Ending song

Mona Hatoum


Introduction to the recently released book, a collection of texts by Mário de Andrade commented by Jorge Coli

From 1943 until his death in 1945, Mário de Andrade wrote a weekly column in morning leaf dedicated to music and entitled “Musical World”. The set of articles proved to be of primary importance, conveying the main reflections on music as, at that time, they were configured for the author.

“Musical world is made up of “loose” texts on different strictly musical issues. But it also incorporates, interspersed, some sequences conceived within autonomous projects, independent of other articles.

A thought without hierarchy

“Look, Guilherme: never write a chronicle for the newspaper, for the magazine. Always write thinking that it is a book.”

This excerpt was formulated by Mário de Andrade in a 1942 letter to Guilherme Figueiredo, who transcribed it in the lecture “O Villa-Lobos Que Eu Vi e Ouvi”. It not only gives the Music World its true importance. It also reveals how much Mário de Andrade's thinking takes place in an experience in which the nature of the means in which it is expressed does not establish a hierarchy.

This thought took place in a trajectory intertwined with immediate reactions, with very numerous but also irregular circumstantial readings, with concerns constantly revisited, much more than with concepts. It manifests itself in journalistic writing, in essays, in erudite and in-depth study and, sometimes, in the effort – unsuccessful, it must be said – to achieve a more abstract theoretical structure. The debate brought about by the “Esquerzo” footnote, which we reveal in all its elements, has as its backdrop the narrowness of a theoretical incapacity.

Emergence of nationalism

But you need to follow the trajectory a little. In the early days it was his training at the conservatory and then his work there as a teacher. The discourse on music begins with journalism: criticism of concerts and operas, since 1915. The conference “Debussy and Impressionism” appears in 1921, a far-reaching reflection, astonishing for its precocity. But the first decisive milestone is, in 1928, the Essay on Brazilian Music.

Manifesto-program, born at the same time as Macunaima, it represents a capital testimony to the definitively nationalist inflection taken by our modernity. How can we make our musicians’ compositions “truly” Brazilian? Mário de Andrade doesn’t want package tropicalism; wants the consolidation of a “spirit of race”, of an intersubjective, collective artistic unconscious. Brazilian sap, episteme of our creations, Volksgeist determinant of creation.

The works must be part of the beautiful national continuity, which historically emerged little by little, although without knowledge of itself. Let us observe, therefore, the double stance: one contemporary, which demands to be national; another historical, projecting into the past the national consciousness obtained in the present. This consciousness has a curious method.

International art forms are the product of perfectly mastered knowledge. Grafted into the still incipient and insufficient Brazilian environment, they become irregular, as full mastery of the processes has been lost. As, in any case, they end up being produced, it is necessary to take into account the flaws and palliatives of the processes in exile.

Then, consciousness finds the “tasty bad” in these peculiar defects. These are psychic, ethical and social symptoms of Brazilianness impatient to manifest itself, which the new nationalist consciousness discovers a posteriori.

Carlos Gomes, whose emblematic importance we will discover, is the object of an analysis that demonstrates how his “being” translates, despite itself, a difference: “The “Guarani”, almost 20 years prior to the “Slave” and much inferior to it as [national] characterization. However, Peri's rhythmic theme already brings a very expressive strangeness to the opera. They might object that strangeness does not imply raciality in all these rhythms and melodies... But if Carlos Gomes didn't take it from the Italian music in which he was fully trained, where did he get it from himself? And this “self”, when it wasn’t managed by the Italianity of its culture, who knows if it was managed by Conchinchina!”

This step is in the Music History Compendium.The book would be refounded in 1942 in Little History of Music, in which the part referring to Carlos Gomes was greatly reduced, certainly disproportionate to the rest. It shows very well how the substance of the collective imposes itself: apart from individual accidents, there has been, in the past, a national “quiddity”, emerging as it could between international disturbances present in the “being” of the artist.

Now, awareness of that historical process forces the contemporary creator to take it upon himself to reinforce it.

In this task, you must submit to him, even giving up your individual affirmation. Horror of genius – this sacrificial trait of Mário de Andrade's personality extends to all artists in the historical phase in which Brazilianness needs to be built. Individual titans were supposed to emerge after this work was done – now they would just disrupt it nationally and collectively with their individual oddities. That's why Gallet is more interesting than Villa-Lobos.

