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Traces of the Baroque Aesthetic in the Music of Emerico Lobo de Mesquita

Updated: Apr 12

The colonization of Brazil by the Portuguese took place in the first half of the 16th century. Yet it was not until the end of the 17th and in the first half of the 18th century that forays into the interior of the country led to the discovery of countless gold mines and large diamond deposits. This region, which still bears the name Minas Gerais (general mines) today, experienced a tremendous influx of people at the time, all of whom were lured by the prospect of riches. In the 18thcentury, more than 400,000 people passed through its streets: Brazilians from all regions, Portuguese, Indigenous people, and enslaved Africans. Historians claim that Brazil was the world’s largest producer of gold at the time and that the quantity of diamonds brought to Europe was incalculable (Bueno, 2012, p. 176-89).

Festival de Chiquitos, Bolivia, 2008

Due to this enormous influx of people, countless villages and cities emerged, with an intense social and religious life. It was in this context that José Joaquim Emerico Lobo de Mesquita was born in the middle of the 18th century, in the region around Diamantina (Minas Gerais). The first information about his life is found in appointment books for work as a musician at festivals in the city of Serro beginning in 1765. There he worked as an organist, conductor, and composer. In 1798 he was hired by the Third Order of Carmelites in the city of Vila Rica (now Ouro Preto), which necessitated his move to this city. Here he was responsible for composing music for all of the brotherhood’s festivities, as well as for hiring the musicians. He also worked there for the Confraternity of the Most Blessed Sacrament. In 1801 he was appointed as organist by the Third Order of Carmelites in Rio de Janeiro, which brought with it another relocation. He then worked for this institution until his death in 1805 (Pires, 2010, p. 52-54). Lobo de Mesquita is considered one of the most important Brazilian composers of his time. The musicologist Paulo Castagna notes that “his music embodies the ideal of sacred music of this time” (Castagna, 2010, p. 59). The existence of more than a hundred copies of his works in the archives of Minas Gerais, Goiás, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, made in the 18th and 19th centuries, demonstrates the recognition and dissemination of his works. Until the middle of the 20th century, his works belonged to the repertoire of musical associations in the country’s interior (Neves, 1998, p. 3).

Lobo de Mesquita’s works follow European models of the 18th century. Various authors point out musical elements that characterize the transition from the Baroque to the Classical style in the sacred repertoire composed in Minas Gerais in the last quarter of the 18th century. Pires notes that “the work of Lobo de Mesquita exemplifies that there was no clear break between Baroque and Classicism, especially not in the realm of sacred music” (PIRES, 1994, p. 122), and that the formal structure of his output approaches Classicism, while the use of figured bass, the instrumentation, the clear relationship between music and liturgical text, and the rhythmic-melodic phrasing all belong to the Baroque style.

Since Brazil was a Portuguese colony, it was self-evident that the composers of Minas Gerais would orient themselves toward the European metropolis. Portugal, in turn, was in close contact with the Italian output, particularly that of the Neapolitans. Various authors have drawn attention to a transformation that resulted from these two spheres of influence.

According to Grout & Palisca, the Italian influence set the tone in the first half of the 18th century. They find that “by the end of the Baroque period, European music had become an international language with Italian roots” (Grout & Palisca, 2001, p. 308-309). Starting in the second half of the century, there is increasing evidence of a reversal of this stylistic influence from the south (Naples) to the north (Vienna), as the north (Vienna) gradually influenced the south (Naples). In this late period, Neapolitan musical taste was increasingly seen as outdated (Benedetto & Fabris, 2005).

It is, however, important to note that Naples and Vienna were not two disconnected centers and that the intense bilateral influence that took place from the beginning of this period also had political causes. Naples emancipated itself from Spanish rule, which it had been under since 1503, and was ruled by Austria between 1707 and 1734, later becoming the kingdom’s capital again. According to Benedetto and Fabris, this city was able to establish itself as the most important musical center in Italy alongside Venice in the first half of the 18th century (Benedetto & Fabris, 2005).

For Lobo de Mesquita, two elements of formal composition seem to overlap: one that points to classical techniques with a harmonic structuring of contrasting tonal centers, and one that contains traces of Baroque aesthetics, such as the merging of contrasting measures and tempi in the same section of a work, as a means of expressing the ideas present in the text.

