In focus

Constança Capdeville (1937-92)


I am nothing / I shall never be anything / I cannot desire to be anything / Apart from that, I carry inside / All the dreams of the world.”

Álvaro de Campos (English translation: Jakub Szczypa)

Composer, pianist, percussionist and professor, Constança Capdeville allied music to the stage components within the context of music theatre (or theatre-music), occupying an exclusive place in the universe of Portuguese music. Her creation reflects the aesthetics of inseparability between life and art, at the same time stressing the importance of sound, body/gesture and literary research of her work. “Constança came from another galaxy and was here for a short time. Portuguese music was not prepared for her and now she is being spoken of, as the pupils of her pupils ask, «what would Constança do». It is necessary to revive her spectacles, which were marvellous. They had luminosity and variety, with music in the centre... it was not only movement, but it was movement coming out of the music.”[1] Constança Capdeville was born in Barcelona in 1937. Her creative activity began very early. At the age of 12 she wrote various short pieces: “Caixinha de Música” for piano, “Ária à Memória de um Rei Desaparecido“, “ (…) in which the voice part was substituted by a oboe melody (…)”[2] and “Visions d’Enfant”, a small suite for piano. She began her music education in Barcelona, before settling permanently in Portugal, since 1951, due to political and social conditions of the Spanish Civil War. She proceeded with her superior education at the Lisbon National Conservatory, studying piano with Varela Cid and composition with Jorge Croner de Vasconcelos. She also studied ancient music interpretation (transcription, instrumentation, clavichord practice and piano accompaniment) through the courses oriented by Macário Santiago Kastner. “While entering the composition class by Croner de Vasconcelos at the National Conservatory, Constança Capdeville was a girl, almost a child, with a mixture of fragility and energy, possessing enormous eyes, enthusiastic and penetrative, which seemed to pop out of the orbits”[3], recalls Gil Miranda. Constança Capdeville participated in musicological research oriented by the Gulbenkian Foundation, the National Library and the Ajuda Library, having collaborated, together with Mário de Sampaio Ribeiro, in the study on the Domingos Marques Durán’s Tratado Lux Bella. In the summer of 1962 she had a scholarship of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to study composition in Galicia with Philip Jarnach. From this motivation emerged the work “Variações sobre o nome de Stravinsky” (“Variations on Stravinsky’s name”) for organ, for which she received the Composition Prize of the National Conservatory. This work marked the beginning of the composer’s mature period, which always “maintained the traces of Catalan culture, the influence of her masters/creators and, simultaneously, integrated the Portuguese art and culture tradition.”[4] Countless seminars and masterclasses led her to present her work at national and international festivals. She followed closely the career of the Lisbon University Orchestra, in which she participated many times as composer and performer. Her initial works, such as the “Sonata concertante” (1963), already reflect a strong attraction for new techniques and alternative languages. However it was in the second half of the 1960s when she came to know profoundly the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Igor Stravinsky and Vinko Globokar, among others, and her music became particularly experimental, emphasising the timbric aspects, as in “Momento I” (1972-74) .[5] After the early period, during which she wrote various pieces, mostly for piano, she experienced a decisive impulse in 1969, within the Calouste Gulbenkian’s commission for the work “Diferenças sobre um intervalo” for chamber orchestra, which already presented her personal musical language. Its first performance took place at the 13th Gulbenkian Music Festival in 1969, at the concert of the Gulbenkian Orchestra. “The realization of this score demanded a big effort on her part, from which she always saved a vivid memory. In order to satisfy the commission she isolated herself during months…”[6] Constança Capdeville founded various ensembles: Convivium Musicum and ColecViva, which performed chamber music and musical theatre works, respectively, having the latter also created the anti-opera “Don’T Juan” (1985) at the 9th Gulbenkian Meetings for Contemporary Music. “Her activity as composer was always accompanied by that of piano and percussion performer and in this context, she worked with the Menestréis de Lisboa, the Lisbon Contemporary Music Goup (for which she wrote some works) conducted by Jorge Peixinho. She also joined the Gulbenkian Orchestra as percussionist in 20th Century Music Concerts, namely in the Portuguese premiere of various Krzysztof Penderecki’s works.”[7] Together with António Sousa Dias, one of the emerging composers of that time, she developed the “Opus Sic” project (works realized with synthetized sounds), within which they created music for ballet by Margarida Bettencourt, “Io Sono una Bambina o sono un disegno” and soundtrack for António Macedo’s film “A Maldição de Marialva”. Constança Capdeville distinguished herself as teacher at the Santa Cecilia Music Academy, the Lisbon Superior Music School and the Musical Science Department at the Universidade Nova in Lisbon. At the age of 17 she started giving private piano lesson. Her particular approach in pedagogical activity marked all her pupils, some of them presently recognized composers – António de Sousa Dias, Eurico Carrapatoso, Sérgio Azevedo, Tomás Henriques and Virgílio Melo, among others. “Her teaching was oriented by an attempt to stimulate the young for new relations in art, which she intended to establish between musical gesture, sonority of words and text, movement and physical spatialization of bodies, displacing them from their contexts to other universes, in which they assumed new meanings.”[8] "Constança Capdeville was on of those phenomena of almost zen quality... I did not learn anything with her, but she knew how to open what was important in every person – not learning is in this case positive.”[9] (Virgílio Melo) “[Constança Capdeville’s] almost oneiric vision of the world had a hypnotic effect on me, which prevails until today. Her lessons had a sandalwood fragrance. Her presence was ethereal, when she wandered quietly, as if flying just above the surface...”[10] (Eurico Carrapatoso) “Curiously, Constança, in relation to sound and music, cultivated a kind of bewilderment-attitude, which people used to associate with a kind of permanent child, which she had inside. She herself used to present it as an almost infantile attitude, that is, devoid of any strong and conditioning cultural background.”[11] (António de Sousa Dias) “The contact with Constança, apart from being highly rewarding and a humanly special thing, opened my eyes to certain aspects of my professional life, as pianist, musician, teacher, which until then I did not even consider: the collaboration between teacher and pupil, always based on respect, but with more proximity.” [12] (Olga Prats) Constança Capdeville was member of the Direction of the Portuguese Music Council and effective member of the Catalan Composers’ Association of Barcelona. The Portuguese Government, recognizing the preponderant role, which she had in the contemporary music panorama in Portugal, decorated her with the Medal of Cultural Merit in October 1990. She passed away in February 1992, at the age of 55, at her house in Caxias, close to nature, which served her as the environment for her work and life. The same year, posthumously, she was decorated with the Commander Degree of the Order of Santiago.