Naturally, this is a transitional period. In 1939, in the article “Social Evolution of Music in Brazil”, what was and what will be is outlined: “It is certain that this nationalist Phase will not yet be the last in the social evolution of our music. We are still going through a willful, consciously researching period. More researcher than creator. Today's Brazilian composer is a sacrifice, and this even increases the exciting dramatic value of the period we are going through. The composer, faced with the work to be created, is not yet a free being, he is not yet an “aesthetic” being, forgotten in his awareness of his duties and obligations. He has a task to carry out, a pre-determined destiny to fulfill, and he makes use of elements that lead him to fulfill his pragmatic purpose, obligatorily and not freely and spontaneously. No. If it seems indisputable to me that Brazilian music is going through a brilliant adolescence, one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful in America, if it is possible to verify that there is a Brazilian composer who currently ranks among the most important figures in contemporary universal music; If we are socially comforted by a healthy conscience, by the virility of thought that leads our main composers to this fruitful but sacrificial struggle for the nationalization of our music, it is no less certain that Brazilian music cannot indefinitely preserve itself in the period of pragmatism in which it finds itself. . If at first it was universal, it dissolved into religion; if he was internationalist for a time with the discovery of profanity, the development of technique and agricultural wealth; if it is now in the nationalist phase due to the acquisition of an awareness of itself: it will have to rise further to the phase that I will call Cultural, freely aesthetic, and always understanding that there can be no culture that does not reflect the deep realities of the land in which takes place. And then our music will no longer be nationalist, but simply national, in the sense that a giant like Monteverdi and a mollusk like Leoncavallo are national.”

Musical psychophysiology and semantics

The ties between the individual and the collective (the “social”) have so far involved the issue of nationalism. But there is another recurring concern in Mário de Andrade's writings about music. It is also linked to the artist’s “social being”. She will lead this being along the rough paths of political commitment.

How to perceive music in the relationship it maintains with the listener? What are their powers and how do they act? What is its extent, what is its nature? What is the “meaning” of the sounds, how do they mix with the word? How is the reaction of those exposed to it characterized? What is the “physical” part, what is the “cultural” part?

We are gravitating towards a core, never actually reached, but which could be called “aesthetics of perception”. It is part of an ancient and illustrious chain of musical thought, present since Antiquity, but, it is true, largely hidden by Hanslick's formalist approach until today. Mário de Andrade is inspired by Plutarch, but also by Combarieu and Riemann. The latter attempted a solid systematization of those issues; They maintained the ancient tradition in the face of the increasing victory of formalism, capable of perceiving music only as intrinsic and pure construction.

The interest directed by Mário de Andrade in the problems of musical semantics is not only derived from his readings. There is something deeper. The personal experiences he observed in himself, the ease with which analysis arises, supported by so many examples that perception has selected over the course of a life, reveal the thought that is enriched by reading theorists, but which, in some way, form, exists without them.

This approach also has a lot to do with the anthropologist. It is useless to remember this fundamental vocation in Mário de Andrade. One of the comments from Music World, ahead, will reveal which affinities are precisely possible between the “Ouverture” of Le raw et le cuit and the way of thinking pursued by Mário de Andrade. Way of thinking from which some of his most brilliant analyzes originated.

At the moment of the strongest nationalist concern – Macunaima, Essay on Brazilian Music –, the writing “Crítica do Gregoriano”, from 1926, today published in Music, Sweet Music, showed the analytical use of some of these principles. The nationalist program, however, was stronger.

This “aesthetics of perception”, or at least some aspects that in one way or another presuppose it, became more present from the 1930s onwards. The first impulse of the national project had already been given; he entered, so to speak, at cruising speed. However, another awareness emerged: that of social responsibility. In Mário de Andrade's way of thinking, the latter rests on issues linked to the relationship between music and listener.

The socio-psychological functions of music find their place of clearest expression in “Musical Therapy”, from 1937, the first part of the diptych ending in Dating with Medicine. There, music is defined, first of all, as the art par excellence of “dynamogenic and cenesthetic” principles. From this comes its collectivizing force.

In a handwritten note on his work copy of the Music History Compendium – note for which only one date is possible post who:

1928 – we find the outlines of these questions outlined: “Music, because of its extremely strong dynamic power over the body, managing to rhythmize a human group as no other art can, is of all the arts the most capable of socializing men, of merging them unanimously, in a single organism. This manifests itself mainly in primary civilizations where, so to speak, the body matters more than the free spiritual manifestation. The profound force of socialization, of group organization that music has, has therefore given it a very special significance among men of primary civilization. This is why it is very common among them to attribute a divine or supernatural origin to music.”

“Musical Therapy” will tell us that music has an irrevocable authority over the listener. Rhythm is a powerful organizer, from which it is impossible to escape: we are not capable of organizing a “corporeal” rhythm other than the one we are hearing. Enveloping, subduing, the rhythm is hypnotic. It nullifies rationality, conscience. That's why it's constant in magical ceremonies: it's the path of trance, of enchantment.

