The Mystery of the Portuguese Waltzes: Where did those enigmatic tunes originate?
A new two-part radio documentary from Rebecca Nolan on CBC Radio's Atlantic Voice
The Mystery of the Portuguese Waltzes is a two-part Atlantic Voice radio documentary that is a meditation on memory and truth. Produced by Rebecca Nolan, the story follows Richard Simas's quest to find the source of the enigmatic and beloved tunes.
A musician and writer, Simas is the grandson of immigrants who came to Canada from the Azores, the islands that are part of the Portuguese Republic.
The first time he heard the Portuguese waltzes, he was immediately intrigued by the mystery of their origin story.
The documentary questions who composed them. Were they performed by visiting Portuguese fishermen first? Did Art Stoyles, the legendary Newfoundland accordion player, overhear them on the harbour?
Is Stoyles the composer? Stoyles, who died in 2015, threw that assertion into question in the liner notes on his CD The World Accordion to Art.
There, he attributes the tunes to a Portuguese captain named Manuel de Silva.
If you don't have some archivist in the family who is writing down dates and keeping all the information then you get fragments of stories told by aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.- Richard Simas
Nolan's documentary looks back lovingly on the time when the White Fleet's annual arrival through the Narrows in St. John's harbour signalled the beginning of the summer fishing season in Newfoundland.
The Portuguese were the island's first connection to Europe, long before the arrival of the British and French.
Part one of the documentary takes the listeners back to 1955, when 4,000 Portuguese fishermen marched from the new hospital ship the Gil Eannes to the Basilica of St. John the Baptist.
They brought a Virgin Mary statue blessed at Fatima to mark the 100th anniversary of the St. John's cathedral. The men sang Ave Maria in the street and were accompanied by Newfoundland school children.
Terry Thompson, one of Art Stoyles's oldest friends, was one of the children singing that day.
She is convinced that Stoyles composed the waltzes and hopes he will be credited with that someday.
Part 2 of the documentary explores the Portuguese concept of "saudades" and its effect on memory.
Nolan follows Simas as he travels back to Portugal to meet the family of a Manuel de Silva, a Portuguese fishing captain who loved music, played the guitar and travelled to Newfoundland every spring. Is this the same Manuel de Silva who taught Stoyles the Portuguese waltzes?