Theatre in Music

Constança Capdeville was a “driving force” of the Portuguese music environment, having influenced not only composers but also performers of new music, to whom she transmitted her ideas of musical theatre, or theatre-music, as she used to say. “[Constança Capdeville] made my head spin completely, above all, at the interpretative, scenic and music’s physical level. Since music is very gestural, she literally cleaned my ears out of prejudices (…). Constança gave me a theatrical dimension, (…), this natural attitude to enter the stage and talk to the audience explaining things and being at ease”[13], emphasises Olga Prats. Constança Capdeville wrote around 80 works of different genres: orchestra, chamber music, music for dance theatre and cinema, music theatre (staging original pieces), as well as music spectacles (staging, above all, music by other composers). “[Her] extraordinary invention, her nonconformist gesture, almost always marked by ironic, if not sarcastic, vision, are in the origin of the hybrid genre, which constitutes the distinctive trace of her work: between music and theatre, between vision and listening, between body and instrument, between structure and process, between space and time.”[14] The tendencies already affirmed in her orchestral music are reinforced within theatre music: the strongly multidisciplinary aspect, composition of open forms, where the themes are more repeated than developed and in which the polar note substitutes the tonic spread through citations and reinforcing the influence of her master-composers, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Claude Debussy, Eric Satie and Igor Stravinsky. She chose texts by writers and poets repeatedly cited, such as Federico García Lorca, James Joyce, Blaise Cendrars, Edgar Allan Poe, T. S. Elliot, and made references, particularly in the collage process, to such painters as Salvador Dali or Pablo Picasso, at the same time looking into the face of such innovators of performance as John Cage, Kurt Schwitters, Luciano Berio or Mauricio Kagel. She came close to each of them, having them as points of inspiration, yet maintaining a distance necessary for her original creation. In her musical spectacles she paid homage to Igor Stravinsky, John Cage and Cathy Berberian, recreating their texts and music on stage with great humour and virtuosity. One should also emphasise the use of stage elements in some of her chamber works and in music for cinema. “To approach Constança Capdeville’s theatre-music means to penetrate a multifaceted universe of sounds and images and of creative pulsations”[15], wrote Maria João Serrão on the pages of her thesis “Constança Capdeville. Entre o Teatro e a Música” (“Constança Capdeville. Between Theatre and Music”). In her last theatre-music piece for cinema, “Take 91”, Constança Capdeville managed to achieve a great syncretism, in a realization, in which cinema is the central theme, and the projected images serve as script for the music, performance and singing, boasting the most hidden childhood memories.[16] “«Take 91» is a project of the ColecViva, in the sense to create images – both sound and visual – from sensations, memories and experiences, organizing them, through a magical thread of communication, in order to recall memories and create new images being watched and listened to.”[17] Constança Capdeville, not declaring any particular belief, assumed, however, the mysticism of dichotomy between earth and heaven, subterranean and aerial, obscure and luminous, as well as a dialectics with the invisible, to which she referred repeatedly and which crossed many of her works. “While composing «Libera me» I situated myself in the earth’s centre, whereas during the composition of «Que mon chant ne soit plus d’oiseau» I felt as if in the central point of outer space.”[18] “Libera me” is a composition full of human and personal conflict, since Constança Capdeville referred herself many times to the pain of human existence. “According to her, the fact that we live a life, which we do not chose, and the content and destiny of which escape us greatly, was a work of a major injustice”[19], wrote Gil Miranda on the pages of “Dez Compositores Portugueses” (“Ten Portuguese Composres”). In her work, Constança Capdeville, integrating the tendencies of artistic creation of her time, in an aesthetics connected with contemporary music, opened new possibilities for the relations between theatre and music, relying on new forms and uncommon types of communication with the public, which nowadays are paradigmatic to the creation of music theatre all around the world. “After the approximation made by Constança Capdeville between theatre and music, things were not the same as before. She had a strong influence on [her successors]. Therefore, among her collaborators, the Miso Ensemble continues to create [music theatre spectacles]. The theatre director Luís Miguel Cintra, leader of one the best independent theatre groups, A Cornucópia, always wished to have an equivalent quality for theatre and music in the works, for which he is responsible.”[20]

