CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL THE SIXTEENTH SEASON
July 10-August- 22, 1988
BRAZIL. ..To most Americans the name conjures up the sultry samba nights of Carnaval, the serpentine Amazon, a pastiche of cultural meanderings and immense geographical embrace. From batucada to bossa nova, Brazilian music chronicles such a vast expanse that it defies generic description. A listing of important musical contributors is a veritable litany of Brazilian "patron saints" of music.
There are, though, many similarities between the development of contemporary music in Brazil and America, most notably, a similarity in progression, if not in style. In both countries there is a large body of indigenous music; both incorporate African and European elements; each influenced the other; and, presently, their contemporary stylings draw on all these historical contributions and carry them uniquely into their idiosyncratic futures.
Perhaps the greatest difference in the developments of American and Brazilian music has been in the degree of historic cultural assimilation. While America isolated its indigenous and African people, Brazil, for the most part incorporated them and, therefore their music. For example, on many Ameri can plantations Africans were forbidden to recreate their traditional instruments. So it was their vocal music that was carried into gospel, blues and jazz styles. Typical West African instruments such as the six-stringed dosongoni virtually disappeared, although the dosongoni later reemerged in another
form, the banjo. In Brazil, on the other hand, many of
the traditional instruments remained intact and even tually became important aspects of contemporary music. The one-stringed berimbau with its roots in Angola is an extant example.
The contribution of Europe to Brazilian music is clearly more singular than in America with its "melt ing pot" tradition. The Portuguese influence is certainly the most dominant European influence on Brazilian music but, of course, not the only one. Italian "salon'' music was popular in the early 19th century. Spanish and, consequently, North African styles also affected the maturation of Brazilian music. Later still came the tango from Argentina and a multitude of Cuban
styles, the latter being recurrent at several stages.
Indeed, the connections among the northern
Americas, Brazil, Europe and Africa have remained a constant musical factor to this day.
To describe contemporary Brazilian music is a compli cated task. A simplistic attempt, though, would say that its recent reemergence on practically every conti nent justifiably qualifies it as one of the most dynamic and eclectic musical contributions of this decade.
Two forms of popular Brazilian music familiar to many Americans are the samba and bossa nova. While there are numerous interpretations of samba, all are intrinsically rooted in polyrhythm and poly phony: That is to say, over-lapping drumming and vocal, call-and-response, techniques. Anyone who
has seen the classic film Black Orpheus can attest to the
forcefulness of this style. But samba is not just a per cussive music. The Bahia samba, for example, incor porates tambourine, guitar, rattles and sometimes even castanets and berimbau. This, in some respects, explains its acceptance into the American jazz idiom. American jazz musicians also assisted in cross referencing bossa nova. In 1947, band leader Stan Kenton unleashed a new band that featured Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida who later formed an
association with American saxophonist Stan Getz and
the rest is America bossa nova history.
These are only two of a myriad of Brazilian styles. Some of the others are less well known to Americans but are household terms among Brazilians. One is the choro. Though not stylistically similar to jazz, its instrumentation can be compared to that of jazz. Originally the choro applied to the band itself but
later it also referred to the music. It appears to have derived from the military or march-like music of German and French military orchestras of the late
19th century. Choro blossomed a few years later in the form of impassioned polkas in Rio de Janeiro. A
typical choro group includes percussion and stringed
instruments and fronts a woodwind ensemble of some nature flute, clarinet and saxophone are most typical. However, the choro lacks the brass instru mentation of its nearest American counterpart, New Orleans jazz.
Maxixe is another typical Brazilian musical style. Like the choro, it had its inception in the late 19th century
but reached an initial peak as a popular urban dance during World War I also in Rio de Janeiro. The choro was both a concert and dance style but maxixe developed exclusively on the dance floors, perhaps as a necessary populist extension of the choro.
Frevo is another somewhat similar style, although it apparently developed in a different location: Recife. It, too, grew from the need to accommodate concert
- or chamber music, if you will - to the dance
hall. Driven by a similar marching pulse, it included, unlike the choro, a variety of brass instruments.
There is also a style of "country'' music known as baiao which is associated with Brazil's northeastern region. Baiads meter came from country guitar rhythms and its instrumentation included and popularized the accordion.
The list goes on the length of the Amazon itself :
waltz, lundu, coco, batuque, jingo, tango, foro, xaxado and a plethora of others. Perhaps the safest way to journey through the maze of Brazilian musical styles
is to say that if it can be heard, it is played.
But finally, some mention must be made of the personalities who have guided and created the evolu tionary, and often revolutionary, moments of music in Brazil, particularly the composers, since their music is once again being rediscovered and revitalized. Heitor Villa-Lobos is unquestionably the most renowned composer of the nascent modern era. Of the modern ists, the nods probably go to Alfredo da Rocha Vianna Junior, (known colloquially as Pixinguinha) of Rio de Janeiro, and Radames Gnattali, whom many con
sider the "father of bossa nova;' among other titles.
Pixinguinha, as a band leader, adapted the first sambas and carnaval marches to large orchestration but it was Gnattali who linked Pixinguinha to both European classical styles and more contemporary, innovative and adventurous efforts.
There are also a number of Brazilian pop luminaries on the rise including Milton Nascimento, Djavan, Martino Davila, Maria Bethania and Gal Costa, to name a scant few. Roots-oriented groups such as Uakti are also making their presence felt. Uakti recently toured with the American vocal group Manhattan Transfer.
There are few popular Brazilian groups, however, that exhibit the depth, maturity and cultural understand ing displayed by Joel Nascimento and the Brazilian Sextet. Joel Nascimento began his musical career as
a pianist but exchanged it for the mandolin, or ban dolim, in 1969. He is now considered a master of this instrument in Brazil.
Nascimento was the founder of the much-heralded group, Camerata Carioca which, with a couple of exceptions, became The Brazilian Sextet. Through the years their mentor has been Radames Gnattali who, among other notable accomplishments, transcribed music of Vivaldi and Bach specifically for this group. Gnattali's compositions and arrangements for Camerata and now The Brazilian Sextet have extended the group's repertoire from the traditional choro into other forms
of classical and contemporary music often ignored by other modern musicians, Brazilian or otherwise.
Joel Nascimento best describes the process when he says that "the group stands out in Brazil because of its instrumental concept adapted to the chamber format, its use of harmony, the type of repertoire, the arrange ments, the approximation to the great masters... and the group's overall musical understanding that reflects the whole purity and beauty of the traditional forms constantly in evolution'.'
When pressed for a musical choice, Joel Nascimento ironically chooses the works of Chopin, which he says involve him emotionally and reminds him of his love
of the piano.