Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

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Folk music and oral literature : Portuguese

  • Popular culture (Folk music)Popular culture (Oral literature)Portuguese
  • Cultural Field:
  • Author:
    Marques, Rui
  • Text:

    Interest on the documentation and study of folk-music in Portugal arose in the 1870s, when the music practised in Portuguese rural areas began to be investigated by musicologists, composers, music teachers, anthropologists, folklorists, and “local scholars” (often priests, army officers and school teachers).

    This emerging interest had been stimulated by literary Romanticism, introduced in Portugal in 1825 by Almeida Garrett’s 3-volume collection of folk-songs and folk-tales Cancioneiro e Romanceiro Geral (1853-51). In its wake followed a generation of researchers of Portuguese traditions, including two of the pioneers of Portuguese ethnology: Teófilo Braga (1843–1924) and José Leite de Vasconcelos (1858–1941). Both focused on the literary aspects of traditional poetry and songs. Additionally, they prefaced collections of musical transcriptions, providing textual analysis and pointing out the close relationship between text and music, and the need to study music as a cultural element. The extensive research conducted by these authors in the fields of oral literature and ethnography addressed matters of origin, the distribution of musical genres and instruments, and the contexts of music-making.

    In 1872, Adelino Neves e Melo published Músicas e Cantigas Populares(“Popular Music and Songs”), a collection of texts and transcriptions of songs gathered in the regions of Coimbra, Minho, Trás-os-Montes and the Azores. The publication of this work inaugurated a period of collection, study and dissemination. Between 1893 and 1898, César das Neves and Gualdino Pais published a 3-volume collection of musical transcriptions with piano accompaniment. They included both rural and urban songs from across the country, as well as foreign songs popularized in Portugal in recent decades. In 1896, Pedro Fernandes Tomás published Canções Populares da Beira (“Popular songs from the Beira province”), also provided with harmonization for piano.

    The spread of folk-music harmonizations and the appeals to the rescue of musical traditions in danger of rapid disappearance led the Conselho de Arte Musical do Conservatório Real de Lisboa (“Board of Musical Arts from Lisbon’s Royal Conservatory”) to include in the first issue of the Conservatory’s journal (1902) an announcement entitled Cancioneiro Popular Português (“Portuguese Popular Songbook”). In this document, the Conservatory took responsibility for systematically collecting Portuguese folk-music. This manifest was sent to various institutions and individual figures, requesting their cooperation and providing them with systematic guidelines.

    In his 1913 preface to Thomás’s Velhas Canções e Romances Populares Portuguese (“Ancient Portuguese Songs and Romances”), António Arroyo called for the introduction of a scientific methodology in traditional music collection. Aware of developments in music research elsewhere in Europe, and sensitive to the limitations of the conventional musical notation with regard to the transcription of folk-music, Arroyo suggested the use of gramophone. But although some recordings were made by Kurt Schindler in Trás-os-Montes around 1930, the technique was not applied systematically until the recordings by Armando Leça in the 1940s, sponsored by the Emissora Nacional Portuguesa (“Portuguese National Radio”).

    Word Count: 478

  • Article version:
  • DOI:
  • Almeida Garrett, João (1843). Romanceiro e cancioneiro geral (vol. 1; Lisbon: Typographia da Sociedade Propagadora dos Conhecimentos Úteis) [Ballads and general songbook]

    Almeida Garrett, João (1851). Romanceiro (vols. II and III; Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional) [Ballads]

    Arroyo, António (1913). “Sobre as canções populares portuguesas e o modo de fazer a sua colheita”, in Thomas, Pedro Fernandes (ed.) (1913). Velhas canções e romances populares Portugueses (Coimbra: França Amado Editora), 7-53 [On Portuguese folk songs and how to make your harvest]

    Lucci, Eduardo S. (1902). “Cancioneiro popular português”, Revista do Conservatorio Real de Lisboa, 1: 15-16 [Portuguese popular music]

    Melo, Adelino das Neves (1872). Música e cantigas populares (Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional) [Popular songs and music]

    Neves, César das; Campos, Gualdino de (1893). Cancioneiro de músicas populares (Porto: Typographia Occidental) [Songbook of popular music]

    Neves, César das; Campos, Gualdino de (1895). Cancioneiro de músicas populares (vols. II and III; Porto: César Campos and Co.) [Songbook of popular music]

    Pestana, Maria do Rosário (2012). Armando Leça e a música portuguesa: 1910-1940 (Lisbon: Tinta-da-China) [A.L. and Portuguese music: 1910-1940]

    Tomás, Pedro Fernandes (1896). Canções populares da Beira (Figueira da Foz: Imprensa lusitana) [Popular songs of Beira]

    Toscano, Maria Manuela (1988). “In search of a lost world: An overview of documentation and research on the traditional music of Portugal”, Yearbook for traditional music, 20: 158-192

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    All articles in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe edited by Joep Leerssen are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.spinnet.eu.

    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Marques, Rui, 2021. "Folk music and oral literature : Portuguese", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 21-10-2021, consulted 26-01-2022.