This time I’d like to introduce to you three of the most interesting portuguese composers of the beginning of the twentieth century.
Francisco de Lacerda
He was born in 1869 in a small village on São Jorge Island, Azores. He had his first music lessons with his father. When he moved to continental Portugal, for a brief time he started to study medicine but then abandoned the idea and went to Lisbon, to study piano and composition at the Conservatório Nacional with José Vieira, Freitas Gazul and Frederico Guimarães.
In 1891 he started his career as piano teacher at the same institute, but four years later he left for Paris where he stayed for a few years. He studied at the Conservatoire National with Émile Pessard, Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray, Charles-Marie Widor and Henri Libert, continuing his studies in 1897 at the famous Schola Cantorum with Vincent d’Indy and Alexandre Guilmant.
In these years he had contact with many important people, among others Claude Debussy, which for sure also helped to amplify his interest for symbolistic music, as which can be classified a significant part of his compositions.
He became interested in orchestral direction, starting his career as maestro of the orchestra of the Casino de La Baule.
Four years later he became maestro of the orchestra of Montreux, having also initiated the orchestra of Nantes and directed the orchestra of Marseilles. He often insisted on directing interesting, very new or little known works and composers.
In 1913 he returns to Azores, and 1921 he moved to Lisbon again, where he focused on composing but also direction, funding the Filarmonia de Lisboa, an orchestra that had great ambitions but didn’t last, although it might have had a brilliant success with him as their leader if there only had been more financial support.
Frustrated with the whole situation, he left his country again, continuing his compositions but also to direct orchestras of Marseille, Nantes, Paris and Toulouse.
In 1928 he had to suspend his career due to his deteriorating health, returning to Lisbon, where he dies in 1934, not being able to finish all his interesting projects.
Indeed, many of his works were meant to have several movements but only the first was concluded.
Among his greatest compositions are the following:
- Dans le Clair de Lune
Voice and orchestra
- Trovas (inspired in traditional music from Azores)
- Trente-Six Histoires pour amuser les Enfants d’un Artiste (symbolistic influencies)
- Serenata a una Muerta
As always, here are some great videos of some of his works so you can hear by yourself:
Dans le clair de lune
Tenho tantas saudades (from Trovas)
I don’t really like the singer in the last video, but well, can’t find anything better on youtube…
Luís de Freitas Branco
Born in 1890 in Lisbon, Luís’ musical talent was noticed early by his family and he started to have lessons with Augusto Machado and Tomás Borba.
At the age of 15 he already had published two compositions and continued his studies with Désiré Pâque, a belgian musician who also initiates him in the theories of Vincent d’Indy. He received lessons in instrumentation from Luigi Mancinelli and continued to improve his piano playing and also the violin.
In 1908 he won the first prize of the Concurso de Música Portuguesa and at the time he already had composed several symphonic poems. Two years later he traveled to Berlin with his uncle, where he had some lessons with Humperdinck, but they don’t really satisfied him, so he continued to work with Pâque, who had moved to Berlin.
He returned to Portugal but only for one year, when he traveled again, this time to Paris, where he was introduced to Claude Debussy and received lessons in symbolistic aesthetics from Gabriel Grovlez, which certainly served as inspiration for several of Luís’ compositions, before turning into a neo-classical direction upon creation of his symphonies.
After his marriage with D. Stella de Ávila e Sousa, the whole family moved temporarily to Madeira island and he continued to compose actively.
Two years after returning to continental Portugal, in 1916, he started his teaching career at the Conservatório Nacional, eventually becoming sub-director and initiating a reformation of it, together with its director, Viana da Mota.
In 1924 he left the position of sub-director, because it didn’t leave him enough time for his compositions. He published some books about music and got several important positions at institutions related to music, but in 1939 he was suspended from all his teaching jobs due to a (unfunded) suspection by authorities of Salazar’s fascist regime.
He continued an intense activity as a composer until his death in 1955.
Some of his greatest works:
- Paraísos Artificiais (first contact with symbolism)
- Vathek (can be classified as avantgarde composition)
- 2 Suites Alentejana
- 4 Symphonies
- Concerto for violin and orchestra
- Canto do Mar for soprano or tenor and orchestra
- 2 Sonatas for violino and piano
- String quartet
- Sonata for violoncello and piano
- Theme and variations for 3 harps and string quartet
- 10 Préludes to Viana da Mota (symbolistic influences)
- 4 Préludes to Isabel Manso
He also composed many works for voice and piano, especially inspired on poets and portuguese traditions, although he was much less inclined in that direction than Francisco de Lacerda.
His extense catalog of works also includes compositions for organ, sacred music, choir, aswell as soundtracks for cinema and theatre.
Vathek (part 3 of 3)
Sonata for violoncello and piano, 1st movement
Symphony no. 1, 1st movement
He was born 1897 in Cantanhede, Portugal.
At the age of 8 he had his first piano lessons with his uncle and later with Ernesto Maia.
At the age of 16 he published his first composition, receiving overwhelming support by the audience and critics and one year later he was admitted at the Conservatório Nacional, studying harmony and piano with Marcos Garín, Tomás Borba e Luís de Freitas Branco, concluding the class of piano with disctinction and the highest grades possible.
Unfortunately, in the same year of 1918 he was one more victim of the terrible pneumonic flu epidemy, dying at the age of 21.
He still left about hundred compositions and there have been made several hommages at an international level in recognition of the quality of his work.
Some of his works:
There’s not much on youtube, but these are very nice recordings:
Prélude from Petite Suite
Nocturno (piano reduction)
And with these beatiful compositions I conclude one more “episode” about great but not very well known composers. Suggestions for names about whom I could write the next episode are always welcome.