About this Recording
8.573095 - FREITAS, F. de: Silly Girl's Dance (The) / The Wall of Love / Suite medieval / Ribatejo (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Cassuto)

Frederico de Freitas (1902–1980)
The Silly Girl’s Dance • The Wall of Love • Medieval Suite • Ribatejo


Frederico de Freitas (Lisbon 1902–1980) was one of Portugal’s most prolific composers and conductors, equally at home in the popular musical field as he was in the symphonic concert world. His music owes a lot to Portuguese folklore, especially in a series of highly successful ballets. He was also very active as a conductor, having been the deputy music director of the National Radio Symphony in Lisbon for 34 years, and music director of the Oporto Symphony between 1949 and 1952.

De Freitas studied piano, violin and composition at Lisbon’s Conservatory from which he graduated, and while still a student he won the National Prize for Composition. He was the first Portuguese composer to explore bi-tonality, and was greatly interested in the Portuguese musical heritage, both popular and classical. His oeuvre encompasses a large range of forms and styles, and he was as much at home in the symphonic field as in that of chamber music or film scores. In addition to his work as a composer and conductor, he founded the Lisbon Choral Society—which premiered his Missa solemnis—and taught at the Centre for Gregorian Studies in Lisbon.

Frederico de Freitas wrote some of his most popular works for Verde Gaio, a Ballet Company led by the dancer and choreographer Francisco Graca and established by the Portuguese Government in 1940 to develop a nationalistic cultural project. It was inspired by the Russian Ballet school and Dyaghilev’s Ballets Russes which performed in Lisbon in 1918 stimulating various initiatives which ultimately led to the Verde Gaio Ballet Company, featuring popular traditions, scenes and tales. In these works the thematic material draws its inspiration from folklore. It does not follow the original sources exactly, but there are naturally some resemblances.

Two of the works included on this recording were specifically composed for Verde Gaio: The Wall of Love and The Silly Girl’s Dance (translated elsewhere as “Lovewall” and “Dance of the Foolish Girl”), premiered respectively in 1940 and 1941. The other two works, Ribatejo (1938) and Medieval Suite (1958) were not originally conceived as ballets, although they were also performed as such.

The Silly Girl’s Dance
(Dança da Menina Tonta) (1941)

The Silly Girl’s Dance is Frederico de Freitas’ most often performed work, whether as a ballet or in concert. The popularity of this work is obviously the result of its exuberant musical vitality and catchy thematic inspiration. The ballet features a girl in a village who is extremely timid and retiring but widely considered to be strange, even slightly unbalanced. During the course of the ballet she does a silly dance to hide her embarrassment, but turns out to be the most lovely, beautiful and attractive girl of all. Although the score is divided into 12 contrasting sections, the unity of the work is ensured by its basic “pulse” being kept throughout. To be more specific, the speed of the quavers (eighth-notes) does not vary throughout most of the sections, whether the metre is 3/8, 2/4, or 4/4, or whether or not the character of the music changes.

Of particular interest are the section for the piccolo echoed by other instruments right after the opening, the slightly slower section featuring the strings in pizzicato, the slow middle section featuring an extensive flute solo, and the exuberant final dances.

The work is scored for piccolo, pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, contra-bassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp, celesta, percussion, and strings.

The Wall of Love
(O Muro do Derrete) (1940)

The literal translation of the title being “The wall of melting” ( = desire, love), the Ballet features a scene next to the wall surrounding a churchyard where marriageable girls meet annually—during the fair of Merces (a village near Sintra, in the vicinity of Lisbon)—in an unusual yet picturesque amorous competition. Leaning over the wall, the girls wait for the boys to pass and to invite a girl for a chat. In the Ballet, one of the girls is left alone, until a timid boy approaches her and she befriends him.

The score of this work is very varied and divided into more than 20 different sections, many of them containing just a few bars. As with his other Ballets, the composer eliminated some of the sections for concert performances. As recorded here, we can clearly note the following sections: (1) Flute solo introducing an Allegro in 3/8 featuring woodwinds alternating with a trombone; (2) A vigorous Allegro in 2/4 with a recurrent motif first presented by a solo trumpet; (3) An Allegro in 5/4 metre featuring a motif starting in the high strings and taken over by a variety of instruments; (4) A slower section featuring a trumpet solo echoed by the flute; (5) A series of variations for different instruments (Allegretto, 3/8) leading to a tutti section (Molto allegro); (6) A Tempo di valse cut short by five strokes leading into (7) the only slow section in the work, introduced by a clarinet and a horn solo, and featuring muted strings surrounded by delicate arabesques on the flute. The closing section (8) is brilliant and exuberant.

The instrumentation of the work equals that of the preceding one, with an extra cor anglais but without a contra-bassoon.

Medieval Suite (1958)

The Medieval Suite was written after the completion of the composer’s opera A Igreja do Mar (The Church of the Sea). In the composer’s own words, he felt the need “after a complex polyphonic and sometime polytonal work, to compose a contrasting work whose melodic and harmonic structure is inspired by the fragrance of medieval Portuguese poetry”.

The Suite’s harmonic structure is pre-classical, almost modal, with rare modulations into distant keys. It has 6 contrasting mono-thematic movements whose respective main themes are repeated often, although in different instrumentations and with slight variations. Their titles are medieval and not easily translatable: 1. Bailia (baile or ball): a dance (Allegro vivo ma non troppo); 2. Serena (serene / serenade / night music): a nocturnal song about unrequited love (Andante largo, Mesto); 3. Serranilha (serra or mountain range): a song from the mountains (Tempo di pastorale, Moderato); 4. Cantar de Amigo (A friend’s song): a well-known poem by King Dom Dinis (1261–1325) (Andante affettuoso); 5. Cantarcilho (cantar or song): a well-known Iberian poetic-musical form (Allegretto); 6. Jogralesca (jogral or jester): a medieval jester’s dance (Allegro con spirito).

From an instrumental viewpoint, the suite follows quite closely a chamber music or “concertante” approach. Each movement is scored differently (all instruments appear in the last movement only), and each one, except for the first, features different and very delicately handled solo instruments. The second is written for solo flute and strings, a reflective “pause” contrasting with the flowing feeling of the other movements.

The work is scored for one flute, pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, timpani, percussion, harp and (reduced) strings.

Ribatejo (1938)

Originally conceived as a symphonic poem, this work is inspired by the Ribatejo, a region along the Tejo (Tagus) river, north-east of Lisbon, well-known for its lively popular “fiestas” featuring bull-fighting on horseback. The music depicts the local rhythms and dances, the scorching landscapes in the summer, and the peasants’ songs.

The work is divided into three short, interlinked movements, the first one being in a fast 6/8 metre with a superimposed 3/2 rhythm; it is divided into two sections, the second one subsiding into a slow movement. It starts with a solo cello, a peasant’s song which is taken over by the singing crowd (actually the brass) in a close-knit canon. After it dies away, the initial frenzy reappears in a shorter recapitulation capped off by a coda, and ending with two incisive chords.

The instrumentation includes piccolo, pairs of flutes, oboes, cor anglais, clarinets, bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and strings.

Álvaro Cassuto

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