oly Braga Santos (1924-88)
Symphony No. 2 ? Crossroads (Ballet)
Joly Braga Santos was born in Lisbon in 1924 and died there in 1988, at the height of his musical creativity. Although he composed only six symphonies, he was undoubtedly the leading Portuguese symphonist of the century and, in a way, of all time, considering that the symphonic output of Portuguese composers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is not significant Apart from an innate talent for good orchestration, his musical language is based on a strong sense of musical architecture as well as drama, with long melodic lines and a natural instinct for structural development as well as formal coherence. In his own words, he wanted to contribute ?toward a Latin symphonism and to react against the predominant tendency, of the generation that preceded me, to reject monumental ism in music?.
Having studied violin and composition at the Conservatory in Lisbon, Braga Santos became a disciple of Luis de Freitas Branco (1890-1955), the leading Portuguese composer of the preceding generation. Although he was not particularly interested in Portuguese folklore, studying and composing at the country home of his mentor, in the rural south of Portugal, the Alentejo, he willingly accepted the influence of local folk-songs, which he considered ?of mesmerizing originality and grandeur?.
The first four symphonies followed each other quite rapidly. Braga Santos composed them between the age of 22 and 27, among many other works. Then he went abroad to study conducting with Hennann Scherchen and composition with Virgilio Mortari, absorbing influences from the post-war avant-garde, which is reflected in the music he composed from 1960 onwards.
His Second Symphony was composed in 1947 and follows the traditional four movement pattern. The music is held together by a structural motif, not quite a ?leitmotif? but similar in its purpose to establish a common link between over-all different movements or sections. It is presented by the solo horn at the very beginning of the opening Largo introduction to the first movement.
The first movement does not follow the traditional sonata form. Its form is a symmetrical ABCBA followed by a coda, in which A is the main theme, B the secondary theme and C the second subject, in a different, much slower tempo. This second subject itself also follows the ABA scheme, in which B is a development based on the initial ?leitmotif?. While the music itself is very vivid and strong in the fast sections, it is highly emotional and lyrical in the slow, middle section.
The second movement is a traditional slow movement, with a lyrical theme introduced by the solo flute and repeated by the whole orchestra. Again the middle section differs, being a highly intricate development of a multitude of themes - where we can hear the initial ?leitmotif? in the basses - based on the pounding rhythmic presence of the timpani. The ending has an ethereal quality with lonely brass and timpani solos, creating a unique atmosphere which is unmatched in his other symphonies.
An Allegretto pastorale takes the place of the traditional scherzo. Unlike the scherzo, it is in binary rhythm. It is quite pastoral indeed, innocently repeating a very appealing melodic line, which can be heard alternating in the woodwind and in the violins, over a sort of moto perpetuo of the lower strings.
The last movement is highly complex and fragmented in structure. A slow introduction in the strings followed by the woodwind leads to a vivid Allegro. This Allegro, however, is neither developed (although it follows the bi-thematic scheme) nor does it lead to the end of the symphony. On the contrary, it leads to a lyrical slow section which ends on an English horn reminiscence of the ?leitmotif? followed by a highly dynamic fugue. After a build up, which seems to be leading to the end of the symphony, the music stops abruptly. Again we hear the initial ?leitmotif?, then a clarinet cadenza which is followed by a majestic Epilogue which builds up from a soft melodic line to the glorious ending of the symphony.
The Second Symphony is dedicated to the Portuguese Radio Symphony Orchestra and to its music director Pedro de Freitas Branco. It is scored for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, two sets of four timpani each, percussion and strings.
Encruzilhada (Crossroads) is a ballet composed in 1967 for the Gulbenkian Ballet Company in Lisbon. It is based on a quite simple and innocent story: in a village, peasants celebrate the engagement of a young couple. Suddenly some city dwellers appear. To amuse themselves, they persuade the bride to accompany them. She falls into the hands of rioters and women who want to lead her away from a more reputable life. She escapes and returns to her village and to the arms of her lover.
The composer uses clearly identifiable folklore, such as popular dances from different origins. He enriches the music, however, by a poly tonal treatment which creates a strong expressionistic atmosphere, precisely because he believed that all kinds of influences converge, and can be found in the urban folklore of all countries.
The five movements of this ballet follow the formal scheme of the Baroque orchestral suite. Yet, the composer?s primary goal was to compose music specifically suited for dancing.
The first movement (Dance) is based on the Italian tarantella. It is very vivid and fast. The second movement (Pantomime) is based on a variety of short sections, starting and ending in a slow tempo. The third movement (Dance in a quarter of Lisbon) is based on the Portuguese (and Andaluzian) fandango. The fourth movement is based on a Portuguese folk-song with an accented 5/4 rhythmic accompaniment, while the last movement (General Dance) features a highly engaging tune, which the composer recommends to be played ?like a folk-song? and ends in a brilliant, più mosso coda.
The music is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, two percussionists, harp and six first and six second violins, four violas, three cellos and two basses.