Sebastião! Protetor do Brasil

July 6 2014

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Dean Frey in The Villa-Lobos Magazine:

“‘[The Brazilian composer Heitor] Villa-Lobos found that his concerts were often poorly attended because of the public’s preference for soccer. This led him to denounce the sport violently. […] “Soccer causes human intelligence to detour from the head to the feet!” The Brazilian soccer fans responded vigorously […]. In one town they bombarded the touring musicians with rotten eggs, and the threat of similar treatment caused the group to leave another town in the early morning hours.’

David E. Vassberg, Villa-Lobos as Pedagogue: Music in the Service of the State, Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Autumn, 1975), p. 165.

No matter what Villa-Lobos thought about the game, I’m cheering big for A Seleção!

There was actually a movement in the third, lost, A prole do bebê suite called Futebol.

St Sebastian may be watching Brazil vs Germany in Belo Horizonte. The pierced saint is the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro and, according to Villa-Lobos, of Brazil.

The names of the sections of Villa-Lobos’s a cappella Missa São Sebastião juxtapose the ecumenical and the local in the same way as the names of the sections of his Bachianas brasileiras:

Kyrie (Sebastião! O virtuoso)

Glória (Sebastião! Soldado romano)

Credo (Sebastião! Defensor da igreja)

Sanctus (Sebastião! O mártir)

Benedictus (Sebastião! O santo)

Agnus Dei (Sebastião! Protetor do Brasil)

He wrote the Mass in 1937, at roughly the same time as his huge score for Umberto Mauro’s rather inept film O descobrimento do Brasil, which derives all its dignity from Villa-Lobos’s music.

That film ends with a tableau which in the fourth Descobrimento suite is called Primeira missa no Brasil. On a shoreline five hundred miles northeast of Rio, in 1500, the Portuguese sailors and crew sing a polyphonic Mass against the juxtaposed incantations of the newly found Amerindians.

In 1933, with the help of the orfeonic choirs Villa-Lobos was assembling in the service of the national ideology of Getúlio Vargas, he had given the Brazilian premieres of Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli and of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. Now he decided to write his own Mass, his second (if you discount the unrelated film music). Simon Wright, notes to a Hyperion recording of the Missa São Sebastião:

“In the Mass, raw nationalism gives way to an idealized and serene view of the powerful Catholic heritage of his country. Subtle glances at the chants of macumba (as at ‘et sepultus est’ in the Credo) are, however, reminders that in Brazil even the rites of Roman Catholicism have been (and still are) tinged with elements from the magical beliefs transported to Brazil by the millions of black slaves brought over the Atlantic by the colonists […]. The Missa São Sebastião stands unique and radiantly beautiful in Villa-Lobos’s huge output.”

It is a touching work if you know the whole story. It will not overwhelm a listener who doesn’t bring any culture to it. There is an over-reliance on sequences at times. Here is an incomplete YouTube performance posted by Wellesz, sung by the Associação de Canto Coral, directed by Cleofe Person de Mattos.

We have the Kyrie and the Gloria, then the last two lines of the Creed, then the Sanctus and Benedictus. And no Agnus Dei. (So the blurb under the video is wrong, as well as self-contradictory. The captions in the video are wrong at one point as well and they also contradict the blurb: they show the Sanctus starting when what we are hearing is the end of the Creed.)

The Hyperion performance with the Corydon singers under Matthew Best is more polished, but less earthy and Catholic.

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Of course, the real protector of Rio is Christ the Redeemer.

Photos via the Flickr channel of the Arquidiocese de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro.

Sebastião! (old post).

2 Responses to “Sebastião! Protetor do Brasil”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    The rather Bernini-like sculpture in the YouTube still is not Bernini – who did a St Sebastian which is now in Madrid.

    It is by his younger contemporary Giuseppe Giorgetti, the restorer of the Barberini faun, and the work is in the Basilica di San Sebastiano fuori le mura on the via Appia, Rome, possibly after a design by Ciro Ferri.

  2. […] Sebastião! Protetor do Brasil […]

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