Research group “Urban music in Brazil”

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What can we hear from Casa Edison's old records?

Martha Tupinambá de Ulhôa

Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro]
SLIDE 1 - My name is Martha Tupinambá de Ulhôa and I teach at UNIRIO (Rio de Janeiro State Federal University) and research under the auspice of a CNPq (the Brazilian Research Agency) grant. First of all, I would like to thank CHARM group, in special Nicholas Cook and Carol Chan, for the opportunity of being here.
SLIDE 2 - The research group I am part of deals basically with recordings of urban popular music. There are researchers and students working with varied repertories and current research works are: the comparison between the Brazilian and the American fox-trot; the study of rhythmic flexibility of samba accompaniment; the study of recordings of bands from early XX century; the study of electric guitar performance; and the study of musical rhetoric of extreme metal in Rio de Janeiro.
SLIDE 3 - Much of our work consists of proceedings similar to the ones employed by CHARM researchers – the comparative study of recordings, either by a single musician throughout time, or the study of several recordings of the same song or specific repertory.
SLIDE 4 - My research focus is the analysis of popular song and I am currently very interested in questions involving oral and aural transmission (besides written transmission which is not the issue here). After having worked with material from late XX century, I felt the need of making an incursion on the past in search of musical and cultural matrices of Brazilian popular music.
SLIDE 5 - One of my sources is the historical phonograms of Brazilian popular songs, the first available register of performances made by the popular musicians themselves. That’s why I became interested in learning more about the recording process of old 78rpm mechanical recordings and that’s why I am here. People interested in old records of Brazilian popular music are rather lucky of having a big part of this repertoire available in the internet. All recordings we will listen today are 78rpm mechanical discs, available through the Instituto Moreira Salles site (
SLIDE 6 - One of the problems my research group encounters while dealing with transferred / compressed material caught in the web is the difficulty of understanding the lyrics of these old recordings. We are transposing this setback partially through a search for the lyrics in old cancioneiros from the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. That’s where we found the words for the songs heard today.
SLIDE 7 - We have been working with recorded musical performance rather alone down there below the Equator. At the same time, observing what has been done by other researchers including several participating of this symposium, I think we can make a contribution, considering the specific type of material we deal with (Brazilian popular music). Also, considering the field of popular music studies it is interesting that the IASPM Latin American Branch might have a bigger number of scholars using a musicological perspective than in others research scene, including the United Kingdom one. So it is quite felicitous the appearance of CHARM, and the opportunity of being able not only to share our findings but also of opening our research possibilities by the exposition to aspects not considered before by musicology, such as the question of transfers of early recordings. I hope that after listening some recordings of Brazilian early popular music, you might comment and make suggestions of aspects you consider relevant to investigate.
SLIDE 8 - The first Brazilian record company, Casa Edison, named after Thomas Edison, issued from 1902 to 1927 more that half of the circa of seven thousand mechanical records of the first Brazilian professional popular music artists, as well as genres that were the basis for modern Brazilian popular music together with solos, duets and overtures of opera and operetta standards.
SLIDE 9 - Casa Edison was founded on March 22, 1900, by the Tcheck-Jew Frederico (Fred) Figner (1866-1946), who had been making, since 1897, cylinder recordings of Rio de Janeiro’s street serenaders.
SLIDE 10 - In October, 1891, Figner arrives in Belém do Pará, north of Brazil, sets up a phonograph and starts recording cylinders with the voices of the guests at Hotel Central where he himself was staying. One of these recordings consisted in an improvised speech against the Republic of Brazil, made by someone called Dr. Cabral, and which was very successful in later exhibitions in the south of Brazil). In Belém and later, in Salvador, another stop of his tour through Brazil, he also records several cylinders with opera arias performed by the Concetta Bondalba Company. Besides this, he recorded much local music in the coastal cities he visited in order to exhibit the phonograph, and noticed that this was the most appreciated repertory. He visits Rio de Janeiro in April 1892, where he would only settle down in 1896, after having traveled through the south of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, as well as a stay in Milan, when he showed his talking machine to no-one less than Verdi and Boito. In 1900, Figner founds Casa Edison, where - besides fridges and typewriters - he commercializes the novelty, the gramophones and its plates, which was how the records were called. In 1901, North-American Frederich M. Prescott, founder of Zon-O-Phone International of Berlin – competitor with Grammophone/Victor – offers Figner a third of the patent of double-faced records to be distributed in Brazil. In the beginning of 1902, two German technicians come to Rio de Janeiro (Hagen in January and Pancoast in May). They recorded about 500 wax cylinders, which were sent to Germany, transformed in copper matrices and pressed at Telephon-Fabrik Berliner in Hanover, where copies were made in order to be sent back to Brazil. Fred Figner then starts to advertise discs with “national modinhas (songs) pressed on both sides and also modinhas on one side and on the other, an opera piece or the execution of the Firemen´s Corporation band and a vocal piece.”
SLIDE 11 - Also in 1902, Casa Edison started commercializing Berliner gramophones and records, imported from North America, advertised in a 48-page catalogue. The catalogue cover shows the shop address and, right in the middle of the page, the picture of Thomas Edison. Down on the right, a photograph of Figner himself and under it, the address of two branches in São Paulo and Santos.
SLIDE 12 - The studio functioned at a Casa Edison back room at Rua do Ouvidor (Ouvidor Street), central Rio de Janeiro. There, the recordings were made on wax cylinders which were then sent to Joseph Berliner’s Hanover factory to be transformed into copper matrices, from which were made the copies to return to Brazil. From this period were the seven inches Zon-O-Phone 10.000 series and the ten inches X-1.000 series. In 1904, Casa Edison started issuing International Talking Machine Odeon label records (like the Brazilian two-faced ten and a half inches (10,5 in) 40.000 series). In 1912, Odeon associated with Fred Figner set in Tijuca, Northern Rio de Janeiro, a record factory, that between 1921 and 1926, issued the series 122.000, with recordings of artists like Francisco Alves, Araci Cortes and Patrício Teixeira, who saw their careers consolidated during the electric system phase, beginning 1927, when Casa Edison and others were overcame by foreign industries such as Odeon, RCA Victor and Columbia.
SLIDE 13 - The 1902 catalogue brings, besides the advertising of various types of imported phonographs and gramophones, and a reasonable listing of cylinders and records, bearing a “large and chosen repertory of national and foreign phonograms.” The advertisement indicates that orders from inland towns would be sent on the same day they were received and should always be accompanied by postal money orders. After a glossary of abbreviations for the types of vocal solo and duet, there comes the alphabetical listing of Italian operas. Africana (Meyerbeer) with the arias “O paradiso” for tenor, “Addio terra nativa” for soprano, “Alerta Marinar” for baritone and “Balata” for bass. From items 5 to 11, there were arias from Verdi´s Aida, beginning with the famous “Celeste Aída” for tenor; from item 12 to 16, arias from Ballo in Mascara {Verdi’s melodrama) from item nº 17 on, in the catalogue, arias and duets from Barbieri di Seviglia (Rossini).
SLIDE 14 - Next page brings a selection of arias from several 19th century successful operas, including some numbers from O Guarany, opera by the Brazilian composer Carlos Gomes.
SLIDE 15 - On page 52 of the 1902 Casa Edison catalogue, the 78 rpm phonograms for Gramophone and Zonophone. The text informs that Casa Edison is the only one which has records made in Rio de Janeiro with the very well-known modinhas composed by the popular singer Bahiano and by the highly esteemed Cadete, as well as polkas, waltzes and dobrados (a kind of march) etc, performed by the Firemen´s Corporation Band, for which Casa Edison has signed a contract with International Zon-O-Phone Company of Berlin and New York. The text also says that, in addition to all catalogued items, Fred Figner always keeps in stock all operas, the best bands of Milan etc. Next, again Bahiano´s repertory, now with the identification series number 10.000. Among the first advertised numbers, the lundus “Isto é bom” (This is good) and “Bolim Bolacho” whose lyrics portray the waggery of this king of repertory.
SLIDE 16 - First one strophe of Isto é bom - This is good

