Geographic and racial determinism in Brazilian music historiography: The reframing of scientificist theories of national character by nationalist modernism

Scientificist theories shaped late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century notions of national identity constructed by Brazilian socio-anthropological thought and literary studies. Brazilian uniqueness was explained through the Volksgeist hypothesis reformulated on the basis of scientificist theories, fostering the ideology of the “national character.” The different explanations accounting for the shaping of the Brazilian “national character” sprung from the Recife School—“the 1870s Generation”—and were based on controversially debated frameworks: geographic determinism (Buckle) and racial determinism (Gobineau). A more comprehensive framework was offered by integral determinism (Taine’s three factors: race, environment, and historical moment). As those determinist theories in vogue in Brazil during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries had provided theoretical basis to the first critical studies aiming at the construction of Brazilian literary history, it was proposed in former studies (Volpe 2001, 2011) that the same scientificist theories informed the first books on Brazilian music history. The influential writings on Brazilian literature, folklore, and identity by Silvio Romero, Araripe Júnior, and Graça Aranha had a substantial impact on the writings about Brazilian music history and identity by Guilherme de Melo (1908), Renato Almeida (1926), and Mário de Andrade (1928; 1929; 1936; 1939). Andrade, the leading figure of Brazilian nationalist modernism, left behind the racist theories implied in Romero’s view, by aligning his thinking with some Brazilian intellectuals (Bonfim, 1905; Torres, 1914; Bomilcar, 1916; Querino, 1916; Propaganda Nativista, 1919) who refuted all the supposedly scientific arguments supporting the doctrine that miscegenated societies were inferior by definition. Reinterpreting the Volksgeist hypothesis without Romerian racist scientificism, Andrade kept the Romerian idea of “espírito geral,” “espírito popular,” and “sentir especial do brasileiro” from Romerian Völkerpsychologie. Theories of “national character” were also reframed by frontiersmen who fostered an “objective” knowledge of Brazilian territory and people with anthropo-geographical concepts (Cunha, 1902, 1907, 1909; Rondon, 1892, 1915, 1916; and Roquete-Pinto, 1916, 1917). This paper provides further intertextual analysis among those authors with special emphasis on the ways in which Andrade reframed those concepts and issues in his writings on musical folklore and nationalist modernism.