Dear Maestro Miranda, thank you for your availability for this interview with Mycello.it. Welcome to you on our pages.
Why the profession of a musician? Were there musicians in your family? If so, how much have they influenced your future choices?
First of all, I would like to thank Mycello.it for this opportunity to talk about my music.
I have a family background regarding music. My grandmother was a classical singer (soprano) and she also graduated in the piano course at the Lisbon National Conservatory. My grandfather played the Cello (he also studied at the Conservatory) although he didn’t follow an artistic career. I also had a cousin that was a composition teacher in a US University. I have several good memories from my childhood regarding music so it was a natural step for me to become a musician.
Can we briefly know the period of your training as a musician? Where did you study and with whom?
My initial music training was given by my grandmother. She taught me music theory and piano. Later on, I started to study music at Academia de Amadores de Música, where I had music theory and piano lessons. I studied there for two years and then I was admitted to the Lisbon National Conservatory where I graduated. I was really lucky of having great teachers there that taught me a lot and that passed me their passion for music.
Just to name a few, I studied piano with the pianist António Toscano, music theory with Gabriela Canavilhas, composition with Jorge Machado, and choir singing with conductor and composer Paulo Brandão. I also had private composition lessons with Sérgio Azevedo and orchestration with Paulo Brandão.
When was this awareness of becoming a composer born? Which teacher accompanied you at the beginning and supported this choice?
That’s a good question! Honestly, I don’t know where this passion for composition came from. I remember that in my first piano recital at the Academia de Amadores de Música I asked my teacher if I could play a piece I wrote, it was called Noturno in G minor (unfortunately the manuscript sheet music was lost!). At the Conservatory, I already had a passion for writing music before starting the composition classes and later my composition teacher, Jorge Machado, encouraged me to follow that passion.
Our website is dedicated to the cello: what is your relationship with this instrument? What importance does it have in your compositions?
I can say that the cello is one of my favorite instruments. I think it’s an instrument that has amazing versatility. In an orchestra, the low register can carry very well the harmony and its high register has a lyrical and tremendous carrying power that can really stand out.
A few years ago, I wrote a Romance for Violin, Cello & Orchestra where violin and cello act as soloists and share an interesting dialog in terms of melodic themes. It was a real joy to write this piece.
You are a musician born in Portugal: how much did your thinking about music influence European music (in a general sense) and how much the Portuguese tradition, obviously meaning “fado”?
I need to be honest, I’m not a big fan of Fado! I enjoy listening to it in live performances but I never bought a fado CD or have it in my playlists. It’s almost a shame a Portuguese saying this, but, well…is the truth!
European music, especially in terms of “classical” music, has a strong influence on my work as I studied the scores of European composers like Mahler, R. Strauss, Rossini, Beethoven…
Which Portuguese composers and musicians do you want to remind us? What do they mean to you? But we are also talking about other composers not strictly Portuguese who have influenced your character as a music writer.
We had a few great composers in the past, like João Domingos Bomtempo, Luís de Freitas Branco, José Vianna da Motta, but strangely, when studying composition at the Conservatory, I didn’t have much contact with their music, so I can’t say they had a major influence on me as a composer.
In terms of contemporary music (atonal music, twelve-tone music, etc.) there are some Portuguese composers that had and still have a solid career, but, honestly, is a style of music that I’m not really fond of.
There are Portuguese musicians that are really good, at the piano, Maria João Pires and Artur Pizarro are good examples.
In terms of composers that had, and still have, a big influence on my music I would mainly name Gustav Mahler (I learned a lot with his music, especially about orchestration and harmony), Richard Strauss (another amazing orchestrator and composer), Elgar and Beethoven.
Talking about film music I really like the music of Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Bernard Herrmann, John Barry, James Horner, Hans Zimmer…
What can you tell us about cultured music in Portugal today? Meaning not only classical but also of the popular tradition.
Unfortunately, I would say that classical music is a niche market in Portugal, and, mainly for composers, a very difficult market to enter. However, I think that in the last years we have been experiencing a new interest, especially from younger people, in orchestral music. I believe that this is, in part, due to the fact that younger people are discovering orchestral music by listening to soundtracks and neo-classical composers.
