Sleevenotes from Prima Facie PFCD224 Scenes from Childhood: Piano Works by Pedro Faria Gomes
SUITE J [40:50]
1. I. Preludio [3:31]
2. II. Toccata [4:02]
3. III. Rondò [2:00]
4. IV. Corrente [4:46]
5. V. Recitativo [2:30]
6. VI. Trittico: Ricercare, Canone e Coda [5:51]
7. VII. Interludio (Dittico) [2:57]
8. VIII. Bordone [2:41]
9. IX. Ritornello [4:22]
10. X. Sarabanda [8:10]
11. I. Procissão [Procession] [4:27]
12. II. Canção de Embalar [Lullaby] [3:04]
13. III. Dança [Dance] [5:27]
Few things could have prepared society for the global pandemic that gripped people’s lives in 2020–21. From that darkness, however, there emerged numerous opportunities for reflection and silent creation. Whilst the performing arts were stifled, in the sense of depriving musicians and other artists of their livelihoods, composers, among others, suddenly had a lot of time on their hands, either alone or with their partners and children, in which to ruminate and create. In this context, Pedro Faria Gomes turned to modern society’s arguably most domesticated instrument, the piano, which he had studied from the age of four, with the initial idea of writing a variation on two sets of four notes. Faria shared the resulting movement with pianist Kenneth Hamilton and the plan evolved to compose a longer piece, which developed from the existing work into the ten movement Suite J completed in August 2021, recorded for the first time on this disc.
The ‘J’ in the title refers to Faria’s daughter Joana, born a year before the pandemic. It is perhaps the most natural thing for parents with young children to reflect at times not only on their children but on recollections and distant memories from their own childhood. In this way, the act of parenting becomes a symbiotic one of experimentation, learning and discovery, on the one hand, and recall and memory, on the other. But memories of one’s own youth are always imprecise. Frequently they become entangled with the experience of parenting such that it is often hard, if not impossible, to tell them apart. Each grows with and through the other. The result is a web woven from the new and the half-remembered. What appears new – a new life – grows through a series of experiences that are, in fact, variations on the theme of the parents.
It is therefore revealing to know that Faria associates the second set of four notes on which Suite J is based with his daughter and the first set of four notes with her parents. The parents’ notes form a simple arpeggio figure of G major: a rising sixth from D to B, falling a third to G, then ascending by a fifth to D. The daughter’s notes comprise a rising semitone followed by a falling semitone: F#–G, G–F#. It is apparent from the presentation of the arpeggio at the start of the Preludio (the piece originally shared with Hamilton) that the two four-note ideas are related, for we hear the arpeggio presented in canon, Con flessibilità, each version a semitone or its inversion (an eleventh) from the last. There is something familiar-sounding about this opening, its figuration and chromatic presentation of tonal shapes evocative of Berg, perhaps. There is the suggestion of serialism but Faria does not use this technique in this piece. By contrast, the series of very soft, triadic chords that follows, marked distante, ma cantabile, sounds like a dimly-recalled quotation. Here the four-note semitone idea is hidden in the middle voice, distorted by a whole tone rising / falling motion in the upper voice. The movement then proceeds to alternate these ideas, the chords in particular seeming to interrupt or intrude upon the arpeggio. Both ideas are varied through rhythmic alteration, melodic inversion and other processes, and the chords distended by echo-like repetitions, in different harmonies. In the middle of the movement the ideas become telescoped, fragmented versions rapidly alternating one against the other, while towards the end the two are combined, the melody heard in inversion beneath the chords, then in inversion above an ascending variant of itself. In other words, Faria’s music here and throughout the Suite is characterized both by frequent juxtapositions of contrasting but related materials, and by the polytonal layering of textures.
The implied G major at the opening of the first movement is a harmony that returns throughout the Suite, notably in the odd-numbered movements: the Rondò (movement III), the Recitativo (V), and the Interludio (Dittico) (VII), which begins in g minor. The final three movements, however – the Bordone (VIII), Ritornello (IX) and Sarabanda (X) – centre on F# or F. This relates back to the Toccata (II) which opens with an F# trill. This is clearly a reference to the second of the four-note groups, the semitonal F#–G, G–F#, and it highlights the central role these pitches have in the work as a whole. Indeed, the Suite’s final two chords comprise F# and G. Rather than think of either one of these as dominating over the other, however, it might be more appropriate to appreciate them as highlighting the overlap between parent and child (G), and the new directions in which the child will inevitably go (F#).
