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Latin American Choral Music - Table of Contents


References Cited
Interpretive Issues in Latin American Choral Music

Frederick Moehn

As an ethnomusicologist my research has focused on popular music recording and production


practices in Brazil. To begin this talk I would like to explain how I ended up at a symposium on
Latin American choral music.1 Some years ago I was browsing the Brazilian CDs at the
Columbia University music library in preparation for my first graduate seminar on Brazilian music
history.2 I came across a number of relatively obscure recordings of music from the colonial era in
Brazil. Naturally, as a teacher I was delighted to have found audio examples from this period
most of which were of sacred music for use in my course. Yet music from the colonial period
seemed to have little to do with the Brazil that I knew, the modern Brazil that emerged in the
twentieth century and that gave rise to globally popular and decidedly secular genres like samba
and bossa nova, or to the influential Tropiclia movement of the late 1960s. Colonial-era music
predated the eminently "Brazilian" popular genres that in recent years have been enjoying yet
another moment of global popularity. It dated from a period when Brazilian culture was ostensibly
largely derivative of European models, an era when the Brazilian territory was oriented toward
metropolitan exploitation rather than cultural and artistic development. I was therefore somewhat
surprised to find what amounted to a small early music scene in Brazil, as well as some
international groups performing this repertoire, and I thought that more people should know
about it. I proposed a review essay on these recordings to Rick Anderson, review editor for the
journal Notes , and he eventually published it in 2005.3

As it turned out, I uncovered a curious link between the Tropiclia movement and this repertoire
on a recording of works by the So Paulo mestre de capela Andr da Silva Gomes (17521844).
When the Silva Gomes manuscripts were discovered in 1960, composer and arranger Rogrio
Duprat transcribed and edited the pieces. This was shortly before he would spearhead the avantgarde msica nova movement, and seven years before he would work with Caetano Veloso,
Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Tom Z, and the rock band Mutantes as the musical arranger for the
seminal Tropiclia, ou panis et circensis album of 1967. His brother, Rgis Duprat, is a
musicologist and performer of colonial music who also edited and researched several of the works
presented on the recordings I reviewed.

In the process of working on that Notes essay I grew increasingly interested in the sacred choral
repertoire of Brazil and Latin America. Through interlibrary loan and from some of the
performers and musicologists involved in the recordings I was reviewing I acquired copies of
selected scores of the vocal repertoire. I gathered together some of our musicology graduate
students at Stony Brook interested in singing and jointly with my colleague Ryan Minor we
formed a small Collegium-like ensemble. We were able to count on harpsichord and occasionally
portatif continuo from keyboard students studying with Baroque specialist Arthur Haas. We also

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sang a cappella pieces such as Jos Maurcio Nunes Garcia's beautiful four-part motets edited in
1976 by Brazilian musicologist Cleofe Person de Mattos. I learned from one of our Brazilian
colleagues at this symposium, Ricardo Bernardes, that these pieces probably did have instrumental
accompaniment, but that Mattos edited them as a cappella works to fill a perceived need in the
printed Brazilian colonial vocal repertoire at the time. Notwithstanding, they make fine
unaccompanied repertoire and one of the groups whose recordings I will discuss, Ensemble
Turicum, produced an excellent recording of them (Ensemble Turicum 1995). Another work that
we enjoyed singing is Luis lvares Pintos Te Deum , edited by Jaime Diniz in 1967 for four voices
and continuo. Our students, vocalists Christine Fena, Steve Gehring, Katherine Kaiser,
Kassandra Hartford, Matthew Toth, and our keyboardist Faith Wollrath, found the music quirkily
different in its occasional lack of concern for stylistic consistency or period, or for the customary
rules of counterpoint. More recently we began to look at some of the Mexican repertoire, such as
Manuel de Sumaya's Ave Regina Caelorum , for four voices, and Adiuva nos Deus , for five voices,
both edited by Craig Russell.4