For instance, before the COVID19 pandemic situation, Gulbenkian Orchestra (one of Portugal’s most prestigious orchestras) had in their annual season a concert series dedicated to film music, where the orchestra performed the soundtrack while the movie was being projected. These concerts were a huge success and were always sold out. Also, concerts performed by Ólafur Arnalds and his ensemble were a big success here. So, I believe that these kinds of events are bringing more people to the classical music world.
“Hollywood Suite”: Can you tell us about this symphonic work you wrote and what did it represent for you?
I have always been fond of film music because it brings together two things I really like: music and cinema.
When I was in my last year at the Conservatory, I applied for the film music course at Berklee College of Music. In order to apply for a scholarship, I had to submit a musical work, so, I decided to write the Hollywood Suite. This symphonic work is divided into four movements each one representing a style of music normally associated with movie scenes: Adventure, Romantic, Action, Dramatic. I first wrote it for piano and then orchestrated it. It was a work that gave a tremendous joy to write and granted me a scholarship at Berklee, although I ended up not going there.
“Adagio lamentoso”: the Berliner Soloists brought this piece on their tour. Would you like to describe this adage? Both in your writing and in the emotional and sentimental aspect of listening to it?
The “Adagio”, probably is my favorite work and is dedicated to my favorite composer: Gustav Mahler. With this work, written for string orchestra, I wanted to evoke the slow movements of Mahler’s symphonies. The orchestration, with a lot of divisi, is typical of Mahler, but instead of being just a composition exercise of writing “in Mahler’s style” I wanted to give it my personal touch. I think the Adagio is my intimate and emotional work!
Laurentius Dinca (the first violin from the Berliner Philharmoniker string quintet) asked me if I could write a string quintet version of the Adagio to be performed in their Japan tour. It was a challenge to write a string quintet version and maintain the original emotion of the work, especially because of the divisi sections of the original version, but it gave me enormous pleasure to revisit this work and write this arrangement. The Berliner Soloists performed it beautifully! I think they will be performing the Adagio lamentoso, in 2022, in their Spanish tour.
Now would you talk about some of your other compositions?
I like to write different styles of music; I have compositions written in a film music style (“Hollywood Suite” and “Farewell” are good examples), in a more “classical” style (“Adagio lamentoso”, “Romance for Violin, Cello and Orchestra”, my choral works are also more traditional).
In my album “It may not always be so”, I explored a bit the world of minimal music. This is an album of music inspired by poems written by E. E. Cummings (my favorite poet) and it gave me great satisfaction to write. Only one of the 10 songs of the album is written for string orchestra, the others are written for piano quintet (piano and string quartet) and for piano solo. So, is an album with a very intimate sound, where I tried to describe, through music, the feelings and emotions brought by Cummings’ poems.
“Romance for Violin, Cello and Orchestra” is a piece written in a very “classical” form and style, where the two soloists instruments take the leading role in the piece.
The first time I traveled to Brazil, I was so impressed by the contagious rhythm of their music (especially the Samba) that when I returned to Portugal, I composed the “Brazilian Rhapsody”, a work written for a big symphonic orchestra and with a section of Brazilian percussion. It’s a very joyful piece! I also wrote another piece that evokes those travels to Brazil, a piano solo work named “Memories from Brazil”.
I also like very much to write choral music. For instance, “Libera me” is a cappella piece that was performed by the French choir Maîtrise de Garçons de Colmar when they came to Lisbon for a series of concerts. I have several choral pieces that are still unpublished but are on my future plans to publish and record them.
Do you know Italy? Had our country any influence on your work?
Yes, I have been to Italy (in Rome and Florence) several times and I really love it! I think a composer is frequently influenced by the work of other composers and Italy has a lot of great composers. I studied the works of Rossini, Puccini, Verdi (just to name a few) and they taught me a lot.
How do you compose your music: with pencil and paper or do you use a pc? If in this last way, this tool helps your creativity?
