Artist: Coro de Câmara de Lisboa
Composer: Marcos Portugal
Marcos Portugal was the most famous Luso-Brazilian composer ever. In Europe his notoriety was mainly due to the dramatic works, and particularly due to the opere buffe. In Portugal and Brazil, however, his sacred music, of which we know more than 130 works, exerted an influence (still to ascertain in its entirety) that lasted for more than 100 years. Three of the most paradigmatic 19th century works were written by Marcos Portugal and remained in the churches’ repertoire until the beginning of the 20th century: the Great Mass in E b major (c.1782-90) [P 01.09],* the Te Deum in D major (1802) [P 04.08],* and the Matins of Our Lady of Conception in C major (1802) [P 03.05].*
Despite this evidence, the composer’s music is almost entirely unknown, a fact expressed in the lack of editions and in the rarity of recordings of integral works.
Marcos António Portugal was born on the 24th of March 1762 in the parish of S. Isabel in Lisbon. He was the grandson of Joaquim Mendes Ferreira, musician at Freixial, and the son of Manuel António da Assumpção or Ascensão, musician of the Santa Igreja Patriarcal (Patriarchal Holy Church). He was admitted to the Seminário da Patriarcal in 1771, a music school founded by D. João V in 1713 responsible for the training of almost all of the best Portuguese musicians of the 18th and early 19th centuries. His first works – including a Miserere from 1776 – date from such time when Marcos António was an intern student there. His music teachers at the Seminário were João de Sousa Carvalho and, most likely, José Joaquim dos Santos and Father Nicolau Ribeiro Passo Vedro.
In 1780, the 18 year old youngster started writing new music for the Patriarchal Church’s liturgical functions, and was later hired by the same institution as organist and composer. Before eventually being admitted to the Irmandade de S. Cecília (the musicians’ guild) on the 23rd of July 1783, Marcos António (the variant of his name he used at the time) composed several psalms, two antiphons, and at least one Te Deum. The widespread recognition of his talent soon reached the Royal Family and, on the 4th of December 1782, the Queen D. Maria I commissioned a mass com instrumental (with orchestra) for S. Bárbara’s feast, usually celebrated with solemnity and devotion at the Royal Queluz Palace. This occasion was of the utmost importance since it marked the beginning of a closer collaboration between Marcos Portugal and the Royal Family, and particularly Prince D. João (later King João VI), a relationship that would condition the rest of his professional life, and even influence his style.
Until 1792 his compositional activity was centered in the religious ceremonies taking place at the Patriarchal Church and Queluz, slowing down from 1785, when he also turned to composing royal birthday odes, entremezes, and Portuguese operas for the Teatro do Salitre. In the second half of the 1780’s he switched to another variant of his name, Marcos António da Fonseca Portugal (Fonseca Portugal being his mother’s surnames), and using the titles “Music Master of the Teatro do Salitre”, and “organist and composer of the Patriarchal Holy Church”.
His stay in Italy lasted from 1792 to 1800, with a brief sojourn in Portugal from mid 1794 until July 1795. In that country he premiered at least 21 operas, a surprisingly high number for a period of only six and a half years. This production illustrates the creative ability and extraordinary working capacity of Marco Portogallo (name by which he became known internationally). Manoel d’ Almeida Carvalhaes painstakingly describes the phenomenon of the premieres and dissemination of the composer’s operas in the indispensable work Marcos Portugal na sua música dramática: between 1793 and the second decade of the 19th century there were about 400 premieres and staged productions (implying thousands of performances) in more than 100 cities, including Lisbon, Vienna, Paris, London, Saint Petersburg and Rio de Janeiro. This unprecedented success was mainly due to the comic genre.
Back to Lisbon in 1800, the fame of the “Great Marcos” was at its peak, and he was offered two of the most significant music positions in the Kingdom: Music Master at the Seminário da Patriarcal (ceasing the function as organist at the Patriarchal Church), and Maestro at the Real Teatro de São Carlos (São Carlos Royal Theatre). A few years later he would also become Music Master of the Infantes Maria Isabel (born 1797), Pedro (born 1798), Maria Francisca (born 1800) and Isabel Maria (born 1801). These appointments attest the trust and admiration of the Prince Regent D. João for Marcos Portugal and his work.
During this period the focus of his activity were the opere serie for the Teatro de São Carlos (10 of them with roles created for the prima donna Angelica Catalani), as well as sacred music for Queluz (the habitual royal domicile) and the Basilica of Mafra’s Convent, where D. João took up residence after the aborted Autumn 1805 coup, and where he stayed until departing for Brazil. The repertoire for Mafra is particular since it is destined for the set of 6 organs and the voices of the monks.