Whilst Faria’s extended Suite includes many ‘expected’ ideas, such as a unifying device (its variations on eight notes) and familiar movements, like the Corrente (Courante) and Sarabanda, it is also unconventional – Allemande and Gigue, for example, are replaced with Recitativo, Trittico and Interludio movements, not historically associated with the genre. By means of contrast, each movement is based on one or sometimes both of the four-note groups. The Toccata (II), for example, despite its Petrushka-like arpeggiated figures, is actually based on the semitone figure, which generates distinctive tremolo chords and a bell-like sonority at the end. The Rondò (III) continues the bell-like quality but in a contrastingly slower, floating variation of the arpeggio, in an ABACA form. The Corrente brings us out of that reverie with a jolt, with rapid staccato variations on the semitone idea, albeit in 4/4 time rather than the more traditional triple metre. Something of the historical association of this form with a courtship dance is certainly conveyed, the right hand perhaps dancing with the left hand, with touches of Stravinskyan metrical displacement along the way. In the central section the rising / falling semitone idea begins to resemble a motif, a coherent more sustained melodic idea, perhaps heard somewhere before, before returning to its place within the spiky, regular quaver motion of the opening texture. But this is not the last we hear of this texture: it returns with dramatic, tension- building effect in the last section of the Trittico (VI), and near the end of the final Sarabanda (X), which is a cumulation of ideas.
The Recitativo (V) perhaps suggests the more modern sense of a Suite as a compilation of pieces from a larger work, but it develops the arpeggio idea flexibly, even recalling the Tristan Prelude as it is overlaid by a whole-tone version of the semitone motif. Such expectant hope is transformed inwardly in the Trittico (VI), whose first section (a Ricercare) is an initially darker, more reflective variant of the semitone idea, subsequently varied in the second section (Canone) in a strict canon by inversion at the fifth, with occasional neo-Classical trills. The Interludio (Dittico) (VII) is a very delicate, palindrome variant of the arpeggio idea, its rising minor third melody (suggesting g minor) reflected by a falling major third in the bass. The second half of this movement ploughs through a series of rotations (à la Stravinsky and Knussen) of rising arpeggios, initially on G, before ending with the four-note arpeggio in contrary motion.
Bell-like resonance (heard previously in the Toccata) returns in the Bordone (VIII), which is a beautifully still, calm repose from the preceding energy. Taking the concept of a drone bass, this movement begins in the middle register (F and A above middle C), gradually expanding out to the extremes of the piano’s physical limits. The chords suggest the arpeggio idea in suspension while subtle semitonal movements in the bass allude to its partner. The movement ends with an F major version of the four-note arpeggio, which is picked up at the start of the Ritornello (IX). Here the fluid yet regular figuration has a distinctive Ravel-like restrained flair, with touches of Liszt towards the end. Accordingly, the final Sarabanda (X) is a veritable tour de force. We begin with a memory of the trilling Toccata (F#) then move steadily towards the most suggestive version of the semitone idea heard so far. Versions of the four-note ideas are heard simultaneously (one in each hand), lending the music a bi-polar quality underlined by bitonal harmonies. Tension builds with the re-use of material from the Ritornello, juxtaposed with fleeting allusions to Debussy’s ‘Feux d’Artifice’; recollections of the Preludio, Toccata and Corrente pile in, too, before a final contrary-motion flourish and the F#–G broken chords at the end.
Is there more to this piece than meets the ear? Faria has revealed that the arpeggio is taken from a theme in the Love Scene from Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score for The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). This was the first film that Joana’s parents saw together, and one that Faria viewed many times as a child. The source of the four-note semitone idea was the opening of the Barcarolle ‘Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour’, from Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann – again something Faria heard often as a child, as sung by his mother. It is notable that whereas the Love Scene motif is deployed as a cipher, never evolving beyond its first four notes, the Barcarolle becomes gradually more recognizable, culminating in its most extended presentation in the final Sarabanda, the preceding movements having led us to this moment.
Following the completion of Suite J, Faria’s second child, Daniel, was born, and sometime thereafter the inspiration came to dedicate a second piano work as, in part, a reflection on this joyous addition to the family. The Sonatina was completed in May 2023, conceived to be premiered and recorded by Kenneth Hamilton. It is generally uncharacteristic of Faria to base his music on musical sources, let alone ones with an autobiographical association, but since he likes to explore composition by turning to different approaches it seemingly made sense to approach this partner piano piece through the lens of pre-existing melodies. In this instance, the first movement, Procissão (procession) draws on the street-cry of an orange seller in Setúbal, as transcribed by Rodney Gallop in his Cantares do Povo Português.
