Biography

Marcos Portugal Marcos António da Fonseca Portugal [Marco Portogallo] (Lisboa, 24th March 1762 – Rio de Janeiro, 17th February 1830), Luso-Brazilian organist, maestro and prolific composer (over 70 dramatic works, including 40 operas, and more than 140 sacred works), obtained an unparalleled international success in Portuguese musical history, with hundreds of operatic representations in Europe. In Portugal and Brazil, however, his fame as a composer was mainly due to the sacred genre, with some works remaining in the churches’ repertoire until the beginning of the 20th century.

He was admitted to the Seminário da Patriarcal at the age of 9, where he studied with João de Sousa Carvalho and, most likely, with José Joaquim dos Santos. According to a list of works transcribed from Portugal’s autograph and published in 1859 by Manuel de Araújo Porto-alegre in the Revista Trimensal do Instituto Historico Geographico e Etnographico do Brasil, the first public presentation of the composer Marcos António (the variant of the name he used in the beginning of his career) took place at the Santa Igreja Patriarcal (Holy Patriarchal Church) in 1780 with two antiphons «a canto d’orgão»: a Salve Regina and a Sub tuum praesidium. He was hired as organist by that institution in 1782 with the monthly salary of 12$500 reis and, from the 1st of September 1787, also formally as composer, with the corresponding raise of 50$000 reis annually. In 1782 the Queen D. Maria I commissioned a mass com instrumental (with orchestra) for S. Bárbara’s feast. This occasion marked the beginning of a closer collaboration with the Royal Family, and particularly with Prince D. João (later King João VI), a relationship that would condition the rest of his professional life, and even influence his style.

Until 1792, and after being admitted to the Irmandade de S. Cecília (the musicians’ guild) on the 23rd of July 1783, he also became Music Master at the Teatro do Salitre (from c.1784) for which he composed entremezes, royal birthday odes, and Portuguese operas. The other important activity of the period relates to the music commissions for the religious ceremonies taking place at the Royal Chapels, particularly the one at Queluz.

The worsening of Queen’s D. Maria I illness, and the beginning of Prince’s D. João Regency, precede by about 6 months the departure of the composer to Italy, where «all’attuale servizio di S. M. Fedelissima» (according to some libretos), and in only six and a half years, he premiered at least 21 operas, the majority of which opere buffe. The success of operas like La confusione della somiglianza, La Donna di genio volubile or Lo Spazzacamino Principe was vast, and spread to the rest of Europe, with representations in Viena, Paris, London, Dublin, S. Petersburg, Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg, Hannover, Leipzig, Nuremberg, Corfu, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisboa, Oporto... (Vide Manoel Pereira Peixoto d’Almeida Carvalhaes, Marcos Portugal na sua musica dramatica, Lisboa, 1910, Supplement: 1916)

Back to Lisbon in 1800, he was offered the positions of Music Master of the Seminário da Patriarcal and Maestro at the Real Teatro de São Carlos (São Carlos Royal Theatre), where he composed opere serie, almost all with main roles for the prima donna Angelica Catalani ho, after leaving Lisbon in early 1806, continued singing the operas of Marco Portogallo (namely La morte di Semiramide and La morte di Mitridate), and including arias in her recitals (Son Regina became the best known). The only opera buffa written for the Teatro de S. Carlos was L’oro non compra amore (1804), later staged in Madrid, Paris, Monaco (da Baviera), Rio de Janeiro (twice) and, until 1821, in 20 Italian cities.

The aborted autumn 1805 coup and the departure of Catalani, meant a shift of the centre of musical activity to Mafra, where D. João had taken up residence. Until November 1807 an unusual concentration of organists, singers, copyists, organ builders, estampilhadores (craftsmen of the large stencilled music books) and composers, was responsible for an extraordinary and yet to be studied musical production. Marcos alone composed more than 20 religious works (with special incidence in the year 1807) for the voices of the monks, and the unique set of the Basilica’s 6 organs.

The French invasion led to the immediate departure of the Portuguese Court to Rio de Janeiro on the 29th of November 1807, where the Prince Regent decided to organize musical activities in a similar way that was costume in Lisbon. To this effect he appointed Padre José Maurício Nunes Garcia as Master of the Royal Chapel, and sent for singers and instrumentalists, who started arriving in 1809. Marcos Portugal was ordered to come in 1810 and would arrive on the 11th June 1811. He was appointed Music Master of Suas Altezas Reais (Their Royal Highnesses), and charged with providing music for the occasions of greater religious, social or political importance, when the Prince Regent, later King D. João VI, was present. Formally, Marcos was never Master of the Royal Chapel in Rio de Janeiro, receiving 600$000 reis annually as Music Master of the Seminário da Patriarcal and composer of the Patriarcal, and a further 480$000 reis as Music Master of Their Royal Highnesses, title used in contemporary sources. His functions would thus complement those of Padre José Maurício, charged with providing and preparing the music throughout the busy liturgical annual calendar.

Marcos Portugal Marcos Portugal became a key figure in D. João’s strategy, since he not only was responsible for developing a style of music adequate for the staging of Royal Power, potentiating the splendour and grandiloquence of the Monarch’s public appearances in the Royal Chapel, but also for ascertaining that everything ran smoothly and in good order when the Prince Regent attended the Public Theatres. The composer became the “Music Director of Royal Power”, specifically and individually writing for the magnificent voices at his disposal, among them 8 castrati (5 of them hired in 1816 and 1817), the favourites of the Sovereign, and a fundamental ingredient of the sound image intended. Since the Royal Chapel was the main stage, it is not surprising that the vast musical production of Marcos Portugal for this period is almost exclusively religious music (essentially masses, matins, psalms and hymns), including some new versions of works written for Mafra’s Basilica. The three exceptions are: A saloia namorada, farsa sung at the Quinta da Boa Vista (1812), Augurio di felicità, serenata to celebrate the marriage of D. Pedro and the Archduchess D. Leopoldina (1817), and the Hino para a Feliz Aclamação de D. João VI (1817), for the Acclamation of King João VI. For his «good services» Marcos Portugal received by decree the Commend of the Order of Christ on the 12th October 1820, the birthday of Prince D. Pedro.

The music situation at the Royal Chapel was radically altered with the return of the Court to Portugal and with Brazil’s independence in 1822. Not only did some of the musicians working for the King of Portugal cross the Atlantic (but not the castrati), but the financial difficulties originated increasing budget cuts, resulting in the diminution of gala ceremonies and in the degradation of the quality of the music performed in the Imperial Chapel. The strategic importance of Marcos’ music was lost. The music of his pupil D. Pedro, the first Emperor of Brazil, replaced his teacher’s music in all the occasions of greater socio-political importance. The most significant extant works of the period are the Hino da Independência do Brasil, with words by Evaristo Ferreira da Veiga and first official national anthem, and the Missa Breve, composed «Por Ordem de Sua Magestade Imperial» (by order of His Imperial Majesty) in December 1824, coinciding with the confirmation as Master of Music of Suas Altezas Imperiais (His Imperial Highnesses, the daughters of D. Pedro), with the annual salary of 480$000 reis.