Author Topic: Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955)  (Read 1159 times)

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kyjo

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Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955)
« on: July 17, 2013, 05:40:42 PM »
I originally posted this at the Art-Music Forum, but (rather strangely) it did not seem to attract much attention (possibly due to my long-windedness ::)), so I'll re-post it here in hopes of receiving a few more replies:

I think Freitas Branco deserves a thread of his own. He was a driving force in the development of the classical music scene in Portugal. A noted teacher, he taught, among others, Joly Braga Santos. While FB's music may not reach the exalted heights of his immensely talented student, he is still, without a doubt, a composer worth investigating.

What's his style like, you may ask? Well, for the most part, there is little explicitly "Iberian" about his music (with the massive exception of the two Alentejana Suites for orchestra). His music draws mainly on French models, with the occasional Slavic tinge here and there. In his four symphonies and chamber works, the predominant influence is that of Franck, both in the harmonies and use of cyclic form. The non-symphonic orchestral works, however, show that FB was aware of contemporary trends such as impressionism.

FB has been served relatively well on disc, thanks in no small part to the indefatigable Alvaro Cassuto (of Braga Santos fame). Back in the 1990s the Strauss-Portugalsom label issued discs of FB's music that are now out of print. Enter Cassuto, who recently recorded four discs of FB's orchestral works for Naxos, and we finally have high-quality access to the man's music. Each disc in the series contains one of the four symphonies, coupled with one or two shorter works. Also, Atma Classique has recorded the Symphony no. 2 and XXI-21 Productions has recorded the Violin Concerto (not included in the Naxos survey).

So, what are FB's best works? Many consider the dazzlingly impressionistic and rather forward-looking Symphonic Poem Artificial Paradises to be his masterpiece. I would agree with that statement to an extent, but my personal favorite work by FB is his huge Symphonic Poem Vahtek, which is also quite advanced for its time. This is a vivid, exciting, voluptuously decadent piece of music that can be placed alongside pieces like Schmitt's Tragedie de Salome, Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe and Scriabin's Poeme de l'exaste. Composed in the same year as The Rite of Spring (1913), Vahtek shows some uncanny similarities to the revolutionary masterwork in its barbaric, percussive outbursts and massive chords. Mind you, it's quite a bit more luscious and romantic than the Stravinsky, but it packs just as much of a punch in my opinion.

If you're expecting the symphonies to share the same sound-worlds as Artificial Paradises and Vahtek, well, you may be a little disappointed. They are more mild-mannered and conservative, but by no means boring or colorless. The symphonies of Magnard or Ropartz are perhaps points of comparison, but FB has a distinctive voice. FB uses Gregorian chant and chorales often in these works, giving them a nobility and underlying power. While employing the dense harmonies favored by Franck and his circle, FB's symphonies nonetheless manage to retain a certain open-air feel. These are works that may not be entirely free of some prolixity, but are valuable contributions to the late-romantic symphonic literature.

What about FB's other works? The Violin Concerto is a lushly romantic work, comparable to the Korngold, Delius and Karlowicz concertos. The two Alentejana Suites are sheer delights-just sit back and bask in the warm southern glow of these folk-inflected gems. The touching Death of Manfred for strings also deserves mention. With the chamber compositions we are back in the Franckian sound-world of the symphonies, but they possess a certain melodic freshness not often found in the Belgian master's works.

One can certainly not complain about FB's representation on disc, but it's worth mentioning some major works of his that remain unrecorded: the Dramatic Symphony Manfred for soloists, chorus and orchestra (written at the young age of fifteen!), the Symphonic Poem Viriato, the Ballad for Piano and Orchestra and the Biblical Cantata Noemi.

Two orchestral works of FB's that were recorded by Portugalsom but not by Naxos can thankfully be found on YouTube: the Symphonic Poem Anero de Quental and the Symphonic Fragments from his destroyed Oratorio The Temptations of Holy Father Gil.

Anyone have further thoughts on this fine composer?

 :)
« Last Edit: July 17, 2013, 05:42:16 PM by kyjo »

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955)
« Reply #1 on: July 18, 2013, 12:24:42 AM »
I have some of the Naxos releases and found them less interesting than Braga Santos, whose music was a revelation to me, but I shall have another go with Freitas Branco and report back. I really did enjoy the recent Naxos release of music by Lopes-Graca.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

kyjo

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Re: Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955)
« Reply #2 on: July 18, 2013, 08:07:14 AM »
I agree with you that Braga Santos' music is superior to that of his teacher (Braga Santos' first four symphonies were revelatory to me also), but FB's music has its own merits, to be sure. Be sure to re-listen to Vahtek and Artificial Paradises especially-they are colorful, exciting works that are even a bit ahead if their time, as opposed to the more conservative and rather less interesting symphonies.
« Last Edit: July 18, 2013, 08:10:01 AM by kyjo »

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955)
« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2013, 02:01:36 AM »
I agree with you that Braga Santos' music is superior to that of his teacher (Braga Santos' first four symphonies were revelatory to me also), but FB's music has its own merits, to be sure. Be sure to re-listen to Vahtek and Artificial Paradises especially-they are colorful, exciting works that are even a bit ahead if their time, as opposed to the more conservative and rather less interesting symphonies.

