Born in Rio de Janeiro, son of mulattoes, Nunes Garcia lost his father at an early age, and his mother perceived that her son had an inclination for becoming a musician and, for this reason, improved her work to allow him to continue his musical studies.
Nunes Garcia became a priest and, when prince John VI of Portugal came to Rio de Janeiro with his 15,000 people, Nunes Garcia was appointed to be the master of the royal chapel. He both sang and played the harpsichord, performing his compositions and those of other composers like Domenico Cimarosa and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was a very prestigious musician in the royal court of John VI.
His musical style was strongly influenced by the Austrian composers of that time, like Mozart and Haydn. Today, some 240 musical pieces written by Nunes Garcia survive, and at least 170 others are known to have been lost Most of his compositions are sacred pieces, but he wrote also some secular pieces, including the opera Le due gemelle and the Tempest Symphony.
Vitória was born in the city of Mariana, in the province of Minas Gerais, and Apolinário, in Ilha do Governador (Governor´s Island), near the city of Rio de Janeiro. Victoria's mother was Joana Gonçalves, slave of Simão Gonçalves, and Apolinário was the son of Ana Correa do Desterro, slave of Apolinário Nunes Garcia, a parrish. Their baptism documents have no record of their fathers' names; that means they were both their lord's children. Victoria and Apolinário married in 1762.
The boy, who had been born in St Maurice's day, was baptized José Mauricio Nunes Garcia, in December 20th of this same year, in the city's See, now the church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário.
An aunt, whose name is not known, lived together with the family. After Apolinário's death in 1773, they both raised the small boy, and, when his precocious musical talent was detected, they succeeded to contract, not without sacrifice, Salvador José de Almeida e Faria to teach him music.
Faria had been educated in the musical style of the province of Minas Gerais in the 18th century, and there he made his career; this explains why this style is present in Nunes Garcia's early compositions.
To complete his musical education, he probably joined the See's boys choir, as a soprano. The choir's components were students of the Seminário de São Joaquim (St James's Seminar), later Pedro II school, where they learned music reading, Greek and Latin.
According to Manuel de Araújo Porto Alegre, one of his early biographers, the young boy had "a beautiful voice and a sharp musical memory"; "reproduced everything he heard", and "created melodies of his own and played the harpsichord and the guitar without ever have learned to".
In 1779, at twelve, Nunes Garcia began to teach music. Since he never had a piano or a harpsichord, he exercised on the keyboard by teaching the society's ladies in their homes. He learned to play the organ later, when he was already a priest, assisted by some good organists in the churches.
He completed his education in the "Royal Classes", public classes with lectures in history, geography, Latin grammar, philosophy and rhetoric.
At the age of 16, Nunes Garcia composed his first surviving work: the antiphon Tota pulchra Es Maria (CPM 1) in 1783.
Along the decade of 1780, he studied for the examinations he had to go through to take the holy orders, and developed a musical partnership with the old chapel master and subchantre of the See, deacon João Lopes Ferreira. These would be his first steps to succeed him as the chapel master.
In 1784, the brotherhood of Saint Cecilia, the traditional guild of the musicians, was founded in Rio de Janeiro. Nunes Garcia, at 17, was allowed to sign the foundation act, as he was already recognized as music teacher.
By the end of the decade of 1780, he had already composed a large repertoire: a Litany for Our Lady for 4 voices and organ, in 1788; the anthems O Redemptor Summe Carmen and Pange Lingua, both in 1789; and the works a capella for all the Holy Week of the See, the Bradados or Passions, from those the most important was Bradados de 6ª feira maior (CPM 219), or Passion for Good Friday; this work originally included some motets classified - and nowadays sung - apart: Crux Fidelis (CPM 205), Heu Domine (CPM 211), Popule Meus (CPM 222), Sepulto Domino (CPM 223), and Vexilla Regis (CPM 225). In 1790 Nunes Garcia composed an instrumental work that made him famous in Rio de Janeiro: the Funeral Symphony (CPM 230).
He requested the holy orders in 1791. The two main prerequisites to be accepted were to prove the true Catholic faith from himself and from his parents, and to be free from "any color defect". The first had been proved through research and witnessing from his parents' and grandmothers' friends. To overcome the second, he requested to be dismissed from his "defect", in which he was successful.
In June, 1791, he began the necessary examinations, and in March, 1792, he was approved.
