Symphonic rhapsodies and paraphases as tokens of Portuguese musical nationalism

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Amidst the political-motivated movement of “national consciousness” which arose in the fin-de-siècle – profusely fostered since the celebrations, in 1880, of the third century of the death of Camões, the author of the epic poem Lusíadas, and deeply nurtured by the social upsurge against England, which forced the Portuguese Crown, through an ultimatum, in 1890, to discard its pretensions on the African Collonies – the quest to ascertain a “Portuguese music” arose within composers, musicians and critics of Lisbon’s musical milieu. Just after the upgrowth of symphonic concerts within Lisbon’s musical venues, which struggled to impose over a long-termed preference for opera, the attempts for a “Portuguese music”, offered by Lisbon’s composers, was coincidently offered among those artistic genres. In spite of the idiossincrasies of opera and instrumental music, the notions shared by several critics were, mutatis mutandis, much the same and was taken accordingly to the most renowned trends and examples of European “nationalistic schools”, which was by that time included on Lisbon’s concert programming. Focusing on Alfredo Keil’s Dona Branca, Greenfield de Melo (1893) noted that a national opera should grasp not only a Portuguese libretto, wrote by a indigenous authour on national themes, but the Portuguese music, specifically, the popular songs (i.e., folk songs, distinct from the “popularized” themes) – which was recollected since the second quarter of the century – that retained the most “pure” and authentic aspects of “Portuguese music”. Júlio Neuparth also ascertained that the resource to (that “invented”) “tradition” was, due to the “purity” of that ancient and nearly untouched musical legacy, the most promissing method to achieve the “essence” of a Portuguese “nationalistic” compositional school. In what concerns instrumental music, it was indeed Neuparth which credited the successful attemps of a foreign composer, Victor Hussla: although the previous use of folk songs among opera and instrumental music by Portuguese composers, it was the notorious symphonic treatment of those musical materials, whitdrawn from Album de Músicas nacionais portuguesas collected by João António Ribas c. 1857, which made Hussla’s Rhapsodies, op. 9 as a seminal work of “Portuguese music”. It is fair to argue that Neuparth was stating as well, with that specific legitimation, the need to reformulate the far outdated pedagogical methods of the Portuguese institutions. On the following years, Sousa Morais, Filipe da Silva, Júlio Neuparth, António da Costa Ferreira, Ernesto Maia and others chose specific paratactic genres, such as the rhapsodie and paraphrase, to display their symphonic treatment of Portuguese “popular songs”; however, their works never achieved the recognition granted to Hussla’s op. 9: while Hussla’s Rhapsodies are currently accounted for on recent academic studies, the works by his followers – most of them constituted a common corpus exhibited by windbands during the tweentieth-century - remain still unnoticed. The present paper aims to discuss the influence of the ongoing upgrowth of a symphonic culture within Lisbon’s musical praxis in the choice for those paractatic genres and specific compositional strategies to fullfil the need for the characteristics of a “Portuguese music” as well as to address the reception of its tokens on Lisbon’s musical milieu. While the choice for the rhapsodie proceeds, certainly, from obvious sources, such as Liszt’s Rhapsodies Hongroises, Lalo’s Rhapsodie Norvegiénne, among others, the choice for the genre paraphrase is still unclear and requires a thorough study. Current studies have argued that some Portuguese composers, most notably Luís de Freitas Branco, took as methods for their composition the study of the most renowned works of consecrated European composers, most certainly due to the anachronic compositional methods of Portuguese pedagogical institutions. Therefore, it seems to be worth identifying presumable correlations between the symphonic treatment of popular song in some of the works presented in Lisbon at the time and the works of Hussla, Neuparth, Ferreira, Silva and Morais, as an attempt to suffice the lack of their compositional background.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2017
EventRethinking the Dynamics of Musical Nationalism - Universiteit van Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 26 Sep 201729 Sep 2017


ConferenceRethinking the Dynamics of Musical Nationalism


  • Portuguese national music
  • Victor Hussla
  • Júlio Neuparth
  • symphonic rhapsody
  • symphonic paraphrase


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