UFPr Arts Department Electronic Musicological Review Vol. 1.2/December 1996 Home
ON BAROQUE MUSIC AND BRAZIL
MaurÌcio Soares Dottori
This paper was first read in the Conference on Baroque Music, Birmingham, 1996.
This short article is somewhat counter-current. It became common among Brazilian musicologists to insist that eighteenth-century arts and architecture in Brazil were Baroque, while the music was enlightened, or was given some other similar stylistic label. This view is in great part due to lack of knowledge of the music that existed in Europe during the time span of the Viennese classics.
In a typical broad generalization, seventeenth century is so many times called Baroque while the following century is seen as the Age of the Enlightenment. Much of the recent discredit, which the History of Music based on stylistic periods has experienced, is exactly due to the many attempts by musicologists to find a unity of style in each era. As if Enlightenment was not an impossible term to define, except perhaps as a tendency towards critical enquiry and the application of reason already existent in the seventeenth century. In special in Portuguese historiography what is called Enlightenment is hardly distinguishable from the strives of the absolutist government for more power. By the same token, it was the eighteenth century which saw the final and strongest blossoming, in Southern Europe and in Catholic America, of the institutions created by the counter-reformation, that gradually and inevitably entered in competition with the absolutist governments. Furthermore the same middle classes -- united with the aristocracy, to be precise -- that were so fond of opera buffa, supported with enthusiasm many new and traditional forms of Baroque pietism. The model we follow here recognizes that although the single treats of one age may be contradictory, they constitute through their reciprocal influence a dynamic unity of a greater order.
The use of the term Baroque for Brazilian music is not least subject to controversies, not only due to its inheritance from the history of music in Portugal, but also to Brazil's own social particularities. Seventeenth-century Portuguese music is in general described as being Mannerist. Most of its historians tend to observe an incorporation of Baroque practices only during the last decades of the century. Nevertheless, during almost all the first half of eighteenth century, because of the character and taste of king D. Jo“o V, Portuguese music was kept in a style of its own, through an emulation of the most conservative aspects of the Roman musical style. As part of his project to make Lisbon more papal than Rome, the king hired the chapel-masters of two Papal chapels Saint Peter and Saint John Lateran, respectively Domenico Scarlatti and Giovanni Giorgi, to man his own chapels.
Italian Arcadian opera had a short blossom during the 20s and 30s, but after this period and during the king's long illness only church music, in a very old-fashioned polyphonic style, was allowed. When JosÈ I ascended to the throne, a so-called pre-classical style began to be established in 1752 by Davide Perez, at this time one of the Italian composers of greatest prestige. Opera enjoyed a period of huge and costly productions until the earthquake of 1755, that destroyed Lisbon. Then the importance of the musical production shifted back to the church. An enormous amount of music imbued either in penitential character or in Baroque pietism was thereafter composed. This pattern of alternating impulses for an Arcadian neo-classical and for a Baroque style may be seen well into the late part of the century.
The situation in Brazil was still more complex. All the changes in the crown policy for the music were doubtlessly felt. While in Europe after the Council of Trent the Church strategy of adapting secular songs as religious music (specially important in Jesuit missionary work but similar in many orders) included opera and folk songs, in Brazil during the Seventeenth century this work of putting religious text to easily recognizable musical language, included of course no opera -- as it was completely unknown -- but Iberian popular songs, and Amerindian melodies.
With the development of the first cities in the Colony, there were new patterns of music production specially from the 1650's on. From the few samples conserved in Brazilian archives, until about 1750 with some exceptions the style was rather simple. Mainly faburden-styled homophonic choirs (or poly-choirs) singing unaccompanied, or eventually with continuo basses provided by harps, small organs, clavichords, guitars and the odd violin. This again reflected the contemporary Portuguese practice. It was soon after mid-century, following Portuguese new customs and the changes of orientation for the church music coming from Rome, that the orchestra entered Brazilian churches. Even so with the exception at first of some occasions like Holy Week, when the maintenance of older practices resulted in the conservation of a small repertory of unaccompanied music in the archives.
In Brazil however, the Church (that in Portugal was so much linked to the king) was never strongly established as it was for example in Spanish America. Paradoxically seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Brazilian music was first of all church music. Most of the work that was done by the Crown or by the Church authorities elsewhere, was done in Brazil by the Confraternities or Irmandades. These were voluntary associations with simultaneous religious and social purposes. They built churches, paid their priests, maintained hospitals for the elder and the sick, cared about burials and masses for the dead brethren. Since there were separate Confraternities for the rich and for the poor; for the black, for the white and the for racially mixed (pardos) they all competed with each other for the most impressive celebration of their feast days -- specially their patron saint's day -- and, conveniently for a Baroque society, of Lent and Holy Week. The focus of the religion was on these manifestations with their great festivities, reworks (when appropriate) and always music.