The use of rhetorical figures can be observed in many 18th century masses. Composers strove to express various emotions, such as joy, sorrow, strength, humility, etc. MacIntyre notes that especially in movements such as the Gloria and the Credo, the musical rhetoric of the Baroque is vivid, particularly because of the words that provide opportunities for hypotyposis, exclamatio, parrhesia, pathopeia, noema, suspiratio (MacIntyre, 1986, p. 122). Although the expression of emotions was always a goal, I do not believe that it is possible to translate these rhetorical figures directly to the works composed in the second half of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Bartel notes that the composers of this time preferred a freer interpretation of these ideas (Bartel, 1997, p. 56). We will therefore refer to this device in this essay as word painting. We believe that the composer used these devices in the echo of a tradition that could be felt in almost all works of this period, so that it is not a conscious choice of a pattern developed in the Baroque. Following the European tradition, the use of word painting is seen most clearly in the Gloria and Credo sections of Lobo de Mesquita’s masses (Rocha, 2014, p. 209).

In the Gloria passages of his masses, we can observe the use of dotted and dactylic rhythms for the homophonic proclamation of the word Gloria. The meaning of the words et in terra pax (and peace on earth) and bonae voluntatis (good will) is conveyed by a lower register with long notes and soft dynamics. To emphasize the effect of pleading in the words Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere Nobis (you take away the sins of the world; have mercy upon us), the composer repeats the word miserere several times. Here we can observe a harmonic instability, the harmonic ascent of which is achieved by secondary dominants.

In the Credo section, the composer uses ascending melodic figures in the instrumentation to accompany the phrase Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem (I believe in God, the Father almighty), in order to create an expression of exaltation. Descending  vocal melodies for the passage descendit de coelis (descended from heaven) are also classified as word painting. Lobo de Mesquita devotes particular attention to the central section of the Credo, in which the mystery and suffering of Jesus Christ are described. In the passage Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto, ex Maria Virgine (and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary), we observe a reduction of the instrumental scoring (with the exception of the wind instruments) and a harmonic instability. The phrase Crucifixus etiam pro nobis, sub Pontio Pilato et sepultus est(was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate and was buried) is characterized by a strong contrast between the image of the crucifixion and that of the burial of Jesus Christ. It offers an excellent opportunity for the use of expressive tonal imagery, which the composer utilizes accordingly. The word Crucifixus is repeated several times – interrupted by pauses – with melodic sixth and octave leaps as well as lamenting melismas. In the words Passus and sepultus, the vocal parts are characterized by long notes interrupted by pauses and a low register. The festive character of the words Et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas, which describe the resurrection of Christ, predominates in all of Lobo de Mesquita’s works, where he uses sound patterns with ascending triad arpeggios and repeats the text several times.

We have scarcely any information about how the composers of Minas Gerais were educated in the 18th century or who their teachers were. As a result, it is not possible to say anything more precise about the direct influences on Lobo de Mesquita’s work. In this essay we have tried to trace similarities with European output of this time in order to understand what characterizes the works of this composer. The use of rhetorical figures to express the ideas contained in the text is perhaps the most characteristic feature of his output. An analysis of this stylistic device in the Gloria and the Credo passages of his masses is evidence of the Baroque influence on his work.


Julio Moretzsohn is Professor of Choral Conducting and Chamber Music at the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janiero (UNIRIO), where he received his doctorate in 2008 with the dissertation As Missas de J. J. Emerico Lobo de Mesquita: um estudo estilístico, on the subject of the structure of musical expression. At this institution he coordinates the project to expand the UNIRIO Youth Choir and the project Ensino Coral Oficina UNIRIO (Choral Conducting Workshop), which aims to train young singers and choral conductors.

As director of the vocal ensemble Calíope, which he has led since its foundation in 1993, he won the 7th Carlos Gomes Prize (2002) in the category of Choirs and Vocal Ensembles. With this ensemble he has recorded the CD Música Brasileira e Portuguesa do Século XVIII (1998), as well as the CDs Sábado Santo (2001), Quinta-feira Santa (2002) and Música Fúnebre (2003), with the aid of the Musica de Mariana Museum; the CD Música Sacra de Henrique Oswald e Alberto Nepomuceno (2005) under the Rádio MEC label; and the CD Villa-Lobos - Vozes do Brasil - obra coral profana(2012), sponsored by Petrobas. With Calíope he represented Brazil in Santiago, Chile, at the invitation of Itamaraty (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil) in 2001; on a tour of France in 2005; and at the Brazilian embassy in Berlin (Germany) in 2005; and at the Chiquitos Festival in Bolivia in 2008. In 2009, he gave concerts in Portugal at the invitation of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, and in Spain at the invitation of the Sociedad Filarmónica de Badajoz. In 2003 Moretzsohn founded the Coro Sinfônico do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro Symphony Choir), which consists of singers with lyrical training and performs with the Petrobras Symphony Orchestra and the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra. With this group, he has already worked with conductors from Brazil and abroad. From 2010 to 2016, he developed the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra’s children’s choir project. As a guest conductor, he has conducted the Camerata de Curitiba and the OSESP Choir (São Paulo Symphony Choir).

