More than ninety versions of this song have been recorded. Almost half have reached a sort of cult following. This is Tom Jobim's original, handwritten score for the song which was my second introduction to Brazilian music and still my favorite.
A note: Jobim wrote both the English and Portuguese lyrics. When writing the English lyrics, Jobim endeavoured to avoid words with Latin roots, which resulted in the English version having more verses than the Portuguese. Another way in which the English lyrics differ from the Portuguese is that the English version treats March from the perspective of an observer in the northern hemisphere. In this context, the waters are the "waters of defrost" in contrast to the rains referred to in the original Portuguese, marking the end of summer and the beginning of the colder season in the southern hemisphere.
The inspiration for "Águas de Março" comes from Rio de Janeiro's rainiest month. March is typically marked by sudden storms with heavy rains and strong winds that cause flooding in many places around the city. The lyrics and the music have a constant downward progression much like the water torrent from those rains flowing in the gutters, which typically would carry sticks, stones, bits of glass, and almost everything and anything. The orchestration creates the illusion of the constant descending of notes much like Shepard tones.
A Shepard tone, named after Roger Shepard, is a sound consisting of a superposition of sine waves separated by octaves. When played with the base pitch of the tone moving upwards or downwards, it is referred to as the Shepard scale. This creates the auditory illusion of a tone that continually ascends or descends in pitch, yet which ultimately seems to get no higher or lower.
Songwriter Stephin Merritt (oh, my heart beats) makes use of a Shepard scale in his composition "A Man of a Million Faces," written for NPR Music's Project Song.
The foot, the ground, the flesh and the bone,
The beat of the road, a sling-shot stone,
A truckload of bricks in the soft morning light,
The shot of a gun in the dead of the night.
A mile, a must, a thrust, a bump,
It's a girl, it's a rhyme, it's a cold, it's the mumps.
The plan of the house, the body in bed,
And the car that got stuck, it's the mud, it's the mud.
Composer-guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves relates that Jobim told him that writing in this kind of stream of consciousness was his version of therapy and saved him thousands in psychoanalysis bills.