Faria has noted that he very rarely draws on Portuguese material and concedes that in this case it is a reflection of his interest in identity and his son’s Portuguese heritage. The Procissão accordingly begins with a strident rhythmic allusion to the melody before the tune itself is heard, nine bars in. Here the quotation is clear, and intended to be so. There is a vital, repetitive nature to the theme and its treatment, which is partly influenced by Ravel’s Bolero. As we have come to expect from this composer, however, multiple tools are employed to vary the theme, whilst retaining its salience – principally, canon and inversion. The variants are also occasionally punctuated by Les Noces-like descending gestures (rapid, short and percussive), like a quick intake of breath. The movement’s energy dissipates somewhat at the end through Debussyan bell-like sounds.
The second movement, Canção de Embalar (lullaby), is again audibly based on a pre-existing melody, in this instance Brahms’s famous Wiegenlied, itself a paraphrase of Baumann’s S’is Anderscht. Faria’s approach here is wonderfully prismatic, so that we hear the Brahms as it has never been heard before. In the spirit of Brahms, there is much interest in thirds. The movement is in the key of D flat – a major third away from the key of the first movement, in A minor. With half a nod to Messiaen’s third mode of limited transposition, Faria works subtly with augmented chords, often replacing expected chords with ones a third away, or implying tonic and dominant harmonies simultaneously. The source melody is extended at times, blurring its profile, while the harmony shifts from major to minor modes. Cadences are present but diluted, and in the coda there is a fleeting recollection of the orange vendor’s melody from the Procissão, albeit inverted, before the Brahms melody concludes.
The final third movement, Dança (dance), begins with a wonderful melody of Faria’s own invention, returning to the opening key of A, but now in the major mode, with the crisp, memorable quality of a Poulenc sonata. In this way, Faria deploys his pre-existing melody, O Primeiro Amor que Tive – a well-known Portuguese tune collected by Gallop in the region of Alentejo, South Portugal – as the second subject of his sonata form. Although sung in different regions, to different words, a common refrain in the song, which attracted Faria, is the penultimate line ‘Oh, you’re so lovely’ (‘Oh, és tão linda’). Faria’s version is presented in D flat major, a major third from the first subject. The two themes are subsequently juxtaposed with transitional material in a brief development section (O Primeiro now in the minor mode), before a recapitulation that begins with the folk song, heard in A major over a dominant pedal. The sonata therefore gains the feeling of a rondo. When the first subject returns, in A major, it does so initially in inversion, before being ‘corrected’. An extended Coda then draws on material from the transitional sections, with hints of the two themes, and multiple major third progressions lead breathlessly, through multiple runs, to a lighthearted cadence on a dominant seventh chord of A.
A Note from the Performer
When I was a student, the brilliant pianist and polymath Charles Rosen came to my college as a visiting Professor. When he wasn’t playing, he talked—incessantly. One thing he said especially stuck in my mind: “contemporary piano music is always performed badly!”. It was, admittedly, a typical Rosen remark, intended to provoke as much as to enlighten, but it did contain a grain of truth.
“Classical” pianists are blessed, or cursed, with a truly massive historical repertoire of music. One could spend a lifetime on just a fraction of it. From childhood, we laboriously chisel away at Bach and Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt. By early adulthood, we’ve already spent thousands of hours. We’ve performed their works, and those of other great masters, dozens, maybe hundreds of times. We effectively grow up with them. Our technique is honed by their music; our fledgling careers stand or fall by how well we play their pieces.
And whenever we record the “standard repertoire”, however wonderfully we might hope we do it, we battle against a rich history of rival performances, reluctantly enrolling ourselves as competitors in an interpretative arms-race. Whose Liszt octaves are the fastest? Whose Chopin Nocturnes the most poetic? Whose Beethoven the most grimly rugged? And so on…
Recording contemporary music is altogether different. We can’t, of course – and this is undoubtedly what Rosen meant – possibly have practiced it as often as the pieces we’ve been playing for decades, can’t have lived with the works in the same way, nor have reached a “maturity” in our view of them. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean we inevitably play “badly”. It’s fresh music, and we come to it fresh: without significant preconceptions, without the weight of the heavy hand of history. If we are lucky enough to make the premiere recording of a piece, we have the privilege of contributing to the repertoire in a unique and refreshing way; the excitement of encountering the work only a little in advance of the listener. In return we should try to treat contemporary music, where appropriate, with the same variety of sonority, the same sensuously sculpted tone- colours, that we would bestow on music from the pianistic Golden Age. New it may be, and sometimes novel and challenging, but it need not always be harsh, metallic and ugly.
