Kaplan Welcome back to “Mad About Music,” where our guest today is the former President of Brazil and a passionate music-lover, Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
Kaplan His family always produced military and political leaders in Brazil, but he avoided that and became a professor of sociology – and a very distinguished one. But the tyranny of military dictatorship caused him to speak out – resulting in exile, prison and almost by accident, he claims, winding up as President of the country in 1995. There he tackled the long-neglected problems of Latin America's largest economy and was returned to office for another four years, ending his term in 2003. He recounts his story in a recently-published autobiography, The Accidental President of Brazil . Whatever accident may have propelled him into politics, it was certainly no accident that music was his companion throughout this whole adventure. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, welcome to “Mad About Music.”
Cardoso Thank you very much. I'm very pleased to be here.
Kaplan You know, you follow a great tradition of former presidents and heads of state who have been on this show for whom music was not something nice, but really necessary. President Carter has been on; the Prime Minister of England, Edward Heath; Helmut Schmidt of Germany; and Ehud Barak of Israel. Each of them discovered classical music in their own way. How did you come to classical music?
Cardoso Well, I remember when I was a child, I was born in Rio. And my grandmother used to attend opera. And this normally would be in the middle of the year, June, July, which in Brazil is wintertime. But in Rio, wintertime is very hot. And I remember my grandmother with her very heavy coat, as if she was in Europe to attend an opera house. And I remember the first time – maybe I'm mistaken, but my memory was Il Paglacci , and I was so highly impressed by that – dramatic, you know. This is my first memory.
Kaplan How old were you then? Do you remember, about?
Cardoso About 7 to 8 years. Very young.
Kaplan Did you study an instrument at all?
Cardoso I tried piano, because this was usual in my generation. I'm 74 years old, as you know. In my generation was piano. But I was so bad that I decided not to play anymore. My sister and my brother – my brother died – but both were good players at piano. As well as my father. My father, as I've said, was a military general. But he used to sing, and he loved opera, too. And Caruso – he was a fan of the Italian singers.
Kaplan Well, you know, the best known Brazilian music, I guess, would be “The Girl from Ipanema,” but I think that, as I look at the list of music you've chosen today – and we'll start with a Brazilian composer – you have picked what I would regard as perhaps the best-known popular both composer and piece. So tell us about your first selection.
Cardoso My first selection is Villa-Lobos, and I prefer to have his Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5. I will tell you why. First of all, because he's fantastic. I like very much a cello, it's wonderful. And when I was a child, a student in Rio, Villa Lobos used to conduct massive choruses, and everyone attending all schools in general had to one day in the year, had to be together, and he was the conductor. This was during Vargas' government, was almost a fascist kind of movement. Because lots of people, masses of people, and Villa-Lobos, a famous conductor, was conducting the enormous chorus. So, since that moment, I was quite enthusiastic with Villa-Lobos. And now I think he's a very, very good composer. I like Bachianas.
Kaplan An excerpt from Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No 5 for Soprano and 8 Cellos. Performed by Victoria de los Angeles, always remembered in Brazil as Villa-Lobos' favorite singer. The first selection of my guest on “Mad About Music” today, the former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Let's talk about music and presidents. As I mentioned earlier, you were not the first president to be a passionate music lover. But what about the others? In Brazil particularly – have you ever discussed music with the current president, President Lula?
Cardoso No. I don't know if Lula loves music. I don't remember in any circumstance. Maybe. But certainly not classic music. I don't remember Lula in the context of music.
Kaplan But what about President Clinton? When you visited the White House for a state dinner, was there a classical music event there that night?
Cardoso Yes, but with the Clinton White House, I guess – I don't know, I'm not sure – was Marsalis. Trumpetist.
Kaplan Wynton Marsalis.
Cardoso Yes, Wynton Marsalis. I think so. And Clinton came to Brazil. I invited him to my presidential palace, and I invited a singer. Her name is Virginia Rodrigues, and Clinton became a fan of Virginia Rodrigues. And when I invited Mandela to come to see Brazil – he came to see me at the palace – again, we ask. But in that case, I ask people from the samba, from Carnival from Rio, to dance for Mandela. And I remember when I was in South Africa, Mandela reciprocated. And Mandela's a fantastic person. He's a very nice person. And he joined arms with me and we were almost dancing together from one table to another one, and the music was being played there, African music.
