BRAGA SANTOS: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5
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Joly Braga Santos (1924 -1988)
Symphony Nos. 1 and 5
Joly BragaSantos was born in Lisbon in 1924 and died there in 1988, at the height of hismusical creativity. Although he composed only six symphonies, he wasundoubtedly the leading Portuguese symphonist of this century and, in a way, ofall time, considering that the symphonic output of Portuguese composers in theeighteenth and nineteenth centuries is not very significant. Apart from aninnate sense for good orchestration, his musical language is based on a strongsense of musical architecture as well as drama, with long melodic lines and anatural instinct for structural development as well as formal coherence. In hisown words, he wanted to contribute \towards a Latin symphonism and to reactagainst the predominant tendency, of the generation that preceded me, to reject
Havingstudied the violin and composition at the Conservatory in Lisbon, Joly BragaSantos became a disciple of Luis de Freitas Branco (1890- 1955), the leadingPortuguese composer of the preceding generation, who was also a symphonist (hewrote four symphonies among many other orchestral works), and a thoroughtheoretician. Braga Santos developed a very close relationship with his mentor,and unusual teacher-pupil rapport in Portugal's music scene, where composershad - and still have - a rather individualistic approach to music-making and notradition of belonging to or developing in a school. He "inherited" fromFreitas Branco - and he pursued and developed a musical language based,according to his own words, on a "modalism with historic roots in Portuguesepolyphony of the Renaissance". Although he was not particularly interestedin Portuguese folk-lore, studying and composing at the country home of histeacher, in the south, rural, area of the Alentejo, he willingly accepted theinfluence of local folk-songs, which he considered "of a mesmerizingoriginality and grandeur."
The firstfour symphonies followed one another quite rapidly. Braga Santos composed thembetween the age of 22 and 27 and not only were they immediately performed bythe Portuguese Radio Symphony Orchestra in Lisbon but also met with greatsuccess. Yet, despite the fact that his style was far from avant-garde and veryappealing, only a small minority recognised the extent of his extraordinarytalent and, he therefore attracted only very limited support. Indeed, being amost generous and selfless person, he was not efficient at "selling" himself. Onthe other hand, he also suffered from the Portuguese tradition which supportsmuch more the import of celebrated foreign artists than the promotion of theirown.
After theperiod to which his first four symphonies as well as many other works includingthe Elegy for Vianna da Motta, the Concerto for Strings and theopera To Live And To Die belong, Braga Santos went abroad to study conductingwith Herman Scherchen and composition with Virgilio Mortari. The period oftravel and the time he devoted to conducting, mainly in Oporto (1955- 61),provided him with what he described as a useful period of rest, decisive forthe transformation of his musical style, which evolved toward increasedchromaticism and less traditional form. To this period belong his orchestral Divertimento,his Sinfonietta and his Requiem, among other works.
BragaSantos composed his Fifth Symphony when he was 41 years old (1965- 66)and it is his first large-scale work within a new musical language which hehad, meanwhile, developed, a musical language that remained faithful to thebasic principles he was brought up with. According to his own words, "I alwaysmaintained the point of view according to which most important in a composer isthe time-frame in which his musical personality developed." It is therefore notsurprising that despite his personal contact with the avant-garde of the 1960sand although assimilating some of its influences in his music, he remainedalways true to his roots. Yet knowledge of the avant-garde in the 1960s he hadindeed. He was very close to the younger generation of upcoming composers includingmyself, and he was very interested in helping them as well. For instance, heconducted the world premi?¿re of my first Sinfonia Breve in 1959 (my debutas a composer) and supported me despite the fact that my approach to music wasvery much influenced by the Darmstadt school. He was a wonderfully encouraging "oldercolleague" also supporting me in my first steps as a conductor. In turn Iconducted many of his works and gave the first performance of his Sinfoniettafor Strings (1963) which he dedicated to me, and he also complied with myrequest, in 1988, shortly before his death, to write what turned out to be hisvery last orchestral work, the Staccato Brillante. The Fifth Symphony,which incidentally won the UNESCO award, was followed by works for soloinstruments, among them concertos for cello and for piano, as well as by the SixthSymphony, for orchestra, solo soprano and mixed chorus. He also composed alarge number of works for different chamber ensembles as well as three operas, andthroughout his creative career he was also active as a music critic.
BragaSantos's First Symphony was composed in 1946 and is dedicated "To thememory of the Heroes and Martyrs of the last World War." Although it has onlythree movements, the feeling of a four-movement symphony with a slowintroduction is due to the fact that the third movement (a scherzo) is followedby a slow coda. All movements have thematic material based on an initialthematic cell. This thematic cell is stated in the cellos, right at thebeginning of the slow introduction. As the music develops, the solo violapresents a new theme, which is repeated by the woodwind, then by the stringsand finally by the full orchestra in fortissimo, after which it dies away.
A solo clarinet with lower string accompaniment establishes the bridge to themain Allegro section. Here again the thematic cell is the basis for thelow string rhythmic accompaniment as well as for the theme played by theviolins in unison with the first horn. The second theme, very lyrical incontrast, is played by the violins with a fluid rhythmic accompaniment in thewoodwind and lower strings. In the development section, the horns present theinitial thematic cell in slow motion, in dialogue with the woodwind,accompanied by a solid rhythmic pattern in the strings. After therecapitulation and a short coda, the movement ends with abrupt repeated chords.
The maintheme of the second movement is preceded by a long introduction, where the bassclarinet precedes the lower strings (again a variation of the slow introductionto the first movement) which is followed by a bassoon solo that prepares thelyrical theme played by the solo flute. A long crescendo leads tointense dynamic outbursts of emotional intensity, after which the lower stringsresume their quiet restatement of the thematic cell. In the recapitulation, thetheme is played by the violins and violas and the movement ends as peacefullyas it started.
In the Scherzo,as in the first Allegro, the thematic cell is responsible for the lowerstring accompaniment, while the main theme in the violins is a variation ofthat of the first Allegro. The Trio is in binary rhythm, and itsvery simple theme is repeated literally in a constant crescendo. A veryslow chorale of church-like character, a dialogue between strings and brass,precedes the repeat of the main section of the Scherzo, which this ti