About this Recording
8.573495 - VIANNA DA MOTTA, J.: Symphony, "À Pátria" / Inês de Castro / Impromptus (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, A. Cassuto)

José Viana da Mota (1868–1948)
À Pátria • Inês de Castro • Chula • Three Impromptus • Vito


Jose Viana da Mota was a towering personality in the field of Portuguese music, not only as the most distinguished pianist of his generation, but as a brilliant pedagogue and a highly gifted composer.

He was born in 1868 on Sao Tome Island, off the West Coast of Africa, while it was still a Portuguese colony. When he was very young, his family moved back to Portugal where he studied piano and composition, excelling in both and winning the attention of the Royal Family, who later sponsored his musical studies in Berlin at the Scharwenka Conservatory. He then went on to have lessons with Franz Liszt in Weimar and Hans von Bulow in Frankfurt before embarking on a brilliant career as a concert pianist.

Viana da Mota was a highly motivated all-round musician who was equally involved in music theory and even wrote programme notes for a series of concerto concerts given by Ferruccio Busoni in Berlin as well as many essays about musical interpretation. In 1915 he became the head of the piano department of the Geneva Conservatory, and a few years later he was appointed Director of the Lisbon Conservatory, retaining this position until his retirement in 1938. He died in Lisbon in 1948.

As a composer, Viana da Mota was strongly influenced by Wagner and Liszt whilst becoming the first Portuguese composer to introduce Nationalism in his compositions. He wrote many works in different genres and his complete orchestral works are found on this recording. Viana da Mota stopped writing music around 1910, probably out of disagreement with the ‘modernistic’ compositional tendencies of the time.

First published in Sao Paulo (Brazil) in 1908, the symphony To the Homeland, composed in 1895, holds an important place in the pantheon of Portuguese music, as it is the only work of its genre composed during a whole century (between Joao Domingos Bomtempo’s Second Symphony of 1822 [Naxos 8.557163] and Luis de Freitas Branco’s First Symphony (1924) [Naxos 8.570765]. The symphony is also of interest as it is a musical representation of a political manifesto written in reaction to the controversial British Ultimatum of 1890 issued in response to Portugal’s intention to rule over the territory between its colonies of Angola and Mozambique (nowadays encompassing Zambia and Zimbabwe.) To the Homeland is a musical paean to Portuguese prowess and discovery, as evidenced by its Wagnerian grandeur and the fact that each of its four movements is inspired by quotations from Luis de Camoes’ epic poem published in 1572, The Lusiads (the Latin designation for the Portuguese people when their country was a Roman province called Lusitania).

The first movement, Allegro eroico, starts under the auspices of Camoes’ invocation ‘Oh! lend me here a noble strain elate, / A style grandiloquent that flows untiring’.¹ The movement is in sonata form, and its three main themes, as well as the transition section between the first two themes, are structural elements unifying the first and last movements. Indeed, the first theme is initially presented in 3/4 time, highly developed throughout the movement, and reappears in the fourth movement in 4/4 time, while the second theme develops into the fourth movement’s main theme.

The second movement, Adagio molto, is in 2/4 time (actually 4/8) and has the strings divided into two groups, the second group with mutes. They are used either as a statement and an echo-like answer, or to enrich the texture by adding more voices to the music. The movement is divided into two parts, the second part starting with a molto appassionato section with the full orchestra, which soon subsides to give way to an expressive violin solo with delicate accompaniment.

The third movement, Vivace, is a Scherzo and, in true nationalistic fashion, it is based on a variety of folk dances and songs. It starts with a dance in 3/8 followed by a trio in which the solo wind instruments alternate. After a return to the Scherzo, a second trio in 2/8 appears, starting with a solo oboe and gradually involving the whole orchestra. After a huge build-up this section is then followed by a return to an interesting variation of the initial Scherzo.

The last movement, the largest and most complex of all four, has an independent title: ‘DecadenceFightResurgence’. It starts with an Andante lugubre, a slow and dark introduction in 4/4, with the bass clarinet reminding us of the main theme of the first movement, followed by the strings with a variation of the transition section from the first movement. This opening is repeated, now with the solo English horn making its first appearance in the work, and finally the solo flute introduces the main theme of the Finale, a variation of the first movement’s second theme. After a loud build-up the music reaches an Allegro agitato—the Fight mentioned in the title. Finally, we reach the Resurgence, a series of variations on the two themes of the first movement, bringing the symphony to a grand conclusion.

It is testament to Viana da Mota’s brilliant compositional technique and musical intelligence that the unifying use of variations throughout the symphony never affects the work’s extraordinary vitality and spontaneity.

The tone poem Inês de Castro dates from 1886 when the composer was only eighteen, and its subtitle Overture follows the tradition of using this term to designate one-movement works before Liszt introduced the term of Tondichtung, or tone poem. A tone poem it most certainly is, being based on a famous drama that occurred in Portugal in the fourteenth century and inspired a large number of plays and operas in many countries: in 1340 the crown-prince Pedro, son of King Afonso IV, married a Spanish princess, in whose entourage was the fifteen year old Ines de Castro. Young Pedro fell madly in love with Ines against the violent opposition of his father. Unable to change his son’s mind, the King ordered her death. Pedro chased her three murderers, caught two and had them publicly executed. After the death of King Afonso, at Pedro’s coronation, he placed Ines’ exhumed body next to him on the throne.

The correlations between the music and the drama are not immediately apparent, and the gifted teenager limited himself to indicate tempo changes in German without indicating the stage of the story to which they refer. The work is clearly heavily influenced by Liszt’s tone poems, while in terms of form, it is a kaleidoscope of short sections, each one clearly defined by contrasting musical ideas, which are successfully unified by thematic interrelations as well as by well-crafted transitions. There is a slow introduction formed by three different musical units, leading to the main Allegro section. Momentarily interrupted by a slower, middle section, this Allegro leads to the fff climax of the work, grand and majestic, before a slower section returns to the initial theme, and, after a short break, leads the work to an exuberant conclusion.

The three short pieces Chula of the Douro, Three Impromptus on Portuguese Popular Motifs and Vito are best viewed as a suite portraying the contrasting variety of the musical landscape of traditional northern Portuguese folklore, whence these three works, originally written for piano, originated. An unusual feature of the Three Impromptus is its pair of contrasting dances based on two unrelated motifs, A and B. Presented in ABA form, this effectively creates three impromptus, A, B and A.

Only Three Impromptus on Portuguese Popular Motifs was orchestrated by Viana de Mota; Vito was orchestrated by an unknown musician and later revised by me, and the Chula was orchestrated by the well-known composer and conductor Frederico de Freitas (1902–1980).

Álvaro Cassuto

¹ Translation by Richard Francis Burton, 1880.

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