Numerica’s Ref.: PS 5003
SONGS AND PIANO PIECES
Alfredo Keil was a highly talented composer who occupies an important position in the last quarter of the 19th century in Portugal, not only in the field of music but also as a painter, and yet both his biography and musical output remain to be studied.
It is, to say the least, paradoxical that a man who is generally described as a dilettante and amateur should have left something in the region of two thousand paintings – including the finest works of the period in this country – as well as three full-length operas, including the historical landmark Serrana (completed in 1895), the only Portuguese opera to have retained a place in the repertoire from the time of its premiere in 1899.(1)
Known as being the first opera to be sung in Portuguese, Serrana is the most clearly nationalistic in intention of Keil’s three operas, including for instance stylised examples of folksong. It should be noted, however, that the subject matter for Dona Branca (premiered in 1888) and for Irene (first performed in 1893) was equally Portuguese, and that there were comparable instances of folk inspiration. As for the use of Italian, common to most Portuguese operas prior to Serrana (and a number of later ones too), contrary to popular belief, this was not merely the consequence of a preconception with regard to our own language; it was rather the result of all the singers contracted by the Teatro de São Carlos, the Lisbon opera house, being Italian. Indeed Serrana was sung in Italian at first performance.
Labelled “neo-Romantic” as a painter, in his operas, through a combination of ingenuity and intuition, Keil concocted a very individual mix of various musical trends of the period. The structuring of the opera, in separate numbers, is Italian but we should also note the melodic and harmonic influence of Massenet, a composer with whom Keil maintained a firm friendship as well as a regular correspondence and to whom the score of Serrana is dedicated. There are hints of Wagner in the use of Leitmotiv and in his describing the genre of D. Branca and Serrana as “Drama Lírico”, and particularly in his calling Irene a “Lenda Mística” (Mystical Legend). In Serrana, an opera dlrectly escended from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana in his giving it a rural setting, he brings us to the world of Italian Verismo.
It is difficult to reach a verdict on Dona Branca and Irene, two operas which have never been staged or even heard during the last hundred years. As for Serrana, it is incontestably – notwithstanding its slight technical weaknesses – an opera that works and is capable of moving us just as it did a hundred years ago.
This disc illustrates a better known facet of the somewhat restrained late Romantic that was Alfredo Keil, with songs and piano pieces that belong to a practice of performing salon music that came to an end with the arrival of the 20th century. Even if it is not to these that Keil owes his importance to Portuguese music, they certainly evoke a discreet charm of a different era, as a fine, artistic sociological document. They offer no more than a dim reflection of Keil’s artistic career. The songs using French poems and style, as well as the piano pieces, are early works, while “Fado” and the three popularly inspired Portuguese songs are late, exploring a more personal indigenous style and sensibility.
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Born in Lisbon on 3 July 1850, Alfredo Keil was of German ancestry on his father’s side and Alsatian on his mother’s. (2) His father, João Cristiano (Johann Christian) Keil, settled here in 1838 as a tailor and could count the King among his clients; his mother, Maria Josefina Stellpflug, belonged to a family resident in Portugal since the late eighteenth century.
While still a child, Alfredo Keil visited various countries with his parents, showing a precocious interest in painting and music. During his adolescence he dedicated himself particularly to the former, his drawing teacher being Joaquim Prieto. At 12 he composed and published his Op. 1 for piano (Pensée Musicale).
In 1868, not yet 18 years old, he went to Bavaria to study in Munich and Nuremberg, where his teachers at the Academy of Fine Arts were Kaulbach and Keeling. He sent his first paintings from there for an exhibition of the Sociedade Promotora das Belas Artes (Society for the Promotion of the Fine Arts).
In 1870 the Franco-Prussian War forced him to return to Portugal, where he continued to study painting under Prieto and Miguel Lupi. He was awarded a prize by the Sociedade Promotora in 1874 and 1876, also competing in and receiving awards from a number of international exhibitions.
Meanwhile he was gaining popularity in elegant salons as a composer of waltzes and polkas. In the area of music, his teachers were the Hungarian Oscar de Ia Cinna (piano) and The Portuguese Ernesto Vieira (harmony) and António Soares (rudiments).
In 1883 his one-act comic opera Susana was performed at the Teatro da Trindade, to a text by Higino Mendonça. On 10 June the following year, in the aftermath of the Camões tercentenary (1880), his cantata Patrie was performed in the old Whitoyne Coliseum, under the direction of Filipe Duarte. 1885 and 1886 respectively saw the premieres of his symphonic poem Uma Caçada na Corte and the cantata As Orientais, given by the Academia dos Amadores de Música at the Trindade Hall. But this was also a period of great activity as a painter, from when most of his small paintings of Colares date.
