Heitor Villa-Lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro. His father, Raul, was a civil servant, an educated man of Spanish extraction, a librarian, and an amateur astronomer and musician. In Villa-Lobos's early childhood, Brazil underwent a period of social revolution and modernisation, abolishing slavery in 1888 and overthrowing the Empire of Brazil in 1889. The changes in Brazil were reflected in its musical life: previously European music had been the dominant influence, and the courses at the Conservatório de Música were grounded in traditional counterpoint and harmony. Villa-Lobos underwent very little of this formal training. After a few abortive harmony lessons, he learnt music by illicit observation from the top of the stairs of the regular musical evenings at his house arranged by his father. He learned to play cello, guitar and clarinet. When his father died suddenly in 1899 he earned a living for his family by playing in cinema and theatre orchestras in Rio.