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The Formation of Musical Canons in 20th Century Portugal

Author: Maria Fernandes

18 abr 2017

Last update: 27 abr 2017

1. Musical canons

It wasn't long ago since we started thinking about the formation of the canons. Around 1990, music scholars engaged in this process of knowledge organization, which links tastes, ideas, repertoires, institutions, political structures, ideologies and others. (RIBEIRO 2016) Up till this moment, music was as if put on a pedestal, out of reach from its characterization through words - the idea that music can only be felt and not explained.

The canonic works are the result of a historical process of selection, that arose with the formation of the public sphere having an inherent connection to the rise of the bourgeoisie and, consequently, to the creation of music halls and public concerts, according to António Pinho Vargas, composer and socio-musicologist.

There are several canons and they exist in all areas. Thus, Pinho Vargas borrows the definition from the literary canon, made by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, and applies it to music: "(...) a set of works (...) that the scholars and the dominant or predominant institutions consider to be the most representative, and of greater value and authority in a certain official culture" (VARGAS 2011, 109). Marcia Citron and Griselda Pollock believe the power held by the canons is such that those who emerge in it are seen as the most significant and represent it best in a certain culture. Additionally, they are seen as the model that should be copied and duplicated countless times, in both concert or school programs. Thereby, the canon makes up the heritage that everyone considers to be the necessary base to have a cultural capital and is, by consequence, a symbolic capital (Pierre Bourdieu).

For Jim Samson, musical canon is the term "used to describe a list of composers or works assigned value and greatness by consensus." (SAMSON 2001) Converting Samson's definition to the Portuguese case, the question that immediately follows is: Who are the Portuguese composers that make up the list of the Portuguese musical canon?

The creation of the four Histórias da Música Portuguesa (Histories of Portuguese Music), in the second half of the 20th century (1955-1992), makes us think of the need there was to canonize those who, until then, had made up the history of Portuguese music. Nevertheless, the selection made by the musicologists in deciding to include some and exclude others gives us hints as to who were the most influential musicians in certain periods, or what the personal preference of the author was, because writing História Geral da Música (General History of Music) was not done impartially. As Bohlamn stated, musicology was important to "make decisions about appropriate canons and to arbitrate tastes for the reception of those canons." (VARGAS 2001, 117) But we must not forget that, despite its role in forming canons, musicology also had the role to exclude composers and their works or "set them in a ‘lesser’ periphery", as well as excluding the music of people and cultures outside of Europe, the music of women and of people of a color that is not 'white', and so on." (VARGAS 2011, 124)

How do we justify these facts? By its social, political, economic or cultural context? To be able to reach any conclusion, we must understand these contexts in the 20th century.


2. Sociocultural contextualization in 20th century Portugal

The 20th century was one of the richest and fertile centuries in the History of Mankind in terms of political, social, economic and cultural events. Portugal was not an exception. Through three different political systems, Monarchy, Republic and a Fascist Dictatorship, the artists had to adapt to the circumstances.

During the Monarchy, around the 1870s, we witnessed an openness to the outside world, connecting Portugal "by rail to Europe" which would influence the artistic and cultural activities (CASTRO 1991, 149). In the artistic field, we can't forget the "Geração de 70" (an academic movement in the 19th century) which projected the new bourgeois society of the Industrial Revolution. Nevertheless, it was still during the Monarchy that we saw Viana da Mota receiving a scholarship from the Kingdom to study in Berlin, where upon he took "lessons from Liszt" (CASTRO 1991, 158).

In the First Portuguese Republic, society lived in an acute crisis situation and suffered a downfall in values. With the development of the modernist movement, Portuguese artists responded to this by leaving behind the narrow Portuguese cultural environment, dedicating themselves to the dizzying sensations of modern life, its speed, technique and machinery. This could be seen across literature, visual arts and music. Among the pioneers of this movement was Luís de Freitas Branco, earning him the title of "introducer of the musical impressionism in our country" (CRUZ 1955, 242) and even "introducer of modernism in Portugal" (CYMBRON 1992, 162). However, Luísa Cymbron defends that his work has not yet been studied enough to understand its place in the Portuguese music history.

