Constructions of Modernism in M. Camargo Guarnieri’s Pedro Malazarte

Melody Chapin

This paper argues that the one-act opera Pedro Malazarte (1932) expresses a hybridization of vernacular sources and transnational influences particular to Brazilian modernists’ concept of brasilidade in the early twentieth century. Using the music and libretto of the opera as a starting point, I examine three passages that feature three key Brazilian musical genres and their corresponding actors: Malazarte’s embolada, a type of northeastern patter song, Baiana’s modinha, often described as a Brazilian salon song, and the townspeople’s ciranda, a dramatic dance performed in northern Brazil. These three genres point to the use of disparate subject matter from various regions of Brazil to create a Brazilianized “imagined community” (Anderson, Gouveia). Yet a closer look at Guarnieri’s musical settings reveals contradictory moments during which the composer at times mimics characteristic vernacular arrangements and at other times completely reimagines the genre according to non-tonal musical aesthetics depending on the dramatic context. The paper not only contributes to music scholarship on Brazilian musical nationalism (Béhague, Appleby), but also to work that has more pointedly studied modernist and transnational influences in Brazil, such as Milhaud’s influence on Brazilian modernist composers (Lago, Tyrell). It thereby argues for a reading of modernism and musical nationalism as deeply intertwined, coinciding movements. This close look at Pedro Malazarte therefore not only affords a new way of understanding modernism in relation to Brazilian national identity, it also offers new perspectives on regional, domestic, and transnational modernisms circulating in early twentieth century Brazil.