O inverno é rigoroso – Winter is tough

Já dizia a minha avó – Grand’ma used to say

Quem dorme de noite tem frio – Sleeping at night feels cold

Quanto mais quem dorme só – Much more sleeping alone.

And the refrain which gives the lundu its title:

Isto é bom, isto é bom – This is good, this is good

Isto é bom que dói! – It´s so good it hurts!

SLIDE 17 - Now Bolim Bolacho [Cake Cookie]

Bolim bolacho, bole em cima, - Cake Cookie, tease [waist] up

Bolim bolacho por causa do bole embaixo – Cake Cookie, because of the teasing [waist] down

Quem não come da castanha do caruru – Who doesn´t eat the caruru nut

Não percebe do caju – Doesn´t understand about the cashew

Quem não come do caju – Who doesn´t eat the cashew

Não percebe do fubá – Doesn´t understand about the ground maize.
SLIDE 18 - There are plenty of double meanings in the lyrics and many of them characteristically use irony in order to carry social criticism as shown in the next strophe, which comments on the fact that both the poor – buried in a grave and covered with earth – and the rich, buried in a well-finished tomb and covered with stone, after five years will be only bones.
SLIDE 19 - The recordings of phonograms made for Casa Edison in the beginning of the XX century are invaluable records of popular music of oral tradition in Brazil, such as canzonets, comic pieces, marches, lundus and modinhas, some of them known since the XIX century. Among them, there were songs written by well-known popular composers such as Xisto Bahia (1841-1894), as the modinha “Quis debalde” and the lundu we saw some verses “Isto é bom”.
SLIDE 20 - “Isto é bom” was recorded with other 227 songs through the work of the German technician Hagen, between the second half of January and the first half of February, 1902, in the newly-installed recording room of Casa Edison. The announcement in the beginning of the recording: “Isto é bom, lundu sung by Bahiano for Casa Edison, Rua do Ouvidor, 107 – was the routine for all recordings, so that the technicians in Berlin, who pressed and labeled the records could know what song it was and not make mistakes. Let’s hear the recording of the first version of “Isto é bom”.