Kaplan I've often wondered whether you can explain the character of a country by its music. So, my question to you would be – and it's purely speculative – I don't know if there's an answer this is – but here you have Brazil, the samba, and you have Argentina, the tango. Very different kind of dances. As a sociologist, what do you make of that?
Cardoso Well, you know, the tango is dramatic. Tango is waiting for disaster. Brazil is the opposite, we are waiting for a good life. You see? And the samba is always much more – basically love is the subject matter. Maybe sometimes you are not very happy with your lover, but anyhow you believe that it could be improved. Even when she decides to leave you for another man, you say, “Wow, you see that God will take care of that.” So we are much more optimistic than the Argentineans. The Argentineans have the Hispanic sense of tragedy.
Kaplan It's interesting you characterize the tango that way. I've always imagined the tango as a great love dance between two people.
Cardoso But tragic. Love is a tragedy, not just love. It's a passion capable to kill. And Brazilians prefer not to kill.
Kaplan Well, let's leave killing and move over to love and in this case, your love of the cello. Do you have a favorite performer?
Cardoso I remember once, I was in Moscow, and the cello player No. 1, the Russian one, Rostropovich – I was there. And I attended a concert in Moscow. You can't imagine the feeling, it was so profound, so fantastic – Rostropovich and cello are the same people. They are together. It was fantastic. I will never forget this concert in Moscow.
Kaplan What I remember about Rostropovich was when the Berlin Wall came down, he went there immediately, all alone, with his cello, and I think he probably played your next selection, the Prelude from Bach's first suite for solo cello.
Cardoso Yes. I think that Bach is so abstract in his music, so mathematical, as a kind of mathematician, and I believe that the cello is a counterpoint to that, and it's so beautiful, this Suite for Cello No. 1. So, I like it. And I think it's a difficult instrument. It's difficult, just with cello, to produce an important suite, and Bach is so marvelous in doing that.
Kaplan The prelude from Johann Sebastian Bach's Suite for Solo Cello No. 1, performed by Mstislav Rostropovich. Music selected by my guest on today's edition of “Mad About Music,” the former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. And for whom the cello is his favorite instrument. When we return, we'll be discussing and hearing music from President Cardoso's favorite operas.
Kaplan This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest on “Mad About Music,” the former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Let's turn to opera, for which I see you have two selections. Now, when I think of opera in Brazil, two images come to mind. First, the famous Toscanini story, as a 19-year-old cellist – another cello story. He comes to Rio in an orchestra. The orchestra is so unhappy – the Italian orchestra – with the particular Brazilian conductor, they ask him to take over at the Teatro Municipal in Rio, and thus begins his career as a conductor. The other thing I remember always is, 11 years later, 3,000 miles up the Amazon, an opera house is built in an unlikely place, in Manaus, smack in the middle there. One hundred years later after that, in 1996, it's beautifully restored. Now, you were president then. What is your connection to Manaus. Did you have any role in the opera there?
Cardoso My mother was born in Manaus, so to me, Manaus has been a kind of dream, mythical. My mother used to tell us tales about the Amazon, the mysteries of the Amazon, so on and so forth. I was in Rio, I never had been to Manaus. And Manaus was quite far away. It took 16 days by boat to get to Manaus. So, when I became president, I went several times to Manaus, and to the Amazon. Maybe 20 times to the Amazon. I slept in the middle of the Amazon forest with the military. I took my grandchildren to see the place, so on and so forth, and in '96, when the opera house had been reopened, I was there. They invited the famous Spanish tenor, José .…
Cardoso José Carreras. Exactly. And he was there. After the show, he came to see me, and we talked a little bit about the theater, and it's fantastic. It's a beautiful opera house. It's very interesting to note that in every capital city in Brazil, even remote areas, we have opera houses. And they are kind of like a small Paris opera house, like the Rio opera house, you'll remember, and São Paulo. And Manaus is like that. It's really very, very beautiful.
Kaplan Well, I see you have two opera selections you want to play today, so let's talk about the first, which is Puccini and Madame Butterfly. Is there a particular reason you like this aria, or this particular Puccini opera?