Until two or three years ago, I was writing all my works in the old fashion way, with pencil and paper. Maybe because I have a classical music background, I felt more comfortable composing that way. However, this method consumed me a lot of time, because after composing the piece I would have to input all the notes, instrument by instrument, in a notation software so I could print it and prepare the parts for the players.
Nowadays, the method I use depends on the type of work I’m writing. For piano solo and choral works, I prefer to write at the piano with pencil and paper. For larger ensembles or orchestral works, I prefer to use a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) for composing.
I usually write a sketch in 9 or 10 tracks (this sketch has about 50% of the orchestration done) and after finishing it I start the orchestration part by using a notation software. At the same time, I record the orchestrated parts in the DAW so I can get a mockup of the final result.
Regarding the creativity question, I would say that both methods have advantages and disadvantages. Composing with a DAW gives me the opportunity to experiment with new sounds and the ability to have on my fingers an orchestra, but, sometimes, I find myself trying a lot of stuff that makes me lose precious time. When composing at the piano, with pencil and paper, I’m only focused on the piano but that can also limit the sound pallet that I’m searching for.
Do you know the cellist Guilhermina Suggia? What is your opinion about this important cellist, a prominent figure in the international music of the period?
I remember once, in a class of Music History at the Conservatory, her name being mentioned as one of the greatest cellists of her time. I read that Suggia and Pablo Casals (with whom she studied) were considered the best cellists in their time. That’s quite an achievement! Unfortunately, there are almost no recordings of her playing and maybe because of it most of the Portuguese people (including me!) don´t know much about her work.
Only if is it possible: what are you working on now and what are your future plans as a composer?
Right now, I’m finishing the orchestration of a 13-minute-long symphonic piece that will be part of my new album. This album will be more diverse in terms of instrumentation than the previous one, since it will also have pieces written for orchestra, besides piano and piano quintet. I was planning to release the album at the end of this year but, meanwhile, I started writing the soundtrack for a film. The film director, Miguel Gaudêncio, asked me for a purely orchestral score, featuring also a choir, so, it’s giving me a great pleasure to write.
The film is set to be premiered in December 2022. Let’s see if the shootings will not suffer more delays caused by the pandemic situation!
I also would like to have time to finish a string quartet that I started to write some time ago (the first and second movements are already finished).
Dear Maestro Bruno Miranda, a heartfelt thanks for your availability for this interview. I wish you a future full of professional successes but also for all other aspects of your life.
Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my music! It was a real pleasure!
2021 will be in Italy and in the world the year of Dante’s celebrations: occur in fact, the seven hundred years since the death of the great poet. On the occasion of these celebrations, initiatives are planned throughout the peninsula and obviously, in particular, in the city of Florence (at the Uffizi, the Galilei Museum, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Theater, the National Theater of Tuscany, the University of Florence, the Dante Society, the State Archives, the Institute of Renaissance Studies, the Casa di Dante Museum , the Casa Buonarroti Museum.) and, of course, in Ravenna (where is born the Ravenna Project for Dante joining the Dante Alighieri Society, the Classense Library Institution, the City Art Museum Institution, the Cassa di Risparmio Foundation adhere, the Accademia della Crusca, the Dante Center of the Friars Minor, the University of Bologna, the RavennAntica Foundation, the Dante in Rete Association, the Born to Read Association). Furthermore, in many other cities around the world, people are preparing to celebrate this anniversary. Also www.mycello.it wants to remember this anniversary by proposing an article dedicated to the recent composition “Canto V” by Maestro Francesco Tanzi, who, with the Quartetto Zuena and with this piece, recently won the 2021 edition of the Loiacono Prize. “Canto V” is inspired by Dante’s Canto V of Inferno and represents a heartfelt transposition of the poem into music. We propose the presentation of this musical-literary path written by the author himself.
Canto V by Francesco Tanzi was born with the primary objective of creating a celebration of the great Italian poet 700 years after his death. Dante Alighieri’s work is still today the most lucid snapshot of a remote time in which the foundations of the culture, identity, and language of our country were laid, as well as one of the highest examples of stylistic elegance, edgy satire, and narrative architecture. And it is precisely this narrative and scenographic aspect that Tanzi tries to translate into musical notation, creating a piece that holds together the homage to the composers who have made Dante characters the protagonists of their works and the ambition of a performance with a representative and informative.