There was one last requirement to take orders: to be an estate owner. This was gone through with the help of one of his student's father, Thomaz Gonçalves, a rich merchant who donated him a house at Rua das Bellas Noutes.
Nunes Garcia tried to develop himself in oratory, as it was useful to a priest, taking part in meetings of the Litterary Society, founded in 1794. In 1797, the society was closed and their leaders arrested, under the accusation of revolutionary activities against the Crown. Among the arrested was Manuel Inácio da Silva Alvarenga, a poet born in the city of Vila Rica, and relative of Inácio José de Alvarenga Peixoto, one of the condemned leaders of the Inconfidência Mineira, a 1789 uprising in the province of Minas Gerais.
In 1795, he was appointed as public music instructor, installing a free music class in his own house. There the only instrument left for teaching was a steel guitar, used in sequence by all the students. Great musicians and singers there began their musical education. They would enrich Rio's musical stage during almost all the 19th century.
After his ordination, had Nunes Garcia a time of great productivity. From ths period are known 32 pieces of music, among them graduals, antiphons, various psalms, a Magnificat (CPM 16) for voices and organ, the vespers Vésperas das Dores de N. Srª. (CPM 177) , Vésperas de N. Srª. (CPM 178), and several works for Holy Week: two Miserere, one for maundy Thursday (CPM 194), and the other for good Friday (CPM 195), and, in 1797, his first mass, Missa para os pontificiais da Sé - Pontifical mass of the See.
In July 4th (or 5th), 1798, deacon Lopes Ferreira passed away. Two days before, perhaps because of his imminent death, Nunes Garcia was nominated chapel master. His dream of succeeding the master became true. The position of subchantre was occupied by deacon José Mariano.
In 1799 he joined the brotherhood of Nossa Senhora do Rosário e São Benedito dos Homens Pretos, in whose church the See was installed. This same year he composed a Funeral Office (CPM 183) and a Requiem Mass (CPM 184), in honor of the deceased deacons, probably a personal tribute to Lopes Ferreira, and the Matins of Christmas (CPM 170).
As his house at Rua das Bellas Noutes was near the city's Public Garden, there are evidences he took part in the traditional serenades there, for, in 1837, the scores of three of his popular compositions were printed by music editor Pierre Laforge; the Modinhas: Beijo a mão que me condena (CPM 226) - I kiss the hand that signs my condemnation; Marília, se não me amas (CPM 238) - Marília, if you don't love me, and No momento da partida, meu coração t'entreguei (CPM 239), - at the moment of the departure I gave you my heart.
In the beginning of 19th century, he diversified his production with two ouvertures: The Tempest (CPM 233) and Zemira (CPM 231), both written in 1803.
Few of his other works composed between 1800 and 1807 are known: two graduals, the motet Te Christe Solum Novimus (CPM 52), written in 1800, the Te Deum for the Matins of the Assumption (CPM 91) the Mass in B Flat (CPM 102), both written in 1801, and the antiphon In Honorem Beatissimae Maria Virginis (CPM 4), written in 1807.
He resumed his rhetoric classes with Silva Alvarenga from 1802 to 1804, but of his purely rhetorical works, there are known just the title of two sermons.
Despite celibacy, Nunes Garcia had in the first decade of the 19th century a marital relationship with Severiana Rosa de Castro, born in 1789, she herself a free half-breed. From this relationship five children were born: José Apolinário, in 1807; Apolinário José, in 1808; Josefina in 1810, Panfília in 1811 and Antônio José in 1813. The elder, José Apolinário, changed his own name to José Maurício Nunes Garcia Jr, after his father's acknowledgement, in 1828.
In January, 1808 the brig Voador brought to Rio the news of the imminent arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family. They were fleeing from the invasion of their kingdom by the french troops, leaded by general Junot.
Some weeks later, another boat brought the information of the precise date of the arrival: March 7th, and a request from prince regent Dom João: to assist to a Te Deum, celebrated in the city´s See, in thanksgiving for the successful trip. Some steps were taken in advance for the occasion, and at the informed date, the anglo-portuguese fleet appeared in the bay of Rio de Janeiro.
Dom João and his court disembarked the next day, walking from the port to the See. Along the way, there were fireworks, music and the churches's bells ringing. When the prince entered in the church, a "great orchestra", joined by the boys choir, began to play.
The music was conducted by Nunes Garcia. About it, besides probably his Te Deum in D (CPM 96) written in 1799, there were presented the antiphons O Beatae Sebastiane, and Sub Tuum Praesidium (CPM 2).
