Aesthetics and politics in the last Mário de Andrade

Image: Soledad Seville


Preface to the recently released book by Philippe Curimbaba Freitas

Em Aesthetics and politics in the last Mário de Andrade: a study on the opera Café, Philippe Curimbaba Freitas, a researcher in the area of ​​music by training, focuses his attention on the analysis of the compositional processes of opera, and carries out a detailed discussion of the aspect of engagement, its settings and formal implications.

Engagement is an axis of recurrent concerns in Mário de Andrade's work, but mapping and examining it is a laborious task, as it contains elements that are not always harmonious with each other. In his work Philippe Curimbaba Freitas seeks to investigate the origins of the concept of engagement in the work of Mário de Andrade, pointing them out in There's a drop of blood in every poem, from 1917, and tracing its subsequent occurrences in two works from the author's final phase: the introduction to the Brazilian edition of Shostacovich, by Victor Seroff, and the unfinished The banquet.

Philippe Curimbaba Freitas highlights the fact that Mário de Andrade valued a type of work of art – public relationship based not only on content, but also on stimuli presented by the work in the field of moral behavior. Mário de Andrade would have found these elements both in Shostacovich's music and in the political songs he based on his essays on the subject. This would have become a compositional principle applied by him in the opera's libretto. Café, of 1942.

In the 1940s, in a context marked by the Estado Novo and the Second World War, Mário de Andrade began to look critically at works characterized by an absentee sense of art, starting to feel an urgency to create engaged works.

As Philippe Curimbaba Freitas observes, Café, written to be set to music by Francisco Mignone, is, from its conception, a work that exalts the socialist revolution by resorting to the popular repertoire of Brazilian dramatic dances.

as in The banquet, there is an indisputably political commitment in the social conflicts presented in the opera, associated by Philippe Curimbaba Freitas with Mário's repudiation of the conservatism of the Vargas era and the assimilation perpetrated by the Estado Novo of modernist nationalism. Mário would have glimpsed in the opera the possibility of bringing to the public's awareness notions such as the existence of labor exploitation, class struggle and the possibility of a revolutionary articulation.

A moralizing function would thus be configured in his text, which was one of Mário de Andrade's central concerns in his search for a new role for art within this context of civilizational crisis, previously discussed in Macunaima. Mário de Andrade would only have fulfilled the duty of an artist that he believed he had before his time when he created the opera and guided it by these compositional characteristics linked to the desired commitment.

the opera Café is, as evidenced by the work of Philippe Curimbaba Freitas, one of the main links in Mário de Andrade's reflection with the sense of engagement in art. Although the concept of sacrifice associated with it is also necessarily present, engagement constitutes a kind of center of gravity of the work, and responds to the main axis of the artistic and political impulse present in it.

The subject “coffee” played a fundamental role not only as the economic basis of society, but also as the mainstay of a collective way of life at the time. By focusing on the use of concepts such as drama and epic, sacrifice and demagogy to approach it, the study carried out here does so in order to analyze the determining processes of writing. It is important to emphasize that the theoretical assumption that guides it is the understanding of form as an element that carries a greater content than that to which its sensitive materiality refers, and that the analytical attention mobilized in it turns not to the examination of the relationship between the work and its contextual external conditions, but for the way in which the internal dynamics and the solutions put into practice by the writer were influenced by the intended relationship with his audience.

From the point of view of its compositional texture, Café it is a hybrid and multifaceted work, which mobilizes heterogeneous elements and techniques. For Philippe Curimbaba Freitas, it is not only hybrid, but paradoxical, as it is composed of assumptions that apparently conflict with each other. Even so, in the light of the meticulous analysis carried out by him in his study, the predominance of a dramatic coherence is observed in it, since the parts that constitute it present connections with the whole or are justified by it, which gives it unity and coherence.

Both dramatic elements associated with the conflictual aspect and epic elements associated with choirs and the juxtaposition of frames are widely used. The compositional hybridity does not ensure the predominance of the dramatic form, but neither does it completely erase its residues. There is a primacy of the plastic aspect in the use of living pictures (tableaux vivants), pointing to the non-dramatic causality between the scenes in their succession, and there is also a formal anti-dramatic regime in the lines of scenic and visual conception, supported by lyricism and prophetic symbolism.

The use of epic resources does not refer, as would happen in Bertold Brecht, to processes and social relations. The choir, for example, acts as a collective entity from which worldviews and life perspectives linked to the popular classes and their representation are placed, but its use does not prevent the representation from occurring at other times and from other perspectives. of the ruling classes.

By examining the occurrence of both bourgeois and anti-bourgeois patterns in Café, Philippe makes analytical observations that indicate that this coexistence does not constitute a contradiction, but that it points to the unity that is configured despite the heterogeneity.

An important passage of his analysis in this regard brings into focus the divergence of understanding verified between Mário de Andrade and Sérgio Milliet regarding the public's difficulty in understanding contemporary works in the field of painting. For Sérgio Milliet, the difficulty resulted from the fact that there was a historical transition from technique linked to an aristocratic artistic standard to technique linked to a bourgeois artistic standard.

For Mário de Andrade, however, the difficulty was caused not by the change in technique, but by the change in the subject itself, which had become bourgeois, generating the need for a new perspective of reading and reception.

Another equally important analysis reflection concerns the parallel between Walter Benjamin's formulations on the effects of the reproducibility of the work of art, and the conception of Mário de Andrade, who saw in the technical reproducibility in music an element that would not only influence the processes of its reception, but would bring with it the possibility of restoring a ethos artistic value lost with the development of Christian individualism and the organization of societies based on a democratic principle.

the study of opera Café by Philippe Curimbaba Freitas paves the way for future connections of study and analysis in multiple directions and in different artistic terrains, and invites its readers to follow with investigative interest the instigating creative path trodden by Mário de Andrade in his libretto.

Maria Silvia Betti is a professor of English literature at USP.


Philippe Curimbaba Freitas. Aesthetics and politics in the last Mário de Andrade: a study on the opera Café. São Paulo, 2023, 288 pages (

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