Volume 5, April 2015
Lino José Nunes's 1838 Methodo : Historical, Analytical and Editorial aspects of an Afro-Brazilian Double Bass Jewel

by Fausto Borém, Alfredo Ribeiro, Gustavo Neves, João Paulo Campos, and Rodrigo Olivarez


1. Introduction — "New" double bass music found in "old" Brazil!

There seems to be something contradictory in the catchy title above as Brazil is not really an "old" country and the "new" double bass music presented here is not new, but the second oldest double bass music of its kind in the world, as we shall see. The history of Brazil — a notably interracial country — is recent when compared to the majority of those in Europe. As the first Portuguese arrived in the year 1500, two main musical manifestations were established: concert music of European traditions and popular music of European and African traditions. Despite the horrors of African slavery by the Europeans in the Americas, the mixing of races brought about a new social class — the mulattos — and, at the same time, their music. The Afro-Americans in the New World, compressed between the free "White" and the unvoiced "Black," largely contributed to the development of concert music outside of Europe and, even more, to the emergence of popular genres such as the ragtime in North America, the habanera in Central America, and the lundu and modinha in South America (Cançado, 2000, p.5-7). But what are the reasons that led Brazil to occupy the center stage for the earliest relevant concert music scores in general to be found in the New World? First, the intense gold rush at the beginning of the 18th century made it possible for every major town to have small chamber groups and orchestras1 and produce their own music. Second, the unique and surprising translocation of a European empire to Brazil in the beginning of the 19th century brought with it an outstanding musical environment never experienced before in the Americas.

In 1808, trapped on the Iberian Peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the military expansionist forces of Napoleon Bonaparte, King John VI of Portugal had no choice but to flee to colonial Brazil in forty-six ships with a select population of about 12,000 courtesans (Bueno, 2004, p.142). Planning a trip with no return, the king created in Brazil a cultural scene that the Portuguese were accustomed to in Europe. In very little time, the Royal Chapel Choir and Orchestra were established in Rio de Janeiro " . . . with a quality equivalent to important European towns . . . " (Lino CARDOSO, 2006, p.337). Besides sacred, symphonic, and operatic music, military music was very present as an evident sign of the newly created empire (Binder, 2006, p.25; Tinhorão, 1976). But before that, the musical life in Rio was already in progress, both popular and classical, a scene in which the music school of the mulatto Father José Maurício Nunes Garcia, one of the most distinguished musicians in colonial and imperial Brazil, became a reference for the poor to study for free (Mattos, 1967, pp.31-32). There is the starting point for our personage: Lino José2 Nunes (? – September, 5, 1847).3

Father Garcia took the young Nunes as a protégé who, in return, would show gratitude during his whole career. Born to Paula Joaquina (no middle or last names, which was typical for slaves) and to an unknown father (possibly the common case of "bastard" offspring of white men with female slaves),4 Nunes showed his affectionate relationship to the Garcia family in two documented occasions. First, the mature Nunes commissioned Father Garcia for the Santa Cecilia Mass (Mattos, 1967, p.34), considered one of his masterworks. Second, he dedicated to Dr. Garcia Jr. his "Methodo Prático ou Estudos Complettos para o Contrabaxo" ("Practical Method or Complete Studies for the Double Bass"), from now on called only "Methodo"(Nunes, 1838). Dr. Garcia Jr. was one of Father Garcia's children, who probably studied double bass with Nunes, as can be seen on the front page of the manuscript5 in Ex.1. Unfortunately for the history of the double bass, he gave up music for medicine.6

Ex.01

Ex.1 - Front page of Lino José Nunes's 1838 "Methodo Pratico ou Estudos Complettos para o Contrabaixo", dedicated to Dr. José Maurício Nunes Garcia.

