About this Recording
8.573380-81 - ALMEIDA, F.A. de: Trionfo d'Amore (Il) [Scherzo pastorale] (Quintans, C. Mena, Seara, Voces Caelestes, Os Músicos do Tejo, Magalhães)
English 

Francisco António de Almeida (c. 1702–c. 1755)
Il Trionfo d’Amore

 

During the reign of the Portuguese King João V (1707–1750) some socio-political transformations were responsible for decisively changing music practices and teaching. The approximate cause of these transformations was related to the strategy that would lead to the establishment and consolidation of Royal Absolutism. To achieve his modern reforms and restore the international prestige of Portugal, the young monarch possessed a valuable catalyst, gold from Brazil, but had to face the enormous power that, since the Counter-Reformation, the Church had acquired in all areas of Portuguese society. Unlike Louis XIV of France, João V chose the Church as the preferred stage for the symbolic representation of royal power. To effectively achieve this he had somehow to subordinate the ecclesiastical hierarchy to his authority. He managed it through a highly skilled process that transformed the Royal Chapel into the Patriarchal Church, and culminated in the metamorphosis of the highest authority of the Church in Portugal, the Patriarch, into the mere Chaplain to the King of Portugal.

The emphasis on magnificence and ostentation that surrounded Lisbon’s Patriarchal Church was a strategy that had repercussions in Europe, and contributed to the image of wealth and pomp associated with Portugal. The Royal Chapel became one of the best and richest, rivalling even its model, the Cappella Giulia in Rome. Concerns about the quality of the religious ceremonies and its long-term maintenance led King João V to import musicians, liturgical manuals, and polyphonic choir books from Italy, and to create the Real Seminário de Música da Patriarcal (Royal Patriarchal Seminary of Music) in 1713. These measures and the sending of some gifted students to further improve their music education in Italy, steadily and permanently changed the Portuguese music scene, leading to the Italianisation of not only the style and performance, but the structures of musical production.

The hiring of the first Italian singers began in 1717 and intensified in subsequent years with the arrival of an increasing number of musicians, including two Italian masters active in Rome that was to leave an indelible mark on the local music scene: the maestro of the Cappella Giulia, Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757), court composer and teacher of the Infantes António (brother of the monarch) and Maria Bárbara, and the maestro di cappella of San Giovanni in Laterano, the Venetian Giovanni Giorgi (?–1762), who taught at the Seminário da Patriarcal and composed over three hundred works—still extant—for the Patriarchal Church. In 1730 the Royal Chapel employed 26 Italian singers; that number rose to 36 in 1733.

The first royal pensioners to be sent to Rome were students of the Seminário da Patriarcal and, except for Joaquim do Vale Mixelim about whom virtually nothing is known, all became noteworthy in the art of composition: António Teixeira (1707–1774) held the positions of chaplain-singer, examiner in plainchant and organist of the Patriarchal Church; João Rodrigues Esteves (c. 1700–c. 1751) became an esteemed teacher at the Seminário da Patriarcal; and Francisco António de Almeida (c. 1702–c. 1755?) who, judging from the works extant in Italian and German archives, achieved the greatest international recognition. They were all adept at the stile concertato and practised the art of dense Roman baroque writing.

Although Mário Ribeiro de Sampaio refers to Francisco António de Almeida as ‘the first Portuguese composer of the first half of the eighteenth century and one of the greatest of his time’, there are very few biographical references. In fact, the year of birth is unknown—recent research undertaken by Cristina Fernandes indicates, however, that Francisco António was born in Crato—and the year of death is uncertain, although he may have perished as a result of the great Lisbon earthquake of 1 November 1755. The first concrete reference bears witness to the presence of João V’s pensioner in Rome in early 1722, since the preface of his oratorio Il pentimento di Davidde (lost), which received its première on the second Sunday of Lent, gives an account of his recent arrival. Two and a half years later, on 9 July 1724, the only known iconographical source—in fact a caricature—was created by Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674–1755). In the caption, the famous painter and caricaturist active in Rome expresses a clear appreciation of the talent of Francisco António: ‘Signor Francesco Portuguese who came to Rome to study, and is currently an excellent composer of concert and sacred music, which is remarkable given his youth, besides singing incomparably […]’. During Lent of 1726, at the Oratorio dei Filippini in Rome, another oratorio had its première: La Giuditta, a masterpiece of Portuguese music. The composer’s return to his home-country occurred before 22 April 1728, when the serenata Il Trionfo della Virtù was performed in Lisbon. De Almeida was appointed organist of the Patriarchal Church and devoted the remainder of his productive life to the composition of sacred music (for a total of 28 works listed by João Paul Janeiro), as well as five serenatas and three operas in Italian. The close connection between Francisco António de Almedia and the Court’s musical activities, as well as his high reputation, were demonstrated by his inclusion in the list of musicians who accompanied King João V to the border, to participate in the magnificent ceremonies celebrating the exchange of the Portuguese and Spanish princesses—Maria Bárbara and Mariana Victoria, who married princes Fernando and José, heirs to the thrones—held on the Caia River, in January 1729. His three comic operas were all first performed at the Ribeira Palace, the official royal residence: La pazienza di Socrate (1733 and 1734, with a libretto by João V’s secretary, Alexandre de Gusmão), the first opera by a Portuguese composer, La finta pazza (1735) and La Spinalba (1739), the latter already recorded for Naxos by Os Músicos do Tejo [8.660319-21].