I would like to take a moment to speak to practical matters of getting such an ensemble off the
ground at Stony Brook. Since I am the first Latin Americanist in the music department, we hold
none of these editions in our library. In any case, much of this repertoire is out of print, or difficult
to order from Brazil (we were unable to establish a purchasing account, for example, with Brazil's
National Foundation of Art [FUNARTE], which publishes a lot of music), and only a few
libraries in the United States have substantial collections of Latin American choral repertoire from
the colonial era. Fortunately, in the past five years much more of this musical material has
become available in PDF format. The Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) now houses
the Curt Lange archive and is publishing various editions on their website. Also in Minas Gerais
the Mariana Museum of Music has made PDFs of their newly edited and extensive collection of
Baroque Brazilian repertoire available on the Internet.5 Other practical concerns include the large
number of competing ensembles at Stony Brook and the hierarchy of commitments that research
faculty and Ph.D. students negotiate, at the bottom of which performance ensembles especially
when not for credit are usually situated. Often the distinction between scholarly and
performance careers in music seems greater than that between music and other disciplines. A
final challenge is my own need to study Renaissance and Baroque vocal practice and the Latin
American repertoire more intensely, which again is difficult for the tenure-track
ethnomusicologist to schedule (and fund). My only experience in this particular kind of singing is
as a tenor in New York University's Collegium Musicum for a couple years when I was a graduate
student.

Let me now introduce some of the recordings I reviewed for Notes . Figure 1 shows the
unassuming cover to the Histria da Msica Brasileira: Perodo Colonial I (ca. 1999) which, along
with a second CD (Perodo Colonial II ),was recorded by Ricardo Kanji and the Vox Brasiliensis
orchestra and choir. These were intended to be part of a larger project that was apparently
terminated after the second recording. Paulo Castagna of the Paulista State University (UNESP)
in So Paulo undertook the musicological research, and artistic director Ricardo Kanji is a baroque
flutist and conductor who spent 25 years working in Holland but who now lives in Brazil. Figures
2, 3, 4 show the covers to recordings by the Brasilessentia Vocal Group and Orchestra, under the
directorship of Vitor Gabriel. Figure 5 is from the Camerata Novo Horizonte de So Paulo,

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directed by Graham Griffiths.6 Figure 6 shows the cover to a fine recording by Ensemble
Turicum, based in Zurich, Switzerland, and directed by Mathias Weibel and Brazilian Lus Alves
da Silva, the second of a two-volume set of sacred music from 18th-century Brazil.7 Figure 7 is
from Quadro Cervantes, an early music ensemble based at the University of Rio de Janeiro (UniRio). Finally, Figure 8 is the recording Negro Spirituals au Bresil Baroque by the France-based
ensemble XVIII21 Musiques des Lumires and released on the Baroque-specialized label K 617,
also based in France (associated with the International Center of the Paths of the Baroque).

Of particular interest here is the cover art. As Ricardo Bernardes remarked,8 the representational
approach taken here an analogy between sacred music written by mulato Brazilian composers
and North American slave spirituals evidences the kind of exoticism that Dr. Davies discusses
with respect to the Harp Consorts 2002 recording Missa Mexicana.9 XVIII-21 Musique des
Lumires is directed by Jean-Christophe Frisch and, like the label K617, is also based in France.
Finally, one other ensemble whose recordings I reviewed is the Collegium Musicum de Minas,
based in the state of Minas Gerais (see Figure 9). This area flourished in the second half of the
eighteenth century as a rich source of precious metals and stones (Minas Gerais means General
Mines), and its Catholic brotherhoods generated a great deal of Baroque vocal repertoire. This is
the music that Francisco Curt Lange first uncovered in the 1940s and 50s, effectively initiating
Brazilian musicology. Figure 10 illustrates a famous Baroque church from the town Ouro Preto, in
Minas Gerais.

As I evaluated these recordings I began to think of interpretive considerations which subsequently


arose in discussions I have had with Brazilian musicologists and performers. For example, should
an aesthetic of pious simplicity guide the approach to performance? The Brazilian churches were
not as grand as the Mexican cathedrals and much of this music was commissioned for Catholic
brotherhoods that may have preferred relatively austere realizations of the pieces. One Brazilian
musicologist objected that some of the European performances of this repertoire (e.g., the
ensemble XVII-21 Musique des Lumires) did not respect the essential simplicity of Brazilian
sacred music from the colonial period and instead performed the music with too much flourish.
On the other hand, when I mentioned this to a Baroque musician in So Paulo he reacted that
attributing a quality of simplicity to Brazilian colonial music reflected a tendency within Brazil to
regard the country's music history as "underdeveloped." Indeed, the word simples in Brazil
(simple) does evoke colonialist dichotomies between the "civilized" white elite and the supposedly
uneducated subaltern classes.

Another interpretive issue pertains to the Latin texts. For example, Padre Diniz, editor of Pinto
Te Deum mentioned above, noted idiosyncratic Latin spellings in the manuscripts. That might

explain why, when singing this piece, we came across Latin words with which we were not
familiar. Perhaps more interesting than questions of spelling is which kind of Latin pronunciation
should one use in performance? Some of the students in my ensemble were accustomed to
German Baroque pronunciation of Latin; others were more accustomed to using Italian
pronunciation. It is likely that an Italian pronunciation was used, but was it altered as it passed
through Portugal, or as it was transmitted in Brazil? If, as some linguists argue, Brazilian
pronunciation of Portuguese is indebted to African languages, how did thecomposers of Minas
Gerais pronounce their Latin? Other questions include what instrumentation was used for

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accompaniment, or how many voices to a part? Were female voices used? (Probably not.) I
wonder, too, how many instruments were imported and how many locally made, and whether the
latter sounded different from European instruments? Did instrumentalists improvise extensively?

An issue that arose when we were performing some of the pieces mentioned above was how to
interpret apparent "errors" in the part writing when lacking a true critical edition that would
elaborate on doubts about source manuscripts many of which are actually compiled from
various copies of the different parts and the choices that the editor made in preparing the
performance edition. Stylistic questions are complicated by the typically Brazilian eclecticism of
many of these works, particularly those from the last quarter of the eighteenth century when socalled pre-classical styles were belatedly mixing with Baroque practices in Brazilian sacred music.

However, the considerations that seemed most obvious and important to me as I reviewed these
recordings were basic questions of ensemble dynamics, choices of tempo and approach to the
Baroque rhythms, and the timbre of the overall sound which in the case of the recordings I was
reviewing often had as much to do with the performance space, the equipment, and the technical
expertise employed in making the CDs. On these matters the European recordings generally
impressed me as superior to those made in Brazil.

Selected musical examples illustrate these points. First one might listen to the Benedictus
(Andante Staccato), Hosanna (Allegro), and the Agnus Dei (Andante) from the Mass for Ash
Wednesday (Missa para quarta-feira de Cinzas) by Minas Gerais composer Lobo de Mesquita
(1746?-1805), performed by Ricardo Kanjis Vox Brasiliensis ensemble. Without wishing to
detract from the importance of Kanji's work, this recording seems a little uninspired to me,
although part of it may be a consequence of the mediocre audio quality.

A second set of examples provides a striking contrast between two performances of the motet
"Bajulans," possibly attributable to Manoel Dias de Oliveira (1738-1813). Kanjis Vox Brasiliensis
lasts 1'09" and includes organ and violoncello continuo. In the second sample Ensemble Turicum
performs the work a cappella and it lasts 2'09". I find the performance by Ensemble Turicum to be
much more interesting in the coordinated use of dynamics to bring out the richness of the
harmonies, the expressive use of pauses between phrases (as if there were fermatas), the careful
synchronization of diction between all the vocalists, and the unforced timbre of the voices,
particularly the high tenor. Here again, Vox Brasiliensis suffers from a lesser recording quality in
which the continuo overpowers the voices. Ensemble Turicum (which takes its name from the
Latin word for Zurich, where they are based), describes as its aim "the union of one or more
voices, each articulating the parity of a line, sounding with a group of string instruments and
harpsichord."10 They seek to "convey the dramatic expressiveness of Baroque music, whose
equilibrium between the increase and resolution of tension is a unique listening
experience."11Their recordings reflect these priorites, but I do wonder if my preference for
Turicums interpretation here is not born of my own expectations and tastes as a listener of certain
contemporary European Baroque ensembles, and whether these aesthetics are applicable in the
Brazilian case?

An excerpt from Ensemble Turicums recording of Antonio dos Santos Cunhas Responsorios para
o Offcio follows the same responsorial structure used by Mexican composers outlined by Craig

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Russell.12 In contrast to many of the composers in Minas, dos Santos Cunha was evidently not of
mixed race since he belonged to a Catholic brotherhood that only accepted whites. Perhaps
because of this he may have had more financial resources at his disposal, as the listening guide to
this recording suggests, allowing him to compose for soloists, chorus and orchestra. Listening to
the recording, one can hear that this work is a little bit more elaborated than the previous
examples.