This modernist movement marked the beginning of the dictatorship, embodied by António Oliveira Salazar, lasting nearly four decades, and after 1933 it got a new formal designation: Estado Novo (New State).

In cultural terms, we also saw the creation of the Secretariado da Propaganda Nacional (SPN) (National Propaganda Secretariat) in 1933, led by António Ferro, with the purpose of broadcasting the values of Estado Novo and undertaking the process of the "country's regeneration", while implementing a common cultural understanding, both internally and abroad. A vast set of cultural activities were developed, clearly targeting specific audiences, with diverse speeches and languages, promoting one approach towards the country's intellectual minds and another towards the common people.

With very restrictive policies, all artists who wished to flourish in their areas had to do everything for the nation and nothing against it. In other words, they had to abide by the ideology.

“The Portuguese composers in 1940-60 therefore had three core options: to collaborate with conviction, while taking advantage of or resigning to the undertakings and propaganda of Estado Novo; or dare to have any hint of open protestation to the regime and its aesthetic orientation (positive or flawed) in their works and artistic attitude; or simply ‘to create, for it to be banned’.” (CASTRO 1991, 170-1)

An example of a collaborator was the composer Rui Coelho, who had modernist tendencies. He dedicated a great interest to operas of national spirit, sung in Portuguese, and he was seen as "the semi-official composer of the regime." (CASTRO 1991, 169) In ballet we have Frederico Freitas and the Verde Gaio ballet group with their recreation of traditional pieces and "a certain folkloristic national sensibility." (CASTRO 1991, 174) Fernando Lopes-Graça, for his part, fits the second description made by Ferreira de Castro, as he was one of the composers who suffered the most with the political repression, by being arrested often, having many of his work opportunities rejected, as well as his works banned. As to women, no questions arose, seeing as their sole role was to take care of the house, the family and the husband, and nothing else besides that.



As I have stated throughout this paper, the creation of History of Portuguese Music is, in general, an important source for forming the musical canons, considering that its purpose is to provide ample knowledge about the History of Music in Portugal, from the Medieval period until our time. For this, the author had to make a selection of people to include and, therefore, of people to exclude.

Upon reading the chapter related to the late half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century in the four Histórias da Música Portuguesa (Histories of Portuguese Music), written in the second half of the 20th century [História da Música Portuguesa (1955) by Maria Antonieta de Lima Cruz; História da Música Portuguesa (1959) by João de Freitas Branco; História da Música: sínteses da cultura portuguesa (1991) by Rui Vieira Nery and Paulo Ferreira de Castro; História da Música Portuguesa (1992) by Manuel Carlos Brito and Luísa Cymbron], I noticed that there were two important centers in the development of the musical activity in Portugal: Porto and Lisbon.

Consequently, in Porto six composers are noted: Óscar Silva (1870-1958), Luís Costa (1879-1960), Hernâni Torres (1881-1939), Cláudio Carneiro (1895-1963), Berta Alves Sousa (1916-1997) and Fernando Correia de Oliveira (1921-2004); and fourteen in Lisbon: Viana da Mota (1968-1948), Francisco de Lacerda (1869-1934), Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955), Rui Coelho (1892-1986), António de Lima Fragoso (1897-1918), Ivo Cruz (1901-1985), Frederico de Freitas (1902-1980), Fernando Lopes-Graça (1906-1994), Armando José Fernandes (1906-1983), Jorge Croner de Vasconcelos (1910-1974), Joly Braga Santos (1924-1988), Vítor Macedo Pinto (1917-1964), Maria de Lourdes Martins (1926-2009) and Luís Filipe Pires (1934-2015), more than double of those from Porto. This can be due to several factors, such as Lisbon being the capital or the musicologists having written from there, and also because Lisbon was the center with a more developed music activity. However, only these two 'big' cities are singled out, which begs the question: what happened in the other Portuguese cities during that time?

