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Representing the Good NeighborMusic, Difference, and the Pan American Dream$
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Carol A. Hess

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199919994

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199919994.001.0001

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Caliban and Unsublimated Primitivism

Caliban and Unsublimated Primitivism

Villa-Lobos at the 1939 World’s Fair

Chapter:
(p.81) 4 Caliban and Unsublimated Primitivism
Source:
Representing the Good Neighbor
Author(s):

Carol A. Hess

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199919994.003.0004

This chapter describes the conspicuous display of Pan American amity at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York in relation to Villa-Lobos, whose music was performed there. Critics, who largely focused on difference, detected two main facets of Villa-Lobos’s musical personality. One, commercialism, was deemed “vulgar.” Two, unsublimated primitivism, both intrigued and repelled for its evocation of a “savage” Other; by fulfilling expectations for “African rhythm” it also prompted racialist discourse and fed into then-current concepts of American (U.S.) rhythm. Grappling with these issues, critics at the Fair largely overlooked Villa-Lobos’s third style, universalism, manifested in his Bachianas brasileiras, which purported to link Brazilian folk music with the universality of Bach. Yet ultimately that opus established Villa-Lobos in the United States and neatly corresponded to the cultural agenda of Getúlio Vargas, whom the Roosevelt administration was then assiduously courting, with the Good Neighbor Policy in full swing at that time.

Keywords:   music and the 1939 World’s Fair, Heitor Villa-Lobos in the United States, Olin Downes, Leonard Bernstein, primitivism, Brazilian music, “African” rhythm in the Americas, branqueamento, Good Neighbor Policy, Getúlio Vargas regime

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