The birth of the song in the spirit of the word-music



Preface to the newly released book by Henry Burnett

Musical mirror of the world, by Henry Burnett, is guided by a hypothesis drawn from the edges ofO birth of tragedy of Nietzsche, and which can be summarized as follows: the archaic link between word and music, going back to an original popular song that will have contributed crucially, according to Nietzsche's interpretation, to the origin of Greek tragedy, remains alive in the tradition of Brazilian popular song. The postulation of the popular and musical origin of tragedy, by the young Nietzsche, has always been known to be reckless from a philological point of view, but this risk seems inherent to what makes it at the same time “disconcerting”, “overwhelming” and believable.

Extending it, moreover, to the scope of Brazilian popular music may sound frankly inappropriate if the idea is not well calibrated. Henry Burnett knows how problematic his bet is and seeks, throughout the book, to qualify what it has as valid in its extemporaneousness, protecting it at the same time from the apologetic tone and surrounding it with tireless critical considerations about its status market song contradictory.

Let us isolate, first of all, the inspirational motto of the book, in order to try to clarify its first impulse. Tracing the origin of the Brazilian song back to an ancient cultural substrate obviously does not mean seeing a cause and effect relationship between Brazil and Greece. Origin here is not a matter of cause or form, but of an immemorial originating principle – arké, something that always comes back – that resides in that speaking/singing/dancing hybrid that is the song. A principle that recurs in historical waves and that is strongly manifested in certain moments and cultures.

It is about the alliance of oral poetry with music, not when one simply illustrates the other, but when they reach a high degree of irradiation over the spheres of practical life and spiritual life, exciting the body and the non-body, individuation and its loss in the collective, leading to trance or enchantment. In other words, and to resume the terms enshrined by Nietzsche, when the Apollonian and the Dionysian revert to each other, awakening the enthusiasm of possession by a god (or, in this case, by two). Therefore, it is not simply about the musicalization of the word, but the establishment of states and effects that involve effectiveness and power, when word and music confuse their properties to the point of becoming almost indistinct. The very thing that makes Nietzsche say, according to Burnett, that the natural union of the poet and the musician constituted “the most important phenomenon of all the lyric poetry of antiquity” and made the most recent poetry, devoid of music, seem “the statue without the head of a god”.

In the formulation contained inO birth of tragedy, the basis of this poetry endowed with body and voice is eminently popular – an expression of the anonymous mass, even if modulated by the subjectivity of its lyric poets, its Archilocos. The poet-musician and singer is connected to an underground collective current that takes root in the “deep and unconscious rhythmic and melodic connection with the sound subsoil (Tonuntegrund) that defines, according to Nietzsche, the most essential human”. In this regard, the very Adornian idea of ​​the “collective undercurrent”, which the philosopher invokes in the “Conference on lyric poetry and society” as being a sustaining force of the social character of individual lyric poetry,[I] would gain a separate pertinence, one might say, in the case of García Lorca, poet-musician intensely linked to Andalusian popular music and author of “Teoria e Jogo do Duende”, an essay that is nonetheless a very original, brilliant and modern perception of the Dionysian.[ii]

We can say that word and music, sometimes reaching the borders of the Dionysian and of possession, experience some privileged moments of coalition and coalescence throughout the cultural history of centuries, when their combination becomes dominant in certain contexts, later falling into recessive states. , condemned to the margins, where they die and separate, without ceasing to reappear alive and together, later, in another place. For this very reason, this “original song” postulated by Nietzsche is, as Henry Burnett puts it so well, an entity that lies somewhere between the metaphysical and the sociological, spasmodically reappearing and becoming entrenched in different historical conditions.