Dona Branca, his “Dramme lyrique” in a prologue and four acts was premiered at the Teatro de São Carlos on 10 March 1888 and was his first important work. To a libretto by César Fereal, based on the poem of the same name by Almeida Garrett, it was enormously successful, being performed thirty times there before going on to the Teatro Lírico at Rio de Janeiro.
Two years later, the British Ultimatum set into motion a massive wave of patriotic fervour. Encapsulating the feelings of the nation, Alfredo Keil composed the march A Portuguesa, to which Henrique Lopes de Mendonça added lyrics that rapidly came to be sung all over the country it was to the sound of A Portuguesa that the Republican Revolution broke out in Oporto on 31 January 1891, leading to the 20¬ year prohibition of public singing of this march. Taken up once more by the people at the time of the revolution of 5 October 1910, it was finally adopted by the Republic as its National Anthem – a destiny never foreseen by the monarchist Alfredo Keil, who had meanwhile passed away.
Returning to 1890, this was the year in which the Teatro Nacional Dona Maria II first put on the historical tragedy A Morta by Henrique Lopes de Mendonça for which Keil composed incidental music. In the same year he held an exhibition where he sold about 300 paintings. One of the purchasers was King Luís, who had asked Alfredo Keil in 1886 to compose a cantata to celebrate the marriage of Prince Carlos to Princess Amélia of Orleans, thus giving birth to O Poema da Primavera (only performed posthumously in 1930). It was to King Luís that the composer dedicated the score of Dona Branca, published in Paris.
The four-act “Leggenda mistica” Irene was first performed at the Teatro Regio, Turin, on 20 March 1893. Also to words by César Fereal, it was published two years later in Leipzig and staged at the São Carlos in 1896.
At about this time Keil completed A Serrana, to a libretto by Henrique Lopes de Mendonça, based on the tale Como ela o amava (“How she loved him”) by Camilo Castelo Branco. The premier took place at the São Carlos on 13 March 1899. A reduction for voices and piano was published in Rio de Janeiro by a huge group of admirers (rather as happened with the Symphony “A Pátria” (‘The Fatherland”) by Viana da Mota), with illustrations by Roque Gameiro, Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro and others.
Throughout this period Aldredo Keil continued to devote himself to painting. In the last years of his life he particularly devoted his attention to his collections of works of art, especially to his famous collection of musical instruments. This came to include as many as 400 different items and now forms part of the collection of the Museu de Música in Lisbon. His valuable collection of paintings included a Goya, a Luca Giordano, a Bruegel and numerous Portuguese old masters. His magnificent library included a number of rare works, including manuscripts, some with illuminations. He himself published the volumes Breve Notícia da Colecção Keil – Instrumentos de música (1904) and Colecções e Museus de Arte de Lisboa (1905).
Alfredo Keil was a man who gained the affection and appreciation of institutions and ordinary people alike. Called upon by all walks of life in the country, this universality led to the composition of a number of occasional works, such as the Hino do Infante Dom Henrique and the Marcha de Gualdim Pais. The lyrical symphonic poem A Índia (originally intended as an opera, which was never completed) was commissioned by the Geographical Society, to signal the quatercentenary of Vasco da Gama’s discovery of India in 1898 (its demise was due to lack of funding).
At the time of his premature death on 4 October 1907, Alfredo Keil left an unpublished book of verse, drawings and songs, all of which he had produced himself, published a year later as Tojos e Rosmaninhos (“Gorse and Rosemary”). Otherwise among his musical works, he left sketches for another opera, Simão, o Ruivo, and an enormous number of small vocal and instrumental pieces.
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Among the works included on this disc, dating from prior to the opera D. Branca, the Six Mélodies, to a poem by Sully Prudhomme and J. T Saint Germain, were published in Paris Choudens Père & Fils. The rest were published in Lisbon by Augusto Neuparth: Murmures, Jeunesse and Autrefois belong to the album Douze Mélodies, Op. 9, dedicated “à Sa Majesté Le Roi D. Louis ler; Souvenances, Serments d’Amour and Chimère are taken from the volume Impressions Poétiques, Op. 12, dedicated “à S. M. La Reine de Espagne Marie Christine”, Beauté, Op. 15, is from the volume Folhas de Album, dedicated “a Amélia, Duquesa de Bragança”.