Finally, I would like to compare excerpts of Ensemble Turicums performance of Luis Alvares
Pintos (1719-1789) Te deum laudamus (1760) with XVIII-21 Musiques des Lumires rendition
from the afore-mentioned CD, Negro Spirituals au Brsil Baroque , beginning with the latter group,
taking selections from the opening Te deum and from the Te glorioso and Te Martirum
sections. Figure 11 presents an excerpt from Padre Dinizs edition of this work. Both recordings
are quite nice but the XVIII-21 version is bathed in reverberation and is executed at a slower
tempo than Ensemble Turicums. It also features a significantly more elaborated accompaniment
arrangement that incorporates recent thinking on the importance of improvisation in Baroque
music. Ensemble Turicums rendition employs a livelier and lighter approach to the rhythms while
it maintains an emphasis on the vocal parts, using a simple accompaniment. It also features a
countertenor on the chant. We cannot state, however, that either of these interpretations is the
right one; the differences between them point precisely to the limits of our knowledge of how
the music was originally performed.

Conclusion

The turn of the millennium marked Brazil's quincentennial celebrations. These celebrations also
spurred federal and private funding of musicological research and performance of historical
repertoire, for example the support of, Petrobras (the national oil company), the Central Bank of
Brazil, and municipal governments on many of these CDs. The recordings discussed in this article
were released on relatively small labels and thus are difficult to acquire in United States. The
Columbia University library acquired them through an interesting program sponsored by the
Library of Congress office in Rio de Janeiro whereby for a reasonable annual fee the office will
send a box of recent recordings selected by a staff member. In closing, I wish to mention some of
the challenges that remain for historical musicology of Brazilian sources. As Carlos Alberto
Figueiredo suggests, there is a need for a clearer understanding of what stylistic elements
characterized the music of this period in Brazil, and for the publication of critical editions (rather
than performance editions). Ease of access to the archives that hold original manuscripts is a
perennial problem. Figueiredo also notes that a deeper understanding of the performance
conventions of the period is required, especially through the study of Brazilian treatises. However,
very few such treatises have survived, and other Brazilian musicologists suggested to me that one
must look instead at contemporary Portuguese and Italian performance practices for guidance.
Perhaps Brazilian performers should also take a cue from XVII-21 Musiques des Lumieres and
consider recent thinking on the place of improvisation in Baroque accompaniment. Finally, there
is the need for greater funding for musicological endeavors, which is of course particularly difficult
in a country that continues to face challenges in economic development.

Notes

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1. Editor's note: To preserve the character of the original presentation on "Interpretive Issues in
Latin American Choral Music" at the symposium, references to that occasion have been retained
in this article.

2. The seminar was actually at Stony Brook University, where I had just been hired. Since Stony
Brook had never had a Latin American musicologist, I was more likely to find the recorded music
I needed at Columbia.

3. Colonial Era Brazilian Music: A Review Essay of Recent Recordings, Notes , vol. 62/2 (2005):
448-472.

4. It has been the author's pleasure to meet Craig Russell at the symposium.

5. http://www.mmmariana.com.br/

6. Professor Aurelio Tello, of Mexico, is credited on this recording for supporting the efforts of the
Camerata, so it is a special pleasure for me to have had the opportunity to meet and converse with
Dr. Tello at this symposium.

7. I was surprised to discover that George Steel, director of the Vox vocal ensemble at Columbia
University's Miller Theater, which focuses on early and contemporary repertoire, knew of this
recording. I learned this when I met with Steel to discuss matters of performance practice and he
shared with me his own edition of Joaquim Lobo de Mesquitas Tercis for voices and string trio
and quartet. I had imagined that only Brazilians or Brazilianists knew this material.

8. Ricardo Bernardes. Conversation with the author at the symposium.

9. See Davies' "Nationalism, Exoticism, and Colonialist Appropriation: The Historiographic


Decontextualization of Music from New Spain" which appears in this publication.

10. Footnote to liner notes

11. Footnote to liner notes

12.The author notes Russell's animated keynote address reflected in the article "Digging, Gluing,
Printing, Playing: Making the Music of Colonial Mexico Come to Life" which appears in this
publication.

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