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8.570216 - SEIXAS, C. de: Harpsichord Works (Complete), Vol. 2 (D. Halasz)

Carlos de Seixas (1704–42)
Harpsichord Sonatas Vol. 2


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. 3 in C major, the numbering taken from Kastner’s edition, is in a single movement of transparent simplicity.

Sonata No. 35 in E minor offers a single movement of greater complexity, bringing rapid changes from one hand to another and hand-crossing, its first section modulating to G major and the second shifting back again to the original key.

Sonata No. 16 in C minor is a single-movement work, again calling for some virtuosity. Seixas once more chooses a minor key and, as so often, presents a second half that echoes the first, with the necessary modulation.

Sonata No. 45 in G major consists of one short single movement, its second section starting with a repetition of the first, with the expected modulation.

Sonata No. 60 in A major offers a single movement, the mood established by the characteristic descending arpeggio with which it opens. It follows the usual form in its repetition of short phrases.

Sonata No. 65 in A minor is in two movements. The first, marked A tempo assai, makes considerable use of sequences and right-hand passages in thirds. The second movement, in 3/8, starts with a single melodic line, before continuing in thirds and sixths.

Sonata No. 40 in F major has three movements. The opening Allegro is followed by a Giga in 12/8 and a final Minuet, which touches, in passing, on minor keys.

Sonata No. 28 in D minor is a single movement in 6/8. Its characteristic opening is accompanied by full left-hand chords, with the same pattern repeated at the F major opening of the second section.

Sonata No. 33 in E flat major, a single movement and marked Moderato, makes the expected and often original use of sequences, each section ending with descending arpeggios, spanning the keyboard.

Sonata No. 53 in G minor has two movements, both of which include a degree of ornamentation, in textures that suggest Domenico Scarlatti.

Sonata No. 39 in F major starts with a characteristic first movement, in 3/8. This is followed by a short Minuet.

Sonata No. 1 in C major, the first of ten in this key in Kastner’s collected edition, which groups the sonatas by key, is in one simple movement, its second half duly reflecting the opening of the first section.

Sonata No. 78 in B flat major, one of three sonatas in this key, has a more extended first movement, introduced by a single melodic line, joined in the eighth bar by left-hand octaves, returning in transposition to open the second half of the movement. The Minuet offers a contrast of texture.

Sonata No. 47 in G major calls for hand-crossing in its single movement.

Sonata No. 58 in A major opens with a characteristic first movement, followed by a Minuet, which is given with a figured bass.

Sonata No. 20 in D major starts with a Giga, its melody kept in the right hand, lightly accompanied. The second of the two movements is a transparent Minuet.

Sonata No. 38 in F major, with its two-part texture, keeps the melody in the right hand, characteristic in its use of sequences, a fitting conclusion to the present collection.

Keith Anderson

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