Canto de Amore e de Morte: Introduction and Essay in Morphological Interpretation

Jorge Peixinho

for Maria de Graça Amanda da Cunha

An analysis is a creative act which, via the evaluation and interpretation of its fundamental structures and principles of organization, should ultimately open into a revelation of the work of art in all the multi-dimensionality of its meanings . An analysis will certainly always reflect a particular vision of the work of art, a window onto a cultural context and esthetic problem of the time or generation; it cannot aspire to an exhaustive exploration of the mythical universe of the work, but at least, to an exposure of its most significant aspects and to the conquest of a new "space" of intelligibility.

I have deliberately used the word "opening" in the sense that it touches (implicitly) on the concept of the "opening up of the work of art" in the broadest sense, and to allude also to the kaleidoscopic plurality of perspectives which a work can reveal to its appreciator or interpreter. So the esthetic concept of "opening" is, already in itself, a primary and ultimate justification of the legitimacy of an analytical criterion.

An analysis can reveal in a work, certain characteristics of the creative process which will have gone unnoticed to its creator, but which exist as unremovable and irreplaceable objects in the work - contributing to its inner richness, to its "contents"; in fact, a work, upon creation, disconnects itself from its creator and acquires a life which is dependent exclusively on the qualities of its organism. In the ultimate analysis, the author is the medium responsible for this unconscious creative phenomena, once - following the conception and construction of a rigorous and coherent principle of organization - he imparts to it a unique power of auto-germination which is immediately reflected in a larger opening of the esthetic field of communication of the work.

In 1961 Fernando Lopes Graça concluded the chamber version of Canto de Amor e de Morte (for two violins, viola, 'cello and piano), a work which came to constitute in some way, a pinnacle in his creative evolution and in the entire period of Portuguese music. Such an affirmation might appear pretentious to the extent that to which the historical lapse has been minimal (if at all) and the creative activity of Lopes Graça has not ended but I will attempt to give a brief explanation of this.

I have just used the the word "pinnacle" not arbitrarily as a simple allegory, but symbolically in terms of its notable ambiguity. Hence a pinnacle is simultaneously the culminating point, the highest point, and also the finishing touch, the "seal" of a particular architectural construction. The Canto de Amore e de Morte is in fact, a "pinnacle" in Portuguese music: the final point of a dialectic between diatonicism and cromaticism, yet resolved in the scope of a tonal context brought to its ultimate consequences and in the very dramatization of the impossibility of "synthesis" which only a new organization of the tonal space could attain. However, at the same time, it is the most consequential and coherent work in the relation of its diverse levels of organization which Portuguese music, in all truth will ever attain.

Examples 1 and 2: Canto de Amore e de Morte, Successive Versions of First Melodic Phrase of "A." and Canto de Amore e de Morte, Comparison of Points of Articulation, mm. 14 et. seq. mm 49 et seq.

Upon first approaching the Canto de Amor e de Morte an extreme economy of materials becomes evident, reducible to a restricted nucleus of generative cells. The prevalent context within which the work is integrated is in no way responsible or "informative"; it is not possible to speak of hierarchically defined tonal functions and much less of keys, but rather of virtual centers of tonal polarization. The dialectic between diatonicism and cromaticisim is, consequently, resolved not in a restricted system of tonal hierarchy, but in a systematic process of coherent and unifying intervallic organization.

All of the intervals assume specific constructive functions throughout the work but two of them can be considered as basic and generative: the minor third and the major third; to which should be added the organizational importance of the minor second, an interval of combination, and also the major second which performs a joining function which could be termed "interstitial."

The structural and organizational behavior of the intervals does not circumscribe the formation of melodic motives and of component cells, but embraces the entire morphological organization of the language at diverse levels, from the articulation of melodic phrases to the relations between the significant divisions of sections, to the articulation of the global form.

If the successive versions of the first melodic phrase of section A are analyzed, it can be seen that the interval of the Major third functions as a constant in the macro-structural relation between the points of articulation of the phrase (see Example 1 opposite). In the following example (see example 2 above) I present a more subtle relation between points of articulation in different parts of the work (measure 14 and following, and measure 49 and following.)

Example 3 is another example of intervallic identity in the organization of the points of articulation between a thematic motive (measures 72-77) and a continuous design (measures 32 and following minor third plus perfect fourth):

Example 3: Canto de Amore e de Morte, Intervallic Organization of a Thematic Motive (mm. 72-74) and a Continuous Design (mm. 32 et seq.)

This close relation is indicated in Example 4 between consecutive notes of a secondary design (measure 77) and the points of articulation of a thematic motive (measure 80 and following); this close relation is indicated by the numbers corresponding to the position of each note relative to the rest:

Example 4: Canto de Amore e de Morte, Intervallic Structure of a Secondary Design (m. 77) and Points of Articulation of a Thematic Motive (m. 80 et seq.)

In example 5, we observe another identity, one of fundamental importance for the meaning assumed by the general organization of the work:

Example 5: Canto de Amore e de Morte, Further Intervallic Relationship of Fundamental Importance.