Cardoso Yes, I like this aria. So nice, so soft. And Puccini to me also represents the best in opera. I know Puccini was not very highly considered when he was composing and conducting in Italy. At the beginning, he was not taken very seriously even. But then, he was so successful in producing this kind of popular music, because it's easy to get the sentiment. It's maybe more close to people. It's not as sophisticated as, I don't know, Mozart operas, or a thing like that, but that's maybe why Puccini's so well known in Madame Butterfly, “Un bel die, vedremo.” I like this.
Kaplan An excerpt from Puccini's Madame Butterfly, sung by Renata Scotto with the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Lorin Maazel. A selection of my guest today on “Mad about Music,” the former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Let's talk about music in your life today. How often do you find time to go either to a concert or the opera?
Cardoso Maybe I'll say to you, at least two times every month I go to attend a concert in São Paulo with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, because I'm the president of the foundation and I try to help the São Paulo Orchestra. And the name of the director is Neschling. He's a good conductor, too. So, as an average, two times every month I go there.
Kaplan Now you've written many, many books, many papers, obviously a lot of speeches. Do you find you like to have music going when you're writing, or does it get in the way?
Cardoso No, no, I like it. You know, in my book, I said I was a member of the parliament, or senator. And so, I was trained to do simultaneously two things, to write and to hear. I used to write my newspaper's articles. Meanwhile, I was debating in the senate. To me, it's very good to have music, and music doesn't disturb me. I can continue to do my work and listen to some music.
Kaplan Does that mean that since you developed this habit of listening and thinking and even writing, that when you're sitting in the concert hall, do you sometimes not just be listening? You're listening, but at the same time you're thinking about things in the day?
Cardoso Not necessarily.
Kaplan Can you lose yourself in music?
Cardoso No, not necessarily. When I'm in a concert hall, I prefer to concentrate, to avoid a little bit, the nightmare that I have to face every day dealing with Brazilian problems, world problems. You can't imagine how busy I am. I also always considered after the presidency that I'd have time to enjoy life, it was my mistake. It's worse because I don't have any more the infrastructure a president has, and I have lots of occupations and duties, and I have to be here and there all the time. So, when I am in a concert, I prefer to concentrate on hearing music.
Kaplan Let's stay with opera, then, and we now come to your second opera selection, which I see is Bellini's Norma.
Cardoso “Casta diva,” because of Maria Callas. She is so perfect in “Casta diva,” it is such strong music. It is the opposite comparing to Madame Butterfly. So, I said, let's compensate the softness of Madame Butterfly with a more dramatic aria, and this was “Casta diva.”
Kaplan An excerpt from Bellini's Norma, sung by Maria Callas with the Orchestra of La Scala, conducted by Tullio Serafin. The second opera selection on today's show, selected by my guest, the former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who is New York in part talking about his new book that's come out very recently called The Accidental President of Brazil. Having read the book, I'm not so sure it was such an accident, by the way. But if it was, it was a good accident. Now, one can't help but notice that the two arias you've selected from Puccini and Bellini are highly emotional. In general, do you have a strong emotional attachment to music, or is music something more abstract for you?
Cardoso I would say it's more abstract for me. As I told you, I like Bach. I like this kind of thing. I also like more emotional music. Brazilians are very emotional when they are expressing their sentiments. Even Brazilian musicians are very emotional. If you ask me about my preferred Brazilian popular songs, I would say some emotional ones, too.
Kaplan I ask you this because in your book, where you talk very movingly about your father's funeral, you write that “I allowed myself to shed some tears.” I notice the words “I allowed myself.” You know, we recently had on the show the manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Joseph Volpe, who said that it was not fashionable, or even allowed in his family, Italian-American family, to show that you cried. And I'm wondering, is this also a Brazilian characteristic, that it's not manly to cry?
Cardoso No. I would say that Brazilians are much more inclined to show they are emotional people. This is my personal sentiment. In that sense, I'm not very close to the Brazilian way.
Kaplan Does music ever move you to tears?
Cardoso Yes. From time to time.
Kaplan As we're talking about Brazil and music and tears, we come to something a bit happier maybe. That part of the show called the “Wildcard,” where you have a chance to select music outside the classical music or opera genre, and it can be anything – rock, jazz, blues, and I've seen that you picked – I thought you were going to pick “The Girl from Ipanema,” but I see you've selected something which is not so far removed from that.
