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Behind the Masks of ModernismGlobal and Transnational Perspectives$

Andrew Reynolds and Bonnie Roos

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780813061641

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813061641.001.0001

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A Pedagogy for Modernity

A Pedagogy for Modernity

Brazilian Modernism and Heitor Villa-Lobos Revisited

(p.55) 2 A Pedagogy for Modernity
Behind the Masks of Modernism

Sandro R. Barros

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter demonstrates the dynamic cultural and racial mixing of post-independence Brazil. This offers a stunning backdrop for inquiry into modernism’s occasional collusion with oppressive governments. Barros associates acclaimed composer Heitor Villa-Lobos with wearing many masks and personas to promote Brazil’s modernist movement. Barros explains that Villa-Lobos defended and modified European musical traditions for Brazilian audiences through the metaphor of anthropophagy, while cultivating an exaggerated claim to “primitive” musical inspiration—a suspect musical engagement with African and Amerindian encounters—when speaking to European audiences. Most provocatively, perhaps, Barros argues that through these personas, Villa-Lobos was part of a larger, state-promoted modernist program to condition his audience to modernist music—an effort that disguised an almost dictatorial agenda that promoted what Villa-Lobos viewed as modernist aesthetic techniques while it actually eliminated diversity, in the name of sound pedagogy.

Keywords:   Heitor Villa-Lobos, Brazil, Music, Nationalism, Anthropophagy, Brazilian Modernism

Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959) represents one of the most conspicuous examples of how twentieth-century artists synthesized artistic and ideological conventions and sought to create and diffuse, under the rubric of brasilidade (Brazilian-ness), a modern project of national identity. Whereas Villa-Lobos’s multifaceted projects as a musician and educator illustrate how intellectuals reconfigured their position within modernity’s cultural transformations, they are also particularly telling demonstrations of Brazilian modernism’s pedagogical proclivities. Villa-Lobos’s musical endeavors were part of a large scheme devised by intellectual modernistas who sought to legitimize their artistic dogmas by instilling in the masses a sensibility for their modernista revisions to the constitution of the traditional nation. Through inherent pedagogical artifices imbued with nationalistic and iconoclastic symbolism, Villa-Lobos and many intellectuals of his time stressed anthropophagy as a mythological mask that ultimately functioned as a sign and signifier of all things definably Brazilian.1

The purpose of this chapter is to revisit some of the concepts surrounding Brazilian modernism—namely the exploration of brasilidade—in relationship to the many public masks worn by Villa-Lobos under this rubric: the modernista artist, the educator, the ethnomusicologist, and the politician. These masks worn by Villa-Lobos fundamentally enabled the diffusion of his foundational pedagogy for modernity, which invoked, among other things, the circulation and consumption of nationalist art as analogous to Brazil’s second declaration of independence.2 It is my hope (p.56) that throughout this essay the reader will bear in mind the essence of brasilidade in two particular ways: 1) as a multifaceted mask—a sign that marks sites wherein modernistas enunciated their self-interested public performance of difference; and 2) as a form of cultural praxis in which the political dimensions of the public self can be apprehended as a pedagogical spectacle.

Accounting for these two orientations of the term brasilidade enables us to better understand modernism within what Arjun Appadurai describes as the “pervasive dimension of human discourse that exploits difference to generate diverse conceptions of group identity” (Modernity at Large, 13). As I will demonstrate, this strategy of defining modernism was precisely Villa-Lobos’s approach, one he exploited from his position as an educator. By contextualizing Brazilian modernism within a discussion of the pedagogical, we can reflect upon the role of individual subjectivities in their particular interventions in the marketplace of ideas, disclosing intellectuals’ particular modus operandi when structuring officialized public narratives. My concern in this essay is with the subject of Villa-Lobos’s masks, as both material and immaterial realizations of difference located within the agency of the public self. This is to say, I am advancing a particular analysis of modernism that highlights instances in which the public self shapes his/her persona within a complex, state-avowed modernist “signifying machinery”—i.e., schools, governmental agencies, communication channels, et cetera—created precisely to teach about difference while claiming difference for strategic purposes. This approach requires that we grasp the ways in which modernist intellectuals “reinscribe[d], repurpose[d], and recohere[d] social relations of production through [the] decentering and rerouting of cultural representations.”3 In other words, Brazilian modernistas strategically cultivated an audience for their works, conditioning an appreciation for state-sponsored, state-sanctioned activities that they themselves helped to control. According to Bruno Latour, these joint acts of historical reinscription and recoherence regimented the ways in which we began to read modernity’s signs by instilling two sets of entirely different practices:

The first set of practices, by “translation,” creates mixtures between entirely new types of beings, hybrids of nature and culture. The second, by “purification,” creates two entirely distinct ontological zones: that of human beings on the one hand; that of nonhumans on (p.57) the other. Without the first set, the practices of purification would be fruitless or pointless. Without the second, the work of translation would be slowed down, limited, or even ruled out.4

If Latour is correct, we will discover that the conditioning processes of the modernist audiences necessarily resulted in either affirmations of Brazilian nationalist art (“purity”) or more international hybridization (defended as “anthropophagy”), each of which tacitly reinforce the other even as they seem ideologically opposed.

