SEIXAS: Complete Works for Harpsichord, Vol. 1 (Debora Halasz) (Naxos: 8.557459)
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Carlos de Seixas (1704-1742)
Harpsichord Sonatas, Vol. 1
Born in Coimbra in 1704, Jose Antonio Carlos de Seixas succeededhis father, Francisco Vaz, at the age of fourteen as organist of CoimbraCathedral, moving in 1720 to Lisbon, where, from the age of sixteen, he servedas organist to the Chapel Royal and the Patriarchal Cathedral. His earlyachievement both as a virtuoso keyboard performer and as a composer establishedhim as one of the most important musicians in Portugal, and his eminence wonhim a knighthood from King John V in 1738. Like his contemporary in Portugal, Domenico Scarlatti, he was prolific, not least in the production of keyboardmusic, with some seven hundred pieces to his credit. It has been suggested thatthe devastating earthquake of 1755 in Lisbon, thirteen years after the death ofSeixas, may have led to the destruction of many of his works. Very little ofhis choral music, of which there was presumably some quantity, in view of hisposition, survives, and no autographs of his keyboard sonatas, which arepreserved in copies only. A collection of eighty sonatas was edited by the lateMacario Santiago Kastner, a scholar to whom the study of earlier Portuguesemusic is greatly indebted.
Domenico Scarlatti moved to Lisbon as mestre da capela
aboutthe year 1723 and remained there until 1729, when he left for Spain, on the marriage of his pupil, the Infanta Maria Barbara, to the heir to the Spanish throne.
Seixas was, of course, much younger, and presumed by the Portuguese Infante DonAntonio, younger brother of the King, to need instruction from Scarlatti, somenineteen years the senior of Seixas. It was later reported that Scarlatti hadat once perceived the ability of the younger man, reporting to the Infante thatSeixas was one of the best musicians he had ever heard. Since there has alwaysbeen difficulty in dating the compositions of both Seixas and Scarlatti,questions have arisen as to what influence each may have had on the other. Theycertainly shared in a common keyboard tradition, derived, perhaps, from Italiancomposers, but the matter must remain undetermined. Scarlatti, in a longercareer, developed his chosen genre rather further in his Esercizi
, whileSeixas had a relatively short life, dying in Lisbon in 1742 at the age of 38.
Their sonatas share similarities of form, texture and keyboard range, characteristicsfound in other keyboard works of the time, and they worked as colleagues until1729.
In his introduction to his edition of eighty keyboard sonatasby Seixas Kastner draws attention to the royal and aristocratic favour thatSeixas enjoyed and to his prosperity. Comparing his work with that ofScarlatti, he contrasts the latter's career exclusively at court, composingsonatas for his royal pupil and to entertain a court audience, and that ofSeixas, who was bound to supply keyboard pieces for a more varied client?¿le. Someof the sonatas of Seixas arose from his position as organist and the consequentneed for organ voluntaries and music for use during the liturgy, while otherswere needed for his own concert use or for pupils with varied levels ofattainment. He absorbed the Italian influence that had made its way to theIberian peninsula, while remaining fully aware of the musical traditions of Spain and Portugal. Other features of his writing are attributed by Kastner to the range and natureof the keyboard instruments for which he was writing.
Sonata No. 36 in E minor
, the numbering taken from Kastner's edition, openswith an extended movement in binary form, each half of the movement repeated. Characteristicfeatures include the use of left-hand octaves, providing a solider bass thanthe instruments for which Seixas was writing might have been capable, typicalkeyboard figuration and much use of sequence. The sonata ends with an elegant Minuet
Sonata No. 19 in D major
is a single-movement work calling for somevirtuosity, not least in the rapid crossing of hands which it demands. Thereare wide leaps and considerable use of left-hand octaves in a piece that hassome of the features of a toccata in its figuration.
Sonata No. 18 in C minor
has some of the elements of a suite, at least in itsvaried movements. It opens with an aria, marked Largo
, followed by anenergetic binary Allegro
, with both halves duly repeated. A brief modulatingAdagio
is capped by a Giga
, a dance that was the customaryconclusion of a suite or chamber sonata.
Sonata No. 34 in E major
opens with a lively Presto
very much akin intexture, form and figuration to the idiom familiar from Scarlatti. The secondmovement, a Minuet
, offers a contrast, a transparent dance-movement intwo-part texture.
Sonata No. 44 in F minor
, a single-movement work, calls for a measure ofvirtuosity in performance, with its opening arpeggio figuration and later rapidhandcrossing. Once again considerable use is made of left-hand octaves,reinforcing the bass line.
Sonata No. 43 in F minor
has a more lyrical upper part and an element ofchromaticism in a rising scale figure. The following Minuet
in F majorhas something of a martial air about it.
Sonata No. 24 in D minor
, with its opening repeated and ornamented key-note,is a tempestuous piece, each section of the binary structure ending withrepeated notes and a final sinister appoggiatura.
Sonata No. 27 in D minor
has three movements. The opening Allegro
startswith a dash, its descending scale followed by a rising arpeggio, beforepassages of rapid repeated notes and wide leaps in the accompanying lower part.
offers an elegant contrast. It is followed by a vigorous triplemetre third movement.
Sonata No. 42 in F minor
starts with an imitated figure stated by the righthand and answered in the left. There is considerable use of left-hand octaves,and there is further use of the opening figure. The Minuet
that forms thesecond movement offers varied rhythms in its use of triplets.
Sonata No. 37 in E minor
starts with a characteristic first movement. This isfollowed by an Adagio
aria, its final dominant chord succeeded by a Minuet
Sonata No. 57 in A major
opens with grandiose chords, introducing a movementthat finds room for wide leaps in the left hand and antiphonal figures, with a chromaticelement and use of thirds. Kastner singles out the movement for its richness oftexture and of harmony. The Adagio
is in the unusual key of F sharpminor, its right-hand melody accompanied largely by the octaves of the lefthand. This is followed by a cheerful A major final movement.
Sonata No. 10 in C major
has an extended first movement that develops thematerial very considerably, making full use of thirds, characteristicScarlattian figuration, arpeggios, sequences, and chromatic elements. With bothparts of the movement repeated, this is the longest movement included here. Ofclearer texture, the Minuet
makes a delicate pendant.
Sonata No. 50 in G minor
makes a feature of repeated notes and octaves andchromatic progressions in a technically demanding movement, a virtuoso conclusionto the present collection of Seixas sonatas.