From April 1740 João V suffered a series of attacks, until the last, on 10 May 1742, permanently affected his left side. The King never recovered and died on 31 July 1750. He was succeeded by his son José. King João’s sickness and the religious fervour it brought, led to the prohibition of almost all forms of entertainment. It is therefore not surprising that there was no news of works by Francisco António de Almeida for some thirteen years, the period between the début of La Spinalba and the serenata L’Ippolito, given its première on 4 December 1752 and written to celebrate the birthday of Maria Bárbara, Queen of Spain. The year 1752 marks the arrival in Portugal of one of the greatest composers of all time, David Perez (1711–1778), hired for a large sum of money as Composer of the Royal Chamber and music teacher of Their Royal Highnesses, including the Princess of Brazil, the future Queen Maria I. The Ópera do Tejo (Tagus Opera House), the result of the modification of King José I’s musical investment policy—instead of sacred music, Italian opera became the main vehicle for the symbolic representation of royal power—was inaugurated in the spring of 1755 with a sumptuous staging of Alessandro nell’Indie (Perez), an event hailed by Charles Burney in his History of Music.

On 20 April 1751, the year before the première of the serenata L’Ippolito, King José I granted Francisco António the title of Master of Music of the Royal Chamber, a distinction normally associated with composers who distinguished themselves in the secular genre.

While operas were court spectacles of a private nature, staged during Carnival and alluded to in the Gazeta de Lisboa only twice during the reign of João V, the Gazeta contains numerous references to the Portuguese court serenatas celebrating the birthdays or name-days of the King, the Queen, the Princes, or close relatives. The serenatas were usually given in the chambers of the King or the Queen, depending on who provided the entertainment. They could, however, also be part of the entertainment held for the benefit of the entire Court and attended by foreign dignitaries. The two composers who, in this period, distinguished themselves in this genre were Domenico Scarlatti and Francisco António de Almeida. It is significant to note that the professional singers participating in the serenatas belonged to the Royal Chapel, where the overworked liturgical calendar pre-determined their main activity.

The serenata for six voices, Il Trionfo d’Amore, scherzo pastorale, was first performed at the Ribeira Palace on 27 December 1729, the feast of St John the Baptist. During the reign of King João V the celebrations of his birthday, on 22 October, were complemented by those of his namedays, on 24 June (St John) and 27 December (St John the Baptist). As is made explicit in the title, the plot is an apology of Love. The wedding arrangements between Adraste and Nerina, following the gods’ designs, turn out to be thwarted by a greater force, the unbounded passion of Nerina and Arsindo.

There is a single source, an autograph score extant in the library of Vila Viçosa’s Ducal Palace. Francisco António de Almeida, once again, proves to be an imaginative composer with admirable melodic invention, the full possession of technical resources allowing him to find the most varied and elegant solutions for soloists and orchestra, consisting of trumpets, oboes, recorders, strings and basso continuo. In a typical baroque structure, recitatives precede the twelve da capo arias and two duets. Following the initial Sinfonia, this two-part work ends in the same way it started: with a choir exalting Love—‘nobody resists the design of love’.

António Jorge Marques

Synopsis

CD 1

[1]–[3] Introduction

Part 1

[4] The chorus calls on the gods to descend and bless the happy couple, about to be joined in marriage.

[5] Termosia intervenes, calling on the priest to cease their sacrifices: Arsindo, dressed in woman’s clothes, is violating the sacred nature of the temple and should therefore pay the penalty of death.

[6] She continues with an aria of vengeance and justice.

[7] The priest Mirenio seeks to know what madness has led Arsindo so to offend, pledging to all the gods, to whom he is a minister, that Arsindo must pay the penalty of death.

[8] In an aria he bids Arsindo be bound and condemned for his sacrilege.

[9] Adaste interrupts the priest, afraid that the delay will prevent the oracles’ prediction from being fulfilled, but Mirenio insists that Nerina has been destined by the gods to marry Adraste, and tells him to be calm. Nerina’s father, Giano, intervenes, seeing the temple and altars desecrated, and Nerina asks him how the vengeful goddess may be propitiated, for which Giano suggests the offering of incense and prayers.