Um Fado, Op. 75, N° 12, dates from 1902 and was published posthumously by J. Heliodoro d’Oliveira. Cantiga de Cego, Sacrilégio and Promessas form par: of tine volume Tojos e Rosmaninhos, also published posthumously by the firm Editora.
(1) Apart, alas, from the last 20 years. Having been systematically staged for some seven decades, it has not been revived since 1979.
(2) The principal sources consulted for [his biographical note are: his obituary, included in N° 212 of the magazine A Arte Musical (15 October 1907); issue N° 88 of the periodical Vértice, which marked the centenary of Keil’s birth with a series of articles (December 1950); the entry given over to Keil in the Dicionário de Música by Fernando Lopes-Graça and Tomás Borba. Even more than is usual for Portuguese composers, Alfredo Keil suffers from a total lack of literature dedicated to him.
ANA FERRAZ (Soprano)
She studied Singing at the Conservatório Nacional, Lisbon, with Hugo Casaes and Elsa Saque, and at the Escola Superior de Música, Lisbon, with Helena Pina Manique. With awards from the Centro Nacional de Cultura, the British Council and the Fundação Oriente, she went on to study singing in Florence and Barcelona with Gino Bechi, Magda Olivero and Paul von Schilavski, and stage performance at the “Mayer-Lismann Opera Centre” in London.
She has won prizes at various national singing competitions and at the International Francisco Viñas Competition (Barcelona), where she won a Katia Ricciarelli scholarship to study in Italy.
She made her debut at the Teatro Nacional de São Carlos, Lisbon, in November 1991 in the opera Amor de Perdição, by António Emiliano, which was also performed at the Théâtre La Monnaie, Brussels, as part of the 1991 Europalia Festival. She subsequently performed in La Spinalba, As Damas Trocadas, Guillaume Tell, Gianni Schicchi and Don Giovanni. She sang as a soloist in the same theatre’s Salão Nobre in the series “Young Soloist Recitals” and in the concert given as a homage to António Fragoso. She was also a member of the cast of the Portuguese version of Benjamin Britten’s opera The Little Sweep, and in late 1997 took part in Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd at the Teatro Nacional Dona Maria lI, under the direction of João Paulo Santos.
In the 100-day Festival (1998), she sang in Don Giovanni, performed at the Belém Cultural Centre. She is a regular performer with the group ópera de Câmara do Real Theatro de Queluz.
In concert she has worked with the Oporto Classical Orchestra, the Lisbon Metropolitan Orchestra, the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and the Lithuania Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Mark Stevenson, Ki-Sun-Sung, Meir Minsky, Ketil Haugsand, Vladimir Ziva, Manuel Ivo Cruz and Jorge Matta.
She has sung at the principal music festivais in Portugal, as a performer of Lieder, opera and oratorio.
She has recorded a number of CDS for Polygram, Movieplay and EMI Classics and made several recordings for Portuguese National Television (RTP) and Radio (RDP).
Gabriela Canavilhas, an Azorean descent, started her musical studies at the Ponta Delgada Conservatoire (S. Miguel, Azores), and finished her Piano Course at the Lisbon National Conservatoire.
She obtained a Diploma of Honour in Chamber Music at the famous Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Siena, Italy. In 1989, she was awarded First Prize in Classical Music in the national contest Cultura e Desenvolvimento, promoted by the “Clube Português de Artes e Ideias”. In 1990, she was awarded First Prize in Duo Piano/Clarinet, in the V International Contest “Città di Moncalieri” in Turim, Italy.
As a performing pianist, she has opted mainly for chamber music. She is also interested in vocal music, Lied, chamber song and choral music, and has performed with countless singers and several choral formations.
The promotion of chamber and contemporary music is one of her major objectives, and her work is today regarded in Portugal as an important reference as far as Portuguese music and contemporary music are concerned.
She devotes special attention to Portuguese music, having played the first performance in the 20th century of the Quintet in D Major by João Domingos Bomtempo, as well as first performances of works dedicated to her by contemporary Portuguese composers. She has also recorded on CD several works by contemporary Portuguese composers.
She has frequently recorded for RDP (National Radio Broadcasting) and RTP (National Television). She has also recorded a CD for the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda with musical works belonging to lhe archives of the palace, music for Clarinet and Piano for Ovação editions, “Evocação” and “Vocalizos” (Movieplay-Classic) with 20th century’s Portuguese music and for Strauss Portugalsom one CD with J. Domingos Bomtempo’s Piano Sonatas.
Gabriela Canavilhas is presently the Portuguese Minister of Culture