Music in Brazilian Literature

Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VII, 1913.


Considerations on the fundamental work of José Ramos Tinhorão, the recently deceased historian

Far from being an essay or an academic article, this article is a personal remembrance. That said, let's start by situating (I always thought “contextualizing” a bit pedantic) time and place.

São Paulo, the 1990s. I was working at a TV station, and I was scheduled to direct an interview with the famous and feared music critic José Ramos Tinhorão. I say drive, because our reporter was weak, and she needed support. He didn't have the stature, experience or expertise to interview a Tinhorão. Out of prudence, I went there, screenwriter and assistant director, with her and the team. Between you and me, I wasn't one of those things either. I knew who the guy was, and that was enough for me to be chosen as “report director”.

Tinhorão had just released a very interesting book (with due respect to Mario de Andrade), where he mapped the Popular Music in Brazilian Romance (Book Workshop, 1992). The first volume analyzed the literary production of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries.

I gave some tips to the host of the program, the interview was reasonable. It was difficult to find a suitable place for recording, since the apartment on Rua Maria Antônia, in São Paulo, was so full of books that to go to the bathroom you had to walk sideways. The walls of the corridors were lined with shelves crammed with centuries-old alphabets, as well as hundreds of high-revving discs.

After half an hour of recorded interview, I dismissed the station's team and van. We had more than enough for a morning variety show, but I decided to stay. I was already a fan of his classic essay The Sounds That Come From The Streets, where he researched the often anonymous cries, serenades and cries that were the soundtrack of urban streets before radio and television. I, a student, performed a masterstroke: I opened my backpack and asked for an autograph on the volume, published by “Edições Tinhorão”. I struck up a conversation, declared myself a lover of Brazilian popular music, hummed a Nelson Cavaquinho samba, and asked where to have lunch nearby.

Well, he went to the bar with me, we shared a little chicken (it was a Thursday. The “culture” interview on the show was always aired on Friday). Tinhorão commented that there was a movement by the residents of the building to expel him, because the weight of the books and discs would be compromising the structures of the building. I spoke of my love for crying, he recommended reading Animal,[1] that I didn't know. I remember that after one (s) beer (s) I did a provocation.

– It is not possible to read the entire Brazilian literary production, master! Certainly there are lesser known works, which were not included in the research…

It wouldn't be a normal task for a human, of course. But Tinhorão was superhuman. On the way back to the apartment, which he had turned into a real squeeze, he took me to a room and pointed to a cluttered wall:

– Here are all the Brazilian novels published since 1843, starting with The Fisherman's Son, by Teixeira e Souza. Open any one, and see if it doesn't have any marks and annotations!

I didn't even try. From all the volumes, small pieces of page markers stood out. There was not only fiction, but also the critical work. I believe it was the first time I came across the seven volumes of History of Brazilian Intelligence, by Wilson Martins. Or the books by José Veríssimo and Sílvio Romero.

It had confirmed what he suspected: the guy was the most obsessive and meticulous researcher of popular music in this country. When he started the ambitious project of reading all Brazilian novels, he already had several literary essays in his head: the sounds that come from the streets, popular music, the origin of fado, polkas and marchinhas, lundus and samba matrices.

In addition to carrying out meticulous research in all existing media (his 78 rpm disco was phenomenal!), a journalist that he was, he intuited that the fictional universe could bring sentimental, memorialistic, even documentary references, which the daily press did not record. From this insightful reading, several fundamental works for Brazilian and Portuguese culture emerged. All of this became an article, essay and book.

During this unforgettable day, I didn't dare raise the bossa nova or tropicalia theme. He knew the historian's dislike of modern MPB. I only remember a small reference to Gilberto Gil, who played on the bar's loudspeaker, which he pointed out as "very talented", but who should stop copying those foreign words, electric guitar, etc.

We said goodbye with the promise of a new meeting, which never happened. The collection is in the hands of the Moreira Salles Institute, after a dazzling epic, and the memory of the sarcastic and merciless critic with his contemporaries has already been duly scrutinized. It remains for us, who have had some contact with this fascinating character, to color a little his trajectory history, in this country where culture is so underrated.

the reading of Popular Music in Brazilian Romance it is an inexhaustible source of revelations. It points out inconsistencies, prejudices, erroneous descriptions, clueless idealizations. It also contains hits, intuitions and precious findings. A fundamental legacy for future generations, left by an Enlightenment-Marxist who never submitted to fads.

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.


[1] “Animal” is the pseudonym of Alexandre Gonçalves Pinto, postman and amateur musician (1870-1940). In 1936 he published the book O Choro – reminiscences of ancient chorões, a fundamental reference for the history of Brazilian popular music.

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