About this Recording
8.225087 - BRAGA SANTOS: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 6

José Manuel Joly Braga Santos (1924-1988)
Symphonies Nos. 3 and 6

Joly Braga Santos was born in Lisbon in 1924 and died there in 1988, at the height of his musical creativity. Although he composed only six symphonies, he was undoubtedly the leading Portuguese symphonist of this century and, in a way, of all time, considering that the symphonic output of Portuguese composers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is not very significant. Apart from an innate sense for good orchestration, his musical language is based on a strong sense of musical architecture as well as drama, with long melodic lines and a natural instinct for structural development as well as formal coherence. In his own words, he wanted to contribute “towards a Latin symphonism and to react against the predominant tendency, of the generation that proceeded me, to reject monumentalism in music”.

Having studied violin and composition at the Conservatory in Lisbon, he became a disciple of Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955), the leading Portuguese composer of the preceding generation, who was also a symphonist (he wrote four symphonies among many other orchestral works), and a thorough theoretician. Joly Braga Santos developed a very close relationship with his mentor, an unusual teacher-pupil rapport in Portugal’s musical scene where composers had - and still have - a rather individualistic approach to music-making and no tradition of developing a school. He ‘inherited’ from Freitas Branco - and pursued and developed - a musical language based, according to his own words, on “a modalism with historic roots in Portuguese polyphony of the Renaissance”. Although he was not particularly interested in Portuguese folk-lore, studying and composing at the country home of his teacher, in the south, rural area of the Alentejo, he willingly accepted the influence of local folk-songs, which he considered “of a mesmerising originality and grandeur”.

The first four symphonies followed one another quite rapidly. He composed them between the age of 22 and 27 and not only were they immediately performed by the Portuguese Radio Symphony Orchestra in Lisbon but also met with great success. Yet, despite the fact that his style was far from avant-garde and very appealing, only a small minority recognised the extent of his extraordinary talent and he therefore attracted only very limited support. Indeed, being a most generous and selfless person, he was not efficient at ‘selling’ himself. On the other hand, he also suffered from the Portuguese tradition which supports much more the import of celebrated foreign artists than the promotion of their own.

After the period to which his first four symphonies belong, as well as many other works including the Elegy for Vianna da Motta, the Concerto for Strings and the opera To Live and to Die, Joly Braga Santos went abroad to study conducting with Herman Scherchen and composition with Virgilio Mortari. The period of travel and the time he devoted to conducting, mainly in Oporto (1955-61), provided him with what he described as a useful period of rest, decisive for the transformation of his musical style, which evolved toward increased chromaticism and less traditional form. To this period belongs his orchestral Divertimento, his Sinfonietta, and his Requiem, among other works.

Joly Braga Santos composed his Fifth Symphony when he was 41 years old (1965-66) and it is his first large-scale work within a new musical language which he had meanwhile developed; a language that remained faithful to the basic principles. According to his own words, “I always maintained that the time frame in which his personality developed is of the greatest importance to the composer.” It is therefore not surprising that despite his personal contact with the avant-garde of the 1960s, and although assimilating some of its influences in his music, he always remained true to his roots. Yet knowledge of the avant-garde in 1960s he certainly had. He was very close to the younger generation of upcoming composers including myself, and he was very interested in helping them as well. For instance, he conducted the world premiere of my first Sinfonia Breve in 1959 (my début as a composer) and supported me despite the fact that my approach to music was very much influenced by the Oarmstadt school. He was a wonderfully encouraging ‘older colleague’, also supporting me in my first steps as a conductor. In turn, I conducted many of his works and gave the first performance of his Sinfonietta for Strings (1963), which he dedicated to me, and he complied with my request, in 1988, shortly before his death, to write what turned out to be his last orchestral work, the Staccato Brillante. The Fifth Symphony, which incidentally won the UNESCO award, was followed by works for solo instruments, among them concertos for cello and piano, as well as by the Sixth Symphony, for orchestra, solo soprano and mixed chorus, completed in 1973. He also composed a large number of works for different chamber ensembles, as well as three operas, and throughout his creative career he was active as a music critic.