Nunes excelled as a distinguished musician, becoming a singer, multi-instrumentalist (double bass, guitar, and Portuguese guitar), teacher, and composer, who sometimes acted as a conductor. As a composer he also left "Cupido tirando [a aljava] dos hombros" ("Cupid taking off [the quiver] from his shoulders"), "Se os meus suspiros podessem" ("If my whispers could"), and "De Huma simples amizade" ("Of a simple friendship"), three pieces for voice and piano. These modinhas were published in 19th century Portugal in a collection of Brazilian and Portuguese modinhas and re-published by Doderer (Org., 1984, pp.60-71, pp.102-103 and pp.114-115, respectively). [Editor Note: The arrangements of these three pieces for double bass, voice, and piano are available for fund raising download at the ISB site to help bass projects.] As a young man, he sang at the Royal Chapel Choir and later became the principal double bassist of the Royal Orchestra, his main job in life. Nunes also played in several other ensembles in Rio, such as those of the Royal Chamber, the Teatro São Pedro de Alcântara Theatre, and the Teatro Tivoly. He taught at the Conservatório Dramático Brasileiro, at the Dance and Music Conservatory of Rio de Janeiro, and at the private school of Father Garcia, where he studied as a young man (André Cardoso, 2011, 427-429). Being the foremost double bassist in the first half of 19th-century Brazil, Nunes probably played in most of the many operas premiered or re-staged during his time at the Royal Orchestra: 37 by Rossini, 15 by Donizetti, 6 by Bellini, and one by Verdi (Andrade, 1967, vol.1, pp.113-126; vol.2, pp.121-130). He was probably the bassist chosen for two premières of Mozart's masterworks in Brazil:  the Requiem conducted by Father José Maurício in 1819 in the famous arrangement by Sigismund Neukomm7 (Mattos, 1967, p.29) and the opera Don Giovanni in 1821 (Mattos, 1967, p.33). Finally, the importance of Nunes in Rio's concert music scene is illustrated by the outcome of the major political-economic crisis during the reign of King Pedro I, who composed and played several instruments: harpsichord, violin, flute, clarinet, bassoon, and trombone (Bueno, 2004, p.170). Drowned in debt, the country's political master minds saw no other outlet other than sending the bohemian king back to Portugal (Andrade, 1967, vol.1, p.163, p.169, vol.2, p.231)8 and dramatically cut financial costs everywhere. In an 1828 desperate letter, thirty-seven musicians of the Royal Chapel Orchestra, including Nunes, wailed and begged to keep their jobs:

" . . . having to bear so far with great suffering and silence all those misfortunes that the inevitable series of unfavorable and more or less mortifying happenings have fallen over their heads . . . the excessive evils that afflict them. Dedicated since their childhood to a not so happy a profession . . . They used a good deal of their years in a defenseless study . . . fruit of their labor . . . a decent subsistence, an award to which every non-idling citizen should aspire. There was a time when they appropriately received it . . . [but now] a bitter existence, with some having to look for the sustenance of their numerous and indispensable families; not being able to have another employment that would help to alleviate their hardship: which means will they choose in order to escape so violent and oppressive a state? . . . " (quoted by Andrade, 1967, vol.1, pp.161-162; underlines by the present author).

But it was to no avail. The Royal Chapel Orchestra was closed by decree in 1831. However, among some seventy instrumentalists (Lino Cardoso, 2006, p.5), Nunes was one of only four kept — paid by service9 — in order to provide the minimum support to the essential activities of the choir (also dramatically reduced by a government decree; Andrade, 1967, vol.1, p.164). Striving to survive as a musician in a scenario drastically changed, Nunes offered his services to teach, compose, and perform in both popular and classical circles. In a newspaper advertisement published in Rio he had the guts, in a very sexist society,10 to announce that he would " . . . teach all people of both sexes . . . all kinds of music . . . ,"especially the fashionable " . . . Italian canzone and Portuguese modinhas . . . everything with accompaniment of "viola" [the Portuguese guitar]" (newspaper clip with unmentioned name and date; Andrade, 1967, vol.2, p.209).

How can we place Nunes's "Methodo" in the context of double bass history? French organist and composer Michel Corrète (1707-1795) was the author of at least seventeen tutors for musical instruments (Sas, 1999, p.100). Among them is a collective method with an extensive title — "Méthodes pour aprendre à jouer de la contrebasse à 3, à 4 et a à 5 cordes, de la Quinte ou Alto et de la Viole d'Orpgée . . . " — published in Paris in 1773 (Miller Lardin, 2006; Corrète, 1977 [reprint]), which includes the violone with three, four and five strings, besides two other instruments: the alto viol and the viola d'Ophée. During the sixty-five years that separate Corrète's and Nunes's methods, only nine others were written (see list in Appendix I for a list of historical double bass methods) and only two by double bass players. The first consisted of volumes 1 and 2 of "Méthode complète de contrebasse a 4 cordes" (Hause, Paris, c.1828) by Bohemian Wenzel Hause (1764-1845), whose school was established in Prague and then, extended to Vienna and Leipzig (Hartmann, 1983, p.11-12). Hause's method would be complete only in 1840, when volume 3 was published in Prague. Second, Spanish bassist José Venancio López (?-1852), who taught at the Madrid Conservatory, wrote his "Método de Contrabajo" but it is still lost (Gándara, 2000). Thus, Lino José Nunes's "Methodo" can be considered as the second double bass method written by a bassist. Moreover, besides revealing performance practices of that time in detail, Nunes's "Methodo" brings a musical content that is much more attractive when compared to his predecessor Hause's, and even to the very popular method of Hause's most famous pupil Franz Simandl. Simandl's is similar to his master's and considered by pedagogues as being didactically problematic and having an arid musical content (Karr, 1995, p.54-57; Sankey, 1978, p.70-71; Montgomery, 2011, p.5-6).