This essay uses Latour’s claim as a scaffolding to deal with problematic issues that have served as sine qua non of postmodern/postcolonial discursive ideology. For intellectuals, constant re-signification of terms describing the “post-colonial condition,” such as primitivism and hybridity, has sustained sciences of reading that enhance the mythology of the modern artist as a heroic genius, a prophet of the future.5 In the context of Brazilian modernism, this defining intellectual praxis resulted from the artist’s construction of a “spectacle of self” within a double-gazing performance, mythologizing aleatoric and discriminatory signs into the totalizing brasilidade to claim an elusive term of difference.

Perhaps no artist understood better than Villa-Lobos the importance of creating a pedagogy for modernity within modernism’s zeitgeist. The sounds and evoked images present in Villa-Lobos’s works mediated to audiences worldwide a complex expression of national representation that called attention to the modernist artist as a spectacle. Traditionally, as Guy Debord observes, the historical spectacularization of images destined for mass consumption envisions primarily the upholding of a “dominant model of life.” It reveals “the omnipresent affirmation of the choices […] already […] made in the sphere of production, and in the consumption implied by that production.”6 In other words, seeing the artist as spectacle, as mask, affirms the status quo: capitalism and patriarchal and state-sanctioned authorities. As part of the critical apparatuses sustaining public identities, Villa-Lobos’s modernist identity constitutes an exercise in recognizing a series of “spectacular” narratives that surround the artistic persona. These narratives, in time, have come to express man and the modernist nation as a single identifying guise endowed with properties rooted in the myth of national authenticity.

(p.58) Indeed, the place achieved by Villa-Lobos in the national canon exemplifies the success of modernism’s “myth-making machine,” which among other things reinforced the image of the author as an index of modernity. Prevalent descriptors employed to characterize Villa-Lobos as the “wild man of modernity” or the “the Indian wearing a dress coat”7 have served, for instance, to point and pedagogically notify to audiences modernism’s inseparability from the intellectual’s agency. Villa-Lobos’s perennial presence in modernist signification underscores the “politics of past-ness” that confirm the everlasting effects of Brazilian modernism’s aesthetic projections. Concomitantly, modernism’s critical apparatus legitimized bourgeois values as being normative ideals to aspire to, especially considering the way in which intellectuals associated with Brazilian modernism became represented as heroic figures.8 Even Villa-Lobos’s most prominent biographer, Vasco Mariz, describes the composer’s success as “a consequence of his own struggles, his own odyssey.”9 It is important to discern here Mariz’s choice of words because they reflect the rhetoric of much of the critical apparatus surrounding modernistas as spectacular figures. Mariz describes Villa-Lobos’s intellectual development as a hyperbolic “odyssey,” and through this reaffirmation of the composer’s success by his own efforts, Mariz shifts readers’ attention from the social circumstances that enabled Villa-Lobos’s artistry to flourish to the role of the heroic individual within a liberal framework: he reinforces the myth of Villa-Lobos as the “self-made” man.

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the composer’s death, one of the largest newspapers in Brazil, O Estado de São Paulo, asked various influential musicians for their critical appreciations on the significance of Villa-Lobos’s contributions. The testimonies given confirmed the mythical dimension of the composer’s work within Brazil’s musical pantheon, also revealing the difficulties that future generations have encountered in overcoming the powerful shadow that Villa-Lobos’s modernist mask has cast over the subsequent developments of “classical” music in Brazil. As composer Gilberto Mendes affirms, Villa-Lobos

continues to exist as a mark to be surpassed […]. He came to be, without a doubt, the most notable composer recognized abroad […] a name which stands amongst the greatest composers of the twentieth century, beside Bartok and Stravinsky. Many … composers still wish to be the new Villa-Lobos.10

(p.59) International fame, then, is part of the monumental, heroic story of Villa-Lobos. Another Brazilian composer, Jocy de Oliveira, notes that

the shadow of [Villa-Lobos’s] internationally recognizable name is still upon us—a fetish coming from the southern hemisphere that signified the revelation of the “other,” a radically brutal other that was different from the civilized European.11

For de Oliveira, Villa-Lobos’s heroism is authenticated by resistance: Villa-Lobos is a “fetish,” a “brutal other” who stands in opposition to colonization and who is the medium through which the very derogatory language of the colonizer is resignified and strengthened.

Given the impact of Villa-Lobos’s presence in the historiographic imagination of the Brazilian artistic tradition, it is noteworthy to examine how the composer’s incessant “self-performances” (i.e., speeches, concerts, and educational activities that revealed the movement’s principles) both established his persona and made his music synonymous with modernity. For the widely distributed narratives that surround Villa-Lobos’s activities expose the composer’s intentions to form audiences as much as to inform them about modernism. Whether using suggestive folkloric tunes, rhythms, and programmatic titles in his compositions or employing politically charged speeches in public events and press statements, Villa-Lobos sought difference as a means to propagate his own spectacle of self which was designed to align individuality and nationhood. Accounts of his travels through the depths of the jungles of the Amazon, for instance, many of which are dubious, abound in press statements, often revealing the composer caught between having to give a performance of self as an embodiment of nation while serving to foreign audiences the “primitivism” assumed to be a part of Latin American subjectivity. Villa-Lobos, on many occasions, treaded water using satire as a strategy for coping with international audiences’ expectations while he purported to teach them the meaning of Brazilian modernity. The fantastic stories that surround the composer’s musical ventures were often provided as a way to defend his own compositional process as an ethnographer who followed, avant la lettre, Mário de Andrade’s modernist “recipes” for producing what was deemed authentically Brazilian art. As de Andrade asserted:

National art is already present in the unconscious of the Brazilian people. The only thing left for the artist to do is to transpose to the (p.60) erudite form those elements already existing within the context of the nation so that popular music may become artistic; one which is immediately disinterested.12

This dialectical use of difference, whether in response to national insularity or international exploitation, embodies what Mário de Andrade meant when he spoke of anthropophagy. Indeed, the anthropophagic stance adopted by Villa-Lobos throughout his artistic career played with the European attraction for the exoticism that the composer himself had awakened through performances of his music. As José M. Wisnik warns, Villa-Lobos’s self-portrayal as “the wild man of modernity” should not be confounded with the anthropophagy that was characteristically indicative of the multicultural and multiethnic condition of colonial heritage.13 Yet, whether projecting an image of self directed toward attracting international audiences on the grounds of preconceived expectations, or declaring his artistic creed as a form of politics, Villa-Lobos’s artistic life indicates an ambiguous stance toward identity that reinstates the postcolonial subject as a primal force—attractive and valuable precisely for his temperamental difference.

Villa-Lobos indeed played a dangerous game in promoting himself as a “wild man” of modernity and his music as a product of the mysteries surrounding the former colonial space because essentially he risked validating the very image of Brazilian culture that he was attempting to dissipate through the cannibalistic acculturation of European patrimony. Villa-Lobos’s playfulness with the European attraction revealed the carnivalesque side of modernism’s anthropophagy, a Rabelaisian brutality geared toward desacralizing and transgressing. Nevertheless, the fantasy in which Villa-Lobos’s life and creation was immersed corresponded to an interconnected phenomenon, one that revealed the composer’s transgressions as a marketing tool, a characteristic move in which the artist inserts himself into the cultural industry of the twentieth century, thereby accommodating himself for the industrial gaze.14 On many occasions, Villa-Lobos repeated to foreign presses a story in which he claims to have been a captive of the “savages of the Amazon jungle.” As the composer often affectedly stated, for several days he had been the witness of an elaborate funeral ceremony intended to prepare him to be served as a tribal meal.15 Variations on this encounter with the aboriginal Other, at times, (p.61) constituted elaborate versions, such as the one the author reports to the Parisian journal Le Monde Musical:

In the cause of one of my expeditions, I had brought with me a gramophone and some records. I had a diabolical idea: I wanted to see what effect the music of European patrimony had on the Indians. Having arrived at a certain tribe where I am sure the benefits of civilization had never penetrated, I installed my machine and let it play them something perfectly consonant. My Indians shouted and hit the mechanical divinity which I had all the trouble to protect against their furor. But no, you are mistaken: it was not my Pandora’s box of which they were afraid, but the music itself.16

