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8.557459 - SEIXAS, C. de: Harpsichord Works (Complete), Vol. 1 (D. Halasz)
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Carlos de Seixas (1704-1742)
Harpsichord Sonatas, Vol. 1


Born in Coimbra in 1704, José Antonio Carlos de Seixas succeeded his father, Francisco Vaz, at the age of fourteen as organist of Coimbra Cathedral, moving in 1720 to Lisbon, where, from the age of sixteen, he served as organist to the Chapel Royal and the Patriarchal Cathedral. His early achievement both as a virtuoso keyboard performer and as a composer established him as one of the most important musicians in Portugal, and his eminence won him a knighthood from King John V in 1738. Like his contemporary in Portugal, Domenico Scarlatti, he was prolific, not least in the production of keyboard music, with some seven hundred pieces to his credit. It has been suggested that the devastating earthquake of 1755 in Lisbon, thirteen years after the death of Seixas, may have led to the destruction of many of his works. Very little of his choral music, of which there was presumably some quantity, in view of his position, survives, and no autographs of his keyboard sonatas, which are preserved in copies only. A collection of eighty sonatas was edited by the late Macario Santiago Kastner, a scholar to whom the study of earlier Portuguese music is greatly indebted.

Domenico Scarlatti moved to Lisbon as mestre da capela about the year 1723 and remained there until 1729, when he left for Spain, on the marriage of his pupil, the Infanta Maria Barbara, to the heir to the Spanish throne. Seixas was, of course, much younger, and presumed by the Portuguese Infante Don Antonio, younger brother of the King, to need instruction from Scarlatti, some nineteen years the senior of Seixas. It was later reported that Scarlatti had at once perceived the ability of the younger man, reporting to the Infante that Seixas was one of the best musicians he had ever heard. Since there has always been difficulty in dating the compositions of both Seixas and Scarlatti, questions have arisen as to what influence each may have had on the other. They certainly shared in a common keyboard tradition, derived, perhaps, from Italian composers, but the matter must remain undetermined. Scarlatti, in a longer career, developed his chosen genre rather further in his Esercizi, while Seixas had a relatively short life, dying in Lisbon in 1742 at the age of 38. Their sonatas share similarities of form, texture and keyboard range, characteristics found in other keyboard works of the time, and they worked as colleagues until 1729.

In his introduction to his edition of eighty keyboard sonatas by Seixas Kastner draws attention to the royal and aristocratic favour that Seixas enjoyed and to his prosperity. Comparing his work with that of Scarlatti, he contrasts the latter's career exclusively at court, composing sonatas for his royal pupil and to entertain a court audience, and that of Seixas, who was bound to supply keyboard pieces for a more varied clientèle. Some of the sonatas of Seixas arose from his position as organist and the consequent need for organ voluntaries and music for use during the liturgy, while others were needed for his own concert use or for pupils with varied levels of attainment. He absorbed the Italian influence that had made its way to the Iberian peninsula, while remaining fully aware of the musical traditions of Spain and Portugal. Other features of his writing are attributed by Kastner to the range and nature of the keyboard instruments for which he was writing.

Sonata No. 36 in E minor , the numbering taken from Kastner's edition, opens with an extended movement in binary form, each half of the movement repeated. Characteristic features include the use of left-hand octaves, providing a solider bass than the instruments for which Seixas was writing might have been capable, typical keyboard figuration and much use of sequence. The sonata ends with an elegant Minuet.

Sonata No. 19 in D major is a single-movement work calling for some virtuosity, not least in the rapid crossing of hands which it demands. There are wide leaps and considerable use of left-hand octaves in a piece that has some of the features of a toccata in its figuration.

Sonata No. 18 in C minor has some of the elements of a suite, at least in its varied movements. It opens with an aria, marked Largo, followed by an energetic binary Allegro, with both halves duly repeated. A brief modulating Adagio is capped by a Giga, a dance that was the customary conclusion of a suite or chamber sonata.

Sonata No. 34 in E major opens with a lively Presto very much akin in texture, form and figuration to the idiom familiar from Scarlatti. The second movement, a Minuet, offers a contrast, a transparent dance-movement in two-part texture.

Sonata No. 44 in F minor , a single-movement work, calls for a measure of virtuosity in performance, with its opening arpeggio figuration and later rapid handcrossing. Once again considerable use is made of left-hand octaves, reinforcing the bass line.

Sonata No. 43 in F minor has a more lyrical upper part and an element of chromaticism in a rising scale figure. The following Minuet in F major has something of a martial air about it.

Sonata No. 24 in D minor , with its opening repeated and ornamented key-note, is a tempestuous piece, each section of the binary structure ending with repeated notes and a final sinister appoggiatura.

Sonata No. 27 in D minor has three movements. The opening Allegro starts with a dash, its descending scale followed by a rising arpeggio, before passages of rapid repeated notes and wide leaps in the accompanying lower part. The Minuet offers an elegant contrast. It is followed by a vigorous triple metre third movement.

Sonata No. 42 in F minor starts with an imitated figure stated by the right hand and answered in the left. There is considerable use of left-hand octaves, and there is further use of the opening figure. The Minuet that forms the second movement offers varied rhythms in its use of triplets.

Sonata No. 37 in E minor starts with a characteristic first movement. This is followed by an Adagio aria, its final dominant chord succeeded by a Minuet.

Sonata No. 57 in A major opens with grandiose chords, introducing a movement that finds room for wide leaps in the left hand and antiphonal figures, with a chromatic element and use of thirds. Kastner singles out the movement for its richness of texture and of harmony. The Adagio is in the unusual key of F sharp minor, its right-hand melody accompanied largely by the octaves of the left hand. This is followed by a cheerful A major final movement.

Sonata No. 10 in C major has an extended first movement that develops the material very considerably, making full use of thirds, characteristic Scarlattian figuration, arpeggios, sequences, and chromatic elements. With both parts of the movement repeated, this is the longest movement included here. Of clearer texture, the Minuet makes a delicate pendant.

Sonata No. 50 in G minor makes a feature of repeated notes and octaves and chromatic progressions in a technically demanding movement, a virtuoso conclusion to the present collection of Seixas sonatas.

Keith Anderson

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