ox on the roof



Considerations on four books that broaden our understanding of modernism

The incongruity of the conjunction between ox and roof enchanted the French, who saw it as proof that the Brazilian people were surrealists by nature. It was even, surprisingly, reflected in the name of a very famous cabaret in Paris, Le Boeuf sur le Toit, which prevailed within artistic bohemia, as a meeting point for the avant-garde. And all because the composer Darius Milhaud, as we will see below, was delighted with the title of a Brazilian song, thus naming one of his suites.

The incongruous conjunction was a principle that the French Surrealists waved as a flag, based on Lautréamont's famous phrase: “Beautiful as the fortuitous encounter, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella”. Salvador Dalí is the author of a canvas in which a sewing machine takes center stage, while open umbrellas flutter around.

For this reason, they appropriated the phrase and gave it different uses, as shown in two books by Manuel Aranha Corrêa do Lago (org.): The ox on the roof – Darius Milhaud and Brazilian music in French modernism e Another French mission (1917-1918) – Paul Claudel and Darius Milhaud in Brazil.

Everything originates from the conjunction, this happy and not incongruous one, of the presence of two artists in the conduct of France's foreign affairs in Brazil: a poet as ambassador, Paul Claudel, and a composer, Darius Milhaud, a future member of the Groupe des Six, as your attache.

Darius Milhaud's piece is a collage of the scores of 20 other pieces: mostly Brazilian popular songs, but with two insertions of classical music. The organizer carried out the survey and provides the list: there are Ernesto Nazareth and Marcelo Tupinambá, whom the composer greatly admired. Sewing the 20 pieces together there is a musical theme by Darius Milhaud, who called the set “rondo”.

One of the 20 songs is “tango” The ox on the roof, by Zé Boiadeiro, pseudonym of José Monteiro, success of the 1918 carnival. Apparently, it had no lyrics, so it is not possible to deduce where the title came from: from the composer's head, from folklore, from an old nursery rhyme ?

The cover of the original score shows an ox, dressed in a plaid suit, sitting on the roof of a house, examining another score that it holds in its front paws with a very serious air. As for the indication of “tango”, nothing to be surprised. Of course it wasn't tango, but at the time, just before samba made its sensational breakthrough as the hegemonic genre of Brazilian music and an icon of national identity, any song was called tango. Even the great Ernesto Nazareth composed many of them, because he just didn't want to be called “maxixe”, due to the stigma that signaled this black dance.

The author of these two books published yet another on the Círculo Veloso-Guerra in Rio de Janeiro, in whose hall belle époque Avant-garde music was already being made before the Week of 22. Not only Debussy and Ravel were played there (astonishingly), but also Stravinski transcribed for piano.

By approximation with the three beautiful volumes, Carlos Augusto Calil's work on Mário de Andrade in the Department of Culture comes to the fore. Remarkable iconography, important texts, photos and documents, in addition to the organizer's introductory study. Carlos Augusto Calil had already accustomed us to books with a sumptuous, neat edition, such as those in which he republished and studied another modernist, Paulo Prado, author of portrait of Brazil quality Paulista. He also republished Alexandre Eulálio's book on Blaise Cendrars in Brazil. In all of them we find high editorial quality, beauty, in-depth iconographic research. Traits that, luckily, we find again in this one that bears the appropriate title of I'm a culture department. They are all publishing models, including the opulence of the material presentation, which Carlos Augusto Calil does not give up.

With these very rich revised and enlarged re-editions of our classics of modernism, Carlos Augusto Calil has already joined the pantheon of unavoidable authors in the study of this phase of our literature and arts. They are unbeatable in research. But also in good editorial taste.

All these books expand our understanding of modernism extraordinarily.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reading and rereading (Sesc\Ouro over Blue).


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