The importance given to these composers is not by any means equal, but the highlighting of some while ignoring others seems to be common for all the authors of these books. Thus, José Viana da Mota has two chapters dedicated to him in the book by João de Freitas Branco and Luísa Cymbron, but in the book by Maria Cruz he is only given three and a half pages, and in the book by Paulo Ferreira de Castro, only a single page is dedicated to this composer, but throughout the whole chapter his actions are mentioned. The fact that in two of the four books he has a chapter dedicated to him is, by itself, a factor of distinction in a musical context and it speaks of his importance as a composer, therefore, directly becoming part of the Portuguese musical canon. The same happens with Luís de Freitas Branco, who has two chapters dedicated to him (in the same books as Viana da Mota) and a great emphasis given in the book by Ferreira de Castro, totaling four pages, whereas in the book by Maria Cruz he's merely given two pages. It's unanimous, among all authors, that Luís de Freitas Branco deserves a place in the canon, be it for his educational actions or for his music. These are the two people with the biggest emphasis and they often appear side by side. Paulo Ferreira de Castro states that they would be "the leading figures of the Portuguese music activity at the turn of the century (...)" (CASTRO 1991, 157), supporting all that was previously noted.

It is also interesting to analyze the discourse and observe the words used to qualify these two composers by each of the four musicologists. Viana da Mota and Luís de Freitas Branco, both boy-wonders, are called "masters" and "intellectual-artists" (by both Luísa Cymbron and Fernando Lopes-Graça), whose works are "intense" and "brilliant". They are both considered to be "leading figures" and "most important in the Portuguese music panorama", full of "creativity" and "originality", making them unique figures in the Portuguese Music History. Regarding Viana da Mota as a pianist, he is described as "a golden pianist", the "greatest Portuguese pianist of all time" and an "exceptional interpreter of Bach, Beethoven and Liszt", according to Paulo Ferreira de Castro. João de Freitas Branco also mentions that a German critic compared the young man to Mozart, pointing out his extraordinary virtuosity. Shouldn't a musicologist try to be as impartial as possible? How does one justify that a composer can be so highly praised? In my opinion, it is fair to take notice of the deeds done by the musicians, but in a neutral way.

The case of Rui Coelho is peculiar, as only Maria Cruz mentions him in three pages of her book, whereas the other authors give him half a page, despite him being a composer who is still considered part of the canon. Why? Is it because he was a composer for the regime? Or could it be because he wrote many operas? Do the other authors despise the artistic productions of Rui Coelho as a result of the artistic ‘clashes’ he had with Luís de Freitas Branco, and therefore prefer the latter composer (seeing as they emphasized him so much in their books)? Again, I want to stress the idea that the general histories are also written with the subjective view of the author and, as a result of their preferences, they will include some and exclude others. Therefore, if we look at the discourse and analyze the words used, we see that Maria Cruz values Rui Coelho by saying that "the artistic expression of Ruy Coelho is presented with rich contrasts and a profound national sentiment" (CRUZ 1955, 245), or that this composer has an "extravagant expression" (ibid.) or that his dramatic music is that which has the "most power in originality." (ibid., 247) On the other hand, João de Freitas Branco indicates Rui Coelho as "the singular case [of] Portuguese spirit from another time, of patriotic arrogance" (BRANCO 1959, 196). Paulo Ferreira Castro described him as "the most persistent convert of the national opera (...)" (CASTRO 1991, 155), a statement that is later supported when he says that Rui Coelho is "the semi-official composer of the regime". (ibid., 169) In turn, Luísa Cymbron mentions this composer without imparting any judgements.

Another curious case to analyze is that of António Lima Fragoso who, due to his premature death, had a short artistic career as a composer. He manages to get one paragraph from each author, except for Paulo Ferreira de Castro who gives him a whole page in his book. This musicologist stated "(...) the pianist and composer António de Lima Fragoso deserves a special mention" (CASTRO 1991, 164), explaining that his art legacy was remarkable for such a short life. Luísa Cymbron adds: "without a doubt, one of the most promising Portuguese musicians from the beginning of our century (...)" (CYMBRON 1992, 165) We can assume with all certainty that if he had lived longer, he would be one of the top composers of the canons.

