Now available for download; the booklet containing all the activities that have taken place during the Year of Holland in Brazil.
Even though the discovery of precious stones in Minas Gerais (Minas) had been officially communicated to the Portuguese crown as early as 1729, the first news of the precious finds dates from the end of the 17th century. The spread of the news set off an enormous movement into Minas of people of many origins and every social class, from every other part of the colony, Portugal and even elsewhere in Europe. The opening of the mines stimulated a new cycle of economic prosperity in the colony and a rapid multiplication of hamlets and villages.
If the promise of enrichment drew in people of the most varied backgrounds and regions, the dangers, unforeseen circumstances and the hard reality of mining encouraged a process of grouping together of individuals in need of spiritual consolation and mutual assistance, fostering the forming of the first brotherhoods in the region. Even though the brotherhoods already existed in other parts of the colony, in Minas their role was fundamental, for it is around them that the social organization of the towns, villages and hamlets grew. The brotherhoods were formed by individuals who had a special devotion to the same Catholic saint and belonged roughly to the same socio-economic group. They attended mass and held processions, prepared funerals, promoted the festivities of the patron saints, cared for the ill and sponsored artists and musicians. Catholic Church dates and the celebration of birthdays or marriages of the Portuguese princes were occasions for public festivities which could last for more than a month. The brotherhoods frequently built their own churches, or had altars consecrated in the principal churches.
With the riches brought by gold mining and with the impulse given by the brotherhoods primitive chapels were converted into opulent churches. Even though in the 17th century Baroque art was already in decline in Europe, in Brazil it began to flourish; and not only in architecture. In Minas the government as well as the men of property were not interested in painting, which was concentrated in the churches. Lacking palaces, it was only the churches that represented the Baroque ideals of sculpture, painting and architecture. It is in church architecture and decoration that the principal manifestation of Baroque art in Brazil can be found.
This flourishing of the arts included music. In the 18th century Minas was the stage of a gathering of musicians never before seen in all colonial Latin America. Many high quality musicians were present, as attested by the writings of European travellers who were passing through the region in the 18th century and were astonished and charmed by the talent of the players and music they heard.
The Captaincy of Minas became the preferred place of adventurers and those who sought to improve their lot, among them musicians. According to the musicologist Francisco Curt Lange, a migration of musicians to the region began with the first rumours of the discovery of gold: “the musicians practically stepping on the heels of the miners.”
The main employers of the musicians and artists were the brotherhoods, along with the Senate of the Council. The Crown exercised its control over the community through the Senate, and this included exhibitions of power at celebratory events. The brotherhoods in their turn would commission works of art and bear the cost. At the same time some brotherhoods were formed by musicians themselves. Everybody in society in Minas, including the artists and musicians were members of guilds. The number of professional musicians in Minas was enormous. Between 1787 and 1790, the period considered the apex of music in Minas, where there were something in the order of one thousand musicians according to the research by Curt Lange.
As in Portugal, the church established norms whose purpose was to exercise a control over music, banning for example the techniques of the emerging Classical style, or singing with musical accompaniment. Similar restrictions existed in the colony though they took on a completely different dimension. In practice colonial reality was flexible, with music capable of combining aspects of the most recent styles with the traditional religious requirements. The composers in Minas ordered from Lisbon the music scores of the contemporary European masters such as Palestrina, Pergolesi, Haydn and Mozart. They were in constant contact with the most recent music produced in Europe and these were the models they followed, even though they were executed in the Baroque environment of the churches; the compositions of these Minas composers contained pre-classical and classical characteristics. The term Baroque music, which designates the music produced during this period, has for some time in Brazil been interchangeable with the term colonial music.
The musical activity involved the music composed in Europe as well as that produced locally. The repertoire was predominantly religious, but secular music was played at some public festivities and in the homes of the richer families, alongside military music.
The musicians involved with playing music in Minas were almost all half-breeds, the greater part were free men who found themselves in a position between blacks and white men. They belonged to a master, but could not equate themselves with the whites. According to Curt Lange, to be a half-breed in a slave society meant occupying yourself with activities not related to the immediate dynamics of the economy. To make music was one of the few opportunities for work and at the same time a way for an individual to raise his social status.
Black people who played music were for the greater majority slaves belonging to rich masters. According to Lange, “it was normal, de bon ton and a sign of distinction to have blacks listed as choromelleyros (music playing) in the inventory of a rich person’s house.”
Among the more important composers of the period are José Joaquim Emerico Lobo de Mesquita (1746-1805), author of sacred music such as Te Deums, Masses, creeds and litanies, Marcos Coelho Neto (1746-1806), Francisco Gomes da Rocha (1746-1808), Ignácio Parreiras Neves (1752-1794) and Manoel Dias de Oliveira (1734-1813)
baroque music, colonial music, tradion, pre-classical, minas gerais