Entrevista a Maria de Lourdes Martins / Interview with Maria de Lourdes Martins
Importance of your teachers, specifically Jorge Croner de Vasconcellos, in your education.
They were important, not exactly in composition itself, but in opening it up. There was one class by Croner de Vasconcellos which was over the top! He spoke of completely different things, but he always came back to music. He is tremendously cultured and, although quiet when in public, he spoke with his students. I was a piano student and started composition to improve my culture, and not to be a composer. What I used to do in music was to adapt verses or words to the musical text. Once, Croner told me: “this is very good, but now take a leap of 200 years!”. I only did things in a very scholarly way: fugues, inventions, etc. I remember that I started piano to see what sounded better and it was in this way that I started to be interested in composition, because until then I wasn’t interested in composition in itself.
Style and method of composition
My style of composition derives from erudition, from wanting to know more. The initial idea was not for me to compose, but I began to become interested and I forgot about the piano. A career of composition interested me, in fact, much more.
When I write, I write very quickly, as I already have everything in my head. It is not the form which comes to me nor I who gets the form, it’s all together. Then, to get it out, I just write, because it’s all there inside. For a long time this was how I composed, but then I began to have a certain technique of my own.
Perhaps it is in chamber music that I feel most at home, and not in music for orchestra – I think that a conductor who is also a composer is much richer and wiser than I, as I am not the leader of an orchestra – although I have attended rehearsals in the National Radio Station, and this did me lots of good.... I like to write and to have already thought out the work beforehand in my head.
About O Encoberto and A Donzela Guerreira
I was given the freedom to write for the formation I wanted. The Gulbenkian commissioned a work from me and I wrote O Encoberto. Then I did another opera, for children, although when it was done it was for children, and that had not been my idea. It was to be heard and seen by children. It was done in Minho University, as there were entities which were interested in it there.
Later the opera was done in schools, and I went to see the reaction of the children, without them knowing that I was there. I went to various places, as they put on many concerts with children. It was not supposed to be with children, but for children, although it worked with children, because they get very interested.
About Três Máscaras and the use of three jazz groups in the instrumentation
This was discussed at the time, but I wanted to cause an impact. At the time I was becoming somewhat “just so”, so this was a breath of fresh air for me. I don’t know jazz, although I listen to it, but written jazz is based on improvisation. I tried to do something where the person made it up at on the spot.
Even in rehearsals, there were things that I wanted to change, to make them easier. In fact, as a work, it is a bit tiresome, although I tried precisely not to be. I don’t like to modify works after I’ve written them, but I have the impression that if it were today, there would be parts of this work that I would modify. I understood that sometimes what we think and what we later do are different. There were parts which, in fact, should be cut out as they’re not doing anything there, they just fill space. I myself feel this.
I lack technique, I feel that I lack technique. When I went to Munich University and I had classes with Genzmer and with Stockhausen, I saw that I had things that I had written which I should have torn up or which I should leave as they are, because they represent a period. A maestro has many more possibilities of being a composer than a person who attends only one rehearsal or so.
At this time I tried to go to various rehearsals, because you learn a lot with the repetitions. I also wrote for wind instruments, two quintets. Besides this, I very much like chamber music. I like the forms, the fugue and the invention a lot. The technique of the fugue is very different from the technique of the sonata. I am not writing anything now, but I really like to hear fugue’s by Bach and others. It is a musical form which fulfils me.
When people think that I am influenced by Orff, I don’t think I am at all. What I did was Orff-Schulwerk, with the children, but it is very different from Orff as a composer. He was a very open person, tremendously cultured, and knew that I had nothing to do with Orff in my composition. But the idea he had for children was to bring movement and music together. He was here in Portugal for two weeks and told me: “I know that you don’t compose anything from my school.” But he didn’t mind at all!
I went to a conference by Orff in Munich University. While giving it he moved around, he walked, danced, he did everything. It wasn’t like those conferences we’re all used to, it was rather a vivid form which he created for the others. This conference was very interesting – I thought that it was going to be boring, and in fact it was fantastic. At this time I was, however, working with Stockhausen, who was completely different.
I had to do reports for the Gulbenkian as I was in Germany with a grant, and I spoke of the conference. Madalena Perdigão told me straight away that she wanted to try it in Portugal. I then started to give classes to children who paid nothing and to have this experience. Then I did a teachers’ course, as there were some people who came along and asked me if would give courses for teachers.
I have three books, divided by years and ages, with songs based on popular music, which is what people know. It may even be bad music, but it is what was created by people. This is very important, because it means something to the individual, who is not just a passive receiver, he or she is also a creator.