Cardoso I will tell you why. First of all, I like of course “The Girl from Ipanema.” I had personal contact with Ton Jobim when Ton was living in Brazil. But I think that Caetano Veloso, the man I made my choice on, is a wonderful performing artist in Brazil. He's very good singing and also composing. And I would tell you frankly why I put Caetano on our list. Because Caetano was, when I was asked to give names, he was with two of my grandchildren in London. He took two of my grandchildren, as well as his sons, to London with him, to introduce them to the different music halls in London, so on and so forth. Let's pay homage to a man who I respect, I love very much and on top of that, has this kind of generosity. So, I made my choice with Caetano Veloso, “Lua de São Jorge,” meaning, “Saint George Moon.”
Kaplan An excerpt from Caetano Veloso's “Lua de São Jorge,” the “Wildcard” selection of my guest on “Mad About Music,” the former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. When we return, we'll discuss President Cardoso's most recent connection to Brazilian music.
Kaplan This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest on “Mad About Music” today, the former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Of course, you are no longer the president of Brazil, but as you mentioned, you are still a president of some organizations, and from “Mad About Music's” point of view, perhaps an even more important one than the president of Brazil, because you are the president of the foundation of the Symphonic Orchestra of São Paulo. What exactly is your role there?
Cardoso Well, the main role is to raise funds for the orchestra, and also to give some administrative orientation to the orchestra. There is a board there. I'm the head of the board. When they invited me, the day they asked me to join them and have a presentation of that, I said, “Everyone referred to me as President Cardoso, President Fernando Henrique,” as they used to say in Brazil. “And then no more president. So now you can say ‘president' because I'm the president of the orchestra.” So I'm very happy being the president of the orchestra. By the way, they are coming to the U.S.A. In November, the São Paulo Orchestra will be playing in different places here. Certainly in Washington. I'm not sure if in New York. And I intend to be there, too, because during the Fall I am a Professor at Brown University, in Providence, in New England, and it will coincide with my presence here, so I hope I have enough free time to attend the concert with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra here.
Kaplan We're going to come now to the last musical segment, which includes two traditional classic works you've picked. But before we talk about them, let's talk about what's not on your list. I see no, for example, contemporary music. Have you been able to enjoy music of our own time, often atonal, some people say “difficult” to listen to?
Cardoso Much more difficult to me. I prefer more traditional kind of music. Even Schoenberg, it's difficult to me. I can understand, but it's difficult to me. Even Mahler, to my taste is a limit – I like him very much – very recently I was in São Paulo and the orchestra was playing Mahler. I like Mahler. But anyhow, the more contemporary, I have more difficulty to understand.
Kaplan And are there any mainstream composers? Not contemporary composers, but just mainstream composers earlier on whose music you just don't connect to?
Cardoso Well, yes. Maybe Strauss I have no connection. Several others. In opera, Verdi, for instance, which is so fascinating for some people – not to me. There are several with whom I have no ... Shostakovich is okay. I like it. But several others I have more difficulty. I prefer Bach, Brahms, Mozart, Haydn – kind of a more classical approach to music, more “under the rules,” if it can be put like that.
Kaplan Well, you mentioned Brahms, so we should come to your Brahms selection, which is a big choral work, and I gather you like choruses. You sang in a chorus, you said, under Villa-Lobos even, and you've selected A German Requiem. So tell us about your thoughts about Brahms and the chorus.
Cardoso That's right. As you said, I like chorus. Very recently, the São Paulo orchestra was giving Wagner, and the chorus was there, too. Very impressive. I don't like Wagner, by the way. Maybe here and there, yes, but not normally. And I like chorus, and I think that the German Requiem by Brahms is wonderful. Of course, there are several, even Mozart, etc., but I think that this Brahms is so complete in musical terms. And Brahms, to some extent, means something more achieved. Brahms was a successful man. So, this is reflected in his, even in his German Requiem, even compared with Mozart's requiem for himself, the last one he did. I would say that Brahms is more complete from a musical point of view.
Kaplan An except from Brahms, A German Requiem, with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus under the baton of Otto Klemperer, a selection of my guest on “Mad About Music” today, the former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Now, the president of a county has often been described by your colleagues, other presidents, as a very lonely job. Because while you receive the best advice possible, you do your studies, at the end of the day it's a solitary moment when you have to make decisions. I'm wondering, at such moments, have you ever turned to music for solace, inspiration, comfort?