As Villa-Lobos continues to narrate, calm was restored when he

played a record of Indian music, collected among another tribe with which this one could not have had any contact. The good savages passed from one extreme to another and they began to shout, sing, dance and offer all signs of religious respect to the gramophone. When they were sufficiently exalted, I made an experiment: I again played the first record. There was a moment of astonishment, then, an instant later, the poor machine was nothing but a heap of timber and scrap iron […] Like the savage in the fable, mine could not stand the idea that it was the same mouth that blew alternately the flame and the cool. … I often repeated this experiment and the reactions which I had observed were almost always as conclusive if not as violent […]. This has cost me several gramophones and also some guitars […]. Progressions of consonant chords played on my guitar had a discouraging reception, but, on the other hand, my improvisations on indigenous rhythms excited the enthusiasm of the Indians. This was one of my most beautiful successes in my career as an instrumentalist.17

Villa-Lobos’s intellectual discourse cleverly juxtaposes the tropes associated with cannibalism and those evoked in Rousseau’s noble savagery. The composer articulates himself both as a bold cultural bandeirante, an explorer in charge of rescuing and conquering a lost sense of identity through the power of music, and as a Jesuit, a being whose inherent moral “superiority” emphasized faith in European divinity over the injustices (p.62) committed in the act of conquest. This dichotomy, according to Carmen Nava, exemplifies

the inherently [modernist] selective process of rebuilding a version of national identity. Both [explorers and Jesuits] emerge from a past distant from the present […]; both types are male and represent kinds of power—physical and moral—which [are] traditionally ascribed to males in Brazilian society.18

The indigenous tropes evoked by Villa-Lobos accentuated what the composer wished to convey intellectually about his own creative process. The true nature of the Brazilian musician’s use of dissonance, for instance, was not to be understood as a product of the avant-garde techniques advocated by the second Viennese School. Rather, the composer’s dissonance was to be understood as the result of a natural process of discovery of sounds within one’s cultural origins. This essentially meant Brazilian composers’ discovery of their selves as cultural anthropophagites. The diffusion of Villa-Lobos’s fantastic stories almost suggests the understanding of the modernist artist as a shaman, someone who is able to communicate with aboriginal beings in the realms of their own consciousness. In the gramophone experiment episode, Villa-Lobos relates how he is able to soothe the excitement of the members of the indigenous tribe through his improvisations on their original tunes. This idea indirectly suggests the modernist intellect as capable of reaching out and connecting spiritually with the aboriginal Other, but (significantly) not the other way around. As amusing as Villa-Lobos’s spectacular—and often ludicrous—accounts might seem, they ultimately denote modernistas attempting to position themselves as bridges between two universes whose languages could not be more different from each other. The problem resides, however, on the modernist spirit’s mistranslation when reading the Other on the grounds of an elusive sameness, namely, the Brazilian national identity. For this reading not only emphasizes a perception of identity that derives from Western episteme and stereotype, but also consequentially domesticates the Other by teaching, retroactively, what is to be understood as the truth about one’s own authentic otherness.

When Villa-Lobos arrived in Paris for the first time in 1923, he was interviewed by a reporter who asked if the authenticity of his music emanated from a compositional process of direct quotation of folk tunes. To (p.63) this question, Villa-Lobos replied, in what became one of his most celebrated statements, that “O folklore sou eu!” [I am the folklore!].19 The significance of this now notorious statement to the European press certainly goes beyond the initial connotations of a Brazilian artist defying the Parisian Establishment and its assumptions over his work. After all, as Villa-Lobos saw it, his composition catalogue was not a mere collection of folk tunes that followed the standard praxes of many of his European peers. Villa-Lobos’s assertion on “being” Brazilian folklore conveyed, in reality, how modernistas imagined themselves as cultural agents who did not merely incorporate the essence of brasilidade, in the strict sense of the Afro-Brazilian practices of mediumistic possession. Rather, Villa-Lobos asserted that he was Brazil’s folklore, its source, in the same way that Brazilian international artists were to be received as Brazil’s representation of an “authentic” culture.

Villa-Lobos’s affirmation possesses, conversely, a double-edged effect. While “O folklore sou eu” can be seen as a counterhegemonic statement that contradicts European assumptions about the “uncultured” and imitative nature of Latin American subjectivity, it also reveals the artist as an agent who restricts and replaces that which “embarrasses” for a “sanitized” version of all things cultural concerning the postcolonial space. In other words, the intellectual version of the subaltern essence was—and in many ways still is—advanced as authentic and original by being tailored to the tastes, comprehensibility, and economic demands of foreign and internal markets.

