Marcus Vinicius da Cruz e Mello Moraes (October 19, 1913 - July 9, 1980), also known as Vinícius de Moraes (Portuguese pronunciation: vɪˈnisjʊɕ dʑɪ̥ˈmoɾaɪ̯ɕ) and nicknamed O Poetinha ("The little poet"), was a Brazilian poet, lyricist, essayist and playwright who wrote the lyrics for many now-classic Brazilian songs and became a seminal figure in contemporary Brazilian music. He also wrote a number of plays, served as a national diplomat, composed his own bossa nova music and, as an interpreter of his own lyrics, recorded several significant albums. He was born in Rio de Janeiro as the son of Lydia Cruz de Moraes and Clodoaldo Pereira da Silva Moraes.
Born Marcus Vinicius da Cruz e Mello Moraes, son of Clodoaldo da Silva Pereira Moraes - a City Hall officer, as well as poet and amateur guitar player - and Lidia Cruz - a housewife and amateur pianist - Vinícius was born in 1913 in the neighborhood of Gávea, then a rural suburb of Rio de Janeiro. In 1916, he moved with his family to various addresses at the downtown quarter of Botafogo, where he attended classes at Afrânio Peixoto Primary School. In 1920, through his maternal grandfather, he gained entrance at a Masonic lodge. In 1922, Moraes's parents, shocked at the 18 of the Copacabana Fort revolt, were to move to another suburb, Governador Island, while young Vinícius stayed at his grandfather's downtown home in order to finish primary school, going to his parents' home only at weekends and during holidays. During his visits to his folks' home, Vinícius was to get in touch with various musicians, among them the composer Bororó.
After receiving first communion in 1923, from 1924 on Vinícius de Moraes attended high school at the traditional Jesuit-sponsored St. Ignatius School, where he sang in the congregation choir and began to write short theatrical sketches (as well as an "epic" piece in tandem with two schoolmates, among them Raul Pompéia's nephew). Three years later, he became friends with the brothers Paulo and Haroldo Tapajós, with whom he assembled his first musical compositions, which were performed at friends' parties. In 1929 he completed high school, as his family moved back to Gávea. This same year, he was admitted to the Faculty of Law at the University of Rio de Janeiro - nowadays the Law School of the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) - which until 1937 was located at a mansion in downtown Rio (Casarão do Catete). At the "School of Catete", he met and became friends with essayist and future novelist Octavio de Faria, an activist integrist Catholic and a leader of the group of rightwing Catholics organized around Centro Dom Vital, a think-tank created by the intellectual Jackson de Figueiredo shortly before his untimely death.
Faria encouraged Moraes' literary vocation, turning him into a kind of rightwing fellow traveller. Vinícius de Moraes received his B.A. degree in Legal and Social Sciences in 1933. Upon completing his studies, he published his first two collections of poetry: Caminho Para a Distância ("Path into Distance") (1933) and Forma e Exegese ("Form and Exegesis"). Both collections were composed and published under Octavio de Faria's informal editorship, and that accounts for their style and subject-matter: a heavy, rhetorics-laden symbolist poetry, concerned above all with Catholic mysticism and the search for redemption against sexual seduction (in Faria's words, the conflict between "impossible purity and unacceptable impurity"). Faria, at the time (1935) was to write an essay ("Two Poets") comparing Vinícius's poetry with that of his symbolist and Catholic comrade-in-arms, Augusto Frederico Schmidt. However, the tension between Faria and Moraes' joint Catholic activism and Faria's homosexual attraction toward Vinícius was eventually to generate a cooling in their mutual friendship - Faria having even attempted suicide because of his unrequited love for Vinicius. Despite their mutual estrangement, Vinícius would afterwards write two sonnets - the first in 1939 ("Sonnet to Octavio de Faria"), the second during the 1960s ("Octavio") in (ambivalent) praise of his old friend.
Later, Vinícius wrote his third book Ariana, a Mulher ("Ariana, the Woman") (1936).
In 1936, he got the job of film censor for the Ministry of Education and Health. Two years later, Moraes won a British Council fellowship to study English language and literature at Oxford University. It was at that time that Moraes forsook his older form - free verse and blank verse poetry - in favour of an apparently old-fashioned poetical programme based on respect for traditional forms and extreme metrical accuracy, by excelling onwards in the handling of the rhymed, metrified sonnet, both on the Italian mode generally used in Portuguese-language poetry (two quatrains, two tercets) as well as on the English mode (three quartains and a couplet, printed en bloc). It was this process that made Vinicius to be acknowledged later as one of the most prominent members of the "generation of '45" - the name given to various Brazilian modernist writers who began publishing during the 1930s and 1940s, who had as their defining trait a partial rejection of the formal novelties of earlier modernism in favour of a rehabilitation of traditional forms and vocabulary. He is usually equated with his contemporary and friend João Cabral de Melo Neto for the high technical skill of their poetry. However, if in Cabral's works developed poetic technique mostly serves the depiction of objective reality, in Vinícius it serves the depiction of a deeply felt and highly subjective mood - above all, of sexual love. The basic meter in Vinícius' love poetry is the decasyllable, taken mostly from Camões' lyrical poetry - therefore the classical accent of his mature production.
