Apart from his virtuosity in the flute, the main importance of Patápio Silva is derived from the quality of his compositions, still being recorded today by prominent musicians. He wrote more than a thousand compositions and arrangements. One of the rare composers and instrumentalists from Brazil's Belle Époque to resist to the passing of years, he is also a great source for studying the tradition which gave birth to all Brazilian instrumental music, the "música de barbeiros" (barber's music), of which he was, at the same time, a keeper and reformer.
His father was a barber, and like almost all of them at those times, a musician in the considerable amount of free time between two clients. A tinplate flute player, he taught Patápio very early to play that instrument, enabling him in 1896 at age 16 to join the band Aurora Cataguasense in the city where he spent his childhood, Cataguases, MG. In spite of being an upstate city, there was an active musical environment there, with nascent music societies, each sponsored by a different industry, competing between themselves, such as Sociedade Musical Harpa de David (1900) and Sociedade Musical 7 de Setembro.
In 1899, already living in the city of Palma, during Holy Week commemorations he interpreted sacred compositions of father José Maurício, a major composer of Brazilian Baroque. In the audience was a Cuban maestro and composer, Francisco Lucas Duchesne, who'd be highly influential in Patápio's career through his teachings of solfeggio and theory.
Soon Patápio left Cataguases to perform in several bands in upstate Rio de Janeiro, as São Fidélis, Miracema, Santo Antônio de Pádua, and Campos, becoming conductor of this city's Lira de Guarany, the most important of the region. He was already a composer of innumerable pieces of several genres, writing in this occasion the dobrado "Pessoa de Barros," dedicated to his protector. In 1901 he moved to the city of Rio de Janeiro, hitch-hiking in a train baggage wagon, having only his wooden flute and a ten-tostões bill. Always struggling between his ideals and hunger, he worked as typographer and barber and simultaneously studied at night at the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios and at the Instituto Nacional de Música, today the well-known Escola de Música da UFRJ, where he improved his flute playing with professor Duque Estrada Meyer. He still would study French, harmony, and singing.
It has to be stressed the contrast between that young crossbred uneducated fellow and the snobbish setting of the I.N.M. In those times, Brazil reflected the Eurocentric values brought through its colonization, and it was important to have all French, Italian, and German erudite composers at the tip of the fingers, while was extremely distasteful to play Brazilian popular music. When Estrada was visited by that youngster who wanted to study there, he couldn't help laughing at his instrument: unpacking it from the used newspaper which served as a case, Patápio produced an wooden flute, with some holes and some keys. But, as he proceeded to play, gradually Estrada changed his mood, from amused to interested, then to mystified and finally to enthusiastic and affectionate. Patápio not only presented his own repertoire, but played at first-sight all music demanded by the professor. So, he invited Patápio to go to his home on a daily basis to get classes even before matriculated at the I.N.M.
In 1902, he presented himself in an I.N.M recital with personal enthusiastic press references. During that time he also took some leaves of absence to play in other cities with similar success. But that didn't prevent him from accumulating I.N.M.'s maximum awards, to the extent that he was most disliked by his colleagues. In one of these reunions, after a three-minute flute cadenza with prodigious modulations, he was enthusiastically embraced by the Baron of Rio Branco, who offered to present him anything he want as a gift. Facetious Patápio asked for a "gorgeous Chile hat exactly like Your Excellency's," and next day he was presented with one. The Institute's contest of December, 1903 had an additional premium which would yield a controversy. A lady of the society offered a silver-plated flute for the winner. Patápio was the winner. In the solemn event of the delivery, the flute was missing. The repercussion was intense, especially in the press, and the several humor tabloids focused in the fact that the winner of an élite competition was a poor upstate mulatto. The flute was finally found, but not the thief.