Marcos Portugal was not among those who departed with the Portuguese Court on the 29th of November 1807, just before the arrival in Lisbon of Junot’s troops; however, after urgently being called by the Prince Regent to “go and serve Him in [Rio de Janeiro’s] Court”, he arrived in June 1811. The strategy and motives of the Monarch, and the role he had reserved for Marcos, besides that of music master to his son and daughters, was more comprehensive, as can be inferred from the letter the composer received less than 4 months after his arrival:
[…] It being required by decorum and decency, that the Pieces of Music, that are to be staged at the Public Theatres of this Court on the days that the Prince Regent Our Lord honours us with His presence, should be executed with the regularity, and good order, that are indispensable on these occasions, and there being united in Your Person all the circumstances of intelligence and worth needed to regulate and conduct such Spectacles properly: It pleases Him to charge you with overseeing and directing them. […]
The signalled nuance is revealing: the ceremonies attended by the Prince Regent were “different”, of another level of importance. This applied not only to the Public Theatres, but also to the Royal Chapel. Furthermore, a mise en scène is implied on all the public appearances of His Royal Highness. In the mind of D. João, the style of music that Marcos Portugal had, for years, been developing to potentiate the staging of Royal Power, was one of its essential ingredients. The composer not only wrote and chose the music, but made sure everything ran smoothly and in “good order”. In the widest sense his function was that of a “Director of Court Music”.
The virtuosic and dramatic music provided by Marcos enhanced the technical and expressive capacities of the soloists and, particularly, of the castrati, since he wrote for the individual idiosyncrasies of each singer. It is clear that the talents of the Italian castrati and the aesthetic they represented were an important part of the spectacle of exhibition of Royal Power: His Majesty was prepared to pay 100$000 reis per month, exactly double the Chapel Master’s salary, Father José Maurício Nunes Garcia, and double the salary of Marcos Portugal! Their participation in the two events with the greatest sociopolitical repercussions whilst the Portuguese Court remained in Rio de Janeiro was certainly decisive: the marriage of Prince Pedro and the Archduchess Leopoldina on the 7th of November 1817, and the Acclamation of King João VI, which took place on the 6th of February 1818.
The music situation at the Royal Chapel was radically altered with the return of the Court to Portugal and with Brazil’s independence in 1822. Not only some of the musicians working for the King of Portugal crossed the Atlantic (but not the castrati), but the financial difficulties originated increasing budget cuts, resulting in the diminution of gala ceremonies and in the degradation of the quality of the music performed in the Imperial Chapel.
Marcos Portugal, whose salary remained intact, decided to stay in Rio de Janeiro serving the new Emperor. From de 1st of January 1825, he was also appointed Music Master of the Imperial Princesses, the daughters of D. Pedro, D. Maria da Glória and D. Januária Maria. After remaining loyal to D. Maria I and D. João VI for 40 years, Marcos António Portugal dedicated the last 9 years of his life to the Emperor of Brazil, D. Pedro I, without the former glory, it is true, but apparently as esteemed by the son (his dedicated pupil) as he had been by the father.
According to Article 6. § 4º of the first Brazilian Constitution (1824), he became a Brazilian citizen. Marcos also wrote an Anthem for the Independence of Brazil (1822) sung during the 7th of September celebrations for several decades.
He died of a third apoplectic attack on the 17th of February 1830.
The Missa Grande [Great Mass] (c.1782-1790) is one of Marcos Portugal’s three sacred works that reached a remarkable geographical dissemination, as well as a constancy of liturgical usage lasting until the beginning of the 20th century. From the middle of the 19th century it became known as Missa Grande, possibly by virtue of the long Domine Deus, a sextet for 2 sopranos, alto, tenor and 2 basses. Its importance, influence and paradigmatic character are expressed not only in the large number of versions (15 were found so far), authored by Portuguese composers (among them António da Silva Leite, Eleutério Franco Leal and Mathias Jacob Osternold), but also in the noteworthy number of extant copies – 80 in total – found in public and private Portuguese and Brazilian archives. The successive adaptations attest to the functional characteristics of this music, and reveal some of the compositional and performance practices of the period.
The work predates the Italian period and was probably the result of a royal commission. It is a beautiful example of the concertato style (in which the choir and soloists alternate and dialogue), and reveals an inventive and mature composer. The sextet Domine Deus, the duet for 2 sopranos Quoniam tu solus, and the Crucifixus, are among the more inspired pages. Prominence should also be given to the Christe and the [Cum Sancto Spiritu] in gloria Dei Patris, two long fugati modeled in the works of the Neapolitan Davide Perez (1711-1778), active in the Portuguese Royal Chapel from 1752 until his death, and João de Sousa Carvalho (1745-1798), Perez’s successor and the music teacher of Marcos Portugal.
The version recorded here by the Lisbon Chamber Choir, scored for soloists, mixed choir and basso continuo (thoroughbass), was written by the composer and should date from c.1782-1792 [P 01.09, V2];** the original version is for orchestra. It is the world premiere recording of the work.
ANTÓNIO JORGE MARQUES
* Numbering refers to the entries of the Thematic Catalogue of the Sacred Works of Marcos Portugal. P = Portugal.
** V2 refers to the work’s second version.