Villa-Lobos’s celebrated statement, “O folklore sou eu,” epitomizes still another side of Brazilian modernism, a side that empowered and legitimized intellectuals to function as “ventriloquists” of the people20—notwithstanding here that the term “people” (povo) has always been ambiguously ascribed to the lower classes of Brazil. Ultimately, however, the position that intellectuals sought to occupy as representatives and transitive members of the povo confirms the systematic silencing of subaltern agency. This silencing denotes the very process through which the modernist narrative came to pass as the normative account that rationalized popular/mass culture. For the soul of the “folk” was, effectively, not merely a cultural product, but rather a simulacrum mediated by those who were equipped with the tools provided by Enlightenment’s rationalism to understand and systematize what constituted povo. Suffice to mention (p.64) how modernistas defended popular art, music, and literature but did so in a rather selective fashion. As Mário de Andrade asserts in his Ensaio sôbre a música brasileira, “art music” is to be differentiated from “popular” music in the sense that artists consciously and meticulously select the material that serves as the basis of their creations, while “the people” are not capable of such discernment.21 Along these same lines, Villa-Lobos on one occasion states that “samba players are uncultured, they have no culture, but they have intelligence, they have reasoning […], they have a sense of irony about things, they know how to observe the problems of the people, to ridicule these problems.”22

Apparent in the modernistas’ remarks is that both men believed that the povo lacked the ability to systematically discern what was authentically national and were unable to internalize it in a creative fashion. These shortcomings were what made the povo vulnerable to foreign influences. Furthermore, both de Andrade’s and Villa-Lobos’s assertions reveal the modernistas’ intellectual assumptions about the so-called uneducated character of the masses, stressing not only epistemological suppositions within an alleged project of liberation, but also the very shortcomings of modernism’s theoretical approaches to subalternity in relation to cultural appropriations. Similar to de Andrade, Villa-Lobos believed that Brazilians were a people in formation. This belief acknowledged that although authenticity lay within everything that was part of the national context, whether foreign or national, Brazilian culture still obeyed a hierarchical stratification, imposing an appreciation of that which was authentic through a separation between the aboriginal, the rural, and the urban.23 Modernistas viewed the cultural products of the povo as deficient, seeing the people as consequently in need of the artistry of those who could truly bridge differences within modernity and synthesize those in order to convey the true essence of brasilidade.

In the nationalistic mask forged by Villa-Lobos, the Amerindian or Afro-Brazilian alter ego did not represent a problematic encounter insofar as they were subsumed—consumed—under the banner of sameness, part of an emerging Brazilian tradition—namely “modernism” and its pedagogical impetus. Otherness was not an a priori formative question for modernistas; rather, it was informative, educational, and generative of contexts appropriate for the consumption of products devised by those members of an emergent marketplace that overcame the very context of (p.65) the arts. As Villa-Lobos stated in a speech given at the Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro in 1939, in one of his many efforts to publicize the implementation of music education throughout Brazilian public schools, “I know that taste and public opinion cannot be imposed, but rather taught.”24 Simply put, then, Villa-Lobos’s idea of education was analogous to indoctrination, favoring transmission rather than constructivism when acting upon pedagogical sites.

Such pedagogy was, indeed, very much a conscious process in the minds of several modernistas, many of whom worked in governmental posts or were employed by a state-controlled media. Villa-Lobos’s activities within legitimized institutions connected to public education, such as the Superintendência do Ensino Musical e Artístico (SEMA), reflect the awkward alignment of intellectuals with Getúlio Vargas’s Estado Novo dictatorship (1937–1945). The composer’s position as the head of music education in Brazil during the Vargas administration afforded him the necessary conditions to educate audiences on what modernistas thought were the essential truths of the Brazilian “melting pot,” comprised of the autochthonous, African, and European heritages. It is fair to say, therefore, that Villa-Lobos exploited the state machinery at his disposal as much as he was exploited by it. While the composer responded to the government’s agenda by creating folkloric, civic, and patriotic music lessons to be sung and learned extensively in all public schools of the country,25 he also had the opportunity to systematically incorporate his own artistic sensibility into the public consciousness of the 1930s and 1940s. This conditioning, in turn, incentivized the creation of a receptive market for the authentic artistic expression to which he aspired.

The association between intellectuals and the dictatorial Getulista Estado Novo corresponded to a symbiotic relationship that proved mutually beneficial, albeit at times ideologically conflictive. On the one hand, intellectuals who aligned with governmental policies sought to control the order of signs, directing meaning in ways that not only responded to their class interests but also accommodated concerns regarding the establishment of the regime’s control over institutional power. On the other hand, the government’s totalitarian tendencies curtailed and thwarted violently dissident creativity to maintain control over its centralized program. This oppression certainly restricted intellectual freedom within a cultural field wherein a variety of actors competed for and resisted—to a lesser (p.66) or greater degree—the legitimacy of the modernist discourse, whether it was aesthetically, philosophically, or politically grounded.