If the lyrical and Bacchic songs of Archilochus date from the XNUMXth century BC, and the fame of music in tragedy dates especially from the XNUMXth century BC, the XNUMXth century BC witnesses its mitigation and the loss of power of music in theatrical staging. In its own way, Greece also experienced the end of the song, as the influence of Dionysism – a manifestation, according to Vernant, of women, slaves and peasants alienated from the polis,[iii] that would have infused its powerful breath in Greek tragedy, in the hypothesis of the young Nietzsche – declines along with the passage from myth to philosophical reason. According to a mythical fragment quoted by Aristotle in Politics, Pallas Athena, the virgin goddess straight out of the skull of Zeus, person of wisdom, reason and chastity, defender of the State and the home against its external enemies, protector of civilized life and inventor of the reins that control horses, when seeing her face reflected in a lake, when she touched the souls – the Dionysian flute – , is unaware and is horrified by his own face (inflated by the breath) and throws the instrument into the waters. This anti-Dionysian myth, in which the strange face of this other, the orgiastic, is repelled with horror, seals the denial of popular music of possession by Aristotelian philosophy, as it already happened with Platonic philosophy, going to live in oblivion in the musical evolution of the West .[iv]

Twelfth-century Provencal music-poetry, on the other hand, – a melting pot in which poetry without music was the same as a mill without water, and where words and sounds intermingled in song like tongues in kisses – ,[v] suffers in the following centuries a split caused by the invention of musical writing, on the one hand, and the invention of the press, on the other. Musical writing increases the polyphonic language and distances music from the direct expression of the poetic line, by multiplying the voices; the press ends up keeping the word in the silence of the book.[vi] Poet and musician then become, in the West, specialized functions that are no longer combined in the same person, contrary to what happened in the times of the “gay science” (a later expression, from the fourteenth century in Catalonia, designating the “happy knowledge ” of poetry-music precisely when this practice ceased to be in force as it had in the twelfth century in Provençal).

Supported by Peter Burke, Henry Burnett tells us that the hypothesis of the popular and musical origin of Greek tragedy did not fall from the sky, in Nietzsche, but would have come to some extent from the “discovery of the people” in German pre-romanticism, turned, with Herder, for the research of volkslieder – compendium of popular songs in which Herder recognized the “moral efficacy of ancient poetry”, with its oral and musical circulation tied to the necessary functions of life. In O birth of tragedy, Nietzsche would have carried out, according to Burnett, a kind of retroactive extension of this valuation of popular music-poetry, applying to ancient Greece something of that spiritual wave that swept German culture between the end of the XNUMXth century and the beginning of the XNUMXth.

The subject ends up passing, therefore, almost necessarily, through a process of temporal transposition between these different places, as if they could only make themselves recognized through their reverberations: the remote Greek poetry-music reverberates in the gay medieval science, which reverberates in the European popular songbook of the early modern age in the process of disappearing, which Nietzsche prospects in Wagnerian melodrama and later regrets, later recognizing in opera Carmen by Bizet (Southern, Iberian, cleanly sensual, endowed with an “African joy”, according to him)[vii] the strength he thought he found in Wagner. If that's the case, we might ask: why not consider the phenomenon of Brazilian song as a powerful part of that same history, of that chain of appearances and disappearances, of glimpses of Apollonian-Dionysian music-poetry in the history of centuries? That's what Henry Burnett does, deep down knowing that this evidence is as "hard to deny" as it is "hard to prove."

But the same book by Peter Burke, Popular culture in the modern age, worked by Burnett, along with Mikhail Bakhtin's on Rabelais and the popular culture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance,[viii] would help contextualize, by contrast, this claim. If Bakhtin and Burke both show how, in the XNUMXth century, popular festivals with a carnival spirit were deactivated in Europe, both in Reformation and Counter-Reformation countries, in colonial Brazil there was no interruption of these popular traditions – on the contrary, it maintained there is a certain continuity of that medieval tradition deactivated in the foreshadowing of modern Europe. The forced or induced cancellation of street parties with a carnival spirit, in Europe, did not exactly reach the Portuguese colony.

In the calendar of festivities in Bahia, for example, only recently disfigured by the marketing agenda, the mark of the medieval “spring of the peoples” continued to live there, made up of popular festivals that took place in the months of December, January and February, culminating in Carnival, resumed in São João and having in the middle of Lent the mi-carême (half-lent), which in Bahia became "micareta". Burnett refers, quite by the way, to Nietzsche's interest, since his first philology classes, in the feasts of Saint John and Saint Guido, in addition to the Fastnachtspiel, “a European street party whose only possible parallel is Shrovetide, long lost in the history of our carnival”.

