Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Brazilian guitarist, dies at 77
A child prodigy who made his professional debut at age 12, Mr. Barbosa-Lima combined flawless classical technique with an inventive and eclectic approach to music. His vast repertoire stretched from Bach to the Beatles, from Gershwin to Jobim, and included a large number of works which he adapted for guitar.
He toured the world with his guitar, which he considered a universal instrument, common to many musical traditions, which embodied an almost infinite palette of colors and musical moods.
“The guitar is so important in so many cultures,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1992. “It’s a real popular instrument. … I think it facilitates a very diverse, multicultural kind of approach.
Mr. Barbosa-Lima followed a long line of Brazilian guitar masters, including Luiz Bonfá, Laurindo Almeida and João Gilberto. Mr. Barbosa-Lima occasionally appeared with classical orchestras, but he performed more often in solo concerts or with other guitarists, including Almeida and the late Washington-based jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd.
Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera wrote a guitar sonata for Mr. Barbosa-Lima, which he first performed in Washington in 1976. Washington Post music critic Joseph McLellan said the sonata – now a standard feature of the guitar repertoire – “a major event” and said Mr. Barbosa-Lima “demonstrated what the instrument can do when it is in the service of a vital musical imagination.”
Mr. Barbosa-Lima developed such a precise feel on the guitar that audiences could never hear the telltale glide of his fingers on the fretboard. He kept the fingernails of his right hand slightly long to pluck the strings.
Throughout his childhood, he studied with Isaias Sávio, a guitar teacher from Uruguay who moved to Brazil in the 1930s. Savio taught him to develop the strength and dexterity of his left hand, which shapes the chords of the guitar. Mr. Barbosa-Lima was best known for the extraordinary finger reach of his left hand, which allowed him to produce unusual harmonies and play basslines and melodies simultaneously.
“You can be more comfortable using lines of counterpoint instead of just playing block chords or a single melodic line and the occasional chord,” he told Guitar Player magazine in 2008. “You start feeling the inner voice, and it’s fascinating to be able to go with that.
During the 1980s, Mr. Barbosa-Lima worked with fellow Brazilian Antônio Carlos Jobim, the principal composer of the bossa nova movement, to arrange his music for solo guitar.
“At that time, there were actually very few good charts” – arrangements – “of his music, and he was the first to complain,” Mr. Barbosa-Lima told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1995. “He said, ‘Let’s get together and at least make sure the harmonies are as I composed them.’ ”
Mr. Barbosa-Lima recorded frequently with the Concord jazz label in the 1980s and 1990s, including a 1982 album that combined Jobim’s music with guitar arrangements of works by George Gershwin. Mr. Barbosa-Lima also adapted Scott Joplin’s ragtime music for guitar, recorded with classical guitarist Sharon Isbin and with Almeida and Byrd, who had helped popularize bossa nova music in the early 1960s. He recorded more than 40 albums throughout his career.
Quiet and understated in his manner, Mr. Barbosa-Lima freely mixed musical genres that made some purists scoff. In a single concert, he would go from works by Bach and Scarlatti to Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo, Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos, Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and Andrew Lloyd’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”. Webber.
“The common denominator is always the classic plinth. Then you expand your tastes,” Barbosa-Lima said. “I love exploring all angles, picking up the flavor of other styles and molding it to my guitar which I believe is a small orchestra unto itself.”
He said he was encouraged to explore various musical styles after a youthful conversation with Spanish guitar master Andrés Segovia, who told him to “listen to all kinds of music and try to search my soul for that how it makes me feel.”
Antonio Carlos Ribeiro Barbosa-Lima was born on December 17, 1944 in São Paulo. Her father was a pharmaceutical salesman and her mother was a housewife.
When young Carlos was a child, his father started taking guitar lessons and came to nothing. But without prior musical training, 7-year-old Carlos picked up the guitar and was able to play the music his father struggled to learn. His father quickly found teachers for his son, including Savio, and eventually became his manager.
Mr. Barbosa-Lima made his debut in São Paulo in 1957 and had his first recording sessions a year later. By 1960 he was touring all over South America and later North America and Europe. After moving to the United States, he taught at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in the 1970s and at the Manhattan School of Music in the 1980s. He lived in Puerto Rico for several years.
Over the past 20 years, Mr. Barbosa-Lima has often performed and recorded with Del Casale, a former schoolteacher. Their 2013 album, “Beatlerianas,” which featured the Havana String Quartet and included Beatles tunes and music by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, received a Latin Grammy nomination. Mr. Barbosa-Lima’s latest album, “Delicado”, featuring Del Casale and other musicians, was released in 2019.
“It was all guitar with Carlos,” Del Casale said in an interview. “That’s all he did. It was all about the music.
The survivors include a sister.
“The guitar is like a second body, always next to me,” Mr. Barbosa-Lima said in 1995. “I’ve always loved its intimacy. You hold it close to your body; there’s always contact. I I can feel it vibrating in my body when I play. I caress it and it responds. Well, usually.