Henrique Oswald (1852 - 1931)
Feuilles d"album, Op. 20
Tres Pecas, Op. 23
Nocturne, Op. 6, No.1
Nocturne, Op. 6, No.2
Seis Pecas, Op. 14
One of the greater names in Brazilian music of the nineteenth century, Henrique Oswald was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1852, the son of a Swiss father and Italian mother, both musicians. A year after his birth the family moved to Säo Paulo, where his father became involved in the music business, while his mother won a reputation as a piano teacher. It was, in fact, through his mother that Henrique Oswald had his first piano lessons, going on to study with Gabriel Giraudon.
In 1868 Oswald moved to Europe, where he studied the piano with Buonamici and Henri Ketten and composition with Grazzini and Maglioni. He settled in Florence and became a European musician, assimilating fully the culture of the continent from the age of sixteen.
Oswald"s long stay in Italy came about through the generosity of the Emperor Pedro II, who had been present at a recital by the young pianist in 1871, during a visit to Florence, and granted him a substantial allowance that continued for almost twenty years. Oswald married an Italian singer, Laudamia Gasperini, known to both Liszt and Brahms, and became a teacher at the Music Institute in Florence. He absorbed musical influences from France, Italy and Germany, showing in his compositions an elegant and refined style, especially effective in his piano compositions. Proof of his ability in this field came with his spectacular victory in the Composition Competition promoted in 1902 by Le Figaro in Paris; his work Il neige, for piano, won over no less than six hundred competitors, gaining the first prize on the decision of a jury that included Saint-Saens, Faure and Diemer.
In 1903 Oswald returned to Brazil, leaving his family in Europe, to take up the position in Rio de Janeiro of director of the National Institute of Music, the present School of Music of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, on the invitation of President Rodrigues Alves. He retained this position for three years, but never succeeded in overcoming the difficulties inherent in the functions of an administrator; he felt himself alienated from the musical world and after three years resigned. He then became a teacher, with Luciano Gallet, Fructuoso Vianna and Lorenzo Fernandez among his pupils, dividing his time between Brazil and Europe until 1911, when he decided to settle definitively with his family in Rio de Janeiro. Here, from the age of sixty, he spent the two final decades of his life, becoming professor at the National Institute of Music and making his house an influential centre for chamber music. He trained a generation of pianists and composers and became one of the most influential figures in Brazilian musical life in the first part of the present century.
Oswald"s compositions are extensive and varied, including three operas, orchestral compositions, chamber music, songs and, in particular, music for solo piano. They are distinguished by attention to detail and refinement, traits special to this great musician.
The Feuilles d"album, Opus 20, (Album Leaves) consist of four pieces. The first, Inquietude is in romantic style, with a well defined melodic line that alternates between right and left hand.
Chansonette is a graceful song, supported by the left hand. Feux follets (Will-o"-the-Wisps) is lively, short and brilliant and is followed by Desir ardent, which provides a brilliant conclusion.
As a great romantic composer for the piano, Henrique Oswald wrote a number of waltzes. The Valse Lente was published by Bevilacqua in 1910 and dedicated to his friend Cardoso de Menezes. It is a work of delicate sensibility and pianistic charm, perfectly written.
Sets of three pieces are very frequent in Oswald"s work. The Menuet that opens the Tres Pecas, Op. 23, is written in simple style. The Romance and Waltz are fluent, with all the romance of an original enough musical language. The pieces were published by Bevilacqua.
The two Nocturnes that form Opus 6 were issued by the Italian publisher Venturini. The first, expressive, inspired and wel1 written, shows the French spirit that had such strong influence on the composer, composed in the ternary structure familiar from Chopin, with an expressive cantabile theme framing a virtuoso central section of greater energy. The second is also intensely romantic with a strong element of lyricism that makes considerable technical demands on the performer.
Il neige was awarded first prize at the Composition Competition sponsored by Le Figaro in Paris in 1902. A relatively slight early work, through the quality of its inspiration and through its workmanship, with its right-hand figuration, producing an air of gentle calm.
The Seis Pecas, Opus 14, are a high expression of romanticism admirable in their technique and fine inspiration. The Berceuse claims attention for its polyphonic writing. It is fol1owed by a Mazurka, a contrast in its dance rhythm, as its name suggests. It is a slow dance with its principal theme, which appears three times, framing livelier episodes in more brilliant rhythm. The Tarantella is lively and rapid in a typical 6/8 dance rhythm, initiated by a group of unison quavers that serve as an introduction to the dance proper. This develops with considerable speed and bril1iance, in virtuoso style. The Barcarola that forms the fourth piece returns to the mood of the Berceuse. In the first part the left hand keeps the melody, with an accompaniment of arpeggiated chords in the right hand. There is a second theme for the right hand in the central section and this returns in the last three bars, forming a coda. The Noturno is profoundly lyrical, with something of the romanticism present in the work of Faure. The last of the pieces is a Scherzo, a brilliant and very effective Presto.
Maria Ines Guimaraes
(English translation by Keith Anderson)