Gonzaga was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1847. Her adventurous spirit and diverse ethnic background shaped Gonzaga into a pioneering composer, conductor, performer, teacher and writer. She had a deep understanding of the expansiveness of Brazilian music, and a familiarity with its many forms and native influences. Gonzaga intuitively grasped the ways that different cultures and classes within Brazilian society embraced sub-genres of Brazilian music. She brought all of these elements together in her own compositions.