AUGUST 2019 | Nella Maissa and the Recovery of João Domingos Bomtempo on Record by Tiago Manuel da Hora

AUGUST 2019 | Nella Maissa and the Recovery of João Domingos Bomtempo on Record by Tiago Manuel da Hora

João Domingos Bomtempo (1775-1842), is nowadays commonly appreciated as one of the most important Portuguese composers of all time with a prominent place in the canon of the Portuguese piano repertoire. His music is a great example of the importance that recordings have for the dissemination of the musical heritage and as a medium that put music into everyday life and everywhere without the need of attending a concert. This is a phenomenon that spread in the mid-1970s as musicologist Timothy Day points out: “even those music-lovers who frequently attended concerts [...] usually listened to much more music through recordings than they experienced in live performances”.(*1)

The rediscovery of Bomtempo's piano music by musicians and audiences was largely due to the efforts of by the Italian pianist Nella Maissa (1914-2014), through the pioneering recordings she carried out in the early 1980s. Maissa’s interest in Bomtempo’s music began a decade before, as she recalled in 2004 in an interview for a Portuguese radio program, Ritornello (Antena 2): In 1970 I was in London and he [Jean-Paul Sarraute] (*2) told me: “Nella, you have to prepared yourself for Bomtempo’s centenary in 1975.” I asked: “Who is Bomtempo? I don’t have any idea...!” But he insisted [...]. I made a first recording in LP vinyl and then I did another set of recordings, but it was a work that took years" (*3).

Between 1980 and 1982 there were released a series of 6 LPs of Nella Maissa’s recordings dedicated to Bomtempo’s piano music, a pioneering project without precedent in the Portuguese discography, published by the national label, Discoteca Básica Nacional (National Essential Discography)(*4). Those 6 volumes were recorded and produced by Valentim de Carvalho/His Master’s Voice (HMV) the leading record label in Portugal in the last three decades of the 20th century. The first recordings took place in 1978 by one of the most important and pioneering figures in sound engineering in Portugal, Hugo Ribeiro (1925-2016) who was former engineer for Valentim de Carvalho (assisted by José de Carvalho (1936-2013) in several records). The producer in charge was Joaquim Simões da Hora (1941-1996) - classical producer of Valentim de Carvalho/HMV between 1974 and 1985 - and the liner notes of all the 6 volumes were written by musicologist Filipe de Sousa (1927-2006).

In the Discoteca Básica Nacional/PortugalSom catalogue, with more than 100 titles, these recordings by Nella Maissa are an unquestionable milestone of the Portuguese discography with a huge impact in several fields: the promotion of unknown repertoire; the validation of J. D. Bomtempo output as one of the most valuable in Portuguese musical heritage of the 18th century; an ambitious project from the editorial point of view; an important contribution for the growth of Portuguese music on record; the consolidation of Nella Maissa as one of the key figures of Portuguese piano music performance of the 20th century.

The Italian pianist based in Portugal recorded a vast discography, relevant in the impulse that it gave to the dissemination of the Portuguese piano repertoire, greatly enriching Portuguese music available on record. In fact, the discography of Portuguese piano music that had been produced until then was very scarce, with a few editions dedicated to Fernando Lopes-Graça's music, as well as 2 LPs that Nella Maissa herself had recorded for Tecla - a record label founded and directed by Jorge Costa Pinto in the 1970s - with music by Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955), Armando José Fernandes (1906-1983), Lopes-Graça (1906-1994) and Jorge Croner de Vasconcellos (1910-1974). In addition to these recordings, and up to the development of the Bomtempo 6 LP project, the titles of records of Portuguese piano repertoire can be counted by the fingers of one hand.

In this series, Bomtempo: Obras para Piano, we find Nella Maissa in full maturity. Five of the 6 volumes are dedicated to the piano sonatas - Op.1 (6th volume), Op. 9 (5th volume), Op.15 (2nd volume), Op.18 (1st volume) and Op.20 (4th volume) - as the third volume has a different character, with Caprice and Variations on "God Save the King", Op. 8, Introduction, Variations and Fantasy on an aria from Paisiello, Op.6, and the Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 9 no. 3, with violinist Leonor de Sousa Prado (1917-2007).

The set of three Piano Sonatas Op.18 that fulfill the program of the first volume were recorded at the same time by German pianist Arno Leicht, in 1979, with theThe set of three Piano Sonatas Op.18 that fulfill the program of the first volume were recorded at the same time by German pianist Arno Leicht, in 1979, with the same production team (Joaquim Simões da Hora and Hugo Ribeiro), and released in 1981 as part of the Lusitana Musica collection, directed by Gerhard Doderer (German organist and musicologist established in Portugal since the 1970s).(*5)

