University of São Paulo: Piano pieces by Alexandre Levy are recovered and recorded


With a concert broadcast live on the YouTube platform, on the 21st, Projeto Levy was launched, an initiative by USP professors that led to the recovery, recording and dissemination of 23 piano works by the Brazilian composer Alexandre Levy (1864-1892). These works are now available for free on Youtube (click here to access) . Among them are Fosca – Fantasia on themes from the Opera by Carlos Gomes (Opus 3) , Romance Sem Palavras ( Opus 4, Number 1 ) and Pensée Fugitive ( Opus 4, Number 3 ).

Officially titled Study and Phonographic Record of Alexandre Levy’s Pianistic Work , the Levy Project is coordinated by Professor Eduardo Monteiro and Professor Luciana Sayure, both from the Music Department of the School of Communications and Arts (ECA) at USP. From 2014 onwards, Monteiro and Luciana dedicated themselves to searching different collections, analyzing, identifying and cataloging Levy’s compositions for piano. The work resulted in the selection of 23 authentic pieces by the composer, which were recorded in the studio by a team of 30 pianists, all of them undergraduate and graduate students or graduates of the ECA Music Department – ​​among them pianist Cristian Budu. On the 11th, the recordings were made available on Youtube.

The Levy Project also includes the publication of a book in the Research in Music series , by the National Association for Research and Graduate Studies in Music (Anppom), which has yet to be released. In this book, ECA teachers will bring new information about the composer’s life and the cataloging of his piano work. “We did an in-depth study to list Levy’s works”, says Professor Luciana. “We found many mistakes in previous lists: scores given as lost, the same piece with different names and several other inconsistencies, which we helped to undo.”

In one of the book’s chapters, Monteiro and Luciana Sayure analyze Levy’s travel diary in Europe, a document that had never been studied. “He was happy with his life and moved with ease in Parisian society”, says Monteiro, who takes the opportunity to deny information about this trip. According to Brazilian musical historiography, Levy would not have stayed permanently in France only because he missed Brazil or because, having fragile health, a doctor recommended that he return to his native country.“This is all false, an attempt to create a romantic narrative of ‘suffering artist’”, counters the professor. “He never went to Europe with the intention of staying, and spent only three months traveling, as he had planned. His mother didn’t even want him to go. One of the conditions for the trip is that he should not delay in returning.”

“Many Brazilian composers — not to say most or even all — suffer from some problem in relation to their legacy, material and catalogue”, says Eduardo Monteiro. “We have difficulty accessing even some pieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos, who is the most famous Brazilian composer. Imagine, then, the effort required to find works by lesser composers.” Monteiro and Luciana’s research was supported by the CNPq (National Council for Scientific and Technological Development) and the Brazilian Piano Institute (IPB).

Watch the launch concert of Projeto Levy at the link below, held on August 21, 2022, at the Sociedade Brasileira de Eubiose, in São Paulo.

Son of the French immigrant Henrique Luiz Levy and brother of Luís Levy, both musicians, Alexandre was born in the city of São Paulo, in 1864, and began his musical career at the age of 8, due to family influence. His father founded Casa Levy de Pianos e Música , one of the most traditional musical instrument stores in São Paulo. The establishment has changed addresses a few times since its opening, in 1860, and is currently located at Rua Girassol, 812, in Vila Madalena, in São Paulo.

Living with the artists who frequented his father’s shop encouraged Levy to publish his own compositions at a very young age, and at the age of 19, the pianist became director of the Clube Haydn de São Paulo, a musical congregation he had co-founded in 1883. The group , which was the first association dedicated to classical music in São Paulo, helped to popularize the musical genre in the city through the regular symphonic concerts it promoted, in which it mainly presented works by Austro-Germanic composers. Symphonies by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven — hitherto unreleased in Brazil — were present in more than 30 concerts promoted by the group during its five years of existence. In 1887, the association ended its activities, shortly before Levy traveled to France and Italy to further his studies in music.

Levy was one of the first composers to include elements of Brazilian popular and folk culture in his works. In the play Variações Sobre um Tema Popular Brasileiro , for example, the artist used the children’s song Vem Cá, Bitu to compose the melody. The Tango Brasileiro and Suíte Brasileira arrangements — especially the fourth movement of the latter, called Samba , which includes interpolations of the popular songs Se Eu Te Amei and Balaio, Meu Bem, Balaio — also stood out for their nationalist themes.

“He once presented Samba at the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro, which was audacious, of tremendous historical relevance. Bringing black-themed music to such an elite environment showed a very significant aesthetic positioning on Levy’s part. At the time, several critics said that the work was very successful, despite not being appropriate for that space”, says Monteiro.

A considerable part of Levy’s works was left only in manuscript and had never been recorded. In addition to piano pieces, he is the author of orchestral music, such as the Symphony in E Minor , the symphonic poem Comala and the Suíte Brasileira , chamber music, such as the String Quartet and the Trio in B Flat , and even vocal music, such as Aimons and De Mãos Postas , both with lyrics by the poet Horácio de Carvalho.

Alexandre Levy died suddenly in January 1892, with no apparent illness. Years later, in 1945, the legacy left by the pianist to the national music scene was recognized and Levy became patron of chair number 36 at the Academia Brasileira de Música (ABM), founded by Heitor Villa-Lobos.

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