In 1901, Patápio signed a contract with the first label of Brazil, Casa Edison (Odeon), to beginning recording at once. He still would record for Casa Vieira Machado, Casa Bevilacqua, and Casa Ernesto Augusto Maltas. The full recorded portfolio of Patápio's compositions are "Amor Perdido," "Zinha," "Variações de Flauta," "Margarida," "Serenata de Amor," "Primeiro Amor," and "Sonho." In addition, he also recorded "Noturno no.1" and "Noturno no. 2" (F. Chopin), "Allegro" (Adolf Terschak), "Serenata" (Gaitano Braga), "Só Para Moer" (Viriato Figueira da Silva), "Serenata Oriental" (Ernesto Köhler), "Alvorada das Rosas" (Júlio Reis), and "Serenata" (Franz Schubert). All these pieces, with the exception of the two "Noturnos," were reissued in series on Monumentos da Música Popular Brasileira -- Os Pioneiros, V.1, EMI Odeon.
These recordings were extremely popular and sold very well, especially after Patápio's demise. With the progress of technology allowing for new recordings with less scratch noises, some label executives devised a dishonest stratagem to sell again all Patápio's records. They hired a flutist to transcribe exactly his solos and record them again. The first test was with the highly popular "Primeiro amor." Technical details, respiration technique, and overall personality didn't pass unperceived by Patápio's faithful audience, which covered with ridicule that immoral attempt. Patápio was even the inventor, at least in Brazil, of the flute technique called here "dugue-dugue," where highly proficient solo musicians harmonize and bassline their own melodies simultaneously.
Deciding to conquer São Paulo after having doing so in Rio, Patápio asked for a recommendation letter (probably written by Duque Estrada) and departed full of hopes. Looking for a illustrious professor of the Capital, he was dismissed under suspect excuses. He then had to endure the hard test of prejudice, until he finally got the opportunity of his first concert in São Paulo. Triumph was absolute. After his success of press critics and audience, that professor came to him offering his guidance for a second presentation, which was kindly refused. In April, 1905, Patápio was in São Paulo when Duque Estrada died. Patápio, as the best and the most awarded musician of I.N.M., was the natural choice to succeed him. It was a great surprise for all to see his rival Pedro de Assis take the seat after a few hours of Estrada's decease, due to Assis' personal relations with Minister Seabra.
Patápio went on in São Paulo, playing disputed concerts, giving flute classes, and writing music for operettas and plays such as the drama Mancha que limpa (February, 1906). Amongst his considerable deeds it may be mentioned that he was solicited by the Presidency of the Republic to give an especial presentation for President Afonso Pena at the Palácio do Catete, and so he did. But his dream, as was the dream of all musicians of that time, was to play in Europe. He aimed to gather the necessary funding for that enterprise by organizing a tour through South. At March 14, 1907, he traveled to that region, collecting enthusiastic press critics, beginning with concerts in Curitiba PR, from March 18 to March 30. His concerts were gala events in the majestic Guaíra theater, with the presence of the Military Music Band playing during the intervals and with Patápio being accompanied by the Orfeão Paranaense orchestra.
Patápio followed his itinerary towards Florianópolis, arriving there at April 12. With the press already writing excitedly about him, he chose the date of April 18 for his first presentation there. Anxiously waiting, the concert was successively postponed with the press announcing that Patápio had caught a strong influenza along with a high fever. He had, in fact, caught difteria. At two a.m. on April the 24th, 1907, he died.
But his genius wasn't to be forgotten. His "Oriental, opus 6" was recorded in 1913 by flutist Agenor Bens (Casa Edison). In 1928 saxophonist Lazário Teixeira recorded 1904's "Variações de flauta" under the name "Fantasia de concerto" (Parlophon). During Patápio's demise jubilee in 1957, virtuose flutist Altamiro Carrilho recorded the LP Revivendo Patápio (Copacabana). Carlos Poyares included "Margarida," "Primeiro Amor," and "Zinha" in his Som de Prata, Flauta de Lata LP (Marcus Pereira). In 1967, flutist Lenir Siqueira recorded the LP Relembrando Patápio (Odeon), accompanied by Alceu Bocchino (piano).