When the Orff method is well taught, I think that it is still a fantastic method, because it can be adapted to everybody. He said that people who live by the sea see things differently from those who live inland, and this is where the question of tradition comes in. Sometimes I hear people say they teach the Orff method and what I see is something completely anti-Orff. I gave courses in various places, in Torres Vedras I gave seven courses, and the great advantage is really that each student is able to follow what he or she feels.
It is a lively method, where you can start from the same place and each person can follow a different path, but always with the children feeling that they are not being commanded. We have to give them the freedom to seek, even if afterwards it is wrong, and then support them instead of telling them what is wrong. It has happened with me that I later find people who have been my students and who tell me that they thought that things done in this way were much more interesting, and this enriches us enormously.
Experience as a teacher
I am not at all stable, and people said that the longest I stayed in a place was two or three years. I was in Coimbra for two years, and then I left – things didn’t get worse, I just felt that I was no longer doing anything there, and I went to Setúbal. But there was always something, like the holding of some encounters, for example. Setúbal and Coimbra were, in fact, the places I stayed longest outside of Lisbon.
Nowadays there is much more freedom, which ends up by helping the student to follow his or her own personal path. The teacher should be increasingly less a teacher and increasingly more of a friend and colleague, allowing the student to experience things for him or herself. I think this is what is happening today.
Education as a doorway to training new composers
This is a very critical point. Just a short time ago I heard that my program, conceived seven years ago and which was not really up-to-date at the time, is still in use. But I, as a teacher, tried to provide points of focus for people to then depart from, not to take the program to the letter. They wanted to do it exactly as it was written, when it operated as an impulse. I would have liked it if they had even done everything different... My idea was that. The students have to create from that point on, with the teacher’s support. Maybe it was me who was wrong, I hadn’t explained myself well enough: they were points of departure and not points of arrival.
Importance of contemporary musical languages for personal writing
I tried to keep up, in part, but I was making an effort. With dodecaphonics, I got halfway through a work and got irritated, because I was being subjugated by, shall we say, by an erudite source of composition. I was different. For example, as a teacher of Orff-Schulwerk I can do things the other way round compared to how I would do them as a composer. But, in fact, my experience as a composer never held up against the twelve note series.
I had some very good teachers in Munich – Harald Genzmer, who was from Hindemith’s school, for example. I tried to follow these trends, but I also didn’t insist. It may seem like personal pride, but it isn’t. I tried to look for a language which I considered my own, which does not mean to say that there may not be hundreds of other people writing in the same style. But that was mine, different – I already have it inside of me when I write things down on paper. Everything is already thought out, although it may change a little at times, and I end up following a different path from that which I had initially thought of. The language itself makes me change, it becomes stronger than the rest.
However, I never spent much time with the same language. Just the other day I heard a radio program which spoke of concrete music... I tried to do things with concrete music, integrating objects, and it was a good experience.
After concrete music, lots of things came up which I put to one side. I was a student of Stockhausen, and he once went to get something from my room and saw things by Orff all over the place, because I was translating Orff at the same time. But he was very open!
Experience in Darmstadt
This is where I saw another world, fantastic things. Everyone wanted to learn and some did. Actually, I don’t know what influence Darmstadt has, because I have grown a bit distant. But at that time it was important. I saw good composers, and others who perhaps were not so good, but it was creativity that mattered. I remember one work which consisted of standing on a stool and then there was a lamp with a stick which gave off a sound around the lamp – and this was the work! Or rather, people began to compose from zero. Actually, I think people are doing this again, although with a new vision.
Composer as a reflection of the society he or she is in
I can write in one style and another composer who I like very much can write in a completely different style. I think currently there is greater freedom, but it is hard to say properly what is modern. Stockhausen’s last works are older than others he wrote much earlier, for example. Now, what God will come here and tell us what is good and what isn’t? Actually, perhaps he uses a language which is grasped by a larger group of people. There was a time when he was aggressive. I don’t know what path he will take in the future, although he has many influences in the world of electronics. You need to know the source to write in this way, and therefore I could never do that. It’s not that I’m not interested, but I know that I just wouldn’t be able to.
Jorge Peixinho and electro-acoustic languages in Portugal
In Portugal, Jorge Peixinho was much more advanced than I in these languages.
But we always got on very well. We went on a trip together to Italy, because we had a grant and there were things I didn’t understand and he would explain them to me in just a few words. He was fantastic! He was a wise man, he knew how things worked.
New generation of Portuguese composers
Now, I don’t see any name especially that I can say is a great composer. I may like a composer very much in some works, but every person has different works and I am not obliged to like all of the composer’s works. However, I feel people are searching. I think we are living in a period of transition, with good and bad works – and not with good and bad composers.
Decision to stop composing
I no longer write anything. I don’t find it worth while filling up a cupboard with works which are then left there, it is better to put these works to work.
I would like to have some works performed and for someone to publish the scores. But all of this is a lot of work, and you need an editor.