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9.70177 - LOPES-GRAÇA, F.: Violin and Piano Works / Solo Violin Works (Complete) (B. Monteiro, J.P. Santos)
English  Portuguese 

Fernando Lopes-Graça (1906–1994)
Complete Works for Violin and Piano and Solo Violin


Fernando Lopes-Graça is unique in the Portuguese musical panorama of political, intellectual and aesthetic opposition to the Estado Novo (or Second Republic, Portugal’s authoritarian regime between 1933 and 1974). Born in the Portuguese town of Tomar, he began his musical studies there, continuing them with Adriano Merêa, Tomás Borba, Luís de Freitas Branco and Vianna da Motta at the National Conservatory in Lisbon. On completion of his Degree in Composition he applied for the vacancies for Piano and Solfège there. After successful selection, he was arrested and detained. Other similar repressive actions by the regime followed prior to further detention in 1936, such as banning the scholarship he won in 1934 from being used for music study abroad. He subsequently taught at the Music Academy in Coimbra and contributed to Seara Nova, Presença and Manifesto (political publications). He left for Paris in 1937, studying musicology at the Sorbonne and composition and orchestration with Charles Koechlin. The next two years would be crucial in the formation of his perspective towards and treatment of Portuguese traditional as opposed to the politically propagandised folk-music.

After returning to Portugal, Lopes-Graça began teaching in 1940 at the Academia de Amadores de Música, interrupted in 1954 through a ministerial prohibition arising from the composer’s strong opposition to Salazar’s dictatorship and because of his active membership of the PCP (Portuguese Communist Party). At that time the regime persecuted all those who opposed it personally, professionally and socially. Throughout this period Lopes-Graça was very active as a critic, essayist and translator, as well as composing. In 1950, after leaving Presença, he co-founded the Gazeta Musical. In 1940, 1942, 1944 and 1952 Lopes-Graça was awarded composition prizes by the Musical Culture Circle. With the exception of the First Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, however, none of these prize-winning works was performed. A desire to promote contemporary music led to the founding of Sonata, a concert society where works by Bartók, Schoenberg and Webern were given their national premières. From the long collaboration with Michel Giacometti after 1959, Lopes-Graça’s Popular Portuguese Song was born. Surveillance by the PIDE (Polícia de Investigação e Defesa do Estado—State Defence Police, the main tool of repression used by the Salazar regime during the Estado Novo) did not prevent critical accolades, public presentation of works or the Prince Renier of Monaco prize in the Sixties. Wider acclaim followed the April 25th Revolution, when performance and recording of hitherto restricted works and trips abroad were again permitted. Tributes and honours multiplied, as well as musical-political invitations—for the Musical Teaching Reform Committee and to become deputy of the PCP.

The Sonatinas for violin and piano are youthful works, composed in 1931. Both denounce the neoclassical aesthetic which defined European interwar sensitivities, appealing to objectivity and concision through simplified writing and a trend towards reduction of means. Sonatina No1, dedicated to Augusto da Mota Lima, was given its première in Paris in 1947, and revised in 1951. Sonatina No2, dedicated to Mário Simões Dias, was revised in 1971. Based in the key of D minor, Sonatina No 1 clarifies the primacy of form (witness the ABA of the last three movements), the use of imitation and free counterpoint. The Moderato opens with two contrasting motifs, presented respectively by the violin and the piano. The latter launches the cantabile for violin, accompanying it with a series of arpeggios, until the re-presentation of the initial motif. The Lento non troppo is of an imitative character, both between soloists and in the piano part, most obviously with regard to the second of the introduced themes. The elegance of the Scherzo introduced by the violin infects, in section B, the piano, all the while overlapping it with a lyrical motif in the upper register. The movement ends with a classical return to the initial A. The lyrical motif supplied by the violin soon stirs itself in the Allegro non troppo finale, a movement that highlights dialogue thorough the alternation of solo instrument. Over a basic piano framework, Lopes-Graça offers throughout Sonatina No 2 an exploration of all the technical and expressive aspects of the violin. The first movement is for violin only. Here two themes are presented symmetrically, each one twice: the first intersected by pizzicati, the second punctuated with expressive glissandi. In the Grave, the melody, initially restricted in scope, opens out in progressively wider intervals. It returns an octave higher, after the cadenza, melting into the treble. The final movement affords the violinist an opportunity for technical virtuosity. An effulgently enthusiastic entry gives way to a cantabile, repeated by the piano in an intervening section of great lyricism, which however introduces, after a challenge from the violin in the form of a glissando, a new turn of velocity and brilliance.

Prelúdio, Capricho e Galope, for violin and piano, was composed in 1941 and given its première following year by violinist António Joaquim Silva Pereira, to whom it is dedicated, with Helena Sá e Costa at the piano. It was revised by Lopes-Graça in 1964. The popular roots and dance character are fairly self-evident, intersecting aspects of this work. In the Prelude, the two themes appear in the violin in the form of a slow song, which the piano echoes in major thirds, repeated at the end of each motif. In the Caprice, over the piano’s unmistakable habanera rhythm, the violin presents the main motif, of a distinctively popular and dance-like character, which then becomes contagious. This motif is taken up again in the last movement, now on a larger scale, in a rhythmic frenzy joined by the piano, thus giving both soloists the chance, in these two movements, to explore virtuosity alongside melodic vivacity.

Trois Pièces for violin and piano, Op 118, was composed in 1959, a particularly fruitful year in terms of vocal music, particularly settings for voice and piano of a variety of Portuguese poets, from Camões to Eugénio de Andrade. The Trois Pièces, the composer’s only strictly instrumental work written that year, actually consists of transcriptions of previous works: the first of the 24 Preludes; the ‘Acalanto’ from the Album of the Young Pianist; and the first of the Danças Breves. Lyricism is well evident in the first two movements, to which the third adds a clear contrast. In the Allegro molto, as in the piano version, the expressive exploration of the melodic line is the centrepiece. The choice of the ‘Acalanto’ (literally ‘hug’, ‘warmth’) as a basis for the Berceuse, where the idea of song is quite evident, becomes meaningful. In Danse there is a clear sense, typical of Lopes-Graça, of a referentially idealised popular music perspective, a constant balance between the inspiration of tradition and, simultaneously, contemporary learned creation.

Pequeno Tríptico, dedicated to the violinist Blaise Calame, dates from 1960. Its première took place in 1961 with Lopes-Graça at the piano and Rafael Couto on violin. The Elegy, a cantilena introduced over a persistent piano motif, receives a slow exposition is slowly exposed, with minor variations, until a passionato section that leads to the reintroduction of the opening motif, now in a higher octave. Contrast comes in the Scherzo, lively and dancing with a brief motif repeated and always rising until it reaches the highest register, in a display of speed and agility from both instruments. The work ends with the Ditirambo, music of popular flavour. Alternating in imitation between soloists, the piano first presents the theme, whilst the violin introduces a second motif, which it repeats, soaring to the top of the scale, descending immediately and leading to the re-presentation of the first motif once more by the piano.

Prelúdio e Fuga for solo violin, dedicated to Rafael Couto, dates from Christmas 1960 and was given its première together with the composer’s Canto de Amor e de Morte, considered a quintessential work and a turning-point in his output. The neoclassicist credentials of this work are evident from the outset, both in its form and also in its thematic presentation and construction, in both the Prelude and the Fugue. The former is marked by a freedom of rhythmic organisation quite characteristic of the composer, and by the exploration of various intervalic combinations, albeit without any serialist aspiration—an avenue the composer always refused to explore. His return to D here offers a hierarchy not posited by the Schoenberg School. The Fugue is constructed according to the classical rules of counterpoint regarding exposition of thematic material, in terms of both interval and tonal relationship, with writing that allows the soloist to demonstrate simultaneously the virtuosity and expressiveness of the violin.

Quatro Miniaturas ,for violin and piano, were written in 1980 and first performed six years later at the Academia dos Amadores de Música, with the violinist Joaquim Pimenta de Magalhães and Madalena Sá Pessoa at the piano. Each of the four Miniatures has a very distinctive individual character. In the Prelude, various elastic violin arpeggios arrive at a descending motif that culminates in A sharp, leading on to a brief, staccato finale. Then comes the lyrical second movement, a Melodia which systematically toys with major and minor seconds. By way of considerable contrast the Mandolinata, through its life-giving spiccatti and piano accompaniment, clearly demonstrates the rich variety of timbre and character explored in these Miniatures. In the final movement as before it is the violin which is spotlit. This is, as the title indicates, an Exercise where some of the technical and expressive capabilities of the violin—speed, agility, texture—are explored didactically.

Esponsais, for solo violin, is a work from 1984, with a personal inscription: “For Miguel, on the occasion of his marriage”. The first public performance took place three years later at the Portuguese Authors Society, with the violinist José Machado. The work begins with a slow melody in fifths of a military character, followed by virtuosic themes festive in nature interspersed with more intimate passages. Present throughout the work is the use of complex rhythms, left hand pizzicati, two- or three-note chords and bow strokes producing odd sound effects. Through varied dynamics the violin creates moods and colours, whether sophisticated or of a more primitive crudeness. A slow section at the end, played piano and almost without vibrato, points up the meditative, delicate nature of the composer’s mind; it is followed by a return of the opening motifs, terminating abruptly in two brief chords that seem to pose a question.

Adágio Doloroso e Fantasia is a work from 1988, dedicated to Tibor Varga. In this year as before, Lopes-Graça dedicated himself mainly to works for voice and piano, particularly settings by Fernando Pessoa, in recognition of the centenary of his birth. The Adágio is a profound and touching work where the violin seems to alternate between states of great sadness and lamentation. The piano in turn accompanies the violin in a similarly heartfelt manner, often interrupting the discourse of the violin. The heavy, sombre atmosphere ends with celestial harmonies from the violin, whilst the piano, through repeated sixteenths, maintains a stable, sober pulse. The Fantasia, also full of contrasting sections, oscillates between a sophisticated rawness and Lopes-Graça in dreamy mode. With a long cadence for the violin in double stops, followed by a touching largo interchange, the movement unfolds through complex rhythms and strong dynamic contrasts, concluding with a lengthy coda where the emotional battle between instruments grows more and more intense, culminating in a dissonant chord unrelated to the original tonality.

Ana Carvalho
Translated by Bruno Monteiro

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