The Third Symphony of Joly Braga Santos, written in 1949, is dedicated to Luís de Freitas Branco and was first performed by the Portuguese Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pedro de Freitas Branco. The slow introduction of the first movement immediately presents the musical building blocks of the symphony; the modal motif in the low strings, the short melodic lines presented by the horn and trumpet, the rhythmic cells presented by the timpani and wind and brass and finally the bassoon solo. These are all sketches of musical material which is used for development throughout the symphony. The main allegro section of this movement has the usual two contrasting themes of sonata form. After a big crescendo, the development section ends with the musical material of the second theme in slow motion in the wind. The recapitulation ends with a short but brilliantly orchestrated coda. The basic mood of this movement derives from the perpetual motion of the string accompaniment, interrupted by the expressive second theme.

The second movement starts with spaced chords, interspersed with a melodic line based on the motif of the introductory horn solo. This melodic line is developed in the fourth movement bringing the symphony to its grandiose ending. It is interesting to note how unobtrusively this little melody appears in the symphonic fabric and how it becomes the leading element of the final coda. The general mood of the second movement is of utter quietness and solitude. The highly expressive main theme is presented by the solo oboe with pizzicato string accompaniment, while in the recapitulation the oboe is replaced by unison violins in a very high register, and the string pizzicato by the harp

The Scherzo is a robust country dance with strong rhythmic emphasis, first in the timpani and later in the strings. The main section has the customary two themes, which are clearly distinct, the first one presented by the wind, the second one by the strings.

The trio section is slightly slower, introduced by a solo violin and solo viola, and builds up to a massive orchestral tutti where, again, the musical material of the opening is used for development.

The finale starts with a slow introduction very similar to the first movement, yet with the lower brass replacing the lower strings. A new theme, also presented by the brass, is based on the melodic line which appeared in the slow movement. However, prior to the main Allegro section, a fugato in the strings, built on the initial horn solo motif, develops into a grandiose orchestral tutti, with the timpani leading into the main section of the finale. This part of the symphony is a tour de force of contrapuntal writing. It is actually a double fugue sewn into a musical fabric which develops into the rhythmic accompaniment of long melodic lines based on the material of the slow movement. Building up to a musical dead-end, and after an abrupt pause, a slow coda is introduced by the lower brass, a chorale-like ending of great musical intensity in which big brass chords lead to a massive G flat chord, after which the final C major comes as a sudden surprise. It seems a rather strange harmonic sequence, yet it is a natural, though unforeseeable, return to the main key of the symphony.

The Sixth Symphony, written in 1972, is unique in Joly Braga Santos’ æuvre and a rare occurrence in the history of the symphony itself (Sibelius’ Seventh is another exampler it has only one movement. This single movement, however, has a number of subdivisions. Furthermore, the symphony is divided into two parts, the first purely orchestral, the second mainly vocal. This second part is also divided in two, the first mainly choral, the second features a soprano solo with orchestral and choral accompaniment. The first half of the symphony is atonal, highly chromatic, intensely convoluted in expression and deeply unstable, with many changes of tempo. The secol1d (vocal) half is mainly stable in tempo, with modal harmonies, and an almost a lullaby, and leads to the pianissimo ending of the symphony. The reason for this harmonic duality is determined by the fact that the first half of the symphony is obviously modern (that is, written in a twentieth-century musical idiom), while the second half is based on poems by the sixteenth-century poet Luis de Camões, author of Portugal’s great epic poem, Os Lusíadas. This work describes the adventures of the Portuguese discoverers, and sea travels shared by the poet himself. The poems used in this symphony are also connected with the sea. They are not in Portuguese, however, but in a dialect which is actually closer to Spanish: the Galaico-portugues. The poem used for the chorus, Ondas por el mundo caminando, describes the travels by sea, whereas the poem used by the soprano solo, Ir me quiero, madre, aquella galera, expresses the wish of a girl, addressed to her mother, to become a sailor and so join her proud love, who is also a sailor.

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