The competitiveness of the Irmandades was fundamental to update the musical style at every change in taste in Portugal and in Catholic Europe. But other circumstances were also important and particular to Brazil:
a) Since 1679, by a royal decree, the Irmandades, of Southern Brazil at least, were no longer submitted, when contracting their music, to any privilege of chapel masters. A system of public bids developed in which musicians offered, for a certain amount of money, to compose and present the music with determined orchestra and singers during one year or, sometimes, at just one event.
b) Enlightenment ideas permeated eighteenth-century Brazilian colonial society. It is usual to link the loose concept of Enlightenment with that (not much tighter) of Gallant. In the case of Brazil, at least, it must be otherwise. The country's first opera theatre was built in Salvador on 1728, and until 1760, Vila Rica, Sabar·, BelÈm, Rio de Janeiro, Arraial do Tijuco had all built their opera theatres, called Casas da ²pera. When studying this subject we soon come to the disturbing point of any historiographical research: the materials we access from the past have already been selected. Firstly the Portuguese absolutist ban on the print in Brazil, allowed us no libretto of these operas. Secondly, since the musical archives of the colony were transmitted to us by corporations of musicians linked to Confraternities and not interested in conserving scores of entertainment music that changes in taste had made useless, there are no surviving opera scores, and just one of an encomiastic cantata. Furthermore it seems to us now that the main destination of the many Casas da ²pera was not the opera as today we understand it; specially was not the eighteenth-century opera seria, Baroque, wonderful and aristocratic. First of all hybrid productions: from the few adaptations of opere serie to the encomiastic cantatas, from the recited theatre with musical numbers (sometimes with Metastasian texts) to picaresque operas.
These theatres were built in the spirit of continuous emulation in which the small gallant strata of the colonial society used to live, and existed for their entertaining and auto-justification. They hardly can be considered the principal spaces where this group, mostly belonging to the colonial administration, found itself represented. The principal space of representation was the church; so it was in church music, that enlightenment ideals could be influential.
c) In a country based on slave labour, most musicians -- all composers -- were free black men, far removed from the gallant strata. Their contact with Enlightenment ideas, if any, might have been otherwise. As we said most music was commissioned by the Confraternities, that (if seen collectively) amalgamated all the colonial society. In them the social entity was not discernible from the group that regulated the artistic production, or even from the creative group itself: very frequently musician brothers paid their obligations to the confraternity with their art. It is a well known sociological fact that any intermediate social bodies -- as the confraternities or in modern capitalist world the syndicates --, work reducing the pressure from the powerful. Thus the Irmandades opposed the Absolutism, if not in the political certainly in the social eld. A Brazilian scholar, Gomes Machado, attributed the refusal of the displays of virtuoso skills in most eighteenth-century Brazilian arts to this removal from the aesthetics of the absolutism.
A last remark about musical models. It is important to realize that in the Rhetoric mentality that was common to all Western culture until the end of Eighteenth century, models were not only appropriated as didactic material but also as a way of judging the convenience (the decorum, they would have said) of newly composed pieces. The imported music played in Brazil was almost entirely of Neapolitan origin, composed by Davide Perez, by some of his Portuguese pupils and by NiccolÚ Jommelli. This expression of taste was by no means accidental: the Neapolitan conservatories first of all produced composers able to write music for the institutions that commissioned most of the music in this city, the Confraternity. An easy example is Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. The most fundamental outcome of art being funded neither by the Church as institution nor directly by the Courts, was the possibility of a church music that, being less influenced by the external aspects of the religion, could concentrate into a deeper, interior piety. This new church music, corresponding to new values and to a Baroque sensibility, was part of the movement of the Catholicism towards including and educating the masses, that Jean Delumeau described as 'christianization'(1).
The diffusion of this style was manifold. Through opera, of course, everywhere and specially to the North. Through the musical needs of the new devotions, like the Stations of the Cross, the Seven Last Words or the Holy Heart of Jesus, in Italy (where church music and opera were rather intermingled) and to Spain, Portugal, and Brazil (where church music was far more important then opera). Another factor for its diffusion that is worth mentioning, as it was very important in Brazil and elsewhere, but will be left undiscussed here as it would take us too far, was the appraisal of this music and campaigning by the anti-absolutist faction of the French enlightenment philosophers, in special by Rousseau.
Even later in the century, when the musical material seen outside its context doesn't seem completely Baroque anymore, the survival in Brazil of this pre-capitalist form of socialization, that were the confraternities, made possible a music that was continually impregnated by a Baroque sensibility, attached to a popular religion which emphasized the ritual to the excesses of ostentation. It was only with the transference of the Capital of Portugal to Rio de Janeiro that the artistic needs of the society prompted a new stylistic answer.
(1) DELUMEAU, Jean. Le Catholicisme entre Luther et Voltaire, 1971. (back)
MaurÌcio Soares Dottori, composer and musicologist, is professor at the School of Music and Fine Artes of Paran·, Curitiba, Brazil and postgraduate student at the University of Wales, Cardiff College. (Back)
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