The set of 6 records by Nella Maissa, due to their historical nature, artistic quality and the impact it had, are a reference to the present day. Since their release, over the last four decades Bomtempo's piano music has been the subject of a progressive study, both by musicology research as well as by performance practice, and other recordings have emerged, among which others from the very own Nella Maissa (on several CDs between 1989 and 1997 for Strauss/PortugalSom), Gabriela Canavilhas (Strauss/PortugalSom, 1998), Sofia Lourenço (Numérica, 2003) and more recently Philippe Marques (MPMP, 2014-2019) and Luísa Tender (Grand Piano, 2019) – these recent ones dedicated to the complete piano music and the complete piano sonata, respectively. If it is possible in the present to draw a course of recordings and the circulation of this repertoire, this is essentially due to the pioneering action of Nella Maissa, with the edition of these first recordings around a composer who, until then, "no one played, was completely forgotten..."(*6)

Author's postscript

(*1) DAY, Timothy: A Century of Recorded Music: Listening to Musical History, Yale University Press, 2000, pp. 199.
(*2) Jean-Paul Sarraute (1915-1982) was a French musicologist that dedicated a great part of his career to Portuguese music of the 18th century, responsible for pioneering publications about the most important composers of that period – especially Marcos Portugal and João Domingos Bomtempo – and their works. He and Filipe de Sousa were the editors of Calouste Gulbenkian Foudation’s modern editions of Bomtempo’s piano music in 1980 that are fundamental sources for the performance of his music.
(*3) Glosas, n.º 12, May 2015, Lisboa: Edições MPMP, 2014, pp. 54.
(*4) The Discoteca Básica Nacional was created in 1978 as a department of the Division of Music of the General Directorate of Cultural Affairs of the State Secretariat for Culture. This label was initially dedicated to Portuguese orchestral music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with the aim of promoting the music of Portuguese composers and performers. In the following years the scope of repertoire would extend to practically all the historical periods with recordings made in Portugal and abroad. From 1987 it would be converted into the PortugalSom label. Since the Discoteca Básica Nacional/PortugalSom operated only as a label, the production and edition of the projects was carried out by different companies: Valentim de Carvalho (His Master’s Voice), Imavox, Sassetti, among others. From 1992 the edition, production and distribution of PortugalSom was attributed to an exclusive publisher - first to Strauss and later to Numérica.
(*5) Lusitana Musica consisted of the first collection dedicated to Portuguese music of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, with 12 titles published between 1975 and 1985 in Valentim de Carvalho/HMV catalogue.
(*6) Nella Maissa Interview in Glosas, n.º 12, May 2015, Lisboa: Edições MPMP, 2014, pp. 55.

List of DBN Recordings

Bomtempo: Obras para Piano, Nella Maissa, 1st vol. (Sonatas Op. 18 No’s 1, 2 & 3 & piano piece) His Master’s Voice/Discoteca Básica Nacional, 1980, 8E 051 40 843, LP

Bomtempo: Obras para Piano, Nella Maissa, 2nd vol. (Sonatas Op. 15 No’s 1 & 2 & piano piece) His Master’s Voice/Discoteca Básica Nacional, 1980, 8E 051 40 502, LP

Bomtempo: Obras para Piano, Nella Maissa & Leonor de Sousa Prado, 3rd vol. (Sonata Op. 9 No. 3 for violin and piano & piano piece) His Master’s Voice/Discoteca Básica Nacional, 1980, 8E 051 40 503, LP

Bomtempo: Obras para Piano, Nella Maissa, 4th vol. (Sonata Op. 20 & 12 Etudes Op. 19) His Master’s Voice/Discoteca Básica Nacional, 1982, 11C 051-40589, LP

Bomtempo: Obras para Piano, Nella Maissa, 5th vol. (Sonatas Op. 9 No’s 1 & 2) His Master’s Voice/Discoteca Básica Nacional, 1982, 11C 051-40590, LP

Bomtempo: Obras para Piano, Nella Maissa, 6th vol. (Sonata Op. 1, Fantasia Op. 14 & piano piece) His Master’s Voice/Discoteca Básica Nacional, 1982, 8E 11C 051-40591, LP

About the Author

Tiago Manuel da Hora is a producer and musicologist, researcher of INET-MD of the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of the New University of Lisbon. Author of several book publications, Espólio Manuel Ivo Cruz: Portuguese and Brazilian Music Manuscripts(UCE-Porto, 2013), Joaquim Simões da Hora: Performer, Professor and Producer (Ed. Colibri, 2015) and Fernando Lopes-Graça and Eugénio de Andrade: a dialogue between musica and poetry (Chiado Books, 2018), as well as several articles and chapters in scientific and artistic publications. He regularly participates in national and international conferences about music and musicology. Tiago Hora also regularly writes for various publications in music periodicals, concert programs notes and is author of several texts and arguments for musical shows. This article is part of his ongoing series 'Lusitana Musica'. In 2011 Tiago Hora  founded ARTWAY, being responsible for the artistic production of several concerts and shows, with some of the most prominent Portuguese musicians and artists, in major concert halls and music festivals in Portugal, and also as an intense activity as recording producer. Tiago Hora produced recordings for labels such as Artway Records, Arkhé Music, Portugaler, Grand Piano, Naxos and Toccata Classics.



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