Example 6 is another example, indicative of the coherence existing in the various planes of the polyphony:

Example 6: Canto de Amore e de Morte, Example of Intervallic Coherence Between Different Polifonic Levels.

In certain cases, the functioning of the processes of morphological organization attains a degree of perfect homogeneity between the various composite factors, arriving at a stage which I would classify as pre-serial. In this first example, we see the application of this criteria to a process of permutation associated with the traditional technique of contour inversion:

Example 7: Canto de Amore e de Morte, Intervallic Permutation with Inversion of Melodic Movement.

The following example focuses on an integral transposition of the entire fragment, first in a "broken" secondary design and divided in various instruments (measures 181-182), then in a "melodic" version presented by the two violins, this transposition being corroborated by a parallel setting of the equivalent points of rhythmic (accentuated) articulation despite the different metric structuring of the rhythm in each one of the versions of the given fragment:

Example 8: Canto de Amore e de Morte, Integral Transposition of Fragment from "Broken" Secondary Design (mm. 181-182).

These examples allow us to arrive at the following fundamental observations.

a) each interval occupies a homogeneous function within a given moment of the work
b) each thematic motive or secondary design is constituted from a more or less complex array of intervallic relations
c) there exists a constant relation between the thematic motives, designs, traces or secondary elements at the level of an array of intervallic identities, as much between consecutive notes as between points of articulation; and also between the component cells, by juxtaposition, elimination, permutation, inversion and retrogradation.
d) the relations of intervals extend from the harmonic organization - the vertical dimension, in its broader sense.
e) the remaining factors of the composition (rhythm, phrasing, instrumental writing, registers) underline our reference to the morphological organization of the language.

After this detailed presentation of the functioning and intervallic structuring of the mophological organization of the Canto de Amor e de Morte, it remains for me to outline the importance of the interval in the succession of sections. A complete specialized study would be required by the variability of the "intervallic fields" (the role of greater distinctiveness given at any particular moment to an interval and a change or permutation of functions of intervals between themselves) and its influence in the definition and clarification of the global form. This function in distinguishing one or more dominant or active intervals is particularly sensitive in the transition sections and in directional motion, so that it is these which generally assure the connection between the principal sections, duly characterized by thematic motives or designs with reciprocally different intervallic functions.

These remarks lead to a more general conclusion which has just been noted: the intervallic organization operates at all levels of the composition and in a unifying and highly coherent way. Let us see a very elucidating example.

The first note in the piece is G and this note later establishes a relationship of a minor third with the two fundamental points of articulation in the entire exposition of section A: E natural at the end of the first phrase (measure 13) and B at the end of the second (measure 13). These same notes open the secondary designs of the two episodes (measures 14 and 28) and form a new relationship of a minor third with the D point of upper-register emphasis of the third exposition (measure 42). It remains to be added that all of the phrases of the exposition begin with G.

The same principle is applied at the end where the notes B (in the upper line) and E natural have polarizing functions. These last note appears in relief in the piano in measures 353 and following:


Example 9

Example 9:
Canto de Amore e de Morte, Coincidence of Tonal Polarities in m. 353.

A last example will serve to clarify this organic process of intervallic structuring. It deals with one of the fundamental motives of the piece, presented initially in measures 228-238, and again in measures 249-350 and derived directly from the beginning of D (measure 130, always in the piano).

Example 10: Canto de Amore e de Morte. Exposition and Re-exposition of Fundamental Motives in mm. 238-9 and 349-350.

By means of this sketch of a critical interpretation, I have attempted to reveal an analytical perspective in the Canto de Amor e de Morte predominantely aimed at its morphological values. These are, in my view, the most relevant and dynamic of the piece, in relation to the actual creative thought. It is through an organizational principal of the morphology of the language, iron-clad internal coherence based on the interval and its structural power, by which Lopes-Graáa attains an enviable balance between the mastery of the means of expression and the poetic quality of this expression.

The qualities of unifying coherence distinguished in this work are, however, not the only ones to reside in its morphological values. Apart from the rhythmic structuring (in general, elaborated organically), a very sensitive and "essential" instrumental scoring, sequential principles at the levels of form (in the restricted sense), musical rhetoric and syntax (in which the tripartite principle and the principle of alternation are perfectly identifiable and qualifiable) - all insure the internal coherence of the work in its various structural levels. Such principles are perfectly verifiable in the schematic of the formal structure of Canto de Amore e de Morte:

In 1961, Fernando Lopes-Graáa concluded the chamber version of the Canto de Amor e de Morte. It is to be believed that never had Portuguese music ever given such proof until then of composite maturity; notwithstanding certain contradictions - foremost of all, its moving poetic expression, typical of a pre-war period, placed paradoxically in the service of a post-war reality - an admirable capacity of unifying organization in function of the virtualities of the material.

A culminating point. A seal. A pinnacle.


Porto, March 1966