Constança Capdeville on YouTube

Momento I Lisbon Contemporary Music Group conducted by Jorge Peixinho (1994) Ámen para uma ausênciaLibera Me”: Part I | Part II --- 1 Excerpt from an interview to Olga Prats available on the pianist’s profile in: Manuela Paraíso, Mulheres na Música; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 2 Maria João Serrão, “Constança Capdeville. Entre o Teatro e a Música” (“Constança Capdeville. Between Theatre and Music”), Lisbon 2005, p. 18; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 3 Gil Miranda, “Constança Capdeville” in: “Dez Compositores Portugueses. Percursos da Escrita Musical no Século XX”, coordinated by Manuel Pedro Ferreira, Lisbon 2007, p. 308; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 4 Maria João Serrão, “Capdeville, Constança” in: Enciclopédia da Música em Portugal no Século XX, direcção Salwa Castelo-Branco, Lisbon 2010, p. 235; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 5 Gabriela Cruz, "Capdeville, Constança", Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, January 26th 2012 6 Maria João Serrão, “Constança Capdeville. Entre o Teatro e a Música” (“Constança Capdeville. Between Theatre and Music”), Lisbon 2005, p. 18; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 7 Maria João Serrão, “Capdeville, Constança” in: op. cit., p. 235; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 8 ibidem, p. 236 9 Interview to Virgílio Melo conducted by Miguel Azguime; mic.pt, 2005 10 Interview to Eurico Carrapatoso in: Sérgio Azevedo, "A Invenção dos Sons. Uma Panorâmica da Composição em Portugal Hoje", Editorial Caminho, Lisbon 1998, p. 402; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 11 Interview to António de Sousa Dias conducted by Miguel Azguime: mic.pt, 2004 12 Interview to Olga Prats in: “Olga Prats – Um Piano Singular. Conversas com Sérgio Azevedo”, Lisbon 2007, p. 260; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 13 Excerpt from an interview to Olga Prats available on the pianist’s profile in: Manuela Paraíso, Mulheres na Música; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 14 Mário Vieira de Carvalho, “Prefácio” in: Maria João Serrão, op. cit, p. 11; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 15 Maria João Serrão, op. cit., p. 21; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 16 "Capdeville, Constança" in: Gulbenkian Música 17 Constança Capdeville in: Programa dos XV Encontros Gulbenkian de Música Contemporânea, Lisbon 1991; according to: Maria João Serrão, op.cit., p. 18; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 18 Maria João Serrão, “Capdeville, Constança” em: op. cit., p. 236; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 19 Gil Miranda, op. cit., p. 308; English translation: Jakub Szczypa 20 Maria João Serrão; English translation: Jakub Szczypa, op.cit., p. 178