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This wonderful new recording casts a dazzling light on composers whose names are as obscure as their music is revelatory. Mozart from an unfettered South America?
I had meant, when I started, to pile on the agony a good deal; I felt it would be expected of me. In treating of the Great Unknown one has a free hand, and my few predecessors in this field had made great play with the Terrors of the Jungle. The alligators, the snakes, the man-eating fish, the lurking savages, those dreadful insects—all the paraphernalia of tropical mumbo jumbo lay ready to my hand. But when the time came I found I had not the face to make the most of them. So the reader must forgive me if my picture of Matto Grosso does not tally with his lurid preconceptions. (Peter Fleming: Brazilian Adventure, 1933)
I struggled through tropical storms and suffered the terrors of the unknown … Nevertheless, I found the girl from Ipanema, enjoyed the freshness of the caipirinha, and thrilled at the skills of Flamengo star Ronaldinho! I relished the austere beauty of a Gregorian mass in the lavishly gilded interior beauty of the monastery of São Bento in Rio, the throbbing energy of popular street music preparing for Carnival and the vibrant contemporary scene. I was tantalized by the prospect of Amerindian and Afro-Brazilian cultures, the unbelievable journey by sixteenth-century explorer Francisco de Orellana into the Amazon, the river of darkness, and the controversial and irreverent writings of seventeenth-century Baroque poet Gregório de Matos. Brazil is a massive country of huge contrasts. Its extraordinary cultural wealth is a treasure-house of staggering depth and sensational delights. So where to start? The excitement and anticipation of exploration is perhaps a reward in itself.
My personal quest for El Dorado took me to the colonial coastal fringe of Brazil where three important strands came clearly into focus: exquisitely beautiful colonial cities, new and inexplicably neglected music and composers, and friendly, passionate, expert musicians, musicologists and archivists. My three-year Brazilian adventure took me to five states, travelling over four thousand miles. My journey was from Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo, to Ouro Preto and Mariana, and finally to Salvador, Brazil’s first capital city. There is music here from each of these cities, and it dates from the late seventeenth century through to the early nineteenth century, with the arrival of the Portuguese monarchy fleeing Europe and the rampaging Napoleon Bonaparte.
The story of colonial music in Brazil is unusual and very different from that in Spanish Latin America. Although Portugal ‘happened on’ Brazil in 1500 very little music survives until the second half of the eighteenth century, from when we find a huge amount of high-quality material. This music has been researched for some time. Francisco Curt Lange was an early pioneer in the 1940s and ’50s; Régis Duprat completed his influential doctoral research on music in the colonial cathedral of São Paulo in 1966; and Cleofe Person de Mattos published a complete catalogue of the works of the major composer José Maurício Nunes Garcia in 1970 (there are 240 works in all!). The last two decades have seen a blossoming of further activity with new generations of distinguished scholars. I was privileged to meet many of them—Vitor Gabriel, Régis Duprat, Mary Angela Biason, José Eduardo Liboreiro, Paulo Castagna, Paulo Costa Lima and Pablo Sotuyo Blanco. Mauricio Dottori and Maria Alice Volpe also provided invaluable information and advice.
It may be helpful here to say something about the term Baroque. The word is of Portuguese origin—barroco—meaning a mis-shaped pearl. It was first used pejoratively in the eighteenth century to describe the music of Rameau! And it was not until the nineteenth century that historians used the term to describe a stylistic period roughly from 1600 to 1750. In Brazil there was a late flowering of Baroque music and architecture, especially in Minas Gerais (F C Lange coined the term Minas Baroque), where Baroque musical techniques—continuo, figured bass, structure, approach to text—matched architectural and artistic achievement and mixed it with a new classical language which was being eagerly imported from Europe. For some time the phrase Brazilian Baroque has been confusingly interchangeable with Brazilian colonial music.
I spent two visits to Brazil as ‘professor of coro barroco’ in the 32nd and 33rd Festival of Music in Curitiba, a world-class festival including popular, classical and early music. I was not sure what to expect and neither were they. But twenty-four young ‘aspiringly professional’ singers ‘appeared’ from several South American countries and we gave a very stylish performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria and extracts from Bach’s B minor Mass. The orchestra was made up of students led by the principal instrumental professors who were some of the world’s leading Baroque specialists from Argentina, Brazil, Italy, USA, Poland and the UK. I worked with the choir and soloists alongside Maria Cristina Kiehr, one of the great early-music sopranos from Argentina but now living in Basel. As well as Vivaldi and Bach we sang Monteverdi, Tallis, Gibbons, two African songs and some Brown and Freed! The response was remarkable. Rodolfo Richter, a native of Curitiba, was the inspirational artistic director of early music in this festival and it is with great pleasure that Ex Cathedra welcome him as the leader of our ‘Brazilian Early Music Ensemble’.
