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Notes 62.2 (2005) 448-472

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Colonial–Era Brazilian Music:

A Review Essay of Recent Recordings


What does the late 1960s Brazilian popular music movement Tropicália have in common with the late 1700s São Paulo mestre de capela André da Silva Gomes (1752–1844)? They both had a collaborator—in a manner of speaking—in the composer and arranger Rogério Duprat. When the Silva Gomes manuscripts were discovered in 1960, Duprat devoted himself to their transcription and edition. This was a couple of years before he would spearhead the avant-garde música nova movement, and it was seven years before his involvement with Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Tom Zé, and the rock band Mutantes as the musical arranger for the seminal album Tropicália, ou panis et circensis (Polydor LPNG 44.018 [1967]; reissued on compact disc as Polygram 119 271 [1997]). Having known of Duprat for his avant-garde work and his distinctive arrangements for rock and popular musicians, I was at first surprised to see his name associated with eighteenth century sacred music. I should not have been: Duprat is referred to as "the George Martin of Brazil," in part for his pioneering work with the Tropicalist musicians, but also for his familiarity with Western classical traditions. His brother, Régis Duprat, is a musicologist and performer of colonial music. Indeed, the lasting influence of Tropicália owes to its original mixture of erudite and popular culture.1 The São Paulo based classical music label Paulus has released two recordings of music by Silva Gomes, as well as other recordings of sacred music from roughly the same period. These CDs are among several I will review in this essay on recordings of music from colonial-era Brazil released since 1995. My intention here is not primarily to evaluate the quality of these recordings, although I will do so to some extent, but rather to draw attention to their existence and to elaborate in broad terms the current status of recorded performances of [End Page 448] music from Brazil's colonial period. Among the ensembles whose recordings will be described in this essay are: the Brasilessentia Vocal Group and Orchestra, Collegium Musicium de Minas, Camerata Novo Horizonte de São Paulo, Ensemble Turicum, Quadro Cervantes, Vox Brasiliensis, and a group called XVIII–21 Musiques des Lumières. All of these CDs were released on small labels or, in some cases, by the artists themselves, and thus are difficult to acquire in the United States.


Brazil's colonial period is generally said to have begun when Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral landed on the shores of Bahia in 1500, and to have ended in 1822 after King João VI—who brought his entire court to Rio de Janeiro in 1808—returned to Lisbon, leaving his son Prince Pedro in charge of the colony. The Portuguese royal court had fled Napoleon's armies in 1807 in more than 70 ships escorted by the British Navy. In exchange, Britain secured favorable trading rights with Brazil, which gave it considerable control over the country's economy for about 100 years. Nevertheless, the presence of King João and his court invigorated public life in Rio de Janeiro. The residency of this monarch in his colony is unique in the history of European colonialism. The city suddenly became more cosmopolitan. Among the important items that accompanied the court's transfer to Rio was Dom João's library of some 60,000 volumes, which were made available to the public in Brazil. In 1811, Portugal's most renowned composer, Marcos Portugal, also came to Rio, displacing the exceptionally gifted but less famous priest José Maurício Nunes Garcia, known in Brazil as José Maurício, from the position of mestre de capela of the Royal Chapel. Shortly after his father's departure for Lisbon in 1822, Prince Pedro read the writing on the wall and declared the country's independence. He created the Empire of Brazil and named himself emperor. The Empire...


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