The first compositional choice in this direction is to associate a character from Canto V of the Divine Comedy with each of the four cellos of the ensemble. Thus the fourth cello musically interprets the character of Minòs, the third cello Virgilio, the second Dante, and the first Francesca. Therefore, there is no hierarchical structure between the four instruments, but each becomes the protagonist according to the episode represented. A second element can be identified in the structure of the composition: Canto V is a durchkomponiert piece in which a more linear form is preferred to a “strophic” form that allows to better adapt the flow of music to the fluidity of Dante’s triplets. A general identity of the piece is however guaranteed by the repetition of thematic elements characterizing the individual characters. The last element to consider is that of strict adherence to the text of the Comedy. The piece, in fact, not only carefully follows the alternation of the scenes in the Canto, but adheres completely to Dante’s hendecasyllables, even making the cellos spell single rhymes. In other words, the verses do not constitute the pretext, but the mere text of the music, almost like a libretto.
The first 5 measures of the piece correspond to the first triplet of the Canto. The “Thus descended into the first circle” is narrated by the second cello which with a chromatic trend in triplets – characteristic of the cello-Dante for the entire duration of the piece – descends towards a C # minor chord. Thus appears the growl of Minòs and his girding “with his tail as many times / however degrees he wants [the ill-born soul] to be put down” is represented by the cello fourth with groups of a variable number of strung and accented fourths. In measures 9-17, the souls that “go each other” appear in a canon involving the first three instruments. Minòs (vlc. IV) notes Dante and Virgil (bb. 17-24) and breaks into a scenographic recitative with a sinister and inquisitive character. The response of the third cello in the next nine measures is, on the contrary, noble and solemn, and his “Why while crying?” is rendered in music with a cantabile in E flat major.
This is followed by the episode of the “infernal storm” (bb. 41-106) heralded by the “painful notes” and the “mugghia [re]” of the cave in which the protagonists appear. The section proposes the theme of the ill-born souls encountered at the beginning, which is varied and modified due to the fact that the same souls are overwhelmed and fought “by contrary winds”. In measures 109-111 Dante (vlc. II) questions his teacher by asking: “who are those / people who are chastised by the black aura?.. Virgil’s answer (vlc III) is an explicit homage to the international opera repertoire that has somehow drawn from the Comedy. In fact, each of the characters indicated by the Latin poet corresponds to a fragment taken from a work in which he is the protagonist. Thus appears an incision from the Overture of Rossini’s Semiramide, a cantabile from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and a fragment for Cleopatra from Handel’s Julius Caesar in Egypt. For Elena, it was drawn from Cavalli’s opera of the same name, for Achille from the melodrama of Paër, and for Paris from Paride and Elena by Gluck. The quotation of the Tristan agreement from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is also a must.
Measures 141-167 stage the dialogue between Dante and Virgil on the identity of “those two who go together”. The theme of the third cello previously encountered is proposed again, however, transposed into D major in order to prepare Francesca’s debut (vlc. I) at bar 168. This character bursts with an “affectionate cry”, musically realized with a harmony of a major seventh in a broad yet sweet gesture. This is followed by the declamation of cello I which culminates in the cantabile of b. 198: a passionate air on Dante’s famous climax of the three “Amor”. The piece ends with the second cello falling “as a dead body falls”, which rests on the low F on the fourth string after a series of descending chromatic triplets.
A final consideration related to the performance of the piece. In fact, Tanzi’s Canto V is not reduced to the simple instrumental realization of the notes in the score but is conceived to be part of a broader performance, which includes both the recitation of Dante’s verses, as well as the projection of images linked to the episode narrated (think of Blake’s engravings or Dali’s works). In this way, the user can “immerse himself” in the infernal scene thanks to a synaesthetic description of the events and characters. Following these indications, Canto V can become a contribution to the memory of the Florentine poet and his work, as well as an informative and educational tool that can be proposed both in concert halls and in educational and school contexts.