|About this Recording
8.574118 - MIGUEZ, L.: Violin Sonata, Op.14 / VELÁSQUEZ, G.: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 (E. Baldini, K. Fernandes)
Leopoldo Miguez (1850–1902): Sonata, Op. 14
Tropical Romanticism in a country in flux
In the history of Western classical music, the term ‘Romanticism’ applies primarily to the repertoire and practices of the various generations of composers who came after Beethoven—not just in Vienna, where he had made his home, but throughout Europe. There is a symbiotic relationship here between history and style, and it is not always easy to separate one from the other.
When discussing musical periods or styles of European origin (Baroque, Classical and so on) in the context of the Americas, however, we have to take into account a series of sociocultural factors that had a decisive impact on the way in which these styles were first absorbed and then developed there. It is these factors that explain the artistically unique nature of classical music written on that side of the Atlantic, as illustrated by the sonatas for violin and piano by Leopoldo Miguez (1850–1902) and Glauco Velásquez (1884–1914) which are presented on this album.
Composed by two leading figures on Brazil’s classical music scene at the turn of the 20th century, these works contain elements characteristic of Romantic style, and in this sense should be heard for their own intrinsic qualities and in the light of European production of the same period. They also, however, possess a number of singular features that can be seen as part of the process of acclimatisation of a musical poetics that was both universal and other—the sounds of a tropical Romanticism shaped by these two composers’ circumstances and the society in which they lived.
Miguez established his musical career in Rio de Janeiro at a time when the city was the capital—and economic, political and cultural heart—of the Empire of Brazil. Both he and Velásquez, however, were educated in Europe: Miguez in Spain, Portugal and France, and Velásquez in Italy, and both were therefore steeped in the lyricism of the operas of Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi. The two composers were active in Brazil at a moment of enormous social upheaval, in the context of the collapse of the New World’s only monarchy and the installation of a Republic, amid promises that a more modern and organised country would be created as a result. It was not only a question of constructing a new political order: the country would also see significant changes in the sphere of music, with Miguez playing a decisive role in these transformations.
Winner of the competition organised to produce an anthem celebrating the birth of the Republic, Miguez was also tasked with restructuring the new country’s music education system. He helped establish—and later became director of—the National Institute of Music, which replaced the previous Imperial Conservatory, and thereafter shaped the profile of Brazil’s classical musicians. Above and beyond simply running its day-today academic operation and administration, Miguez turned the institution into the centre of dissemination of what he considered the modern music of his day: the main emphasis was on Wagnerian music and aesthetics, as opposed to Italian opera, closely associated with the greatest musical symbol of the reign of Pedro II, composer Antônio Carlos Gomes.
Completed in 1885, on Miguez’s return to Brazil after he had spent a further two years in Europe, the Violin Sonata, Op. 14 introduced Brazilian audiences to the new music he had absorbed during his travels in the Old World. While lyricism is a notable characteristic of this piece, Miguez makes use of it in a way that few of his compatriots would have done at the time, rejecting the straightforward melody-plus-accompaniment style which was then very popular in instrumental music, especially in arrangements and paraphrases of well-known excerpts from Italian opera. This sonata’s lyrical vein is developed in a more sophisticated and contrapuntal manner. Although there is never any threat to the leading role played by the violin (Miguez himself was an accomplished violinist), it is well complemented by the dense and complex piano writing.
The level of ambition in this sonata can be discerned in other aspects as well—first and foremost in its overall structure. Instead of the conventional three-movement pattern, the composer creates a score in four movements, echoing the musical narrative of such great Classical- Romantic genres as the string quartet and the symphony. He does so by adding a Scherzo, as heard in other major works of its type—Belgian composer César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A major, for example, composed a year later, in the summer of 1886.
Given Miguez’s central presence in Rio’s musical life, it is hard to imagine that his Op. 14 did not have some influence on the two sonatas that Glauco Velásquez completed before his premature death. After settling in Brazil, Velásquez worked as both a professional artist and a composer. His musical career was closely tied to the then recently founded National Institute of Music, which was beginning to promote modern French music as well as the Wagnerian culture championed by Miguez.
Composed in 1909 and 1911 respectively, Velásquez’s sonatas are the result of a particular interest he had at the time in the chamber sonorities produced by the combination of string instruments and piano. In that same period he also wrote no fewer than four trios for violin, cello and piano.
Like Miguez’s Op. 14, these sonatas too offer an intense exploration of violin-led lyricism woven into a complex relationship with the piano part. Compared to Miguez, however, Velásquez presents a material richer in nuance—his coherent investigation of different sonorities results in a very personal and characteristic stylistic effect. The sonatas are structured in the traditional three movements (Moderato – Lento espressivo – Agitato in No. 1 and Moderato molto espressivo – Adagio – Finale in No. 2), contributing to the contrasting sonorities sought out by Velásquez in his writing.
Looked at together, the three sonatas on this album can be seen as evidence of an important change in chamber music practice in Brazil. Whereas prior to this a significant proportion of the chamber repertoire had been written for private and domestic use, with primarily amateur musicians in mind, the level of technical complexity in these pieces suggests a new kind of social and aesthetic function. Works such as these were now being developed not just for public performance but also, and most importantly, as examples of ‘great music’, the noble musical expression of a people and culture in a state of flux.
Composer Leonardo Martinelli gained his doctorate from the Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP) and teaches at both the Faculdade Santa Marcelina and the Escola Municipal de Música in São Paulo.
English translation: Susannah Howe
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