This festive and religious influx is densely intensified, incorporated, embodied and quintessentialed, in Brazil, by the African presence. In fact, a significant part of the Brazilian popular music genres are structured on the repertoire of keys candomblé rhythms, played in a ritual context by the gam (metallic instrument, a kind of great agogô) and by the three atabaques rum, pi e you. Among this complex rhythmic code constituted by the claves, also called touches, the Kabyle is most notable for its relationship to the dominant pattern of samba. Which thus has a background affinity, secret and original, with trance music.

Therefore, there is a collective underground current, musical, oral, dancing, plus the religious substrate, the carnivalesque Dionysianism, with its powerful percussive drums, whether from Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Pernambuco or Pará, and the manifestations of lyrical subjectivity that stand out this collective current without disconnecting from it, zigzagging from the elementary to the complex, from the erudite to the popular, from the musical to the literary, and whose qualitative exponent rises to infinity.

Em Musical mirror of the world, Henry Burnett could make his life easier if he marked more directly those points in the territory where the basic relationship he proposes seems flagrant. He could have highlighted and developed the militant Dionysianism of tragic comedy orgy at the Teatro Oficina Uzina Uzona with Zé Celso Martinez Correia (to whom he dedicates, incidentally, his excellent To read O birth of tragedy by Nietzsche).[ix] Quite symptomatically, in this regard, it is worth remembering Zé Celso's statement that the Nobel Prize for Literature should be awarded to Mick Jaegger and not to Bob Dylan, as he – Zé Celso – only believes in a poet of song who makes people dance (! ). Henry could recognize the combination of tragedy and carnival in Elza Soares. He could think of the aforementioned africanity da Carmen, suggested in passing by Nietzsche and recorded in the excellent To read the wagner case by Nietzsche, also written by Burnett,[X] as an indication of the fate of Dionysianism in the Americas.

His intellectual honesty, however, makes him know that this passage could not be taken in a straight line without camouflaging the enormous problems that arise when examining music that operates in the mass market and that are related to the tumultuous history of music. modern in the west. It thus brings to the fore a large number of issues involving song, its luminaries and its discontents, popular and concert music, in a text in which Nietzsche and Adorno, Caetano Veloso and Roberto Schwarz, Mário de Andrade and Gilberto Mendes, without clearly defining the assumptions, sometimes antagonistic, that move one and the other. It is this lack of clarifying specification that causes, throughout the book, in my opinion, a kind of critical-theoretical congestion, disturbing the transit, which is indeed fierce, of associative information.

Among all the problems that the book raises, it seems to me that the crucial knot is Mário de Andrade's understanding. This is an artist-thinker so decisive for the theme embraced here, that I feel I should not end this conversation without unlocking a point that would, in my view, be enormously in favor of the central flow of the book. Henry correctly observes that Mário's program for Brazilian erudite music consists of researching rural, anonymous and collective popular music, in order to incorporate it into literate art and give it a national aspect. The popular music that Mário sticks to in his project is not mass commercial music, which according to him has been mischaracterized by the damaging pressure of urbanism, the market and foreign influence, but folkloric music – rural samba, bumba-meu-bois , reisados, pastoris and congadas, catimbós, cocos, cururus, modas-de-viola and cateretês. It is this that should be transfused into concert music by national composers, emphatically emphasizing, in the Essay on Brazilian music, that anyone who did not follow this line of artistic conduct would be a “pebble in a boot” to be properly discarded.[xi]

This is why Mário de Andrade, who spoke about almost everything when it comes to Brazilian music, did not write a single study on urban samba, of whose importance we are more than aware today, nor did he make a relevant mention, let alone one rehearsal at the height, to Noel Rosa or Dorival Caymmi, song geniuses of his contemporaries, who were part of a song system already formed, at the end of the 1930s. Henry Burnett correctly observes that Mário did not realize that it would be mainly in urban song, and not in the alliance of the erudite composer with folklore, that the design of a Brazilian music capable of being recognized on a high aesthetic level in our eyes and those of the world, would come to fruition. It would also be there that the avatars of the “original song”, Apollonian-Dionysian, would find their outlet at the same time superficial and deep, as the Nietzsche of “gay science” wanted.[xii] But this awareness would only gain clarity after bossa nova.

