Henrique Oswald(1852 - 1931)
Feuillesd'album, Op. 20
Tres Pecas, Op.
Seis Pecas, Op.
One of the greaternames in Brazilian music of the nineteenth century, Henrique Oswald was born inRio de Janeiro in 1852, the son of a Swiss father and Italian mother, bothmusicians. A year after his birth the family moved to Sao Paulo, where his father became involved in the music business, while hismother won a reputation as a piano teacher. It was, in fact, through his motherthat Henrique Oswald had his first piano lessons, going on to study withGabriel Giraudon.
In 1868 Oswaldmoved to Europe, where he studied the piano with Buonamiciand Henri Ketten and composition with Grazzini and Maglioni. He settled in Florence and became a European musician, assimilating fullythe culture of the continent from the age of sixteen.
Oswald's long stayin Italy came about through the generosity of theEmperor Pedro II, who had been present at a recital by the young pianist in1871, during a visit to Florence, and granted him a substantial allowancethat continued for almost twenty years. Oswald married an Italian singer,Laudamia Gasperini, known to both Liszt and Brahms, and became a teacher at theMusic Institute in Florence. He absorbed musical influences from France, Italy and Germany, showing in his compositions an elegant and refined style, especiallyeffective in his piano compositions. Proof of his ability in this field camewith his spectacular victory in the Composition Competition promoted in 1902 byLe Figaro in Paris; his work Il neige, for piano, wonover no less than six hundred competitors, gaining the first prize on thedecision of a jury that included Saint-Saens, Faure and Diemer.
In 1903 Oswaldreturned to Brazil, leaving his family in Europe, to take up the position in Rio de Janeiro of director of the National Institute of Music, thepresent School of Musicof the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, on the invitation of PresidentRodrigues Alves. He retained this position for three years, but never succeededin overcoming the difficulties inherent in the functions of an administrator;he felt himself alienated from the musical world and after three yearsresigned. He then became a teacher, with Luciano Gallet, Fructuoso Vianna andLorenzo Fernandez among his pupils, dividing his time between Brazil and Europe until 1911, when he decided to settledefinitively with his family in Rio de Janeiro. Here, from theage of sixty, he spent the two final decades of his life, becoming professor atthe National Institute of Music and making his house an influential centre forchamber music. He trained a generation of pianists and composers and became oneof the most influential figures in Brazilian musical life in the first part ofthe present century.
Oswald'scompositions are extensive and varied, including three operas, orchestralcompositions, chamber music, songs and, in particular, music for solo piano.
They are distinguished by attention to detail and refinement, traits special tothis great musician.
The Feuillesd'album, Opus 20, (Album Leaves) consist of four pieces. The first, Inquietudeis in romantic style, with a well defined melodic line that alternatesbetween right and left hand.
Chansonette is a graceful song, supported by the lefthand. Feux follets (Will-o'-the-Wisps) is lively, short and brilliantand is followed by Desir ardent, which provides a brilliant conclusion.
As a greatromantic composer for the piano, Henrique Oswald wrote a number of waltzes. TheValse Lente was published by Bevilacqua in 1910 and dedicated to hisfriend Cardoso de Menezes. It is a work of delicate sensibility and pianisticcharm, perfectly written.
Sets of threepieces are very frequent in Oswald's work. The Menuet that opens the TresPecas, Op. 23, is written in simple style. The Romance and Waltz arefluent, with all the romance of an original enough musical language. The pieceswere published by Bevilacqua.
The two Nocturnesthat form Opus 6 were issued by the Italian publisher Venturini. Thefirst, expressive, inspired and wel1 written, shows the French spirit that hadsuch strong influence on the composer, composed in the ternary structurefamiliar from Chopin, with an expressive cantabile theme framing a virtuosocentral section of greater energy. The second is also intensely romantic with astrong element of lyricism that makes considerable technical demands on theperformer.
Il neige was awarded first prize at the CompositionCompetition sponsored by Le Figaro in Paris in 1902. Arelatively slight early work, through the quality of its inspiration andthrough its workmanship, with its right-hand figuration, producing an air ofgentle calm.
The Seis Pecas,Opus 14, are a high expression of romanticism admirable in their techniqueand fine inspiration. The Berceuse claims attention for its polyphonicwriting. It is fol1owed by a Mazurka, a contrast in its dance rhythm, asits name suggests. It is a slow dance with its principal theme, which appearsthree times, framing livelier episodes in more brilliant rhythm. The Tarantellais lively and rapid in a typical 6/8 dance rhythm, initiated by a group ofunison quavers that serve as an introduction to the dance proper. This developswith considerable speed and bril1iance, in virtuoso style. The Barcarola thatforms the fourth piece returns to the mood of the Berceuse. In the firstpart the left hand keeps the melody, with an accompaniment of arpeggiatedchords in the right hand. There is a second theme for the right hand in thecentral section and this returns in the last three bars, forming a coda. The Noturnois profoundly lyrical, with something of the romanticism present in thework of Faure. The last of the pieces is a Scherzo, a brilliant and veryeffective Presto.
Maria Ines Guimaraes
(Englishtranslation by Keith Anderson)