One of the primordial principles of music is this power to subjugate the spirit, eliminating rational capabilities. “Musical Therapy” narrates a ritual ceremony attended by its author: “I went to see the initial dances of the maracatu of Lião Coroado. The people, made up almost exclusively of black men and old black women, were already at the street door dancing the ceremonies of, I don't know what to say, worship of Calunga, the doll that was passed around in the hands of the dancers. On one side, a singer, accompanied by two choristers, was the connecting point for the numerous instruments, which formed a circle four meters in diameter, within which the dancers were. There were only percussion instruments, bass drums, gonguês, very violent ganzás, with such a powerful drumbeat that it was absolutely impossible for me to hear any sound from the singers. Extremely interested in my folkloric passions, I indiscreetly introduced myself into the circle, to see if I could spell out the lines of the melodies. But even with my ear almost to the singers' mouths, I couldn't hear anything over the rhythmic noise. I gave up on the melody and applied myself only to recording the rhythms of the different instruments which, in a very fixed binary, formed a polyrhythm of admirable richness. I was forgetting myself, in this work of writing, when I felt a painful discomfort, my breathing was quick, the blood was hitting my head like a hammer, and a dizziness was so strong that I faltered. I felt like I couldn't breathe, and I would fall fatally if I didn't rush out of that circle of hell. I fled far away, needing to reorganize my poor body as an indefatigable reader in its peaceful fragility. But the black people, the thin old black women, would stay there with their soft dances, they would stay there for hours, they would stay there all night, together with that noise, fewer and fewer readers, more and more corporeal.”

There is a compensation, however, for these powers of rhythm. If they dominate, if they reduce the being to passivity, they are completed by harmony and melody, which provoke an active response. Evidently, this response does not have a discursive, argumentative nature: we find ourselves in the domain of suggestions, emotions, sensations, intuitive, instinctive reactions, and vague determinations. From these points derive some of the most important analyzes by Mário de Andrade, and, in “Músicas Políticas”, by Music World, he creates the notion of “sound dynamism”, so as not to reduce dynamics to just rhythm. Music, therefore, through rhythm, “orders” the listener, makes him passive, but, through melody and harmony, creates an availability of the spirit that induces a response.

No, that's all. Mário de Andrade's thought ends up excluding the possibility of perceiving sound in a significant “purity”. Initially, because culture, in its history, is responsible for marking large semantic fields: vivacity or melancholy, despair, elation,

peace or solemnity. The footnote “Elegy” tells us: “what you will never be able to do is interpret in [Chopin's] 'Etude' as laughter what I called screams, nor the almost terrifying potentiality of the 'Seventh', as a description of the rose garden in Praça Floriano (p. 363)”.

In addition to these “semantic fields”, these moods, as Aaron Copland wrote in a passage highlighted by Mário de Andrade from the book What to Listen for in Music, there are cultural inflections, marks that cannot be erased, they are associated with sounds, brought by extra-musical information that end up becoming music… Biographies, confessions, titles, literary metaphors, programmatic texts, all of this is part of music, “ directs” these vast emotional horizons, whose starting point is poorly determined.

An even more organic association is the incorporation of words in sung works. If the rhythm “animalizes”, the word returns consciousness, contaminating the sound with its meaning. On the other hand, loaded with musical substance, it becomes more opaque, it dissolves its meaning a little in the musical incantations specific to music.

Mário de Andrade's analyzes of opera are fundamentally based on these principles. Wagner, Verdi, Carlos Gomes were widely explored and exemplarily analyzed by him. His 1936 study of the Fosca, by Carlos Gomes, is perhaps the one that best characterizes these processes.

The questions of sound semantics, we said, are linked to the oldest traditions of the West. But in the nineteenth century they became more neuralgic than ever. The desire for emotional expression, which caused the mixing of arts and genres, the indefinable but nameable feelings, then led them to their apogee – that is, from a historical point of view, perfectly true, and Mário de Andrade knows it. Baudelaire's metaphorical criticisms, Wagner's driving motifs, multiple symphonic poems and other hybrid forms link Mário de Andrade to the romantic tradition: these are not the only connecting features.

It is precisely “Musical Romanticism”, from 1941, which bluntly expresses: “[…] what essentially characterizes the “romantic” musical spirit is at the same time this pretension of achieving, through inarticulate sounds, the domain of conscious intelligence, that is, It is precisely the vain dominance that only manifests itself through articulated sounds, through words”.

To then confirm the mystery: “Music does not know and will never be able to know what its expressive limits are. Its enchanting dynamism and its associative and metaphorical power are so strong and so unpredictable that it, although it cannot be realized in defined judgments within our understanding, nevertheless vaporizes itself, spills into many corners of our consciousness and assumes, not the forms, but the ghosts and the deepest avatars of judgment”.

Accessible mysteries, however. If Mário de Andrade does not manufacture an aesthetics of perception, he manufactures very sharp and effective instruments to carry out perfect semantic analyzes of “Musical Romanticism” and several other texts, many of them from Music World.