The search for a systematic “way of thinking” common to the collective national imagination not only was vital for the country’s progress within the development of modern capitalism, but also was essential to the homogenizing influence of the state’s politics over the union. However, Villa-Lobos constantly reflected the Getulista homogenizing patriotism as a project of his own. On several occasions, the composer remarked that his mission as the head of music education in Brazil was one of proclaiming

the power of Brazilian artistic will, and to regiment soldiers and workers of national art … to form a resistant block and to loose a thunderous shout able to echo in all the corners of Brazil—a thunderburst [sic], formidable, unisonous and frightening: Brazilian artistic independence.26

In Villa-Lobos’s mind, therefore, the abstraction of a national identification had to be formalized through the material symbolisms and symbolic capital with which he was well acquainted and regimented then by institutions that could reproduce cultural directives maintaining the necessary cohesion and control over cultural production.27

The revision of Villa-Lobos’s participation in the state of affairs of the country’s political machine as “accidental” certainly owes much of its characterization to the historiography surrounding the Vargas regime. Indeed, critical works written during and posthumously to the Vargas Era tend to portray modernistas in general as either co-opting the government’s ideological position or being caught on the “wave of corruptibility” that characterized dictator Getúlio Vargas’s Estado Novo.28 In particular, Villa-Lobos’s self-portrayed naïveté in matters of politics constituted a broad ideological action in texts produced subsequently to his death, which sought to attenuate his participation in a corrupt and totalitarian regime.

However, it would be simplistic to characterize the modernistas’ participation in the Vargas administration within a dichotomous understanding of cooption, either as ideologically motivated or as a social project imbued with altruistic intentions. The reasons for Villa-Lobos’s and many other artists’ association with the Vargas regime were based on personal and political conjunctures. While these layerings attended to personal goals and afforded some financial stability, modernistas’ involvement in politics (p.67) represented the adoption of a means to serve a particular end.29 Whether politically co-opted or not, Villa-Lobos’s work in the Vargas administration did not discredit the intrinsic value of his art and ultimately fulfilled an aesthetic idealization proposed by the country’s intellectual elites. Ultimately, Villa-Lobos’s work stands as an example of the bourgeois pedagogical project for modernity.

As a representative of a particular class, Villa-Lobos sought to actively participate in the struggle for the control over the ideological direction of the meaning of brasilidade, seizing the emergence of a cultural philosophy that masked, under the powers evoked by the cannibalistic trope, the truly homogenizing effects of art and philosophy in vogue. The composer’s many associations, including those with the populist regime of Getúlio Vargas, express the emerging rationality of the artist as an entrepreneur who seeks to accommodate both craft and ideology to Latin America’s European logic of modernity.

Certainly, Villa-Lobos’s life and work embody the modernist intellectual as an agent who overturns “culture into nature or, at least, the cultural, the ideological, the historical into the ‘natural.’”30 As this chapter discusses, Villa-Lobos successfully implemented, as did many modernistas, a project of and for modernity that derived from the acute transformations in the forms and systems of production of the first part of the twentieth century. As identities and frameworks to read anew that which was old became increasingly contested within the development of modernism, a new science of reading was consolidated through many projects of national representation that recognized the self as the location of culture.

Ultimately, however, modernistas failed to articulate a project that deconstructed and redirected the meaning of modernity outside hegemonic paradigms of Enlightenment rationalism. Issues concerned with identity formation were still subordinated to the abstract laws of consumption enacted by capitalism and the European Enlightenment project, of which Brazil was—and still is—a part. In modernism’s claim of a second discovery of Brazil, creativity meant embracing nationalistic expressions that were unconcerned with the critical exploration of ambiguity, in favor of stabilizing what was universally deemed to be authentic. This fetishist character of Brazilian modernist culture denotes what Roberto Schwarz (p.68) identifies as an ideological contortionism that is intrinsic to the formation of Brazilian culture as a whole.31

Villa-Lobos’s presence in the pantheon of Brazilian arts and letters perhaps brings to the fore one of the most persistent existential problems characteristic of the Latin American experience as a former colonial space: the conflictive relationship with “the artificial, inauthentic and imitative nature of our cultural life.”32 But, if anything, Villa-Lobos’s creative imprint on modernist thought further problematizes the limits of Brazilian creativity, which struggled to escape the effects of the ideological models to which it had historically responded. In this sense, modernism in Brazil can no longer be revisited as a solution to the nation’s creative question of authenticity, but rather be viewed as a problem to be resolved through the masks it created when intellectuals appropriated and reinterpreted subaltern histories otherwise unknown.


