-Tedesco and the Violoncello Concerto by Joseph Haydn.

José Carrión studied guitar with Rosa Loret (a pupil of Miguel Llobet), vihuela with Emilio Pujol and violoncello with Juan Bich Santa Suzana, having concluded his studies in 1944 (violoncello) and 1946 (guitar and vihuela). Between 1945 and 1953 José Carrión worked as first violoncellist for the Philharmonic Orchestra of Las Palmas de Gran Canária and also as a teacher at the local Conservatory.

José Carrión came to Brazil in 1953 where he remained until his death. In 1955, he worked as a violoncellist with the Symphony Orchestra of Porto Alegre.

In 1961, following an invitation from Pater Jaime Diniz, José Carrión came to teach violoncello and, two years later, also guitar at the Federal University of Pernambuco, in Recife where he was the catalyst for a strong movement in favor of the guitar. Among his students were the brothers Edvaldo Cabral and Edilson Eulalio, Antonio Madureira, Djalma Marques, Fidja Siqueira, Henrique Annes, Napoleão Costa Lima, Mauro Maibrada, Vital Joffily and many others. ( Go back to the main text)

2) Napoleão Costa Lima (born in 1950) studied guitar in Brazil and in Germany where he also studied historical musicology and ethnomusicology. He acted in several music schools in Germany and in Brazil as a visiting professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco.

Through his performances in several music festivals in Europe, Napoleão Costa Lima stood out as a soloist and pedagogue, having taught many master classes and given seminars besides lectures and workshops on guitar techniques. Between 1996 and 2000 he had also acted as assistant for the Uruguayan guitarist and composer Abel Carlevaro whose disciple he had become during his stay in Germany.

As an instrumental theoretician, Napoleão Costa Lima is the creator of a new School for guitar technique, having already spread throughout Europe and that has given impulse to a guitaristic movement in the States of Pernambuco and Paraiba. Since the year 2000 Napoleão Costa Lima has been responsible for the review, edition and publishing of the works by Edvaldo Cabral at the Matepis Produtos Musicais Ltda. ( Go back to the main text)

3) Jaime Cavalcante Diniz (1924-1989), priest, musicologist, composer, organist, choral conductor and professor of composition and history of music at the Federal University of Pernambuco. He became one of the pioneers of the historical musicology in Latin America in the past century and also a well respected composition teacher, above all, for his knowledge of harmony and counterpoint. ( Go back to the main text)

Related links:

 List of Works by Edvaldo Cabral (with audio examples)

 Sheet Music - Published titles by Edvaldo Cabral (with audio examples)

 Edvaldo Cabral: Toada e Baião

 Edvaldo Cabral: Frevo

 Edvaldo Cabral: Nuances

 Edvaldo Cabral: Toada e Xaxado