To be sure, it can be a little unsettling to have a composer standing beside you saying “that’s not quite what I meant there” – Beethoven never dared to say that to me, no matter how often I performed his sonatas – but at least misconceptions can be cleared up in a few seconds, rather than after decades of musicological research. The player has access to an interpretative fast-track, particularly in music like that written by Pedro Faria Gomes, which is definitely of our era but responsive to tradition, which is both original and adaptive.
Pedro’s pieces pay heartfelt respect to historical genres – the Baroque Suite, the Classical Sonatina – while drawing inspiration from a web of allusion and quotation more redolent of the Romantic piano music of Robert Schumann. In fact, the subtitle of Suite J (the letter stands for Pedro’s daughter Joana), “Variations on Eight Notes”, and some other aspects of its construction, are strikingly reminiscent of Schumann’s Carnaval suite, a set of “Dainty Scenes on Four Notes”.
Accordingly, the title of the album – Scenes from Childhood – is also borrowed from Schumann’s collection of the same name, and the works therein are inspired by the relatively recent birth of Pedro’s own two children. This is nevertheless no Album for the Young, rather a nostalgically adult reflection on childhood, and a modern meditation on the music of earlier eras, most strikingly in the second movement of the Sonatina (dedicated to Pedro’s son Daniel), a gentle reworking of Brahms’ famous lullaby – like a cocktail-bar improvisation of unusual refinement.
The Brahms lullaby was itself adapted from a German folk song, and in similar fashion the other two movements of the Sonatina are partly based on popular Portuguese melodies: the first movement a street cry transformed; the third a neo-classical dance in sonata form with an affectionately quirky (to Scottish ears) folk tune as its “second subject”. I confess I didn’t really “get” the rhythm of this tune until Pedro played me a recording of the original, when suddenly it clicked. I did at least immediately notice the witty allusion to Beethoven in the transitions after the (repeated) exposition. These should raise a smile for anyone acquainted with the opening of the last movement of the first symphony.
A lushly passionate quote from Offenbach’s perennial Barcarolle in the final Sarabanda movement of Suite J is equally obvious. Less apparent, except perhaps in retrospect, is the weaving of the first four notes of the Barcarolle through other movements of the Suite, along with another four-note figure taken from Korngold’s music for the fabulously swashbuckling 1930s movie with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, The Adventures of Robin Hood. I must confess that I would never have noticed the Robin Hood allusion had Pedro not pointed it out to me (it is, after all, just a G major arpeggio), but once he did mention it, Korngold’s energetically effusive music immediately flooded through my mind (the film was a staple of UK television programming through most of my own childhood). Both themes have a deep personal meaning for Pedro, and both are entwined elegantly through the movements of the Suite like, as Sir Thomas Beecham once said in quite another context, “an amiable tapeworm”. Or, if one prefers a more edifying image, like Ariadne’s thread guiding us faithfully through the labyrinths of some complex but captivating music.
Pedro Faria Gomes
The music of Pedro Faria Gomes has been praised for its ‘high calibre of imagination and workmanship’, showing a ‘fine and original new voice’ (Gapplegate Classical), and for ‘immediately capturing the listener’ (Kathodik). His Chamber Works album (Naxos, 2020) has been critically acclaimed, with Records International highlighting his ‘fine sense of the subtleties of instrumental colour’.
Faria’s works are regularly commissioned, performed, recorded and broadcast internationally. Recordings of his music are available on prestigious labels such as Naxos, Prima Facie, Centaur Records, Casa da Música, Numérica, GDA and Compasso. Recognition for his work has included the PRS Sir Arthur Bliss Memorial Award (UK), the Lopes-Graça Prize, and the SPA Prémio Autores 2020 (Portugal).
Throughout his career, Faria has worked with a vast number of soloists, conductors and ensembles worldwide. Commissions have included new works for the Teatro Nacional São João (Crónica de Dor e Morte, 2003), Orquestra Clássica da Madeira (Romanza e Rondò, 2005), Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa (O Violino Cigano, 2006), Academia de Música de Viana do Castelo (Como se Faz Cor-de-Laranja, 2007), Contemporary Consort / Stratford on Avon Music Festival (Dual, 2010), Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture (Contraluz, 2012), Intimacy of Creativity / Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Dual, 2012) Wesley Ferreira (Memória, 2012), Academia de Música de Santa Cecília (Cinco Canções Breves, 2004, Uma Cantata Portuguesa, 2005, and Canções do Quadrante, 2015), Teatro Nacional de São Carlos (ELA, 2016), Companhia Nacional de Bailado (Pinguins, 2016), London Symphony Orchestra (Evening, 2017), Dryads Duo (Sonata, 2018), Grupo de Música Contemporânea de Lisboa (Tableaux, 2018), Jeremy Huw Williams (The Ways of Time, 2021) and Síntese – GMC (Partita, 2021).
