live your music

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By RODRIGO DUARTE*

Commentary on the book by composer Gilberto Mendes

Not every great creator has the ability to transform his experiences into reflections that, in some way, contribute to a better understanding of his activity. This is also why it is exciting to see that Gilberto Mendes – composer of anthological pieces such as Beba Coca Cola (on a poem by Décio Pignatari) and Motetos à feature de Lobo de Mesquita (on a poem by Affonso Ávila) – knows how few reflectively recover his experience in musical creation , which coincides with a significant period of contemporary music in the second half of the 20th century.

Such capacity could already be observed in his previous book, A Musical Odyssey: From South Seas to Pop/Art Deco Elegance (Edusp), a memoir written to obtain a doctor's degree from USP and which, therefore, camouflaged, as much as possible, the experiential aspect of Mendes' experience as a composer and intellectual.

In this book, the moment of experience, inferred from the title, is totally central, since, for him, “living his music” does not only mean having dedicated himself to composition, but also having had, throughout his career, the opportunity to visiting places in various parts of the world somehow connected to his inspirations as a music creator.

Among many subjects, Mendes discusses the preponderance of so-called “popular music” over classical music. He has privileged access to this debate, since, unlike many erudite creators, who have a disdainful attitude towards other types of cultural manifestations, Mendes does not hide that his first musical passions were songs from Hollywood films, such as Blue Hawaii, Too Romantic, I'd Know You Anywhere, Cheek to Cheek, It's A Lovely Tomorrow, insisting, on the other hand, that the musical quality of this repertoire comes from the fact that its composers were either directly emigrated from Central Europe, trained in a Wagnerian chromaticism school, or were his local disciples.

Mendes does not deny the fact that this quality, over the decades, has declined enormously, and reveals his admiration for Tom Jobim, precisely because he believes that the “erudite refinement of North American song emigrates, at the end of the 50s, to the Brazilian Bossa Nova”. This position has to do with Mendes' assessment, according to which jazz – and all the production that gravitates in its orbit – can be considered as one of the “three new musics of the 20th century”. Thus, it adds a strand of music normally seen as “popular” to the two other schools, considered by Theodor Adorno to be antagonistic: the one led by Stravinsky and the one initiated by Schönberg (and continued by the participants of the summer courses in Darmstadt in the post-World War II period). .

Adorno's point of view itself, which refers to the critique of jazz and the cultural industry, Mendes considers to be “small talk, but very sharp”, and it is not difficult to see, however, how this position, in some way, guides the composer's reflection. In two other passages of the book he mentions the German philosopher: in one of them, he questions why Schönberg would be more avant-garde than Stravinsky. In another, at the same time that he notes what he considers Adorno's lack of understanding of the musical importance of jazz, he does not fail to recognize the great relevance of this philosopher.

In fact, implicitly, alongside his openness to “pop” culture in general, Mendes assumes positions compatible with Adorno's cultural criticism, as, for example, when he recalls a passage from the wilhelm meister, by Goethe, in which the idea of ​​an aesthetic education is addressed. Mendes, with an eye on the current decadence, protests: “And what are we going to say about our days, with the Sundays of open TV, soap operas, the Big Brother?”.

Due to positions like this Mendes cannot be considered someone who does not see any significant differences between works of art themselves and cultural goods, insisting that “paradoxically, classical music has nothing to do with popular music. They are worlds far from being the same thing, as the populist media intellectuals intend”.

This distinction, in fact, is not part of a merely academic discussion, since, given the almost absolute preponderance of mass music, what is at stake is the very survival of music as an art itself, which is lucidly recognized by him. : “Erudite music, in order to survive, either aligns itself with the pop and globalized taste of the new times, or it will have to settle for continuing to be increasingly isolated in its ghettos, with composers speculating on sound material for their own enjoyment. . However, it is exactly and only these composers who can and will take the musical language forward, discover new paths”.

In order to understand how these two apparently discrepant points of view are reconcilable – the openness to “pop” culture alongside an acute awareness of the specificity of erudite artistic creation –, it is interesting to pay attention to the statement in which Mendes justifies the aforementioned opening taking into account looking for “new paths” and the cultivation of freedom of expression: “For my part, I feel like an old new music, like an old sailor. It is my origin, which I value a lot, this German, serialist musical background, linked to the idea of ​​structure, form, music that is difficult to be played and heard. But when I think, many times, of returning to the line of complexity, it seems to me that I am going back to the 50s, 60s. I already did all that there, now I want to do other things”.

*Rodrigo Duarte He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Varia aesthetica: Essays on art and society (Reliquary)

 

Reference


Gilbert Mendes. Live your music. São Paulo, EDUSP, 374 pages.

 

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