This recording is an introduction to early music from colonial Brazil. Two major works by significant composers—Missa pastoril para a noite de natal by José Maurício Nunes Garcia and Missa a 8 vozes e instrumentos by André da Silva Gomes—provide a backbone, with shorter works from a wide range of sources interspersed as appropriate. The programme is a tribute to the many musicians I met on my travels and to the army of musicologists who are seeking diligently and passionately to bring this music to the world’s attention. They believe it is important and has an urgent relevance if their country is to find its true spiritual and musical soul.
My Brazilian adventure began and ended in Rio de Janeiro, where magnificent prehistoric frigate birds silently fill the warm blue sky high above Ipanema beach which stretches out along the crashing breakers of the Atlantic ocean towards Sugar Loaf Mountain. Christ the Redeemer embraces the whole city and its visitors above the Tijuca rainforest and the biblically serene Lagoon. Captivating! It is very easy to fall in love with this city, this country.
At the National Library in Rio de Janeiro the first music I encountered was that of the great José Maurício Nunes Garcia, Father Maurício, a mixed-race priest who was born in Rio. His Missa pastoril para a noite de natal was originally written simply for choir and organ in 1808. In 1811 he rewrote the piece, now colourfully orchestrated for two violas, two cellos, two clarinets, two bassoons, two trumpets, two horns, timpani and organ. There are nine challenging solo parts, for three castrati, two falsettists, tenor and three basses. Individual names are written against each solo part in the full score. The hauntingly simple pastoral theme which opens the piece recurs throughout the work, and captures perfectly the sensation of a sunshine-filled Christmas and the gentle message of Christ’s birth. Our performing edition is by António Campos and published by Musica Brasilis. Rosana Lanzelotte, a Brazilian flautist based in Rio, put me into contact with this wonderful resource. In nearby downtown I was shown the spectacularly gilded church Nossa Senhora do Monte Carmo, the old cathedral which served as the Royal Chapel where this work was no doubt performed on Christmas Day over two hundred years ago.
In São Paulo I met the baritone Fábio Miguel and the distinguished choral conductor Vitor Gabriel, who discussed Umberto Eco and introduced me to the complete choral works of Heitor Villa-Lobos. On two occasions I met Régis Duprat, who is the sprightly octogenarian ‘father’ of Brazilian colonial music. In 1966 his doctoral thesis was entitled Music at the Mother Church and Cathedral of colonial São Paulo and included a transcription of Missa a 8 vozes e instrumentos, composed in 1785 by André da Silva Gomes, who was born in Lisbon but moved to Brazil when he was only twenty-two years old. Duprat still enthuses about this composer and about this piece in particular. He comments breathlessly:
The new chapel master, André da Silva Gomes, changed all previously established patterns of organization and religious musical composition at the cathedral. Music became an integral part in all of the principal religious festivities during the year. The golden period of musical composition in colonial São Paulo coincided with André da Silva Gomes and his activities at the cathedral. His brightness and highly artistic style, which represents the sui-generis qualities of his compositions, were heard at the most important services in the city. In this work we can distinguish a contrapuntal style (a fugue of eight voices in the Kyrie II and in the Cum Sancto Spiritu), a strength in the alternate entry of two choirs, an instrumental treatment not conceived as simple reinforcement, and a general harmonic richness. The bass follows the Baroque style which brings to the work a graceful and cantabile character. The presence of trumpets is of special value and gives to the piece a Baroque brilliance. The melodic quality is exuberant (Laudamus te, Qui tollis, Quoniam tu solus sanctus) and the counterpoint lends to the work a great deal of variety which is second only to the tonal diversity.
On my second visit to São Paulo I had the great pleasure of meeting Paulo Castagna, a professor at UNESP and one of the most highly regarded new generation of Brazilian musicologists. He gave me a truly inspiring guided tour of his city’s beautiful colonial heart. This recording begins with a piece from the earliest surviving Brazilian polyphony, discovered in 1984 and edited by Castagna. He writes: ‘This music from Mogi das Cruzes is really a copy made in this village [just outside São Paulo] around 1730, but the music dates from much earlier.’ Matais de incêndios is a rare Brazilian villancico in Portuguese and accompanied by guitar and percussion. It has been suggested that this work may be by the Portuguese composer António Marques Lésbio, who was a singer at the Chapel Royal in Lisbon in the seventeenth century and achieved widespread fame. A contemporary described him in 1688 as the ‘Apollo of our times’. Much of his music was sadly destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.