(1.) Anthropophagy has been a term amply used within postcolonial theory and criticism, which has conferred renewed understandings to the metaphor beyond its Brazilian context. However, it must be noted that, for my purposes, there is a danger in misunderstanding terms such as cannibalism and anthropophagy by removing them from their original Brazilian theoretical framework at the first decades of the twentieth century. In the Brazilian context, anthropophagy meant “a reaction against nationalistic trends that created barriers to foreign influences and defended the use of Portuguese as a ‘pure language.’” As a result, cannibalism was used in part to validate European artistic innovations within Brazil. See Marly d’Amaro Basques Tooge, “Post-Colonial Translation, Visibility and Exoticism: The Brazilian Case,” Tradução e Comunicação 19 (2009): 53–54. Oswald de Andrade’s rejection of right-wing Brazilian ideologues and their xenophobic nationalism, therefore, must be taken into account for the purpose of any discussion of the diverse meanings of anthropophagy, including this term’s nuances within the modernist movement.

(2.) It has become conventional to refer to modernism, within the Brazilian context, in the capitalized form in order to differentiate its meaning as an aesthetic movement. However, to do so in this chapter would be to reinforce the very strategies of reiteration and reintegration of ideological factions that, in fact, mask modernism’s plurality. Since I refer to the term as a series of “movements” within the context of the early twentieth century, I avoid its capitalization. (p.69)

(3.) Peter McLaren and Ramin Farahmadpur, “Marx after Post-Marxism: Reclaiming Critical Pedagogy for the Left,” in Red Seminars: Radical Excursions into Educational Theory, Cultural Politics, and Pedagogy, ed. Peter McLaren et al. (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 2005), 3.

(4.) Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 10–11.

(5.) See Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), esp. 129.

(6.) Guy Debord, The Society of Spectacle, trans. Ken Knabb (London: Rebel, 1983), 6.

(7.) The phrase used to describe Villa-Lobos, índio de casaca, was employed by Brazilian writer Menotti del Pichia to describe the composer’s anthropophagic character as a synthesis of the spirit of modernism en vogue. See Bartholomeu Wiese, “Heitor Villa-Lobos: O demolidor indio de casaca,” Revista em pauta 6, no. 4 (December 2009): 291–301.

(8.) Throughout this essay, I attempt to stress the dimensionality of modernism’s culture as a conglomerate of competing thoughts meant to mobilize group identities toward the adoption of particular cultures. However, I do not suggest that culture be thought of “as a property of individuals and groups,” as Arjun Appadurai correctly notes, but rather as a “heuristic device that we can use to talk about difference.” See Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996) 13.

(9.) Vasco Mariz, Heitor Villa-Lobos (Brasília: Ministério das Relaçoes Exteriores, 1947), 33.

(10.) Gilberto Mendes qtd. in João Luis Sampaio, “Artistas comentam a obra de Heitor Villa-Lobos,” O Estado de São Paulo, November 14, 2009, accessed November 16, 2015, http://m.cultura.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,artistas-comentam-a-obra-de-heitor-villa-lobos,466119, my translation. The original reads as follows: “O problema de Villa-Lobos para os compositores brasileiros é que ele continua um marco a superar, muito difícil. Ele se tornou, sem dúvida, o maior nome do Brasil no exterior, conforme admitia Gilberto Freyre, um nome entre os maiores da música do século 20, ao lado de Bartok, Stravinsky. Muitos compositores brasileiros ainda querem ser o novo Villa-Lobos.”

(11.) Jocy de Oliveira qtd. in ibid. (my translation). The original reads: “Acho que a nova geração já não carrega estes traços marcantes de Villa-Lobos embora a sombra de seu nome internacionalmente ainda paire por sobre nós-o fetiche daquele vindo do hemisfério sul na década de vinte e que segundo a critica Anais Fléchet para os franceses tratava-se da revelação do ‘outro,’ um outro radical e brutalmente diferente do europeu civilizado.” (p.70)

(12.) Mário de Andrade, Ensaio sôbre a música brasileira (São Paulo: Martins, 1972), 16, my translation. The original reads as follows: “Uma arte nacional já está feita na inconsciência do povo. O artista tem só que dar para os elementos existentes uma transposição erudita que faça da música popular, música artística, isto é: imediatamente desinteressada.”

