Portuguese Composers



J O L Y  B R A G A  S A N T O S (1924-1988)

Born in Lisbon in 1924, Joly Braga Santos was to spend much of his life in the city. At first his musical interests seemed to be taking him towards the life of a professional violinist, and he studied this and composition at the Conservatory in Lisbon. There he was taught by the leading Portuguese composer of the time, Luis de Freitas Branco. He was to prove his most gifted pupil, and took much of his subsequent colourful orchestrations from his mentor.

From the outset Braga Santos did not become involved in any Portuguese 'tradition'. There was much of interest in the music of his country four hundred years before, but little as a role model for a symphonist. His music can be viewed mainly as a fusion of European styles, particularly that of Western Europe. His unique gifts demonstrate themselves by the fact that the first four symphonies came between the age of 22 and 27, and were immediately performed by the Portuguese Radio Symphony.

His one period away from his native country came when he was 29 when he went to Austria to study conducting with Hermann Scherchen, the great mentor of so many conductors. On his return to Portugal he became well-known as a conductor, and for a time largely stopped composing. He refers to it as a sabbatical, before resuming his major output in 1965 with the Fifth Symphony. It was to be his last purely orchestral symphony, the Sixth including chorus and soprano.

By this time he had become well acquainted with the change of style in the post-war musical world, and he strongly supported those who wrote in a more aggressive and modern idiom. Braga Santos also moved forward, yet he remained true to the melodic content that had made his music so outstanding, blending just a little of the more acerbic scoring that was appearing in world music.

He died in Lisbon, and left a healthy amount of music, including operas, symphonic and choral works.


Álvaro Cassuto, 1998



L U I Z  C O S T A (1879-1960)

Luiz (António Ferreira da) Costa was born in São Pedro de Farelães, on 25th September 1879 and died in Oporto on 7th January 1960.

After completing his studies with Bernardo Valentim Moreira de Sá, he left for Germany, where he studied with Vianna da Motta, Stavenhagen, Ansorge and Busoni. In parallel with his career as a soloist pianist, he worked with remarkable artists such as the cellists Casals, Hekking, Suggia and violinists Enesco and Aránye as well as the Rosé and Chaumont quartets.

He taught at the Oporto Music Conservatory of which he was also director. He was a teacher of rare distinction due to both his natural gifts and his vast culture as well as deep musical knowledge. He taught and influenced whole generations of pianists as far as both aesthetics and professional ethics were concerned.

As Artistic Director of the "Orpheon Portuense" he had a noteworthy action. At his invitation, some of the most remarkable artists of his time visited and performed in Oporto. Namely, he was responsible for Maurice Ravel's visit, in 1928.

In nature he always found an endless source of inspiration that can be found in the titles and atmospheres of many of his piano compositions. His friendship with his master Moreira de Sá, a celebrated encyclopaedist and a violinist keen on chamber music, left him a taste for ensemble music which later translated into his professional life as a pianist and composer. His chamber music works are proof of the above.

He was a cultivated musician interested in all arts and a friend of sculptors, painters, poets and writers. He was captivated by the magic of poetry. Thus were born works for piano and singing that were not irrelevant in the context of his work. His musical dialect is smooth and without any too sharp turns. The intimate lyricism and serene poetry that flows from his compositions are not immune to dash, splendour and drama on many occasions.


Maria Teresa Macedo, 1995



C A R L O S  S E I X A S (1704-1742)

José António Carlos de Seixas, known in his time by his first three names and today as Carlos Seixas, was born in Coimbra on June 11th 1704 and unfortunately destined to live only till the 25th of August 1742.

Carlos Seixas must have study with his father, Francisco Vaz, the organist of Coimbra Cathedral. After his father's death, he took the post of his relative (for a two years period). At sixteen, his precocious development made him recently arrived in Lisbon, nominated organist of Lisbon Cathedral where a little later he rose to the distinction of Vice Chapel Master, a not to be demeaned honour at a time when the Chapel Master was Domenico Scarlatti and when the Royal Chapel contained no other Portuguese musician. Regarding to the relations between Scarlatti and his young Portuguese lieutenant, a manuscript of the age gives us an interesting episode:

Whether this episode happened or not, and admitting that if true Scarlatti was only trying to be affable with a member of the Portuguese Royal Family, what is certain is that the work of Seixas does not leave doubt as to the profound creative originality of this author and by extension of the Portuguese harpsichord school of this period (Nery, 1991).

For the most part, his works were composed for keyboard, mainly named tocata and sonata, which in this case are synonyms. In spite of the Biblioteca Lusitana telling us that the composer left more than seven hundred tocatas for harpsichord, today we only know one hundred and five, contained, some in duplicate and with frequent significant differences between the respective sources, in various manuscripts preserved in the General Library of Coimbra University, the National Library of Lisbon and the Library of Ajuda. We find in them revealing examples of the evolution of the Baroque sonata for keyboard (from their simple two-part form as present for example in the works of Scarlatti copied in 1733 in a Portuguese manuscript of Obras Romanas per organ). In some cases Seixas goes beyond the limits of this structure and expands the initial section of the second part of the work with a passage so full of modulation and such liberty of thematic manipulation, before returning to a strict parallelism to the first part, that we end up with a three-part structure that appears to anticipate the Classical sonata-form. On the other hand, the irregular and asymmetrical character of phrasing and the rhythmic writing of the Portuguese composer, should be pointed out, which instead of the balanced phrases of Scarlatti, with their regular measure (the so-called baroque quadrature), frequently displace their phrases in different groups of bars (Nery, 1991).

His harmony is in general of extreme simplicity, playing especially with modulations to parallel tonalities or the nearest stage in the cycle of fifths. His inspiration is hence fundamentally directed towards melodic invention, especially in slow movements with an expression of sentiments, direct and almost always melancholy, underlined by his preference for minor keys (Nery, 1991).

There are a few orchestral pieces remaining, registered in a manuscript of the Ajuda Library which as well as their intrinsic quality have the interest of documenting the knowledge of some significant forms of the European instrumental Baroque of scarcely documented use in the Iberian Peninsula. They are an Overture in D major in the French style, with slow first movement in dotted rhythms and the alternation of sections in contrasting time signatures typical of this form, a Sinfonia in B flat with the characteristic Italian sequence of a fast movement, a slow and a fast, and the extraordinary Concerto for harpsichord and strings which is one of the first examples of this genre in all Europe and thus constitutes less a phenomenon of the assimilation of exterior stylistic conventions than an original contribution to the European musical Baroque in its entirety (Kastner, 1947).


Freitas Branco, João de
História da Música Portuguesa, Mem Martins, Publicações Europa-América, 1959.

Kastner, Macario Santiago
Carlos de Seixas, Coimbra, Coimbra Editora, 1947.

Nery, Rui Vieira
History of Music, Lisbon, INCM, 1991.


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