[10] In an aria Giano points out that a drop of water can quench a spark, but the sea is needed to quell a greater blaze; all Arsindo’s blood must be shed to placate the anger of the gods.

[11] Arsindo seeks pity from Nerina, who reassures him.

[12] In her aria she sings that as the rose may lie pale on the ground but may revive with water, so kindness may restore life.

[13] Her words bring life again to Arsindo.

[14] He tells how water may be frozen over, but the stream set free to run again; so he hopes that his death may be abandoned, through his beloved fair one, his star.

[15] Adraste, in a recitative, finds he cannot explain the hope and fear in his heart, while Termosia assures him he will see his rival Arsindo punished; he fears at every moment that he will suffer the painful loss of his wife.

[16] In an aria he finds his heart, like a sapling swayed by conflicting winds, divided between hope and fear.

[17] Mirenio bids the sacred ministers to prepare the altars for human sacrifice and the nymphs and shepherds to sing to placate the great goddess. Nerina asks where these cruel people are taking her beloved Arsindo and the latter tells her he is being taken to his death.

[18] Arsindo and Nerina pledge their love, while he bids a last farewell and she pleads with him not to die.

CD 2

Part 2

[1] Mirenio tells the ministers to deck Arsindo’s brow with cypress and his with hyssop, as the unlucky shephed now kneels before the altar and bares his neck to the doubleheaded axe. Arsindo obeys at once, while Nerina laments her lover’s approaching fate. Arsindo gives himself up to his fairest Nerina, as he awaits the fatal blow.

[2] In his following aria Arsindo seeks to know where ungrateful love has led him, but the wildest love and most fearful death can never defeat his constancy.

[3] In a recitative Adraste tells Arsindo not to blame love, but himself. He is interrupted by Arsindo, who claims that the god of Delos has always been favourable to his fortunate rival. Adraste claims that heaven favours those who observe its law, while Giano feels pity.

[4] Nerina laments the injustice of the gods who feel no pity, while she is ready to satisfy with her own blood heaven and hell, before her beloved should die.

[5] Giano seeks to know where she is going, in her madness, while she is ready to sacrifice herself; she calls for death, or the return of her faithful Arsindo: she will die for him or marry him.

[6] In a recitative Mirenio condemns the unhappy pair, Adraste bemoans his betrayal by Nerina and Termosia the misfortunes of fate, Arsindo yearns for life, and Giano reproaches his daughter’s infidelity.

[7] In his aria Giano addresses the terrible and pitiless furies of cruel Avernus, seeking to know why, at the feet of her wretched father, they do not tear apart the sacrilegious heart of an inhuman woman; why do the tyrannical stars delay in punishing Nerina.

[8] Termosia’s hope of possessing Arsindo dies in her bosom, while Adraste wonders if this may be the beautiful nymph that he saw in his dream take Nerina and with her arrow strike his heart. In Termosia’s bosom Adraste awakens a spark of love, and he asks the gods on high why he no longer feels Nerina’s insult and his heart burns for this nymph; he demands an answer from Love. Termosia tells him that, if her mind does not deceive her, she is today in love with him.

[9] Termosia muses on the changes of love.

[10] Arsindo asks Nerina if she offers him life, and she tells him she must die with him or be his wife.

[11] She tells him he will see his own image, imprinted on her heart, now reflected in her tears.

[12] Adraste addresses fair Termosia, destined to be his, as seen in his dream, and she burns with love for him, a wonder and unexpected joy.

[13] They sing together of their love and delight, pledging their faith to each other.

[14] Mirenio seeks to know how the sun shines with divine and prophetic light in the deep night; now it is revealed that Arsindo is not guilty, but is in fact the man truly destined by oracular prophecy to marry Nerina; he calls on the happy couple to come to the altar, to Giano’s wonder and Termosia’s approval.

[15] Mirenio, in his aria, sings of the darkness of Stygian gloom dispelled by serene light, bringing joy from sorrow.

[16] For Giano the decrees of the eternal gods are different from mortal designs and Arsindo can hardly believe what is happening.

[17] In a duet Nerina and Arsindo sing of their constant love and unconquered faith after such tears, such sighs.

[18] Mirenio declares that Adraste and Termosia shall, by the will of the eternal gods, be united in marriage. Adraste gives thank to the gods and promises constancy and faith to his beloved.

[19] At the throne of the god of Cnydos he pledges love to his beloved wife.

[20] Mirenio tells Giano, the nymphs and shepherds that they have heard the decrees of heaven, marriages blessed by Cynthia, Jove, Calypso, Fate and Love.

[21] A final chorus praises the victory of the god of Delos and the triumph of Love.

Keith Anderson


Close the window