drplacebo: (Default)
[personal profile] drplacebo
It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

Heitor Villa-Lobos is often thought of as Brazil's first great nationalist composer and credited with bringing the sounds of Brazilian folk music to the concert hall. Far less well known is the man responsible in many ways for making Villa-Lobos's career possible, the conductor and composer Alberto Nepomuceno (1864-1920).

The 19th century Brazilian musical establishment was extremely conservative. Rio de Janeiro was the musical center of the Americas at the time, ever since the Portuguese royal family arrived in 1808 and brought the court orchestra along. But European musicians, both composers and performers, predominated in Brazilian art music for most of the century; even native-born composers looked mainly to Europe and tended to be surprisingly insulated from the folk and popular music heard around them. Antônio Carlos Gomes became the first composer from the New World to achieve success in Europe, and was considered the equal of Verdi during his lifetime -- but while he drew on Brazilian literature for his operas, the operas were sung in Italian and the music was entirely within the Italian tradition.

Enter Alberto Nepomuceno, one of the earliest iconoclasts in Brazilian music. He spent the first 21 years of his life in the northern cities of Fortaleza and Recife, far from the urban centers of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In 1885, he made his first visit to Rio de Janeiro, performing as a pianist and presenting his compositions for the first time; these compositions included a set of art songs with lyrics in Portuguese. Despite the trend in Europe toward vocal music sung in the composer's own language, Nepomuceno's choice to compose Portuguese-language vocal music was seen as verging on scandalous. Nonetheless, he won recognition as a virtuoso pianist, and with the help of friends in Rio de Janeiro, he departed for Europe in 1887 to study composition and conducting, first in Rome and then in Leipzig and Vienna. While in Vienna, he met and married a Norwegian pianist who had been both a student and a family friend of Edvard Grieg; after the wedding they moved to Bergen and lived in Grieg's house for several months. Grieg, a leading proponent of musical nationalism, encouraged Nepomuceno to draw inspiration from his own country's folk music.

Returning to Brazil in 1895, Nepomuceno quickly became one of the country's leading conductors. But as a composer, he continued to face criticism for bringing elements of folk and popular music into his own music. He was attacked by other classical musicians for continuing to write Portuguese-language vocal music, for borrowing percussion instruments from Brazilian popular music, and even for associating with popular singers and songwriters. He stood firm in his convictions, insisting in a letter published in one major newspaper that "a people that does not sing in its own tongue has no mother country." His reputation suffered; although he was occasionally able to program his own music in his concerts as a conductor, very little of his work was published during his lifetime. None of his orchestral music was programmed by a conductor other than himself until the last few months of his life, when Richard Strauss conducted one of his opera overtures during a South American tour. Still, he gained some adherents, and began the process of bringing the sounds of Brazilian folk and popular music into the concert hall. And in 1913, despite publishers' resistance to printing his own music, Nepomuceno was able to convince one Rio de Janeiro publisher to accept some piano pieces by a then-controversial student composer. That student was Heitor Villa-Lobos, and those piano pieces were his first published music.

This week's piece, Alberto Nepomuceno's Serie Brasileira, is a suite of four descriptively-titled movements depicting various aspects of Brazilian life. It was composed during his time in Norway and premiered in Rio de Janeiro in 1897; but despite Nepomuceno's stature as a conductor, the piece would not be published until 1959, almost 40 years after his death. When the piece premiered, it was savaged mercilessly by conservative critics, who were especially shocked by the use of the güiro and other folk percussion instruments in the last movement. The first movement "Alvorada na serra" (Dawn on the Mountain) uses part of the northeastern Brazilian folk song "Sapo Jururu" as its main theme, though played in a much slower tempo than the song is normally heard. The second movement, "Intermédio," is a maxixe, a Brazilian dance distantly related to the Argentine tango and the direct ancestor of the samba. The third movement "A sesta na rede" (The Siesta in the Hammock) and the fourth movement "Batuque" draw heavily on Afro-Brazilian music. "Batuque" is sometimes performed as a stand-alone piece; its title refers to a dance of Cape Verdean origin as well as to a Brazilian martial art that was a forerunner to the modern capoeira.

