Joly Braga Santos: String Quartet No.1


Remembered for being one of the leading Portugese composers during the 20th century, Joly Braga Santos (1924-1988) composed six symphonies and a collection of chamber works. After recently having a small surge of recordings made, Braga Santos’ music is rightfully receiving more attention. His First String Quartet was composed in 1945, and it is said to be influenced by the likes of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Béla Bártok – an unlikely duo!


The Music

Composed when he was just 21 years old, Braga Santos certainly made a statement with his first ever string quartet.


Movement I – Allegro moderato

The opening movement starts with syncopated fluctuations that initiate a sense of urgency within the music. The top violin takes the solo lead and the first theme is played through. For only four players, the textures created by Braga Santos are rich and full of colour and timbre. A slower central section takes hold as the rich textures are translated into a different kind of atmosphere. The cello takes an important solo line which is unaccompanied and stretches the instrument into its upper range. As the music picks up tempo again each distinct voice can be heard clear again. The intensity between the players rises before the opening movement comes to its thrilling finish.


Movement II – Allegro con fuoco

The vigour of this short movement is worthy of mention as the voices completely change from the previous movement. The jaunty melody, often played in complete unison, is powerful and makes a statement. The wall of sound created becomes flexible and the bouncy theme becomes even more prevalent. As the theme is repeated a number of times, each slightly differently, the movement comes to a fiery finish.


Movement III – Andante tranquillo

The token slow movement of the quartet is a lengthy exploration of the opening violin theme. Braga Santos’ rich textures take centre stage again in this movement, with lots of colourful writing being showcased. Utilising the full ranges of all the instruments, this movement pushes the voices to their upper limits. Heart-wrenching, vibrato-laden sections tug at your heartstrings as Braga Santos slowly develops this rich theme. As the intensity rises towards the end of the movement, the music ends quietly and poignantly. 


Movement IV – Allegro molto energico e appassionato

The fiery finale movement is the longest of all four movements in the quartet. Opening with a driving theme set up by the lower strings, the violin once again takes an extended solo. It is often commented that the influence of Bártok is heard in this movement the most, with the music having an edge and more grit than some of the other movements. The driving force of the music is felt throughout, with the sense of urgency being high. A slower central section takes hold, with the force of Braga Santos’ lyrical writing being showcased. This slow tempo is then unchanged until the quartet finishes with a sustained note on the viola that slowly dies away.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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