It is not, therefore, a question of anachronistically accusing Mário de Andrade of this omission, but of recognizing that a dominant mental form operated there in Brazilian musical modernism, which sought in the purest and most untouched forms of rural music, in the manner of Herder, the substrate for an erudite composition committed to finding the national essence. Gilberto Mendes observes that, if folk music was offered to the nationalist erudite musician as a passive repertoire, more prone to being taken as an object of compositional manipulation, jazz and other urban music acted in an insubordinate way on the modern musical language, without restricting themselves to the role of purveyors of themes and motivations.

This is how tango, rumba, samba, in addition to jazz and not to mention the highly creative event of bossa nova, were recognized by Mendes, writing in 1975, as active participants in the founding process of XNUMXth century music, in contrast to classical music, even avant-garde music.[xiii] This critical paradigm had been established a few years earlier by the hump balance, by Augusto de Campos, whose first edition dates from 1968.[xiv]

Mário de Andrade therefore postulated a specific alliance between rural, anonymous and collective music (interested music, according to him, because it was linked to the practical needs of community life, the harvest, festivals, rites) and erudite music (destined for enjoyment and disinterested aesthetic contemplation, in a Kantian sense, although Mário does not mention the philosopher). Alliance to be effected by the action of cultural mediators – researchers and composers committed to transforming together the thematic matrices and techniques of folk music into erudite art.

We will not dwell on the fact that it was a program that elected pre-industrial culture as the primordial basis of a modern project, in a country undergoing a frank industrialization process, with all the impasses and resulting practical failures involved in this. The point that is important to emphasize, for the purpose of this book, is that Henry Burnett, when he pointed out this passage from folklore to concert, from the community to the aesthetic, from life to art, from interested to disinterested value, in Mário de Andrade's program for nationalization of Brazilian culture, quite literally believes in the unidirectionality of this process, as if it did not have its contradictions, its twists and its strongly Dionysian counterpart in the author of Macunaima.

I explain. Is that Mário de Andrade needs to be understood as an intellectual and artistic personality intrinsically dramatic, agony, in the very sense of conflicted, ambivalent, oscillating between non-excluding opposites. one of your persona is in fact that of a kind of Herder, the researcher of volkslieder, which built itself into a Plato of the Brazilian musical Republic, seeking to organize culture in the sense of a broad conciliation between the oral strata of popular culture and the literate levels of erudite culture, in the eagerness, or in the self-imposed mission, to overcome the abyss between classes, repertoires and languages, from above. It should be noted that, in doing so, he would already be converting, in his own way, the disinterested aesthetics of concert art into music interested in the national project, as he makes clear in the Rehearsal.[xv]

But it happens in addition, and above all, that this Plato contains within himself a Nietzsche d'O birth of tragedy: the poet-musician of the “Political Dynamogenies” (in Music, sweet music), from “Music therapy” (in Dating with Medicine), the indigenous mantras of Macunaíma returning to querencia, the Amazonian torpor in the “Little Brother's Rite”, the glossolalias, the sonorous and meaningless words, the hypnotic melodies of the catimbozeiro and the song dancing in the Inca's mouth like a leaf of coke (in Witchcraft music in Brazil), everything that brings art back to life through the word-music. About bumba-meu-boi, he said in Brazilian Dramatic Dances It is a tradition of Dionysian origin, based on a plant cult in which the god dies together with nature in winter and is reborn together with her in spring, a cult that would have become, in Brazil, an animal cult linked to livestock. Thus, without accusing the reading of Nietzsche in his library or in his files, it can be said that Mário identified in the context of these Brazilian festive practices a principle that we can recognize as in tune with indirect Nietzschean resonances and with the birth of tragedy in the spirit from music.