A Little History of Music brings a particular inflection to these developments. Ancient Greece had established strict links between musical forms and “ethical” meanings. These forms were “collectivizing” and above all based on rhythm. They were experienced as capable of ennobling, sensualizing, weakening, fortifying: each mode had its own ethos.

Following Mário de Andrade, the story reveals that the collectivizing rhythm leaves the preponderance to be replaced by melody. It will not have the same “ethical” power as the “simple” times of Antiquity. But you can acquire other, modern ones, as the four texts entitled “Political Songs” will reveal.

Find one again ethos. No longer the perfectly crystallized Greeks, anchored in the anonymous cultural background. It will emerge from the political, social, conscious effort of the composer. Since Mozart, he had received a seductive but difficult legacy: the freedom to be an artist. Thus, art and music could become just free manifestations, they could degrade themselves to the service of the creator's individual vanity. This is the great debate about Mário de Andrade's latest texts.

The artist, the craftsman and politics

Mário de Andrade is always more concerned with the creator and less with the work. Everything happens as if the artist's reform directly led to the reform of art. The program is then to reform it.

In “The Artist and the Craftsman”, from 1938, published in The Four Arts Ball, there is a historical foreshortening of the artistic object. First, art was subjected to different uses (rituals, for example). Beauty was a collective principle, situated beyond the objects, which conformed to it or participated in it. Christianity brought a strong individualization, and beauty became the object of a search – and a personal discovery: this would be the case, especially, in the Renaissance. Little by little, the work becomes the expression of an “I” so increasingly stronger that it becomes, for the artist himself, more important than the work itself.

Avant-garde for avant-garde's sake, research for research's sake, all of this would be the consequences of a contemporary mistake. Crafts could teach the artist submission to the work. Building it should be, primarily, the objective of the “creator”.

“The Artist and the Craftsman” was written in 1938. It finds itself on the limits of a last period in Mário de Andrade's life, a period that was both tormented and strongly colored by political demands. Crafts will then acquire a double function. In addition to the first, moralizing the artist by placing him behind his production, now comes political consciousness demanding that he put the work at the service of his commitment.

Music, collectivizing above all, “the most social of the arts”, is the first of all to submit to this requirement. The musician par excellence is the politically sacrificed martyr of “The Greatest Musician” (p. 37). Or rather, doubly sacrificed, for politics and artisanal conscience.

“Elegy” (p. 361) raises questions of sound semantics, but now increasing the artist's responsibility immensely: the impulses, the outbursts, the “semantic fields” can and must be directed. It is up to the artist to define the directions.

If poetry is a powerful semantic aid to music, opera is the best of the “militant” forms. “Do Teatro Cantado” (p. 315) mentions a “conversion to opera”; We'll see how it went. Mário de Andrade takes on the task of making an opera himself: Café It is proof of your commitment, and also an example to be followed.

After Mozart's kick

“Mozart’s Kick” (p. 191) marks a watershed. O Ancien Régime he had engendered the servile artist, creator of works of circumstance. Mozart, separating himself from his patron, had established the artist's complete freedom, superior to the work, superior to society. One outlaw, says Mário de Andrade in The banquet.

The artist can lose himself or find himself through political consciousness, putting his work at its service. Music World reveals how much the idea of ​​“political consciousness” can mean murky waters.

Still largely romantic waters, in any case. The artist is the same outlaw (or “outside the law”), unadapted, yet capable of the noble cause. Significantly, one of the derivations of Café é Boris godunov and grand opera. Sound semantics are articulated with a past that “Musical Romanticism” reveals, and are the agents of a commitment to which the artist adheres, less with conscience than with his viscera.

Also dangerous waters. Craftsmanship, commitment, end up excluding avant-garde and experimentalism. And they end up recovering a “sane demagoguery”, capable of leading the crowds to the right path.

This healthy demagoguery seems, in fact, to have a somewhat unexpected consequence for Mário de Andrade. For the good cause, demagogic effects in art are permitted and desirable. Now, this will cause an unrestrained rhetoric, eloquence, and grandiloquence to erupt in Mário de Andrade’s speech: attempts at flights… condoreiros; We therefore find ourselves close to romanticism again.

These brief notes are very far from offering an idea of ​​the dramatic and dense complexity inherent to Music World. It will only show itself at each step of the way.

*Jorge Coli He is a full professor in History of Art and History of Culture at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of What is art (Brasiliense). [https://amzn.to/44gS82N]


Jorge Coli. Final song: Mário de Andrade and his journalistic column “Mundo musical”. Campinas, São Paulo. Editora da Unicamp\ Edusp, 2024, 590 pages. [https://amzn.to/4dtr58X]

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