music in the landscape

Jackson Pollock Untitled c. 1943–46


“Composition by images” as a method in Villa Lobos and Chico Buarque de Hollanda

That the composer works with graphic forms, musical writing, symbolizing sound matter is something that everyone knows. That there is perhaps a deeper or more decisive relationship between graphic representation, the visible form and the material represented in musical creation is a less obvious question and, therefore, less reflected on, or vice versa.

It is known that the landscape of Rio de Janeiro inspired Villa Lobos: the graphic forms of the line of mountains in Guanabara Bay served the composer as a starting point for the melodic and rhythmic design in his Symphony n. 6, explicitly called “About the Line of the Mountains of Brazil”.

The “composition by images” as a method in Villa Lobos starts from the vision of the landscape and its linear rhythms, the interweaving of visual cadences, textures, tonalities and colors, for music as a kind of “explicitation” of the sound universe that lies in the background of things and beings, the sound form as purified reverberation of the rhythms of reality, thus enabling the translation and transfiguration of the pulsar of things into the internal rhythms of subjectivity.

An essentially romantic and aesthetic conception of a “universal musical soul” and “pictorial” music? In Villa Lobos, the musical “recreation” of the landscape is, at the same time, something “more” and something “less” than simple aesthetic “romanticism”.

To the extent that romanticism, properly considered, that is, considered in its proper and broad sense, as Hegel advanced, is the deep soil of modernity in the arts, the “romantic dimension”, that is, the form of subjectivity or tension between subjectivity and form, is present in every genuinely modern work of art.

To the extent that the method and the conscious and explicit construction, or what one wants as such, define artistic modernity, in Villa Lobos the graphic procedure and the visuality and materiality of the graphic sign as the starting point of musical creation, the thought by visual images, the “spatialization” of music, the juxtaposition between heterogeneous procedures and materials, forms and materials of different nature, goes beyond the mere “romantic feeling” (the “pure spontaneity” and emotional receptivity) and in its own way seeks the estrangement, defamiliarization as a condition and method, masterfully described and theorized by Russian formalists at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, on the basis of the processes of rupture of genres, forms and the work of art itself, which marks the passage between the pre and proto-modern artistic eras in the XNUMXth century. Late XNUMXth century, and the development of modern art as such.

Marc Ferrez (1843 — 1923) Morro Dois Irmãos seen from Arpoador, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, c.1895
Hector Villa Lobos (1887-1959)

In the sense of disparate registers that combine into new and changing units, which make explicit their forms of construction as an emerging process and as the “restlessness” of the work, as a “provisional” synthesis always surpassing itself in an openness to the other (another time, another space, another possible way of being, etc.), heterogeneity and alterity that produce, in this way, the identity of the work and therefore of the subject that constitutes it and is constituted by it, in this sense that the “musical landscape” in Villa Lobos it is a modern work, that is, aware of its materials and procedures, aware of its limits: a limit-work – that which lives consciously in the interval between two times and two materials, in the hiatus of the passage that is always to be remade, in the meanwhile, between the past and the future, between what was and what will be. Artistic synthesis translates the human experience of time as a synthesis: as presence and becoming.

Sheet music – design by Villa Lobos
Heitor Villa Lobos, 1944

A mountain in Rio de Janeiro, the “Dois Irmãos” hill, inspired, in what we could call the “imaginative and creative lineage of Villa Lobos”, the homonymous song by Chico Buarque de Holanda on the 1980 album “Chico Buarque”.

Dois Irmãos, when the dawn is high
And at your feet the instruments will lean
I learned to respect your plumb
And distrust your silence

The composer-poet contemplates the mountain, day after day, or more properly, night after night, when the day's work ceases and glimpses, discovers, in the majesty and stillness of the mountain, in its being-there, something like “another place” and “another face”: in its materiality, in the solidity of the rock and in its contours, a rhythm, a pulsation, like a sound vibration, announces itself, reveals itself.

I think I hear the throbbing through
Of what was and what will be in another existence
It is as if the swollen rock
It was a concentration of times

The dilated rock, split in half, reveals the emptiness at its core, its “other face”, the non-being, the nothingness that structures it and defines it “from the inside”, the reverse and the reverse, which, like “ emptiness”, as an interval, as silence, the silence of rock, is the first condition for the emergence of musicality as a unity of sound and silence, of movement and rest, tension and relaxation, just as the figure is a unity of light and shadow.

Marcelo Guimarães Lima – Morro Dois Irmãos, pencil on paper, 21,5×28 cm, 2020

The dilated rock bears within itself the marks of the time of its formation: it is a portrait of the forces and processes that constituted it, a portrait of its past time, of its transformations, as every form is: a (provisional) synthesis, a (momentary) balance of the forces that made it, make it and will unmake and remake it, both materially and ideally, in the future.

It's like the rhythm of nothingness
Were, yes, all the rhythms inside
Or else, like a stopped song
On a moving mountain

Exemplary in this sense, the mountain reveals to the musician-poet the synthesis of times: times lived and to come, imagined times, musical and verbal times, times of words, cadences, melodies possible in and through silence. Likewise, through graphic rhythms, the times of form and counter-form, intervals, contrasts between solids and empty spaces, whose junction on surfaces defines the image.

The mountain alive, pulsating and pregnant with time, the mountain in movement keeps and reveals, as in a portrait, the music that, made image, contour and landscape, can be contemplated: the still music, the music made figure, in the identity rhythms and visual and sound lines.

Melody is line, contour, harmony is figure, music is at the same time flow and structure – graphic structure on the page, as in Villa Lobos, translating the landscape and structure of the lived experience of flowing, breathing, body energy in motion and its active cycles of distancing and dynamic return to balance: the translation, into a formalized internal drive, of the experience of one's own body and the other's body in space and time.

Something from João Cabral de Mello Neto's “poetics of thought” or “poetics of reflection” echoes in Chico Buarque's verses and in the themes of temporality, matter, nothingness, being. And it also reminds us of aspects of Clarice Lispector's “theoretical” writing.

The sonic and imaginative matter of the author from Rio de Janeiro, however, uniting music and words, constitute a sensorial and aesthetic universe of its own, specific to the song: at the same time related to and distinct from (and, in a certain sense, incommensurable in relation to) the universe of poetry as specifically literary art.

The melody and harmonization, with memories of Debussy according to the close and specialized observation of Edu Lobo, suggest recurrence and cyclical variations as a continuous explanation of the poetic themes in each of the stanzas, unified in the image of the mountain.

The circle is closed: the music embodied in the mountain makes the composer see the source of his songs. The mountain is an image of a time outside of time, a time outside itself, as creation itself is a decentering of language and subjective experience. Creation inverts the common sense of understanding the poetic subject: the landscape contemplates the artist.

Chico Buarque on stage

*Marcelo Guimaraes Lima is an artist, researcher, writer and teacher.

This publication is a partially modified version of a text originally published on the former blog Malazartes in 2012.

copyright © Marcelo Guimarães Lima, 2020, original text and drawings

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