Cardoso Well, I must say to you, very frankly, that from time to time we have to make such a difficult decision, and alone, that you have to be really alone. I would say that even music could be not helpful to you. You have to concentrate on your decision. I said that I am able to do two things simultaneously, but when I have to have a dramatic decision – what I mean by “dramatic” decision, I will tell you. If you have a speculation against your money, your currency, and you are losing money, $1 billion, $2 billion, $3 billion, $4 billion in one day, and you have to take a decision, “Shall I devaluate the currency or not?” At the end, the president has to take the decision. In Brazil – here it's a little bit different – it is not the president of a central bank. The president of a central bank – he'll tell you about it, and he'll take the decision. But, you suffer the consequences as a president, because people hate you if you make a mistake there. So, it's so difficult that you have to be alone, maybe if possible talking to God. But God very often prefers not to speak anything about that.
Kaplan But then, what about in moments when – and you've described this in your book, The Accidental President of Brazil – there have been so many moments, I would say, of despair in your own life, when you felt exiled, or when you were in prison, or when you were rejected. Did you ever turn to music under those circumstances, say, for consolation?
Cardoso Yes. In that circumstance I prefer not just music, but people singing. I think this is important because you are hearing another people, the voice of another people, not just the pure music. So, you have the feeling that you are not alone. And bossa nova also helps you, for a Brazilian, because it's so profoundly tied to our soul, that if you are alone, if you are in exile, it's important to have these people accompanying you, even if their presence is not there with you. You can feel that you have another.
Kaplan Speaking of bossa nova and samba before, this is sort of the national sport, almost, of Brazil – are you a good dancer yourself?
Cardoso Well, I do dance. Not very well. My wife is a very good dancer.
Kaplan But you like it.
Cardoso I like it.
Kaplan Let's then turn to music for your final selection, which is Mozart, and I see you've picked one of his most popular symphonies, No. 40, the famous G Minor.
Cardoso Well, I did because it's one of the best well-known symphonies. Mozart is perfect. It's difficult to make a selection. Mozart's a genius, as you know – practically you can by chance take one or another one. So, why not to take one which is well-known? So that was why I prefer to put Symphony No. 40.
Kaplan The final movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 40, the G Minor, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic with conductor Karl Böhm. The final selection of my guest on “Mad About Music” today, the former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. As we close, I'd like to talk with you about perhaps the most emotional word that Brazilians speak in Portuguese and to which you refer in your book, saudades . And you say in your book that it's really hard to define it, but I think that you make an attempt, and it's pretty good. It is a kind of nostalgia, homesickness. But when it comes to this word, do you have this saudades about not being president anymore?
Cardoso I would say yes, because I have saudades of people around me. Not the position in power, but people around me. I was president for 8 years, two consecutive terms, a long time. So lots of people are surrounding me. I am not speaking just about ministers, but those who are living in the palace with me, because you know, when you are president, you are practically never alone. You have to be alone to think about decisions, but surrounded by people. And the maids, the gardeners, the guardians, lots of secretaries, as well as more close advisors. All these suddenly disappear. And you cannot try even to reproduce or to get in touch with these people, because I don't know – each one has a different perspective in life. So, I have saudades of that. As well from Brasilia, the capital city. I have saudades of the presidential palace. A beautiful swimming pool, I like to swim, it is good for health. And they have also a cinema, a very good cinema. And on top of that, I must say, maybe it's a silly thing, but I like helicopters, and as president I had helicopters to take me here and there. No more. So, this kind of thing.
Kaplan Well, what about power? You didn't mention that. Do you miss it?
Cardoso Power. Power is so important if you are doing some things to your country, but it's also a tremendous burden on you. It's very tiring. You can't imagine how you get old being president. My hair, for instance, very seldom they became like they are now – white hairs. And look, even President Bush or President Clinton, all of them, in a matter of two or three years, you are destroyed. Well, after the presidency, you can recover to some extent. So, I don't have saudades from the position by itself, but people around in some specific situations, yes, I have.
Kaplan President Cardoso, you've been a fascinating guest, and I'm sure it cannot be a bad thing in Brazil's history that for eight years, Brazil had a president who was a passionate music lover. This is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music.”
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