OK, you're on!  :)
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955)
« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2013, 04:40:30 AM »
You are right! Today I listened to the CD with Symphony 4 and Vathek on as well as listening to Artificial Paradises. I liked them all, and Symphony No 4 was a revelation with its chorale-like climaxes (I really liked the end of the first movement). I could detect his influence on Braga Santos (the dedicatee of the Symphony). The Bruckner-like conclusion was terrific and I immediately wanted to hear the symphony again (as the conductor suggested listeners would in his interesting booklet note). Artificial Paradises is quite extraordinary, reminded me of Scriabin in places and a very atmospheric score which I shall also be returning to. I was interrupted in the middle of Vathek by a phone call from my mother-in-law, so I shall need to re-visit the work. I liked what I heard and movement 6 (I think) sounded like something out of Charles Ives. So thanks again for alerting me to the fact that there was more to Freitas Branco than I realised.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

kyjo

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Re: Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955)
« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2013, 05:02:07 AM »
You are right! Today I listened to the CD with Symphony 4 and Vathek on as well as listening to Artificial Paradises. I liked them all, and Symphony No 4 was a revelation with its chorale-like climaxes (I really liked the end of the first movement). I could detect his influence on Braga Santos (the dedicatee of the Symphony). The Bruckner-like conclusion was terrific and I immediately wanted to hear the symphony again (as the conductor suggested listeners would in his interesting booklet note). Artificial Paradises is quite extraordinary, reminded me of Scriabin in places and a very atmospheric score which I shall also be returning to. I was interrupted in the middle of Vathek by a phone call from my mother-in-law, so I shall need to re-visit the work. I liked what I heard and movement 6 (I think) sounded like something out of Charles Ives. So thanks again for alerting me to the fact that there was more to Freitas Branco than I realised.

Glad to hear your opinion of FB's music has changed :) I agree with you that the 4th is the strongest of the symphonies-Braga Santos must have had those chorale-like climaxes in mind when composing the magnificent finale of his own fourth symphony! Interesting that you thought of Ives while listening to Vahtek, but there's a certain wildness and abandon to this score that is rather Ivesian, even if the harmonic language is more impressionistic. It's almost the complete opposite of the nobility of the Symphony no. 4!

P.S. Thank you, vandermolen, for being the only person to reply to this thread :D ::)
« Last Edit: July 19, 2013, 05:04:07 AM by kyjo »

Offline Christo

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Re: Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955)
« Reply #6 on: July 19, 2013, 10:36:10 AM »
P.S. Thank you, vandermolen, for being the only person to reply to this thread :D ::)

He is, but I hope other readers enjoy your posts just as much as I do.  :) I bought the Naxos series and even own two of these Strauss/Portugalsom CDs of the 1990s, one with Vathek and the other with Antero de Quental and the First Symphony. But the only piece I really tried then and liked very much is Vathek - a great orchestral manoeuvre indeed and one that I was happy enough to 'discover' long before the appearance of the more recent Naxos/Cassuto cycle.

Yes, I am a Braga Santos addict too, whom I also 'discovered' thanks to these Portugalsom/Strauss CDs in the late 1990s.

Hope to find time to really play them all; I gave all four symphonies a first hearing when I bought them and will definitely return to the Fourth (was somewhat disappointed with the Second). Many thanks for your helpful advice.
… music is not only an 'entertainment’, nor a mere luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual if not of the physical life, an opening of those magic casements through which we can catch a glimpse of that country where ultimate reality will be found.    RVW, 1948

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955)
« Reply #7 on: July 23, 2013, 12:18:53 AM »
I have now listened to the 4th Symphony several times with increasing pleasure. I find it both powerful and moving and can certainly see the influence on Brags Santos. The end of the work was a real 'goose pimple' moment for me when I listened to it again during a long drive yesterday. It is quite a dark work, possibly reflecting the times of its composition (1944-52), but ultimately an uplifting and inspiriting score.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline Sergeant Rock

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Re: Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955)
« Reply #8 on: July 23, 2013, 01:57:40 AM »
P.S. Thank you, vandermolen, for being the only person to reply to this thread :D ::)

The problem being, of course, that almost none of us have heard the music. I haven't anyway. But like Christo I've read all the posts, have become intrigued, and will probably buy, at least, the Second (with Artificial Paradises) and Fourth (with Vathek). Thanks for your efforts in promoting this relatively unknown composer.

Sarge
the phone rings and somebody says,
"hey, they made a movie about
Mahler, you ought to go see it.
he was as f*cked-up as you are."
                               --Charles Bukowski, "Mahler"

kyjo

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Re: Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955)
« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2013, 05:38:43 AM »
The problem being, of course, that almost none of us have heard the music. I haven't anyway. But like Christo I've read all the posts, have become intrigued, and will probably buy, at least, the Second (with Artificial Paradises) and Fourth (with Vathek). Thanks for your efforts in promoting this relatively unknown composer.

Sarge

You're welcome, Sarge! The discs with the Second and Fourth Symphonies are good starting points for exploring FB's music. Please do report back with thoughts on the music if you decide to look into it :)