Other notable performances have been given by soloists Richard Stoltzman, Simon Rowland-Jones, Madeleine Mitchell, Anne Kaasa, Bruno Borralhinho, Nils Kohler, and ensembles such as Rarescale, Endymion, Lontano, Projecto XXI, I Solisti Veneti, London Chamber Orchestra, Orquestra Gulbenkian, Orquestra Sinfónica Casa da Música, Sinfonietta de Lisboa, Coro de Câmara Lisboa Cantat, Coral Paulistano and Nederlands Kamerkoor.
Born in Lisbon in 1979, Pedro Faria Gomes is based in the UK, where he is Senior Lecturer in Composition at Cardiff University School of Music, in Wales. He has previously taught in Portugal and Hong Kong, and holds master’s and doctoral degrees from the Royal College of Music. In Lisbon, he studied piano with Leonor Fernandes and composition with Eurico Carrapatoso. He is married to British violist and teacher Sophie Faria, and they live in Cardiff with their two children.
Described by the Moscow Kommersant as “an outstanding virtuoso—one of the finest players of his generation”, by Tom Service in the Guardian as “pianist, author, lecturer and all-round virtuoso”, and by Stefan Pieper in Klassik Heute as a “pianist, scholar, radical thinker and philosopher”, Kenneth Hamilton is well-known as a recitalist and recording artist of emotional depth and striking originality. His CDs have attracted both critical acclaim and a large number of listeners worldwide. His best-selling After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance (Oxford University Press) is one of the most internationally influential books on Classical music performance, and has been translated into Italian, Hungarian and Mandarin.
Hamilton is ever grateful for his pianistic training in Scotland with Lawrence Glover and Ronald Stevenson, and is a keen communicator, enthusiastically promoting the understanding and appreciation of music. He has appeared frequently on radio and television worldwide, and is a familiar artist on BBC Radio 3, Radio 4 and the World Service. One of his recent BBC broadcasts, in the series The Essay: My Life in Music, was described by Sir Nicholas Kenyon in The Observer as “Revelatory… touching… a personal story of loss and death that reaches out from the radio. That is what broadcasting is all about”.
Hamilton’s recordings of music by Bach, Chopin, Liszt, Grainger, Godowsky, Stevenson, Casken, and many others have enjoyed outstanding reviews: “played with understanding and brilliance” (Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3 Record Review); “this is real music-making, not subservient reciting from a sacred text (Ralph Locke, Arts Fuse); “precise control and brilliance” (Andrew Clements, The Guardian); “thrilling” (Jeremy Nicholas, Gramophone); “a gorgeous recording and excellent performance” (Jack Sullivan, American RecoTrd Guide), “imaginative and ingenious…Hamilton’s playing is up there with the best of Chopin interpreters” (Dr Chang Tou Liang, Singapore Straits Times).
Volume 1 of Hamilton’s Liszt series, a double-CD instalment entitled Death and Transfiguration, was a Gramophone “Best Classical Album of 2022”, a Recording of the Week on BBC Radio 3, and a Music Web International Recommended Recording. Volume 2, Salon and Stage, reached no.3 in the UK Classical Charts, was Classical CD of the Week in the Guardian, and an AllMusic Classical Highlight for 2023. Gramophone described it as “engrossing… Hamilton once more emerges as a born Lisztian in his unforced virtuosity”.
Kenneth Hamilton is a Professor at Cardiff University School of Music in Wales, UK. He has also been a visiting artist at the Franz Liszt Academy in Hungary, the St Petersburg Conservatory in Russia, and at many institutions in the US, China and the Far East.
Recorded at Cardiff University School of Music on 4-5 February and 22 July 2023.
Piano: Steinway Model D (Hamburg)
Piano Preparation: Ulrich Gerhartz
Piano Tuning: Gavin Crooks
Recording Producer: Steve Plews
Recording Editor: Phil Hardman
Publisher: Pedro Faria Gomes
Cover Image: Edvard Munch “Two Children on their Way to the Fairytale Forest”, (1901–1902).
Photo: Munchmuseet / Juri Kobayashi
Booklet Notes: David Beard and Kenneth Hamilton
Artwork: Simon Crosby Buttle
This recording has been kindly supported by Sociedade Portuguesa de Autores (Fundo Cultural) and Cardiff University