Entrevista a Ângela Lopes / Interview with Ângela Lopes
Education and influences: stages and turning points
I think that the notion of “I want to compose! I’m going to compose!” came a little late. It wasn’t very early because there was a time when I was studying music in parallel with my general education… at that time when all young people have difficulty in knowing what options they will take in life.
Something which influenced me was, obviously, my decision to go to the Superior School of Music in Oporto. As for people… the teacher Cândido Lima was the person who influenced me immensely, not only for his work in itself, which I got to know, but also as a man who knew how to transmit what it is to be a composer. This influenced me and helped me immensely in my education and in trying to understand what I wanted, who I was, and what I was writing, because I think that composition was this for me… a discovery! I didn’t just get up and say “I’m going to compose. And I’m going to compose in this or that way”! Because I should confess, it was a virtually unknown world for me. Therefore it was fascinating!
And I can say that there was quite an influential moment in terms of Contemporary Music or music of the 20th century which was the first major concert I went to, quite a number of years ago in the Coliseum: Prometeu by Luigi Nono. Although I admire him, he’s not exactly the composer I most relate to, but I ended up by going twice. I remember that everyone was lefting the hall but I went to the first performance and to the second. For the whole time I thought it was extremely beautiful and I was enchanted by those nuances, those pianissimos, almost inaudible… I was stunned!
I remember also the first sensation I had, for example, with Messiaen which I heard on CD, from the Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps. I thought it was marvellous! And in fact, that is what I was missing… I had had a more classical education, shall we say… I speak of the classics, of the romantics, of the truly classical classics, of the Baroque period… And this period was impressive in terms of my discovery of the 20th century, of seeking composers like Stockhausen or Berio. For me it was all one great discovery. It is obvious that some touched me more, like this first experience with Luigi Nono’s work and which was very influential for me. I remember first discovering Messiaen and other impressive works I started to listen to, like Jonchaies which stuck in my memory… like the Rite of Spring which I also heard in the Coliseum, conducted by Boulez. There are things which in fact have made their mark on me, and when I hear them I say: “Ah, so good, I want to be a composer, I want to write music like that too!”. And it seems that we have more energy and we say that we also want to do interesting things… Obviously this is relative; I have short works, really very short, some more interesting, other less so, on a journey of discovery. For example, some of the first pieces I have are connected to certain authors and composers. They are not exactly clichés or copies, but they would be more part of a journey within the aesthetics of Messiaen or Stravinsky. Lately, I have tried something more personal. I have tried to look for something which is more my own but I think that this is part of the natural journey.
I can’t fail to mention that the works of my teacher Cândido Lima influenced me quite a lot. And what is curious about it, is that I feel this more now than at that time, that it should be a world of discovery. This can be seen more perhaps in these last two or three works than longer ago.
I think that my first pieces were very painful. I probably shouldn’t say it, but it is true! I would spend hours on end looking at the paper… It was a tough time. However, I think that I managed to understand one thing: and that is that I couldn’t use everything I wanted and just place it “inside” the work. Or rather, I had the notion that things had to work in a coherent manner, even if it wasn’t so for the listener. Today it’s less painful, I no longer suffer so much. I know that I’m going to suffer for a little while but I no longer suffer beforehand… I’m much calmer now, shall we say. I think that I am more serene and I hope to be even more so. And I also have more confidence.
The first piece I can present as being a genuine piece is from 1995. What I had done prior to that are exercises. This piece is one of those first pieces which are accompanied by a tutor from the discipline, my teacher Cândido Lima; which is very important as obviously this gives us fundamental guidelines. Therefore, I cannot say that I did it by myself because it has the “hand” of someone who was guiding us along the way. Both Trítonos and Scherzando are almost stylistic pieces, a little within the Messiaen approach and the other a little Stravinskyish. They are therefore two quite different pieces, they don’t have anything to do with each other. One has more to do with the search for sonorities, mainly with the piano, melodic lines, with counterpoint. And the other, is perhaps more rhythmic, more based on certain ostinatos, with a completely different harmony. Their worlds are very far apart. And I think that later on, in a way, I searched along this path. With Partita I tried a completely different world. It came closer to Xenakis’ aesthetics with a world full of scales. And meanwhile I also went after what I thought could be my own, more personal path.
And there are two important landmarks so far. The first was with Canção de Izis. Up to this time I had many doubts and was asking myself to what point I would be able and if I was doing something, that is, if I was managing to compose or if I was composing anything really interesting. It was my personal acid test, shall we say… and it isn’t necessarily to do with who is listening but rather with myself.
After Canção de Izis, the other important moment came much later, in September of 2004, when I wrote a work for the Santa Maria da Feira International Music Festival; the proposal was to write a work with voice, but the instrumentation was up to me. As we were in a place full of Medieval History, I looked for a medieval text for the songs and opted for two conventional texts, general songs, one by King D. Sancho I, and the other was anonymous. It is for soprano, clarinet, piano, violin and violoncello. Of the last ones I have done, I think that Duas Cantigas de Amigo is the piece which frankly makes me the happiest.