Jobim Sinfónico: High Hopes, Huge Saudade

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Oscar Niemeyer’s Palácio do Congresso Nacional (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

I’ve been listening to the Jobim Sinfónico (Symphonic Jobim) CD from 2002. It features a suite that Antônio Carlos Jobim (b. 1927–1994) and Vinícius de Moraes composed to celebrate the opening of Brazil’s new federal capital, titled, “Brasília: Sinfonia da Alvorada” (Dawn Symphony).

<!-- missing image -->Brasília was situated in the interior region of this enormous country to fulfill an earlier covenant of the 1891 constitution, which stipulated that the federal capital was to be relocated to a more neutral territory, away from the populated states of Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Rio Grande do Sul, and São Paulo. The idea was that this would ensure a more equal allocation of the country’s resources, as opposed to favoring just the southeast region.

The building of Brasília was a massive project conceived and executed during an optimistic time in the country’s history. The young and democratically-elected President Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira (1956–1961) ordered its construction and commissioned architect Oscar Niemeyer, Roberto Burle Marx as landscape architect, and Lucío Costa as chief urban planner to helm the project.

Niemeyer’s plan for Brasília remains one of the most visionary architectural statements of modern time. He was once quoted as having said, “I am not attracted to straight lines or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire universe; the universe of Einstein.”

Brasília Album
Oscar Niemeyer’s hand drawings were used for the album work of Brasília: Sinfonia da Alvorada.(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

It was really a miracle of sorts. Construction was completed in 41 months and on April 21, 1960, “Brasília: Sinfonia da Alvorada” was first performed to mark the inauguration of Brasília. As such, the music is quite visual, filled with heraldry, blaring trumpets, and rich orchestral colors that paint a tropical landscape. It is a gloriously optimistic sound.

Cathedral of Brasília
Cathedral of Brasília (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

But it all makes me sad, filling me with saudade to listen to it because of what happened to Brazil after it was built. Forward-looking Kubistchek was ousted, the military dictatorship took over, and thousands were jailed (Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and Dilma Roussef among them). Once characterized as ‘a city of the future,’ Brasília was reduced to a dream not only deferred but defeated. The hope that had inspired Brasília went down the drain of history. This is what I think when I listen to this fabulous music. Dark shadows were always lurking behind this temporary sunny period in the history of our great Southern neighbor. And Brazil is still enduring a dark period of scandals, corruption, water crises due to deforestation of the Amazon, and numerous other woes.

It’s a far cry from the mood of “Brasília: Sinfonia da Alvorada,” and yet there is something so buoyant about the Brazilian psyche. Maybe it’s that Brazilians aren’t as weighed down by our own Anglo-Saxon values, who knows. Like when British actor Hugh Grant had his assignation with Divine Brown in his car, Brazilians launched an underwear line in her name. Caetano Veloso once told me about parking lots where young people who couldn’t afford love hotels could nonetheless consummate their passion, with police protection, too. Or when President Collor de Mello spent $13,000 on a French negligee for his mistress, not too many folks seemed upset by that either—unlike the Christian right here.

Through all the ongoing trials and tribulations Brazil has undergone since the building of their ‘city of the future,’ Brazilians just keep on keeping on. Perhaps it’s their resilience and their appreciation of soccer, samba, nature’s beauty and bounty, and all the other things that make Brazil a unique country and culture as well.

Here is Carlos Jobim’s classic, “Brasília: Sinfonia da Alvorada.” I particularly like the third movement, which begins around six minutes in.

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