About this Recording
GP725 - Piano Recital: Lourenço, Sofia - DADDI, J.G. / VIANNA DA MOTTA, J. (Portuguese Piano Music)
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Nineteenth-Century Piano Virtuosity in Portugal

 

Urban musical life in nineteenth-century Portugal was largely dominated by Italian—and to a lesser degree French—opera at the São Carlos and São João theatres, in Lisbon and Oporto respectively; by the widespread development of various genres of light musical theatre, from operetta to vaudeville and revue; and by an intensive domestic practice of salon music by the middle and upper classes, their repertoire consisting mostly of sentimental songs, instrumental arrangements of operatic excerpts and a variety of cosmopolitan dances such as the waltz or the polka. The absence of permanent orchestras as well as of a professional concert circuit equivalent to those established in other Western European countries severely limited the development of symphonic and chamber music. Furthermore, although in general terms the original teaching practices of the Lisbon Conservatory, founded by pianist and composer João Domingos Bomtempo in 1835, were based on those of the Paris Conservatoire, a perpetual lack of funding prevented the establishment from granting its students the higher level of training needed for the requirements of virtuoso instrumental repertoire.

These adverse conditions did not, however, preclude the emergence of a few distinguished instrumentalists. Not only did these individuals succeed in acquiring advanced skills on their instruments, they were often energetic pioneers when it came to promoting concert opportunities, albeit usually without any great sense of continuity. One notable such musician was João Guilherme Daddi (1813–1887), a native of Oporto who first appeared in public as a child prodigy at the age of nine and then gradually established himself as a respected pianist, conductor and composer. He was associated with several music theatres in Lisbon and took advantage of every opportunity to participate in the occasional symphonic and chamber music concerts held at the São Carlos.

In 1845, when Ferenc Liszt gave a short, triumphal concert tour of Portugal, the Hungarian master met Daddi and was so impressed by his artistry that he invited him to join him on stage at the Lisbon Opera House, on 11th February, for a performance of Thalberg’s two-piano Fantasy on Bellini’s Norma. Four years later, echoes of this event could be heard when Polish virtuoso Antoni Kątski, himself a pupil of Thalberg, came to Lisbon and asked Daddi to perform that same work with him.

Daddi was to become a key promoter of concert life in Portugal, starting in 1863, when he organised a chamber music recital at Lisbon’s Dona Maria Theatre, with a programme of works by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Weber. In 1874 he and one of his students, Eduardo Wagner, established a Society for Classical Concerts which ran a series of concerts between March and May of that year. Then, in 1875 he cofounded a Chamber Music Society, it too devoted to presenting an international repertoire, by composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Chopin. Daddi’s own compositional output consists primarily of sacred works and music for the stage, but also includes a number of virtuosic piano pieces published by Sassetti, most of which were fantasies on themes from operas by Rossini, Donizetti and Verdi, or stylised waltzes and other dances, all of which were clearly designed as vehicles to showcase his own technical expertise as a pianist.

Born in the Portuguese African colony of São Tomé, José Viana da Mota (1868–1948) also started out as a child prodigy, performing on the piano at the age of six for Fernando II, a prince of Saxe-Coburg, who was the widower of Maria II of Portugal and had recently contracted a second, morganatic marriage with a former opera singer, the Countess of Edla. Ferdinand went on to sponsor not only Viana da Mota’s initial training at the Lisbon Conservatory but also his advanced studies in Berlin, where the young Portuguese pianist was taught by Xaver Scharwenka at the prestigious private conservatory the latter had recently established with his brother Philipp. In 1884, Viana da Mota visited Bayreuth for the first time and immediately became an ardent Wagnerian. The following year he was heard in Weimar by an aging Liszt, who symbolically accepted him into his circle with the benevolent words, “You may come back”. Finally, in 1887, he was accepted as a student of Liszt’s foremost pupil, Hans von Bülow, thus further reinforcing his allegiance to the progressive aesthetic current known as the “Music of the Future”, whose figureheads were Wagner and Liszt.

In the years that followed, Viana da Mota achieved worldwide recognition as one of the leading exponents of the Lisztian piano school, both as a concert soloist and as a chamber musician collaborating with such distinguished partners as fellow pianist Ferruccio Busoni, violinist Pablo Sarasate and soprano Marcella Sembrich. He also enjoyed a brilliant teaching career at both the Berlin and Geneva conservatories, and in 1917 the Portuguese government appointed him head of a committee charged with reforming the teaching programme and methods of the the Lisbon Conservatory, of which he then became Director two years later. For the next three decades he was responsible for training several of the most acclaimed Portuguese pianists of the generations.

Viana da Mota’s piano works mirror the stages of his studies and experience, beginning with the short, rather naïve salon pieces of his childhood and moving on to the works he wrote during his early days as a student in Berlin, which are characterised by an assimilation of the general patterns of the German Classical-Romantic tradition. His main concern at the time was clearly to align himself with a cosmopolitan lineage of piano composition originating with Beethoven and continuing with Chopin, Schumann, Brahms or Liszt, and based not only on solo and concertante works but also on both instrumental and vocal chamber music. This is the period of such virtuosic pieces as the Fantasiestück, Op. 2 and Capriccio, Op. 5, as well as of the Piano Concerto and the Fantasia dramática for piano and orchestra, all of which date from the late 1880s and early 1890s.

In 1893, however, ten years after having left his homeland behind, he returned to Portugal to give a concert tour. Thereafter, he began to take an interest in combining this international style with nationalist elements inspired by traditional Portuguese songs and dances. Several of the most significant works he wrote over the next decade reflect this new direction, from the Portuguese Scenes, Portuguese Rhapsodies and Ballade for solo piano to the Portuguese Songs for voice and piano and the monumental Symphony to the Fatherland (1895), a landmark of late-Romantic Portuguese nationalism.

In the mid- and late-nineteenth century, therefore, Daddi and Viana da Mota respectively represent consecutive stages in the movement to bring Portugal back into the fold of the wider European classical music scene, notably by cultivating genres and forms that were not originally encouraged by the Portuguese élite or the demands of the local market, but also by trying to establish the infrastructure necessary to sustain a well-developed domestic framework of instrumental music. Generation after generation, that movement was in many ways shaped by the influence of the towering patriarchal figure that was Ferenc Liszt.

Rui Vieira Nery
Instituto de Etnomusicologia – Centro de Estudos de Música e Dança


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