About this Recording
8.225271 - BRAGA SANTOS: Cello Concerto / Divertimentos Nos. 1 and 2

Joly Braga Santos (Lisboa 1924-1988):

Joly Braga Santos (Lisboa 1924-1988):

Staccato Brilhante • Nocturno for Strings • Divertimentos nos. 1 and 2

Concerto for Cello and Orchestra


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 Poretuguese symphonist of the century and, in a way, of all time, considering that the symphonic output of Portuguese composers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is not significant. Apart from an innate talent 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 “toward a latin symphonism and to react again the predominant tendency, of the generation that preceded me, to reject monumentalism in music”.


Having studied violin and composition at the Conservatory in Lisbon, he became a disciple of Luis de Freitas Branco (1890-1955), the leading Portuguese composer of the preceding generation, whose four symphonies are milestones of the Portuguese symphonic repertoire of the first half of the twentieth century.


The first four symphonies of Braga Santos followed each other quite rapidly. He composed them between the ages of 22 and 27, among many other works. He then went on to study conducting with Hermann Scherchen and composition with Virgilio Mortari, absorbing influences from the post-war avantgarde, which is reflected in the music he composed from 1960 onwards. Thus, his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies belong to his “second period”, in which he avoided his original love for modalism and tonality, and started to emphasize free chromaticism and dissonant harmonies.


His six symphonies and some other works for orchestra have been recorded by Marco Polo in addition to the greater part of his music for strings. I recorded them with the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and the Northern Sinfonia.


On this CD with the Algarve Orchestra, we have five works, each one of a kind of its own. As presented here, they do not follow the chronological order of their composition. Indeed, their dates are as follows:


                              Staccato Brilhante: 1988

                              Nocturno for Strings: 1944

                              Divertimento No. 1: 1959-61

                              Divertimento No. 2: 1978

                              Concerto for Cello and Orchestra: 1987



The Staccato Brilhante is a short work which Braga Santos composed at my request for the opening concert of the New Portuguese Philharmonia, a private orchestra which I founded and led until I was enstrusted with the foundation of the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra in 1993. At my suggestion, it is a short piece which can be performed as an overture or as an encore. It is a one-movement perpetuum mobile, its title deriving from the fast staccato semi-quavers and brilliant orchestration. The work is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, and strings.


Quite at the other end of the musical spectrum is the Nocturno for Strings. It is one of Braga Santos’s earliest works, written when he was twenty. The opening chords and viola solo establish a sombre mood which is maintained throughout, the musical style of which owes a great deal to composers like Vaughan Williams. The music speaks for itself, and it is quite clear that the opening melody in the viola, which reappears in the middle of the work, is then taken over by the violins in octaves which leads to a pianissimo ending.


The Divertimento No. 1, dedicated to the Italian composer Virgilio Mortari, is one of the composer’s few works based on Portuguese musical folklore. Its three movements are clearly defined. The Prelude starts with a slow introduction, the main theme of which is presented by the second horn. It builds up to an Allegro, the main part of the movement, which ends, as it started, with a slow section based on the initial theme. The Intermezzo is like a scherzo in binary rhythm and features a theme which is first presented by a solo string quartet (rhythmically supported by the lower strings and wood-wind. An accelerando leads to its brilliant ending. The Finale is divided into four parts. The first of these features a folk-tune with strong rhythmic support, the second part presents a new theme alternating between strings and winds, and then a development section leads to a slow section, a reminder of the beginning of the first movement. The movement ends as it started, however, with strong emphasis on the rhythmic support of its very appealing themes. The work is scored for pairs of flutes (the second alternating with piccolo), oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, timpani and two percussionists.


Divertimento No. 2 has a title which is extremely misleading. One would expect a work similar to Divertimento No. 1, yet it is as different as oil from vinegar. First, it is scored for strings only. Second, it has only two movements. Third, each movement is fragmented into a myriad of different sections. Fourth, its style is totally alien to any folkloristic influence, and harshly dissonant. Indeed, as one distinguished critic has said, it is a “haunting” work, especially when compared with the luminous and extrovert Divertimento No. 1. The first movement starts with a fortissimo outburst in pizzicato chords, Largamente, leading to a Più mosso section featuring a violin and a cello solo accompanied by divided strings. Building up to a fortissimo, it returns to a new Più lento section in 4/4, followed by an even slower one in 12/8. Speeding up to a Più mosso, a huge climax is followed by an Andantino, in which each string section has a different motion, in a most complicated superposition of different rhythms. Again a build-up of intensity leads to a rhythmic unison (Largamente) which ends, once more, in a pianissimo Lento. The second movement (Allegro vivace) starts easily enough and one would expect it to establish a contrast with the first movement, were it not interrupted by an Adagio where, again, rhythmic superpositions create a haunting feeling of unsteadiness. This Adagio is followed by the initial Allegro leading to a Vivacissimo which, as if it were not fast enough, speeds up through to the end in a sempre stringendo.


The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra is a work in three movement (Moderato - Allegro - Andante) without interruptions. Again, each movement being divided into different sections and movements, it is not easy to distinguish its three movements. It would be an exhausting exercise to examine each section and it would hardly help the listener. Therefore I would rather emphasize that this is more like an orchestral work with a cellist who, here and there, appears as a soloist, than a cello concerto in the traditional sense, where the soloist exchanges musical ideas with the orchestra, as two partners would do when discussing a mutually interesting subject. Braga Santos was certainly keen on keeping the listener attentive, therefore never indulging in any kind of clearly defined melodies or rhythms. The music develops like a symphonic poem where vaguely defined images and feelings are followed in what seems to lack focus, but then, after a second or third hearing, becomes clear as an extraordinarily coherent single statement. It is the kind of work where the music speaks for itself, and trying to write about it I feel completely lost.


Álvaro Cassuto

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