:: The articles in this series were originally
:: published in Daniella Thompson on Brazil.


The Boeuf chronicles, Pt. 7

The first cycle comes to a close.

Daniella Thompson

16 May 2002

Olha o abacaxi!

Describing the February 1920 Le Boeuf sur le Toit première in his autobiography, Darius Milhaud reminisced:

Forgetting that I had written Les Choëphores, both public and critics agreed that I was a figure of fun and a showground musician ... I, who hated anything comic and, in composing Le Boeuf sur le toit, had only aspired to create a merry, unpretentious divertissement in memory of the Brazilian rhythms that had captured my imagination but had certainly never made me laugh....!

Carefree as it may sound, Le Boeuf sur le Toit is by no means careless. On the contrary, it’s a very carefully constructed piece. I’m indebted to the musicologist Manoel Aranha Corrêa do Lago for his detailed structural analysis, published in the Spring/Summer 2002 issue of the Latin American Music Review.

As Manoel do Lago illustrates in Table 4 of his article (see an adaptation of Table 4 in this series), Le Boeuf sur le Toit is made up of three cycles plus a recapitulation and a coda. Each of the cycles comprises four iterations of the rondo theme, with a pair of quotations sandwiched between iterations. The rondo theme appears twice more in the recapitulation and once in the coda, for a total of 15 iterations. The quotations may be different sections of the same tune (in any order), sections of different tunes by one or more composers, or counterpoints of two or three tunes. In Cycle III, one such pair consists of a counterpoint of two followed by a counterpoint of three, for a total of five tunes quoted between two rondo iterations.

A bird’s-eye view of the first cycle of Le Boeuf looks like this:

Cycle I

Rondo 1
1. “São Paulo Futuro” (section A)
2. “São Paulo Futuro” (section B)
Rondo 2
1. “Viola Cantadeira” (section B)
2. “Viola Cantadeira” (section A)
Rondo 3
1. “Amor Avacalhado” (section A)
2. “O Matuto” (section B) + “O Boi no Telhado” (section A)
Rondo 4
1. “Ferramenta” (section A)
2. “Olh’ Abacaxi!” (section A)

In his liner notes for the disc Milhaud: Music for Two Pianists, Robert Matthew-Walker—apparently paraphrasing Edward Tatnall Canby’s notes for the Boeuf recording conducted by Milhaud in 1958 and released by Nonesuch in 1966—writes:

The rondo theme is polytonal in inflexion, and each tune in turn rises by a minor third from its predecessor, in groups of four, after which another idea modulates the music down a whole tone to begin the sequence over again in a new key. Thus the minor thirds rise C - E flat - G flat - A, then the transitional theme modulates to G from whence the minor thirds rise again: G - B flat - D flat - E. The transitional theme modulates downwards to D from whence the music rises in minor thirds: D - F - A flat - B. The transitional theme modulates from B to A, and a fourth sequence begins, rising from A to C. But as C was the starting point, the work has now progressed through all the keys. A short coda ends this breezy score [...]

Original score cover

Tune No. 7: “Olh’ Abacaxi!” (1918)

The first cycle of Le Boeuf sur le Toit closes with the samba “Olh’ Abacaxi!” by F. Soriano Robert—one of the more obscure tunes quoted in the rondo. According to Manoel do Lago, F. Soriano Robert was a composer, pianist, and conductor active in Rio between 1916 and 1923. His activities extended from the teatro de revista to performing Villa-Lobos’ works.

Section A of “Olh’ Abacaxi!” appears at 3:08 min. in Louis de Froment’s recording. Note how the orchestra adds an excessive note to the melody at 3:17 minutes.

Fundação Joaquim Nabuco’s database lists the only known recording of this song, once again by the ubiquitous Naval Battalion Band:

Título: Olha o Abacaxi
Gênero: Samba
Intérprete: Banda do Batalhão Naval
Gravadora: Odeon
Número: 121560

We’ll hear an excerpt played by pianist Alexandre Dias.

The piano score, dedicated to Dr. Eduardo França, provides the following lyrics, which get their inspiration from the street cries of pineapple vendors:

Olh’ Abacaxi!
F. Soriano Robert

Olha! Olha!
qu'é de Villa Nova


There are many towns in Brazil called Vila Nova, but I prefer to think that the one referred to in the song is Vitória, capital of Espírito Santo (Vila Nova is its historic name). Why Vitória? Because 27 km away lies the town of Serra, once known as “Terra do Abacaxi” owing to its extensive pineapple cultivation.

More recently, the term Olha o abacaxi! has taken on a pejorative sense, standing for all come-hither sales schemes. In Brazil, Troféu Abacaxi is the equivalent of the Golden Raspberry Award.

The score of “Olh’ Abacaxi!” is among tens of thousands of
documents available on five CD-ROMs bundled with
Humberto Franceschi’s book A Casa Edison e Seu Tempo
(Rio de Janeiro, Petrobras/Sarapuí, 2002).

A final curiosity involving “Olh’ Abacaxi!” is that its opening sounds somewhat like that of the polka “Dengo Dengo” that was a big hit in the 1913 carnaval. There are some who maintain that “Olh’ Abacaxi!” is a direct lift from “Dengo Dengo.” Not having heard the full song, I can offer no confirmation. While its influence on “Olh’ Abacaxi!” is debatable, the polka did inspire Pixinguinha’s choro of the same title, which remained unpublished until 2002. The following sample of “Dengo Dengo” is an excerpt from a 1946 radio appearance by Almirante.

These lyrics (as well as the audio sample) were provided by Roberto Lapiccirella in the website Ao Chiado Brasileiro:

Dengo Dengo
(Emília Duque Estrada Farias/Cardoso de Menezes)

Dengo, dengo, dengo
Ó maninha
Tá chegada a hora
Dos Capicurus
Ó maninha
Ganhar a vitória

Dengo, dengo, dengo
Ó maninha
É de caruru
Quem matou baeta
Ó maninha
Foi carapicu

Eu bem dizia baiana
Dois metros sobrava
Saia do balão
Metro e meio dava

Note: Gatos, Baetas, and Carapirus were the nicknames of the carnaval clubs Fenianos, Tenentes do Diabo, and Clube dos Democráticos.



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