Dom João, although enthusiasmed by the music, had not the same opinion about the players. Soon he was aware of the precarious state in which was the See, and the quarrels between the Chapter and the curch's brotherhood. One of his first decrees in Rio was to transfer the Chapter to the church of the Firsts of the Carmel, next to the Governor's Palace. Soon he had the idea to create a Royal Chapel, to replace his Patriarchal of Lisbon, to be installed in this church.
The institution was made official when the portuguese bishop Dom José Caetano da Silva Coutinho arrived in the city, in April 25th, 1808. He had to act with diplomacy to integrate the priests of the Patriarchal of Lisbon with the Chapter of the See of Rio de Janeiro. The admission of the brazilian priests had been officialized, but the portuguese clergy thought otherwise: in an anonymous document, they stated that, as a measure of economy, the ministers should be limited to those who previously served Dom João. This would spare him to see in his chapel someone with a "visible physical defect".
The someone with a "visible physical defect" was Nunes Garcia.
That was only the beginning of a series of aggressive actions, that had the objective of humiliating the man they considered to be of an inferior race. But Dom João, recognizing his musical gifts, confirmed him, in November 26th, as the master musician of the Royal Chapel. That made Nunes Garcia officially the first musician of the kingdom of Portugal.
The move of the court to Rio de Janeiro was traumatic for all its 60,000 native people. At once there were 15,000 new inhabitants, needing houses and food. The court servants were first lodged at the ucharia - the city´s food warehouse at the Carmelitan Monastery. The aristocrats needed a house for themselves and their families, and since there were no home left, they were requested for them by force. Once chosen, the house was marked with the initials P.R. (Prince Regent), and their owners had to leave it in 24 hours. That often left the natives in a desperated situation.
To avoid problems with food supply due to the increase in population, Dom João decreed that improvements were to be done in the Royal Farm of Santa Cruz, a former Jesuitic settlement distant seven leagues (30 miles) from the city. Tre property had been transferred to the crown in 1769, when the order was expelled from Portugal and all the portuguese colonies. The goods there produced were transported to Rio and sold at the ucharia.
The farm would be soon transformed in a summer palace for the royal family. Since when it was owned by the Jesuites, it had a slave choir, and as they would be useful at the masses, the prince regent commissioned two music teachers to live and work there to improve their music skills.
The musical ensemble of the See did not please Dom João, nor its repertory. To improve its quality, he decreed that the musicians from the Patriarchal of Lisbon, most of them still living in that city, should move to Rio. To Nunes Garcia was left the task of composing new works.
He composed about 70 music pieces, for several royal solemnities, from 1808 to 1811. The main works are the Mass of São Pedro de Alcântara (CPM 104), offered to prince Dom Pedro, the Missa Pastoril (CPM 108) - Pastoral Mass, the Missa em Fá (CPM 103) - Mass in F, an orchestrated Qui Sedes (CPM 162) and some works nowadays lost: a Christmas Mass, and a Mass for the queen Saint Elizabeth, both for voices and organ.
The musicians called by Dom João were artists of great technique and virtuosity, and they made Rio de Janeiro an important musical center at that time. The quality of the performers was reflected in the works of the chapel master. But they were acquainted with a different musical style, and not satisfied by being conducted by whom they considered of an inferior race, they acted as a pressure group against him.
The musicians of the old See, some of them his friends and scholars, also joined the new orchestra.
In 1809, even with an incomplete music staff, various ceremonies were celebrated with music. This year a holiday in thanksgiving for the royal family's merry arrival in Rio was decreed, and a Mass and a Te Deum were composed by Nunes Garcia, for this first year. The other 1809 compositions were: a Mass of St. Michael the Archangel, the Mass for St. Peter of Alcantara (CPM 105), the Mass for the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lady and the one For the Kingdom's Guardian Angel.
The Holy Week was celebrated solemnly in the Royal Chapel. There was heard a Creed for 8 voices, for Maundy Thursday, a Motet of Our Lady, both lost. The surviving works were: Judas Mercator Pessimus (CPM 195), the Matins for the Resurrection (CPM 200), - and the sequentia Lauda Sion (CPM 165), for the feast of Corpus Christi.
In this same year he composed the music for two allegoric stage plays, written by Gastão Fausto da Câmara Coutinho: Ulissea, Drama Eroico (CPM 229) and O Triunfo da América (CPM 228) - The Triumph of America.