Fernando Lopes-Graça is a composer who made a name for himself close to the second half of the 20th century. He, therefore, belongs to the generation following that of the composers previously noted. As the books by Maria Cruz and João de Freitas Branco were written around the same time, it makes sense that he is only referenced but, even so, he has fifteen lines in the book by the latter author. However, it is justifiable that in the book by Paulo Ferreira de Castro he has two pages and in Luísa Cymbron's, an entire chapter. The latter musicologist states that Lopes-Graça is a "(...) figure of great prominence in the national music panorama of this century [and] he also represents a type of intellectual artist that we find in other European composers of our century, as well as some Portuguese, such as Viana da Mota and Luís de Freitas Branco, although they are part of a more romantic context." (CYMBRON, 1992, 167-8) The allusion to these two composers (Viana da Mota and Luís de Freitas Branco), with the addition of this third one, leads us to the forming of the Portuguese educational canon, seeing as all of them, besides being composing "geniuses", hold a vast culture and unique intellect, while having written a lot about music. Therefore, these 'great' musicians dignified the Portuguese music and culture. Nevertheless, the forming of the Portuguese musical canon in the first half of the 20th century can be said to consist of three people, as evidenced by the data provided, with Viana da Mota and Luís de Freitas Branco equally sharing first place, and Fernando Lopes-Graça coming in second.

The next question then becomes: what happened to the remaining composers?

Many have been forgotten. Others had the privilege of a few sentences in the books, often only being referenced, such is the case of Hernâni Torres, who doesn't appear in the book by Maria Cruz and is only acknowledged in the book by João de Freitas Branco, but holds five lines in the book by Ferreira de Castro and in the book by Luísa Cymbron appears besides two other composers, namely, Óscar Silva and Luís Costa. Why does this happen? Could it be due to the fact that they all are composers from Porto and, therefore, we can group the composers from roughly the same generation and same region in the same paragraph? Ivo Cruz has a page in the book by Maria Cruz, but his work seems to have been forgotten by the other authors. Even Armando José Fernandes and Jorge Croner de Vasconcelos are only referenced, and in the book by Paulo Ferreira de Castro and Luísa Cymbron appear in the same paragraph, which also happens to other composers, such as Joly Braga Santos.

When speaking of female composers in the book of general history of music, or rather their absence from these, it is even worse. In the discourse of João de Freitas Branco, up comes the name of a female composer from Porto, Berta Alves de Sousa, of whom is only said: "In Porto, Berta Alves de Sousa (1916) has been showing an original personality." (CASTRO 1959, 197) He is the only author to mention this composer, leaving out any further information about her. Could it be because she was only making a name for herself in the time of João de Freitas Branco and then disappeared from the music scene? What are the reasons for Paulo Ferreira de Castro and Luísa Cymbron, and even Maria Cruz to not even reference her in their books, seeing as she only passed away in 1997? Maria de Lourdes Martins is another example, being only referenced by the previous three authors, and João de Freitas Branco wrote: "Maria de Lourdes Martins (1926) is the latest addition to the Portuguese composers, with enjoyable pieces already published" (BRANCO 1959, 197), whereas the other two authors only mention her among other composers, without any further detail. Once again, a female composer that was proving her abilities seems to have been forgotten by the end of the 20th century.

Lastly, in two of these books (João de Freitas Branco and Paulo Ferreira de Castro), two other women appear with more emphasis compared to the previous one, both of them with an entire paragraph each. However, these women, Elisa de Sousa Pedroso (1876-1958) and Ema Romero da Câmara Reis (1897-1968), are not composers but promoters and patrons of the musical activity. As for the first one, João de Freitas Branco states that "Elisa Pedroso didn't limit herself to the role of promoter and sponsor, as she was a gifted pianist. She relayed the message of the Portuguese composers to foreign audiences " (BRANCO 1959, 187), a great promoter of the Portuguese music of her own accord. As for Ema Reis, she sponsored sessions of music promotion "whose activity, among others, led to the first audition of Schoenberg by Pierrot Lunaire in Portugal, in 1932." (CASTRO 1991, 167) I note that these authors give more importance to the patrons of culture than to the composers themselves and, to support this statement, I refer to the example given by António Pinho Vargas in his article "Arte, Vida e Melancolia" (“Art, Life and Melancholia”) from 2010. He brings up the case of Emanuel Nunes and Luís Pereira Leal highlighted in the book Cinquante Ans de Modernité Musicale: De Darmstadt à. IRCAM (Fifty years of modern music: from Darmstadt to IRCAM) by Célèstin Deliège, written in 2005, where he dedicates four pages in two chapters of his book to the two Portuguese. One of them being the already mentioned Emanuel Nunes and, to the surprise of all, as Pinho Vargas emphasizes, "the other person quoted is not Jorge Peixinho who, according to the European center, remained in the country and doesn't make part of history" (VARGAS 2010, 46), but Luís Pereira Leal, a patron who helped Emanuel Nunes reach success.


