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8.557207 - Spanish and Portuguese Orchestral Music
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Spanish and Portuguese Orchestral Music

Spanish and Portuguese Orchestral Music

Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (1806-1826) • Carlos Seixas (1704-1742) • João de Sousa Carvalho (1745-1798) • António Leal Moreira (1758-1819) • Marcos Portugal (1762-1830)


Juan Cristóstomo Arriaga (1806-1826) was deserving of some of the most enthusiastic accolades (“The Spanish Mozart”) after his premature death, inasmuch as he has been neglected by a musical culture which only started to look after its history and musical heritage at the end of the nineteenth century.


The Symphony in D, composed during the last years of his life, appears to have been performed for the first time in 1888, and its score was first published in 1933 with cuts and dubious changes. Such delay, for a work which is undoubtedly the most interesting of the very few orchestral works of any significance by a Spanish composer of the first half of the nineteenth century, is astonishing, especially if we remember that Arriaga was unanimously acclaimed as a precocious genius during his lifetime. His premature death certainly gave rise to a myth which transformed him, as well as many others, into a cult figure, more as a result of the expectations which he took to his grave than by the works he created during his lifetime. Indeed, important works by Arriaga are scant: three String Quartets (a rarity in the Iberian Peninsula), the opera Los esclavos felices and the Symphony in D. Indeed, we can apply to the Spanish musician the epitaph written for Schubert: “Here are buried great treasures and even larger expectations”.


Arriaga appears to us, today, as a talent of great promise, an excellent and intuitive musician who mastered his art even before he started to study harmony and counterpoint with great teachers. His more important works, the Symphony in D and the Quartets, appear to be hesitating between Mozart and the early Romanticism of Beethoven or Schubert, or even of Rossini. Arriaga studied in Paris (where he also died), showing an unusual talent for instrumental music and for the serious learning of his trade (Arriaga was an excellent violinist as well as an assistant to Fétis in counterpoint at the Paris Conservatoire). The first works of the Spanish composer, such as his opera Los esclavos felices written when he was 13 years old, still show the influence of the Italian operatic style of his time. Los esclavos felices is a mixture of the Italian style, Mozart and Haydn, the late Baroque, the pure Classical style and Rossini, notable in the staccato theme that opens the fast section of the overture and its irresistible coda.


The Symphony in D is a work of different dimensions and scope. If previous models still prevail (although less of Rossini and more of Beethoven and Schubert), and if the orchestra is kept within the boundaries of the classical models (double winds and brass, timpani and strings), notwithstanding the title of Symphony for large orchestra, the form is still traditional. There is no doubt, however, that the emotional pathos, use of major/minor keys and some details in orchestration clearly indicate a future Romantic genius.


This does not mean that some of those traits of Romanticism cannot be found in works of the much earlier Sturm und Drang period of Haydn and Mozart (of which Arriaga’s Symphony in D could be an echo après la lettre). The dark atmosphere, however, the modulations and the most unexpected chromatic developments, the alternation between D major and D minor (which turns it into a work which is simply in D, neither major nor minor, with some modal transitions), the audacious writing for the winds and the power of the development sections (mainly in the first and last movements), are traits which add up to a work which is a clear anticipation of the musical romanticism which had already pervaded Europe at that time but had not yet reached the Iberian Peninsula. It is also a precocious sister of the famous Symphony in C which Bizet composed at the same age as Arriaga composed his Symphony in D.


Carlos Seixas (1704-1742) is believed to have written more than seven hundred sonatas by the time he died at 38. Of these, only about one hundred have survived. A friend of Scarlatti who held him in high esteem, the Portuguese composer differs from the Italian by dividing his works into various sections and by a less brilliant and less technically demanding compositional technique, adding however, an unequivocal Portuguese flavour and melancholy. His orchestral legacy is limited to the Symphony in B flat, the Concerto for Harpsichord in A major, and his Overture in D major. All of these works are written in the Italian style, with three movements, except for the Overture which follows the formally richer French model.


The same happens with the other works included in this recording, illustrating a rare continuity in Portuguese music: João de Sousa Carvalho (1745-1798) would become the teacher of António Leal Moreira (1758-1819), of Marcos António da Fonseca Portugal (1762-1830), as well as of João Domingos Bomtempo (1775-1830). The period during which these musicians lived, encompassed a golden one, which started with King Dom João V (1706-1750) and continued through King Dom José I (1750-1777). Gold from Brazil certainly influenced the brilliance and spending frenzy which prevailed in Portugal throughout the 18th century. This wealth determined that most Portuguese composers were sent to Italy to learn their trade while Italian musicians and choreographers were imported, at a time when the craving for Italian Opera was shared by everyone, including the King.


The Sinfonia in B flat by Leal Moreira is in reality an overture in the Italian style (composed in or about 1803). It probably preceded one of the many operas by the composer, although we do not know which one. As in the other known Sinfonia in D by Leal Moreira, the Italian style is shared with the Lisbon tradition of the modinha and of the popular song. The solo flute featured in the slow introduction, reappears as a reminiscence in preparation for the exhilarating coda.


The overtures L’amore industrioso (1769) and Il Duca di Foix (1805), are examples of the orchestral writing of the two most important Portuguese operatic composers, João de Sousa Carvalho and Marcos Portugal, rightly famous in their lifetime. Sousa Carvalho was the most important composer of operas of the eighteenth century in Portugal and Marcos Portugal was the best known and the most acclaimed Portuguese composer of his time in foreign countries.


The Neapolitan style and the influence of Cimarosa are especially important in Marcos Portugal (who composed more than fifty operas) while in Carvalho it is the influence of Jomelli which prevails.


Sérgio Azevedo

(translated by Álvaro Cassuto)

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