During his stay in England, Vinícius was to write a collection of verse published under the title "Novos Poemas" ("New Poetry"). At that time he was married - by proxy - for the first time with Beatriz Azevedo de Mello, by whom he was to have two children: filmmaker Suzana de Moraes and Pedro. In 1941, he returned to Brazil, working then as film critic for the newspaper A Manhã ("The Morning."). He was also a collaborator of the literary journal Clima ("Climate"), at the same time holding a job at the Banking Employees' Institute of Social Security, the public pension fund for wage-workers in banking institutions.
The following year, he failed his first test of admission to the diplomatic career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MRE). Shortly afterwards, however,in his capacity as a government employee, he was given by the then Minister of Foreign Relations, Oswaldo Aranha, the commission to follow American writer Waldo Frank - already a literary acquaintance of Vinícius's - on a tour across Northern Brazil. In Vinícius's own words, it was contact with both Frank and "the appalling poverty" that had the effect of turning him into "a man of the Left".
In 1943, Vinícius performed the test of admission into the MRE again, this time being approved and taking his first post abroad as vice consul in Los Angeles. At the same time, he published a new poetry book Cinco Elegias ("Five Elegies"). Already at his Californian consular post, he would write and publish another book of verse, Poemas, Sonetos e Baladas ("Poems, Sonnets and Ballads"). At the death of his father in 1950, Vinícius de Moraes returned briefly to Brazil. Upon his return to diplomatic duties in France and Uruguay, Vinícius published two new books of poetry: Livro de Sonetos ("Book of Sonnets") and Novos Poemas II ("New Poems - II"). During the 1950s, he was to continue serving at the Brazilian consular service in various capacities, in Paris as well as in Rome; in the Italian capital, he used to participate in lively musical meetings in the home of the historian Sergio Buarque de Holanda, who was then teaching in Italy as visiting scholar.
In 1951, Vinícius married his second wife, Lila Maria Esquerdo e Bôscoli. It was during this same year, while in Brazil, that he began writing to the mainstream press, contributing with chronicles and film critiques to Samuel Wainer's Vargoist paper Última Hora, something that moved him closer to the field of popular culture. In 1952, he was named delegate of the Brazilian government to the film festival of Punta del Este, receiving also the commission of going to Europe in order to study the management of similar film festivals at Cannes, Berlin, Locarno and Venice, in view of the forthcoming São Paulo Cinema Festival, as part of the commemoration for the city's 400th anniversary.
In 1953, as his third child - Georgiana - was born (a fourth child by his second wife, Luciana, would be born in 1956), and he went to Paris as second secretary at the Brazilian embassy in France, Vinícius was to release his first samba, composed jointly with musician Antônio Maria: Quando tu passas por mim ("When You Pass By"). The next year, he wrote the lyrics for some of Cláudio Santoro's chamber music pieces.
The 1950s mark the turn of Vinícius from a literary figure to a popular culture one, as he would become a well-known playwright with the staging of his musical play Orfeu da Conceição (1956). With only a draft version, in 1954, Vinícius's original play had already won the contest commemorating the Fourth Centennial Celebration of the founding of the City of São Paulo. Later, in 1956, during the production of his play, as he was in Brazil during a sabbatical leave, Vinícius would be introduced to a relatively unknown pianist, Antônio Carlos Jobim, who was commissioned with writing the music for the play. Jobim composed the music for Se Todos Fossem Iguais a Você, Um Nome de Mulher, and several other songs included in the production. The play was staged in 1956 in both São Paulo and in Rio de Janeiro, having also its text published in a de luxe edition illustrated by Carlos Scliar. At the end of 1956, Vinícius returned to France, being transferred in 1957 from the Brazilian Embassy to the Brazilian representation at UNESCO. In 1958 he would be transferred to the Brazilian embassy in Montevideo, returning to Brazil in transit. While in Brazil, he would marry his third wife, Maria Lúcia Proença.
In 1958, the singer Elizete Cardoso released her album Canção do Amor Demais, marking the beginning of bossa nova. This record consists wholly of compositions by the Jobim-Vinícius partnership, or by either of the two (Canção do Amor Demais, Luciana, Estrada Branca, Chega de Saudade, Outra Vez...). The recording also featured a relatively unknown João Gilberto on two tracks. With the release of this record, Vinícius's career in music (as well as that of many involved with him) may be said to have truly begun.
