About this Recording
8.579039 - LOPES-GRAÇA, F.: Songs and Folk Songs (Gaspar, Moreso, Guimarães, Vieira de Almeida)

Fernando Lopes-Graça (1906–1994)
Songs and Folk Songs


The missing link

‘Music, all true and great music, is an ineffable movement of the soul, a free play of the spirit, a subtle whim of the intelligence, pure and disinterested activity of the mind, a winged exercise of reason, its triumph and its desperation.’

‘The musical work (just like the work of a painter or a poet) is the product of an equation between the artist and their environment. It has to correspond to their needs and solicitations (…) and it is “meaningful” insofar as it embodies or satisfies the “state of mind” of a historic moment, a people or a class.’

These two apparently contradictory descriptions of musical creation were written by the same man, Fernando Lopes-Graça, arguably the most important Portuguese composer of the second half of the 20th century. Although there is a time gap of about 12 years (1932–1945), the tension between both statements could easily be taken as the most significant motif in Lopes-Graça’s work.

Throughout his impressive musical output—with the clear predominance of the works for piano and voice—it is possible to find clear examples of this tension as the composer veers between an almost formalist musical conception and music firmly rooted in the popular folk music of his native Portugal. One may even find examples of this dialectic in the author’s own biography.

It was during his three-year sojourn in Paris, from 1937 to 1939, to undertake studies in composition and orchestration, that Lopes-Graça was convinced by singer Lucie Dewinsky to start a systematic work of harmonising Portuguese folk songs. At the time, Lopes-Graça was free to delve into the intricacies of contemporary musical language—he attended the classes of Charles Koechlin—and after having introduced the work of Schoenberg or Hindemith to Portuguese audiences, he was also ready to engage in the lifelong project of harmonising a rich repository of Portuguese popular songs. A repository that was made even richer through the research in which he himself would engage, after 1960 and together with ethnomusicologist Michel Giacometti, of methodically compiling and analysing Portuguese musical traditions.

This creative tension between complex musical erudition together with an efficient mastering of the avant-garde idioms of the time, and a deep taste for authentic popular music, matched that of Béla Bartók, who, together with Beethoven and, perhaps on a lesser note, Stravinsky and Debussy, was one of the guiding influences on Lopes-Graça’s musical persona. However, Lopes-Graça’s carefully studied regard for the formalist dimension of musical creation, and the ancient cultural idiosyncrasies of Portuguese musical traditions, distinguish his production from Bartók’s, in almost every aspect. This dialectic tension was also, to a great extent, Lopes-Graça’s solution to a problem that, according to him, affected Portuguese musical creation for quite some time. Eager to accompany musical fashion, Portuguese composers, eager to follow musical trends, were rather willing to adopt the compositional methods of the day without fully developing the creative potential of existing methods. Lopes-Graça railed against this obsession for novelty, noticing how Portuguese musical Classicism and Romanticism stopped short of its full development. The same thing was happening when he was starting his career with a sudden and ill-prepared shift from nationalism to the twelve-tone technique and, despite his admiration for Schoenberg’s revolution, Lopes-Graça was not so eager to follow that path, unlike most of his fellow colleagues at that time.

In a way, there was a missing link between the folklorism or nationalism of the late 19th century, and the experiences of atonality of the early 1900s, and Lopes-Graça was poised to fill that gap. This is clearly perceived in the originality and complexity of his compositions for piano and voice, and particularly in the intensity of his work on traditional songs. Among them, there is a striking emphasis on Christmas songs, most of which have also been adapted to choral versions. This album includes Four Christmas Songs (1955) and Four New Christmas Songs (1958), recently discovered by Conceição Correia at the Museum of Portuguese Music—Casa Verdades de Faria. The fact that this work emerged not only from Portuguese folk music but also from other national musical heritages is a clear reminder that the notions of folklorism or nationalism should be taken on a wider scale.

In fact, some of the most interesting examples of Lopes-Graça’s ability to think through musical tradition are to be found in his versions of foreign folk songs, such as the Ten Hungarian Songs (1954) and the Nine Russian Folk Songs (1950–51), recorded here. Lopes-Graça’s talent lies in bringing out the musical atmosphere intrinsic to each of these songs—simply by making the atmosphere denser through the harmonic support of the piano.

The other major characteristic of Lopes-Graça’s works for piano and voice consists of music for poems by Portuguese writers. This could be the opportunity for Lopes-Graça to indulge in a more ‘subtle whim of intelligence’ but, interestingly enough, we find in many of his songs a kind of musical reminiscence and a new way to integrate and develop a legacy from the past. A significant trait of this ‘working with the past’ is apparent in the way Lopes-Graça resorts to tradition for his quite unique treatment of the Portuguese prosody, as if centuries of dealing with a language in music provided a technical and poetic lesson on how to put words into song. This seems particularly evident if one compares the relatively mature Two Romances by Armindo Rodrigues (1946) to the earlier cycles, Three Poems by Adolfo Casais Monteiro (1934) and The Three Olivia Songs (1935), based on poems by Adriano Vera Jardim, when the appeal to move with the times seemed more imposing.

Vitor Moura

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