As Mário de Andrade is an obligatory, unavoidable figure in the discussion of the destinies of Brazilian music in a broad sense – as the roundabout of all crossroads, which he is – it seems to me that remembering, here, its Apollonian-Dionysian dimension, of his connection between art and life, would make us envision a way out for the script of this book, right where there seems to be an obstacle.

I thank the author for the generous invitation to openly dialogue, in this text by way of preface, with the great and stimulating questions raised by his book, which are these and many others that do not fit here. Conversation that comes from before, by various means and veins, and that we hope can continue, going through the harrowing and very little Dionysian trance that we live.

* Jose Miguel Wisnick is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Sound and meaning – Another history of music (Company of Letters).



Henry Burnett. Musical mirror of the world. São Paulo, Editora Phi, 2021, 256 pages.



[I] Theodor W. Adorno, “Conference on Lyrics and Society”, in Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, Chosen Texts, Os Pensadores, volume XLVIII, São Paulo, Abril Cultural, 1975, p. 201-214. See, in particular, p. 207-208.

[ii] Federico Garcia Lorca, “Teoria y juego del duende”, in Complete works, Volume I, Madrid, Aguilar, 1954, p. 1067-1079.

[iii] Cf. Jean-Pierre Vernant, “The Person in Religion,” in Myth and thought among the Greeks, translation by Haiganuch Sarian, São Paulo, European Book Diffusion / USP, 1973, p. 278-279. To the strongly marked aspect (in the religion of -Polis), “of social integration of a civic cult, whose function is to sanctify order, both human and natural, and allow individuals to adjust, an opposite aspect is opposed, complementary to the first, and which can be said in general lines that he expresses himself in Dionysianism", the voice of those "who cannot fully fit into the institutional organization of -Polis“for being excluded from political life: women, slaves, peasant groups excluded from State control”.

[iv] Aristotle, The politics, 1341. See Gilbert Rouget, La musique et la trance, Paris, Gallimard, 1980, p. 304. I dealt with the subject in José Miguel Wisnik, Sound and meaning – Another history of music, 3rd. Edition, São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2017, p. 106.

[v] “That way I intertwine / the words and compose the sound: tongue intertwined in the kiss”. Verses by the Provencal poet Bernart Marti, quoted by Giogio Agamben in Estancias – The word and the ghost in western culture, Belo Horizonte, Editora UFMG, 2007, p. 212.

[vi] I am based on Marie Naudin, Parallel evolution of poetry and music in France: Unifying role of song, Paris, AG Nizet, 1968.

[vii] See Friedrich Nietzsche, The Wagner case: a problem for musicians / Nietzsche against Wagner: a psychologist's dossier, translation notes and afterword by Paulo César de Souza, São paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1999, p. 13.

[viii] Michael Bakhtine, L'oeuvre de François Rabelais et la cultura populaire au Moyen Age et sous la Renaissance, Paris, Gallimard, 1970.

[ix] Henry Burnett, To read O birth of tragedy by Nietzsche, São Paulo, Edições Loyola, 2012 (Philosophical readings collection).

[X] Henry Burnett, To read the wagner case by Nietzsche, São Paulo, Edições Loyola, 2018 (Philosophical readings collection).

[xi] Mario De Andrade, Essay on Brazilian music, São Paulo, Martins, [1968], p. 18.

[xii] See José Miguel Wisnik, “The gay science – Literature and popular music in Brazil”, in No Recipe – Essays and Songs, São Paulo, Publifolha, 2004, p. 213-239.

[xiii] Gilberto Mendes, “Music”, in Affonso Ávila (org.), the modernism, São Paulo, Perspectiva, 1975, p. 129-130.

[xiv] Augusto de Campos, hump balance, São Paulo, Perspective, 1968.

[xv] “Because all socially primitive art, like ours, is social, tribal, religious, commemorative art. It is art of circumstance. It's interested. Any art that is exclusively artistic and disinterested has no place in a primitive phase, the construction phase. It is intrinsically individualistic. Now, in a primitivistic phase, the individual who does not follow its rhythm is a pebble in the boot. (…) The current criterion of Brazilian Music must not be philosophical but social. It must be a combat criteria”. Mario De Andrade, op. cit..

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