Alberto Nepomuceno was born in the city of Fortaleza, capital of the state of Ceará in northeastern Brazil. He was the son of Vitor Augusto Nepomuceno and Maria Virginia de Oliveira Paiva. He started studying music with his father, who was a violinist, organist, teacher and chapel-master at the Cathedral of Fortaleza, Brazil. In 1872, he moved with his family to Recife (Brazil), where he started studying piano and violin. Later on, he became one of the most important defenders of the Republican and Abolitionist causes in Brazil, being very active in several campaigns over that time period, leading to the overthrow of the Monachy and creation of the First Brazilian Republic in 1889. However, he did not stop being a musician, and at the age of eighteen, he became director of the Carlos Gomes Club where all the important music concerts happened in Recife, Brazil.
In 1885, he presented for the first time his compositions, a series of songs all in Portuguese, at the Musical National Institute. The main objective of the concert was to oppose those who thought Portuguese was inappropriate for the "bel canto". He was very criticised for doing that and he started a true battle against several newspapers and music critics. His battle for the nationalisation of the classical music was extended by his work at the Popular Concert Association from 1896–1906, where he promoted the recognition of several Brazilian Composers.
In 1888, he was able to leave for Europe to further his musical studies. In Rome he studied with Giovanni Sgambati. In 1890, he moved to Berlin where he studied composition with Heinrich von Herzogenberg and continued his piano studies with the famous teacher Teodor Leszetycki at the Stern conservatory. In Lechetitzky’s class, he met a Norwegian student whom he married in 1893. She had been a student and friend of Edvard Grieg and Nepomuceno moved to Bergen after his wedding and lived in Grieg’s house. Grieg, of course, was a proponent of nationalism in composition. Nepomuceno’s friendship with Grieg was instrumental in convincing him to write music which reflected Brazilian culture. Before leaving Europe he visited Paris where he met such luminaries as Camille Saint-Saëns and Vincent d'Indy.
He subsequently returned to Brazil where he taught at the Institutio Nacional de Musica in Rio de Janeiro. Later Gustav Mahler engaged him to conduct at the Vienna Opera but illness prevented this. He eventually returned to Europe in 1910 for a series of concerts in Brussels, Geneva and Paris. During this trip he became good friends with Debussy. Back in Brazil, he fought for the use of Portuguese in opera and song and remained the leading musical personality there until his death in Rio, aged 56. Heitor Villa-Lobos was among his many students.
Among his most important works is his third string quartet, subtitled by him “Brasileiro”—the Brazilian. It is dated in his own hand, Berlin 1890. It is probably the first example of integration of Brazilian folk melody within the Central European romantic idiom. Though performed in Brazil on rare occasions from manuscript copy, String Quartet No.3 remained unpublished until 2005.
Among his other works are the operas "Abul" (1905), "Artemis" (1898), "Electra" (1894) and the unfinished "O Garatuja", the "Orchestral Pieces" (1888), "Sinfonia in G minor" (1893) and "Serenata" (1902).
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- Free scores by Alberto Nepomuceno at the International Music Score Library Project
- Free scores by Alberto Nepomuceno in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
- Guimarães, Maria Inês (1994). "Nepomuceno Biography, and Program Notes to Marco Polo Recording of Piano Works". Naxos Records. Retrieved 2007-11-28.
- Alberto Nepomuceno's String Quartet No. 3 with brief biography & soundbites
- Alberto Nepomuceno String Quartet No.1 Soundbites
- Alberto Nepomuceno at AllMusic
- (Portuguese) Short biography at National Library of Brazil (FBN).