4. Conclusion

"Taruskin considers that his book is the first to be written outside of the traditional canons of musicology and of the discursive myths of all kinds that make up for the narratives in the histories of traditional music. (...) In these, too, the absence is rule (...) the only Portuguese included by Taruskin in the thousand years of western music is once again King João V, for the same reasons as Grout. (...) Written in the 21st century, there are no differences in the reasoning for the absence of Portuguese music" (VARGAS 2010, 44).

In western musicology, Portugal and the Portuguese composers are absent, as claimed by António Pinho Vargas quoting History of Western Music by Richard Taruskin (see above) said to be "outside of the canons". However, no matter how much we try to run away from them, they have so much power that it is impossible to escape. The Portuguese composers are absent and according to João de Freitas Branco it's because "Portugal is not a country that has opened up to the tradition of musicography." (BRANCO 1964, 426) Yet, the same author claims that nowadays we have composers who are "capable of sparking foreign interest" (BRANCO 1964, 427), such as Viana da Mota or Luís de Freitas Branco and even Fernando Lopes-Graça, who brought Portuguese music close to that of Europe's and, therefore, already belong in the Portuguese music canon, but not the European. However, we can observe through the 'inferiority' discourse of these books that it was the Portuguese musicologists themselves who put our country and our musicians in the 'periphery', with the appraise of the composers who studied abroad, bringing foreign influence to Portugal.

Upon the release and introduction of the CD "Portuguese music for Cello and Orchestra" with the cellist Bruno Borralhinho and the Gulbenkian Orchestra conducted by Pedro Neves, I want to emphasize the response from this conductor when asked by João Almeida (anchor at Antena 2) how this work had been, he replied that it was surprising and admirable, because it was music of very good quality. However, what struck me the most was what he said next: "but this shouldn't happen" (NEVES 2016), adding that we all should know our own music, giving as example Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and its famous initial part, which is so well known and studied because it has been played thousands of times, but had it only been played a dozen, we would still be thinking about what it means to this day. All works need to grow and mature but this won’t happen if we play it once now, a second time in ten years and again in thirty years, as Pedro Neves remarked. The new generation needs to discover this music, study and play it to an audience as often as possible, to show the possibilities it has in itself and not let it be forgotten, because this is the only way for the music and whoever created it to live on and stay relevant.

As to the role of the female composer, we had to wait for the 21st century to see them represented, even if veiled, in the Portuguese music scene. It is urgent to amend the gaps of historical knowledge in musicology that were created by omitting women from Histories of Music, much like in History of Art, as Griselda Pollock points out, when she notes the absence of female artists, whose work could only be seen in a basement or store room of a national art gallery. As Marcia Citron emphasizes, we only have to glance at the artistic activities or the general music histories to support this idea, which was proven in this paper. Therefore, I can say that the histories of music are "an illustration of the Story of Men" (POLLOCK 1999, 24), in which women were absent or when appearing, they do so paired with a man's name. Consequently, we must take this argument of exclusion to heart, starting by revising the histories of music and attempt to deconstruct the phallocentric discourses written until now, whilst not forgetting that what we look for is gender equality and not role reversal, and ask for a place when facing the absence of female composers.

"We [must] look to the music of the great for that. A great work will always be a great work, regardless of who wrote it." (CORREIA 2016)

Maria Fernandes
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