Movements:
I. Alvorada na serra
II. Intermédio (8:49)
III. A sesta na rede (15:05)
IV. Batuque (19:43)

drplacebo: (Default)
[personal profile] drplacebo
It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

Ma Sicong (1912-1987) was China's earliest significant composer of music for Western instruments. He was best known as a violin virtuoso during his lifetime, often referred to in China as the "King of Violinists" from the 1930s through the 1950s. Although Ma did not grow up in a particularly musical family (his father was the finance minister of the province of Guangdong in the early years of the Republic of China), he and most of his siblings eventually became professional string players; his younger sister Ma Siju was probably China's leading cellist in the 1940s and 1950s. Ma Sicong himself was introduced to the violin when his older brother, who had gone to France to study music, brought him a violin on a visit home in the summer of 1923. He fell in love with the instrument, and before the end of the year, aged just eleven, he joined his brother in France. Except for a brief return to China in 1929, he remained in France until 1932 and studied violin and composition at the Paris Conservatoire.

After returning to Asia, Ma was active as a concert violinist and composer and held a series of faculty appointments, culminating in his appointment in 1949 as the first president of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. He frequently represented China in musical events throughout the Communist bloc; in 1958 he served on the jury for the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow, which Van Cliburn famously won. But when the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, he and other leading music teachers in China were persecuted for teaching Western music. Upon his arrival at the Central Conservatory for the beginning of the 1966-67 academic year, he was arrested by the Red Guards and confined to a classroom for 103 days, and then brutally beaten before being released. In January 1967, he defected to the United States via Hong Kong, in a dramatic escape that involved him and his family being smuggled to Hong Kong aboard a fishing boat. He was briefly a celebrity in the West -- before the Cultural Revolution he had been China's single most prominent musician, and a friend of both Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, so his defection was seen as a major coup for the US -- and his music received a number of performances in the United States and Taiwan in 1967 and 1968. Meanwhile, after Life magazine published a first-person account by Ma titled "Cruelty and Insanity Made Me a Fugitive," he was tried and convicted of treason in absentia back in China, and all his music was banned. Ma Sicong spent the rest of his life in Philadelphia, composing only sporadically but continuing to perform as a violinist in the United States and Taiwan.

Eventually Ma Sicong was rehabilitated in China: his conviction for treason was rescinded in 1984, with Wu Zuqiang (then president of the Central Conservatory of Music) and Henry Kissinger traveling to Philadelphia to deliver him the news in person. On the Chinese New Year, 1985, more than a hundred Chinese newspapers ran front-page stories declaring that Ma Sicong was again welcome in China. In 1997, the tenth anniversary of his death was commemorated in Beijing with a concert of some of his best-known pieces, and in 2002 the Guangzhou Museum of Art opened a Ma Sicong Memorial Hall. In the United States, there was some renewed interest in his music beginning in 2012, as a number of musical organizations in the Philadelphia area commemorated the centennial of a Philadelphia resident famous in China yet largely unknown in his adopted hometown.

This week's forgotten masterpiece is Ma's second symphony, one of his few major works to be recorded. Composed in 1958-59, at the height of Ma's career in China, it was ostensibly based on Mao Zedong's poem "Loushan Pass" which commemorated the Red Army's first victory during the Long March, though the music is not explicitly programmatic in the sense of having any form of descriptive subtitles, and some of it draws more from 20th century trends in Western music such as use of medieval church modes. Although there are pauses between movements, the end of each movement and the beginning of the next are ingeniously written to form somewhat of a transition from one movement to the next. The first movement is short and in traditional sonata form, featuring a vigorous opening theme in Phrygian mode and a second theme based loosely on a Shaanxi folk song. The second movement is an anguished dirge that might represent the hardships of the long retreat, or mourning for fallen comrades. The third movement brings back the opening theme of the piece before transitioning into what might be a victory celebration featuring a number of folk dances.

Movements:
I. Allegro agitato
II. Adagio maestoso (5:27)
III. Allegro (16:58)

Profile

raspberryumbrella: (Default)
raspberryumbrella

September 2017

S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 24th, 2017 03:06 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios