About this Recording
8.572370 - FREITAS BRANCO, L. de: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 (Cassuto) - Symphony No. 3 / The Death of Manfred / Suite alentejana No. 2

Luís de Freitas Branco (1890–1955)
Symphony No. 3 • The Death of Manfred • Suite Alentejana No. 2


Luis de Freitas Branco was by far the most important Portuguese composer of the first half of the twentieth century. Born in 1890 in Lisbon, where he died in 1955, his four symphonies constitute the culmination of his musical development. Indeed, he was 34 when he composed his First Symphony (Naxos 8.570765), although he started composing at a very early age. He enjoyed a highly sophisticated education, having spent time studying in Berlin and in Paris. During his life, he was also active as a musicologist, a highly regarded teacher and mentor of younger composers, and a sought-after lecturer and music critic.

Freitas Branco’s Symphony No. 3 was composed between 1930 and 1944. It had its première in Lisbon in 1947, conducted by the composer’s brother, Pedro de Freitas Branco. The first movement basically follows sonata form, with a slow introduction. The main Allegro has an exposition with its usual two themes, a development section, a recapitulation and a coda. It would be quite simple and easy to grasp, were it not for its length, resulting from a profusion of secondary themes and bridges, all in different tempi, accelerating into, and decelerating out of them. The symphony is scored for two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and strings.

The initial Adagio, a horn solo over a pedal-point in the strings in triplets, cannot but remind us of Bruckner (as does the Scherzo of the Second Symphony (Naxos 8.572059)). The first and principal theme of the following Allegro is repeated a few times in different versions leading to a majestic orchestral unison. The second theme follows at a slower tempo, a short melody constantly repeated and intensified. A “nervous” bridge ushers in an Andante, a “relaxing” orchestral tutti, again followed by the “nervous” bridge, this time leading to the development section, which starts slowly, based on the second theme. The development section continues now based on the first theme, followed by another bridge which heralds the initial Adagio, with woodwind replacing the horns. Another bridge introduces a restatement of the majestic orchestral unison, now quite dissonant, followed by a bridge which leads to the recapitulation.

The second movement is much less complex and basically in sonata form, with exposition, development, re-exposition and coda. It starts with a Lento introduction in the wind and brass, followed by the Adagio main theme played by the oboe and repeated by the English horn, with string accompaniment. A bridge section ushers in the second theme, in the strings alone. Various bridges lead finally to an Allegro (the development section) played by the whole orchestra fortissimo, with the brass prevailing over a string tremolo. It is followed by the recapitulation, and a final, delicate coda.

The third movement is a clear ABA form in which A is in binary (2/2) metre (two beats per bar) while B is in triple (3/4) metre (one beat per bar). The composer indicates that each 3/4 bar equals half of each previous 2/2 bar, and he indicates a metronome 112 per beat. Nothing can be clearer. Its formal scheme is similar to that of the third movement of Brahms’s First Symphony, where the scherzo-like section (6/8 in Brahms, 3/4 in Freitas Branco) appears in the middle of a binary metre movement. Despite the simplicity of this movement, it is quite surprising that many distinguished Portuguese musicologists have disagreed with the composer’s tempo. One of them considered it “much too slow and clearly inadequate”, while the composer’s son—a leading music scholar—invoked the “little importance” his father attributed to metronome markings.

The fourth movement starts with a furious outburst with violins and wind semiquavers (sixteenth notes) against the sustained brass chords punctuated by the strings. Immediately the main theme of the sonata-form movement appears in the strings supported by horns, leading to a transition and then to a variation of the main theme at a slightly slower tempo, with the feeling of a folk-dance. After a brief dialogue between wind and strings, the second theme is presented by the solo oboe, picked up by the violins and leading into the initial tempo and music, in a short alternation of the two main themes. The music then subsides into a mysterious Lento section in the strings, repeated in the horns, after which the recapitulation starts with the second part of the main theme. The movement ends with a long coda, built around the return to the initial theme of the first movement, now played by the whole orchestra.

Between 1905 and 1906, Freitas Branco composed his first orchestral work Manfred, Dramatic Symphony for soloists, chorus and orchestra. Surprisingly, Manfred’s Death, a single-movement work scored for a string sextet (two violins, violas, two cellos and double bass) and also composed in 1906, was not a part of this symphony. It is an independent work, and its only known performance occurred in Lisbon in 1906. It was again performed by a string orchestra in Lisbon in 2005.

The main tempo of The Death of Manfred is a Larghetto doloroso and its character is dark throughout, except for some passages where the music becomes agitated and chromatic, underlining the feeling of suffering, as Alexandre Delgado pointed out in his musical biography of Freitas Branco published in 1907. All strings are muted, except for the double bass. An extensive analysis of this short work does not seem relevant. Suffice to say that the thematic material is often repeated, such as the introductory open fifths emerging from an accented unison, and the principal theme played by the first violin and accompanied by syncopations in the other instruments. Quite relevant are the big outbursts of the full ensemble, interspersed by total silences, or pianissimos in the lowest register of the second cellos and basses.

The Suite Alentejana No. 2 (1927) is very similar to the Suite Alentejana No. 1 (Naxos 8.570765), composed a decade earlier. It is based on and inspired by the rich folklore of the Alentejo, a region south-east of Lisbon where the composer owned a large ranch, and where he composed many of his works. Like the preceding suite, is has three movements, the first being mostly slow, the second being a relatively short interlude, and the last one a brilliant, expansive, and extrovert finale similar to Rimsky Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol. The Suite is scored for two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, five percussionists, harp and strings. Quite interesting, musically, is the polyrhythmic 2/4 accompaniment of the strings and harp in the 3/4 metre of the first movement. the 3/4 metre of the first movement.

A text of unknown authorship published on the occasion of the work’s première in 1941 in Porto—and probably not sanctioned by the composer—suggests the follow programme for this work:

The first movement could be called “On the road”. The first bars describe the majestic impression of the Alentejo’s landscape. It is the opening of the curtain showing a scene of the immense Alentejo plain. It is night, one hears chants accompanied by the sound of wheels of carts. The stars sparkle, they turn pale, the sun rises emphasizing the climax of the movement. The carts withdraw, the chants are barely audible, the road becomes deserted in the immensity of the plain.

The second movement, Intermezzo, describes a rural scene in the courtyard of a typical ranch of the Alentejo. A group of women, seated in a circle, offer a picturesque scene. They work and sing a happy song.

The Finale could be called “In the fair”. A noisy crowd gathers in front of the tents in the main square of a village in the Alentejo. The sound of rhythmic instruments is heard. The noise stops during the passage of a group of folk-singers, and resumes afterwards, increasing up to the end, in a crescendo of rhythm and colour.

Álvaro Cassuto

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