Some of the earliest colonial music, also edited by Paulo Castagna, is found in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, in the city of Recife, where Luís Álvares Pinto was active as a composer and teacher, writing several didactic works including the intriguingly titled Sight-reading without confusion! His charming Beata virgo and Oh! Pulchra es from Divertimentos harmônicos (‘Harmonic amusements’) are separated by a short two-part invention from Lições de solfejo.
I spent a week in Minas Gerais, in the picturesque mining town of Vila Rica (Rich Town) which eventually became Ouro Preto (Black Gold), in the delightful company of Mary Angela Biason, the archivist at the legendary Inconfidência Museum. We communicated in French. She showed me the wonderful Baroque churches, including Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Pilar, Igreja de Nosso Senhora do Rosário, where I first heard the wonderful music of João de Deus de Castro Lobo, and Igreja São Francisco de Assis, with its exquisitely painted ceiling and sculptures by Aleijadinho. I saw many manuscripts, catalogues and transcriptions by the crucially important F C Lange. I was particularly taken by the music of João de Deus de Castro Lobo and José Joaquim Emerico Lobo de Mesquita, who were well-loved musicians in the region. I travelled by bus the short distance through the beautiful hills and valleys of Minas Gerais to the town of Mariana and its famous Music Museum. I was generously shown more manuscripts and given performing materials and recordings by José Eduardo Liboreiro, the director of the museum, and Vitor Gomes, an enthusiastic researcher there.
Lobo de Mesquita was active throughout the gold-mining region and among his many titles was organist and choirmaster of the church Nossa Senhora do Pilar in Ouro Preto. The three prayers Padre nosso, Ave Maria and Gloria offer simple, ‘secret’, expressive devotion and certainly help explain his popularity. They were edited by André Guerra Cotta, who is currently a professor at the Fluminense Federal University.
The final piece in the jigsaw puzzle of Brazilian colonial music was Salvador in the state of Bahia. Here I met Paulo Costa Lima, professor at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) and a distinguished composer and broadcaster. He is a brilliant, serious man with a tremendous sense of humour. From 2003 until 2008 he held a political role as President of the Fundação Gregório de Matos, the cultural office of the city of Salvador. He invited me to his home for ‘tea’ (to sample Bahian delicacies!) and gave me a guided tour of colonial Salvador, effortlessly incorporating the stunning colonial architecture, the writings of Gregório de Matos, and the essence of Carnival. He also solicited a virtuosic performance from a berimbau-playing street musician.
I had also been eagerly awaiting a meeting with Pablo Sotuyo Blanco, another professor at UFBA and responsible for postgraduate studies. He has edited a considerable amount of music by Bahian colonial composers. We looked at manuscripts together in the university archive and decided on Ascendit Deus by Theodoro Cyro de Souza. Pablo writes:
Theodoro Cyro de Souza was a Portuguese composer and organ player, born in Caldas da Rainha in 1761. He was admitted as a pupil of the See Seminar (Seminário da Sé Patriarcal) in Lisbon when he was six years old. After his formative period (probably tutored by music masters such as Souza Carvalho, Leal Moreira and David Perez), he left Portugal in 1781 to become the Chapel Master at the See Cathedral in Salvador under the sponsorship of the King Dom Pedro, as was expected with this kind of job. His predecessor was one of the most outstanding Brazilian music theorists and Chapel Masters, Caetano de Melo de Jesus. Of his musical production, there are only twenty-one manuscripts located in countries such as Portugal, Brazil and Italy, all of them composed for voices and continuo. The work Ascendit Deus (completed with a final Alleluia section), described by the author as a Motet for five concerted voices for the Tuesday of Ascension, clearly shows the dominant music-writing in Luso-Brazilian religious repertoire where counterpoint, simple canonic and fugato passages (mostly for two of the five voices) form a clear and balanced counterpart with homophonic sections. The expressive technique of this composer was not completely known until recent researches.
There is much still to discover and explore—Amerindian and Afro-Brazilian music, contemporary music and reconstructing the music from the missing years. But for now there is plenty to do. As Ernani Aguiar of the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro says, ‘the excuse of lack of material is no longer valid’!
Jeffrey Skidmore © 2015