The songs of Jobim and Vinícius were recorded by numerous Brazilian singers and performers of that time. Renditions of many Jobim-Vinícius's numbers on João Gilberto's first, second and third albums would firmly establish the sound and the core repertory of the bossa nova and would influence a new generation of singers and songwriters especially in Rio de Janeiro. Among these songs are all time hits such as Garota de Ipanema, Insensatez and Chega de Saudade. In August 1962, Vinícius would for the first time perform publicly as singer and entertainer - together with Jobim and Gilberto - at the Rio nightclub Au Bon Gourmet. This was to be the first of his pocket-shows, i.e., performances made to small audiences where he would present future international hits - such as the aforementioned Garota de Ipanema as well as Samba da Benção. Vinícius would also introduce promising new singers at the time, such as Nara Leão. He wasn't a natural singer, with a flat, nasal baritone voice, but he generally had singers singing harmony or background to sweeten the sound.
That first spree as entertainer would end in 1963, as Vinícius returned to his post in the Brazilian representation at UNESCO after his fourth marriage to Nelita Abreu Rocha.
Cinema recognition and collaborations:
His play Orfeu da Conceição, a reworking of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice set in the carnival in Rio, was itself adapted into the film Black Orpheus, which won an Academy Award in 1959 as the Best Foreign Language Film (France; director, Marcel Camus). It was also awarded the Palme d'Or at the Cannes International Film Festival and the 1960 British Academy Award. The film was a co-production among France, Italy and Brazil, and included a song by Jobim and Moraes, "A Felicidade", which became an international hit.
His songs Para Uma Menina com Uma Flor and Samba da Bênção (music by Baden Powell) were included on the soundtrack of A Man and a Woman (Un homme et une femme, Claude Lelouch, 1966), another Cannes film festival winner.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Vinicius continued collaborating with many renowned Brazilian singers and musicians, particularly Baden Powell, with whom he penned a series of songs with a heavy Afro-Brazilian influence and which came to be known collectively as the Afro-Sambas. Notable also was his collaboration with Edu Lobo on the Elis Regina hit song "Arrastão".
As a known bohemian and a diplomat, Vinícius didn't endear himself as a civil servant to the petty moralizing military that had taken power in Brazil after the military coup d'etat of 1964, being spied upon by political police and branded as a "rabble" (marginal) and a drunk. Eventually, during a purge in the Ministry of Foreign Relations, he was forcibly retired in 1969, at age 55. Although taken aback by his forced retirement, he at the time laughed down the case against him: when it was made known that the Ministry purge was directed against "homosexuals and drunks", he jokingly retorted that his alcoholism was public knowledge. Afterwards, he proceeded to tackle a full-time artistic career.
In the 1970s, already established and with a new partner, the guitarist and singer Antônio Pecci Filho, nicknamed Toquinho, Vinícius worked in tandem on both musical and literary productions, putting forth various albums and books of great commercial success. At the time he would be briefly married, in succession, to three women: Cristina Gurjão - to whom he would beget his daughter Maria - the actress Gesse Gessy and the Argentinian Marta Rodrigues Santamaria.
He also toured through Europe with Chico Buarque, the singer-songwriter son of the historian, and Nara Leão, and Argentina with Dorival Caymmi and Oscar Castro-Neves. His most stable partner, however, remained Toquinho, alongside whom he would release a series of very popular and influential albums. Their live performances, both in Brazil and Europe, were often conducted as intimate meetings with the public, where Vinícius - sitting in the middle of the stage at a small table with a checked tablecloth and a bottle of whiskey, with a microphone in his hand - chatted and endlessly told amusing stories (in French, English, Spanish and Portuguese) to the audience while repeatedly serving himself fine Scotch whisky between songs.
Hundreds of international performers have recorded more than 400 of Vinícius's songs.
A longtime alcoholic, who once said that O uísque é o melhor amigo do homem--é o cão engarrafado ("Whisky is man's best friend, it's the dog in a bottle"), after a long spell of poor health punctuated by various stints in rehab clinics, Vinícius de Moraes died at his home in Rio de Janeiro on July 9, 1980 at the age of 66, while in the company of his eighth and last wife, Gilda de Queirós Mattoso, and the ever-faithful Toquinho. He is buried in Rio de Janeiro's Cemitério São João Batista.
In 2006, Vinícius was officially reintegrated to the Brazilian diplomatic corps. In February 2010, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies approved his post-mortem promotion to the post of Ambassador (First Class Minister).
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license