Translated from the Portuguese by Reinhard Kißler, Germany, translated from German by Katie Maxfield, Canada



BARTEL, Dietrich. Musica poetica: musical-rhetorical figures in German baroque music. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

BENEDETTO, Renato di & FABRIS, Dinko. Naples. In: GROVE MUSIC ONLINE. Available at Accessed 10 March 2005.

BUENO, Eduardo. Brasil: uma história: cinco séculos de um país em construção. Rio de Janeiro: Leya, 2012.

DUPRAT, Regis. Música Brasileira do século XVIII e a definição do estilo. São Paulo: Editora Novas Metas Ltda. 1983

CASTAGNA, Paulo. Música na América Portuguesa. In: MORAES, José Geraldo Vinci; SALIBA, Elias Thomé. História e Música no Brasil. São Paulo: Alameda, 2010. Chapter 1, p.35-76.

GROUT, Donald J; PALISCA, Claude V. História da Música Ocidental. Lisboa: Gradiva, 2001.

GUIMARÃES, Maria Inês Junqueira. L’Ouvre de Lobo de Mesquita: compositeur brésilien (?1746-1805), 1996. Tese (Doctorat em Histoire de la Musique et Musicologie) – Université de Paris IV – Sorbonne, Paris.

MacINTYRE, Bruce C. The Viennense concerted mass of the early classic period: history, analysis, and thematic catalog, 1984. Tese (Doctor in Philosophy) – City University of New York, New York.

NEVES, José Maria. Emerico Lobo de Mesquita. In: Encarte do CD Calíope - Missa 4ª feira de Cinzas. Conjunto Calíope, Regência Julio Moretzsohn. Rio de Janeiro: Calíope, 1998.

PIRES, Sérgio. Lobo de Mesquita e a música colonial mineira, 1994. Dissertation (Mestrado em Musicologia Histórica) - Conservatório Brasileiro de Música, Rio de Janeiro.

______. O Te Deum (em lá menor) de Lobo de Mesquita (1746?-1805): edição crítica e notas para uma performance historicamente informada. Revista Brasileira de Música. Programa de Pós-Graduação da Escola de Música da UFRJ. Rio de Janeiro, v.23/1, p. 39-54, 2010.

ROCHA, Julio Cesar Moretzsohn. Missa a 4 vozes para Quarta-Feira de Cinzas com violoncelo obbligato e órgão de J. J. Emerico Lobo de Mesquita: um estudo interpretativo. Dissertação de Mestrado - Programa de Pós-Graduação em Música, Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro. 1997.

______. As missas de J.J. Emerico Lobo de Mesquita: um estudo estilístico. Tese de Doutorado – Programa de Pós-Graduação em Música, Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro. 2008.

______. Palavra cantada: estudos transdisciplinares. Organização Cláudia Neiva de Matos, Fernanda Teixeira de Medeiros, Leonardo Davino de Oliveira, Rio de Janeiro: EdUERJ, 2014.


Musical works


  1. Matinas para Sábado Santo

S, A, T, B, violino I, violino II, baixo contínuo e 2 trompas

2. Missa em Fá Maior

S, A, T, B, violino I, violino II, viola, baixo contínuo e 2 trompas

3. Missa em Mi bemol Maior

S, A, T, B, violino I, violino II, viola, baixo contínuo e 2 trompas

 4. Missa para quarta-feira de cinzas com violoncelo obbligato

 5. Magnificat

S, A, T, B, violino I, violino II, viola, baixo contínuo, 2 trompas e 2 clarinetes

 6. Tercio

S, A, T, B, violino I, violino II, baixo contínuo



7. Te Deum

S, A, T, B, violino I, violino II, baixo contínuo

 8. Dominica in Palmis

S, A, T, B

 9. Stabat Mater

S, A, T, B, violino I, violino II, baixo contínuo

 10. Motetos e Miserere para Procissão dos Passos

S, A, T, B e baixo contínuo




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