About this Recording
GP709 - PRADO, J.A.R. de A.: Cartas Celestes, Vol. 1 - Nos. 1-3 and 15 (Scopel)
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José Antônio Rezende de Almeida Prado (1943–2010)
Cartas Celestes Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 15 (Celestial Charts)


One of the most prolific composers to emerge from Brazil, José Antônio Rezende de Almeida Prado began as a cultivator of nationalism, studying with Camargo Guarnieri, but as a pupil of Boulanger and Messiaen in Paris was compelled to look for other means of self-expression, attaining a level of aesthetic freedom which encompassed atonalism, post-serialism, extended and free tonalism. Among his most important achievements, referred to by him as an “incredible adventure”, are his 18 Cartas Celestes (Celestial Charts), a set of works depicting the sky and constellations, in which he adopted a new harmonic language called “transtonality”. Of the 18 Cartas Celestes, 15 are written for solo piano, while the remaining three are scored two pianos and symphonic band (No. 7), for violin and orchestra (No. 8) and for piano, marimba and vibraphone (No. 11).

Composed in 1974, Cartas Celestes No. 1 was commissioned as incidental music for a spectacle at the Planetarium of São Paulo. It depicts some of the celestial bodies that can be seen in the Brazilian sky during the months of August and September, including the Milky Way, meteors and the Nebula of Andromeda. Almeida Prado chose the piano as it is an instrument of huge resonance which afforded him the necessary material for continuity of sound, using the pedals with great imagination. While divided into many small sections, it is conceived as a whole, programmatic work, and its outer sections are in palindromic form, starting with the fading out of light, entering the darkness of the night, and finishing with the Gates of Dawn, which brings us back to the blinding tropical sun. The central section is a voyage through the Hercules, Lyra and Scorpio constellations, during which the composer makes use of 24 chords freely created and named after the letters of the Greek alphabet, which are used in star charts.

Cartas Celestes Nos. 2 and 3 were composed in 1981 and are further instalments of the initial idea, depicting the Brazilian sky during the months of October and November and then of December and January, respectively. As a way of tying together the works, Almeida Prado makes use of the same 24 chords he had created for the initial work, transposing them into different intervals. While in No. 1 the planet Venus makes a fleeting appearance, No. 2 centres around the planets Mercury and Uranus, and No. 3 includes the planet Mars, as well as the 4 phases of the Moon in a serene Promenade throughout the work.

Cartas Celestes No. 15 was composed in 2009, one year before Almeida Prado’s death. Subtitled “The Expanding Universe”, it starts off 13 billion light-years from Earth with the GRB090423, a supernova that was, at the time of the composition, the most distant known event in the cosmos. The Eskimo Nebula, marked ‘with multiple colours and shapes’, is followed by the Pictor Constellation & Extrasolar Planet, a 21st century scherzo-like fugue. The Bird of Paradise Constellation pays homage to Almeida Prado’s teacher Messiaen and makes reference to the species known for its exotic and colourful plumage. A dark nocturnal Planetary Nebula featuring Almeida Prado’s recurring “pilgrim harmony”—the use of tonal chords without a guiding tonal system—precedes the final outburst of Solar Wind.

Aleyson Scopel

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