[ISTO É BOM – Bahiano] CLICK1

Isto é bom (Xisto Bahia), Bahiano. Odeon 1031 (1902-1904).

And now, another recording of “Isto é bom” made between 1907 and 1912. Observe how different the melodic lines are one from the other.

[ISTO É BOM – Eduardo das Neves] CLICK2

Isto é bom (Xisto Bahia), Eduardo das Neves. Odeon 108076 (1907-1912).

SLIDE 21 - Let’s hear once again the recordings, now with the lyrics, which show the same words for different melodies, first with Bahiano, and afterwards with Eduardo das Neves

[ISTO É BOM – Bahiano com letra] CLICK3

Isto é bom (Xisto Bahia), Bahiano. Odeon 1031 (1902-1904).
SLIDE 22 - [ISTO É BOM – Eduardo das Neves com letra] CLICK4

Isto é bom (Xisto Bahia), Eduardo das Neves. Odeon 108 076 (1907-1912).

SLIDE 23 - Another song by Xisto Bahia, now in another genre, the modinha, is the next example. “Quis debalde varrer-te da memória” or “In vain I wished to wipe you from my memory” was written by Xisto Bahia with lyrics by Plínio Augusto Xavier de Lima. While lundus like Isto é bom and Bolim Bolacho have a non-smooth melodic contour and privileges irony and double entendre, Quis debalde, with a wavy melodic line is about love, as most modinhas are. For the sake of time we will listen a circa of 2 minutes excerpt while I project the lyrics. CLICK5

Quis debalde varrer-te da memória – In vain I wished to wipe you from my memory

E o teu nome arrancar do coração – And to pull your name out of my heart

Amo-te sempre, oh! Que martírio infindo! – I love you always, oh! Such an endless suffering

Tem a força da morte esta paixão! – This passion has the strenght of death!
SLIDE 24 - Eu sentia-me atado aos teus prestígios, - I felt myself bound to your influence

Por grilhões poderosos e fatais – By powerful and fatal chains

Nem me vias sequer, te amava ainda – You didn´t even notice me, I loved you

Motejavas de mim, te amava mais – You scoffed at me, I loved you even more. Let’s listen

SLIDE 25 - Next, an example of another song written by Eduardo das Neves, already in the era of recording, “Santos Dumont”, recorded by Bahiano in 1906.

The lyrics of “Santos Dumont” are characteristic of the enthusiasm popular classes feel for the people who have accomplished great deeds before other countries. The same happened to Carlos Gomes, worshipped as a hero in the XIX century for having succeeded in the European scene as an equal to his pairs. This happened to the aviation pioneer, whose flight around the Eiffel Tower inspired the creation of a song in his homage, in which the success and popularity of Santos Dumont are due less to his contribution to aviation and more due to the admiration towards him in Paris. Let’s observe the lyrics of the song recorded by Bahiano in 1906. The author is Eduardo das Neves, clown, actor and singer, also active at Casa Edison.

A Europa curvou-se ante o Brasil

– Europe bent before Brazil

E aclamou parabéns em meigo tom

– In smooth congratulations

Brilhou lá no céu mais uma estrela

– Another star twinkled in the sky

Apareceu Santos Dumont.

– Santos Dumont has appeared.

Let’s hear the recording. CLICK6
SLIDE 26 - While “Isto é bom” is an example of a song orally transmitted (remember that Xisto Bahia, the composer, died in 1894, before de advent of recording), “Santos Dumont” goes through another kind of process. Even though it was composed by a singer who possessed no formal musical training, it was soon recorded, having been registered in score in 1909.
SLIDE 27 - As a curiosity the music sheet front page. In the right superior corner there is a picture of Eduardo das Neves (1874-1919), the author of “Santos Dumont or The Conquest of Air, Chant to the Brave aeronaut Santos Dumont, the glory of Brazil”. A little below the mentioning that the song was transcribed to score by Manoel Coll. That is, it’s something made by an illiterate musician which required a transcription made by an educated one. However, instead of oral transmission, we are already in the era of aural transmission, later recordings showing some fidelity to the first recorded version. Instead of singing by memory a tune one learned by ear, the reproduction of a recorded performance. The recording becomes a model for subsequent performances.
SLIDE 28 - As an example, an instrumental version performed by the Casa Edison band, our last example of the session. But first, as an aural reference, once again, the version sung by Bahiano. Santos Dumont (Eduardo das Neves) Bahiano, Zon-O-Phone 621 (1902). CLICK7
SLIDE 29 - Finally the dobrado (doubled) by Casa Edison’s band.

Santos Dumont (Eduardo das Neves) Banda da Casa Edison, Odeon 40069 (1904-1907). Besides the literal reference to the original tune, it might be worth noticing the emphasis on the bass line in section C, a common feature in Brazilian popular instrumental music.

Intro | A :| B (TUNE) | C :| etc. CLICK8
SLIDE 30 – The end.

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