(13.) José M. Wisnik, “Entre o erudito e o popular,” Revista de história 157 (April 2007), esp. 57.

(14.) As critics often note, Villa-Lobos’s music became more “Brazilian” especially after his contact with the Parisian vanguard during his residence in France in 1923. The composer’s anthropophagy, therefore, became more defined precisely as a result of the European gaze—not molded, necessarily, in spite of it. See Paulo Renato Guérios, “Heitor Villa-Lobos e o ambiente artístico parisiense: Convertendo-se em um músico brasileiro,” Mana 9, no. 1 (April 2003), 81–108.

(15.) Lisa Peppercorn, “Villa-Lobos’s Brazilian Excursions,” Musical Times 113, no. 1549 (March 1972): 263–65.

(16.) Ibid., 263.

(18.) Carmen Nava, “Lessons in Patriotism and Good Citizenship: National Identity and Nationalism in Public Schools during the Vargas Administration,” Luso-Brazilian Review 35, no. 1 (Summer 1998): 41.

(19.) Anna Stella Schic, Villa-Lobos: O indio branco (Rio de Janeiro: Imago Editora, 1989), 146.

(20.) Elzbieta Sklodowska, “Testimonio mediatizado: ¿Ventriloquía o heteroglosia?” Revista de crítica literaria latinoamericana 38 (June–December 1993): 81–90.

(22.) Villa-Lobos speaking in the documentary Villa-Lobos: O índio de casaca, directed by Roberto Feith (Rio de Janeiro: Metavídeo/Rede Manchete, 1987). His original statement reads as follows: “Os sambistas são incultos […] mas têm inteligência, tiem raciocínio […] eles têm um sentido irônico, eles sabem opbservar os problemas populares, ridicularizá-los.”

(23.) Gerard Behague, “Música ‘erudita,’ ‘folkclórica’ e ‘popular’ do Brasil: Interações e inferências para a musicologia e etnomusicologia modernas,” Latin America Music Review 27, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2006): 57–68.

(24.) Luis Antonio Giron, “Villa-Lobos tinha dias de tirano,” Revista Época (September 2009), accessed January 12, 2012, http://revistaepoca.globo.com/Revista/Epoca/0,,EDR59656-6011,00.html.

(25.) For a study of Villa-Lobos’s pedagogical activities during the Vargas regime and the creation of the Canto Orfeônico [Orphic chant], a system of music education to be applied in the public schools, see Maurício Parada, “O som da (p.71) nação: Educação musical e civismo no Estado Novo: 1937–45,” Alceu 9, no. 18 (January–June 2009): 174–85.

(26.) Villa-Lobos qtd. in David E. Vassberg, “Villa-Lobos: Music as Tool of Nationalism,” Luso-Brazilian Review 6, no. 2 (Winter 1969): 57.

(27.) As Benedict Anderson argues in Imagined Communities (New York: Verso, 1991), nationalism, in its modern expression, did not correspond to the awakening of a collective consciousness; rather it constituted the very invention of tradition (6). According to Anderson, the rise of print capitalism and other technologies of mass communication became paramount in the creation of conditions for establishing a channel of virtual inter-recognition and propagation of ideals of sameness. Print capitalism not only facilitated intellectual interventions in the imagination of the public at large by creating and expanding existing ideological marketplaces but also served as a mechanism for consolidating borders and instituting geopolitical legitimacy. See Anderson, Imagined Communities, 37–46.

(28.) As Saulo Gouveia argues, traditional historiography on the subject of Brazilian modernism has had a central role in concealing the hegemonic impetus of the movement. Modernist historiography employed “a highly coded language that [affirmed] its own ideological position in the cultural field and, at the same time, it [disguised] its own explicit political content” (35). Brazilian Modernism: A Discourse on Unity and Suppression, PhD diss. (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois, 2006).

(29.) Analía Cerñavski, “Um maestro no gabinete: Música e política no tempo de Villa-Lobos,” Anais do XVII Encontro Regional de História—O lugar da história. Campinas: ANPUH/SP-UNICAMP (2004), 1–9. (Proceedings of the 17th Regional History Conference: The Place of History, held September 6–10, 2004, at Universidade de Campinas [UNICAMP], Campinas, Brazil.) See also Ricardo Goldemberg, “Educação musical: A experiência do canto orfeônico no Brasil.” Pro-posições 3, no. 18 (1995): 103–9, and Parada, “Som da nação,” 174–85.

(31.) Roberto Schwarz, Misplaced Ideas: Essays on Brazilian Culture, trans. John Gledson (New York: Verso, 1992), 27–28.

(32.) Ibid., 1.