Temas e Variações

Frederico de Freitas (1902-1980)

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Temas e Variações

Theme and Variations  


Bernardo Santos



The first reference to Frederico de Freitas’ Theme and Variations appeared in 1945, in a letter from pianist and piano teacher Lourenço Varella Cid (1898-1987) to the composer. The manuscript however- dedicated to Varella Cid - dates from 1944. In this letter, the pianist expresses his gratitude for the dedication of the Theme and Variations, showing great interest in the work. He also mentions that, at that moment, he was preparing a “somewhat new and outlandish”3 project, in which he would include the Theme and Variations. There are two other letters written by Varella Cid, from September 8th, 1946 and September 17th, 1946. In the first letter, he mentions that he would resume the study of the Theme and Variations after his vacations. The second letter addresses Frederico de Freitas’ suggestion of performing a concert exclusively comprised of his works. In this last letter, Varella Cid confirms his availability and willingness to perform this concert, and requests that the concert be held at the beginning of the season. This request is due to the fact that the pianist intended to perform a concert at the beginning of the year, and the Theme and Variations would be included. We should note that all letters were addressed to the composer, and therefore it has not been possible to ascertain how Freitas may have replied to Varella Cid in relation to the Theme and Variations.

Although Frederico de Freitas intended to present a concert of his own works, there are no records as to whether this con­cert ever took place. There is, however, a poster from January 31st, 1947, announcing a concert by Lourenço Varella Cid at the Tivoli Theatre, in Lisbon, which mentions the premiere of the piece.

The only record in Frederico de Freitas’ archives concerning later performances of the Theme and Variations is from June 6th, 1973. This work, performed by Florinda Santos, was part of Frederico de Freitas’ 70th anniversary commemorative concert, in Lisbon’s Academia de Amadores de Música (Music Amateurs’ Academy), dedicated to presenting works by this composer.

Frederico de Freitas’ piano output is large and diverse, with a focus on shorter works. It includes works for students and young learners, such as the Livro da Maria Frederica, short works, and two works on a larger scale - the Sonata and the Theme and Variations. The latter is constituted by a theme, four variations, a fugue, a return to the theme and a two-sectioned march.

Frederico de Freitas’ skill as a conductor is evident in his Theme and Variations. The overall concept of the work is predomi­nantly orchestral, particularly in sections such as the Alla Marcia and the Scherzando variations. The manner in which the material is developed - whether melodically or harmonically - suggests neo-classical influences, a common style for the epoch in which it was composed.

This work’s theme is in D major and displays characteristics reminiscent of traditional Portuguese music, with frequent dissonance punctuating the calm setting.

In the first variation, in D minor, despite the absence of theme’s melody, the melodic contour conveys the sensation that it is somehow present. In addition, the first rhythmic figure is identical to the theme’s initial rhythm, continuously repeating itself throughout. This variation is the shortest of the work and the only one to include repetition.

The second variation reinstates the D major tonality. With Quasi Presto as tempo marking, it presents a combination of third and fourth intervals in the right hand and, in the left hand, small motifs that complete the idea brought forth by the double notes. This moment of the work is predominantly chromatic and especially varied in terms of dynamics.

The third variation, Adagio molto, in the key of F minor, exhibits a polyphonic character with several passages in four voices. Built on a short motif of repeated notes, it is possible to find a resemblance between this motive (ms. 94) and the second part of the theme in its repetition (ms. 25), which is perhaps the source of inspiration for this variation. Structurally, it presents an ABA form with a coda. This variation ends with a dissonance and its consequent resolution to a D-flat major chord, the key of the following variation, thus establishes a connection between the two sections.

The fourth variation stands out for its rustic ambience. In fact, right after the Allegro Comodo indication, the composer writes em ar de dança rústica (“as in a rustic dance”) between brackets. This new section of the piece begins with the theme in reverse format and displays the same rhythmic figure. The proximity to the theme is also suggested through the rustic sonority, reminiscent of traditional songs, and more evident here than in the theme. The composer also resorts to the use of dissonance and polyphony, combined with the simple melodic line from the beginning of the variation. As the former variation, it displays an ABA structure, ending with a coda.

The fugue of the Theme and Variations may be seen as the nucleus of the whole opus. Situated roughly in the middle of the piece, it is a section of larger dimensions and greater technical difficulty, and is the most elaborate section from a compositional perspective. Written in G major, the theme of the fugue showcases a descending leap of a minor 6th and a punctuated rhythm right from the start, establishing a connection with the piece’s general theme. Polyphonically, this fugue presents two voices, with a third voice occasionally making an appearance. It is also possible to identify various contrapuntal techniques throughout this fugue, combined with virtuosistic writing. This section of the Theme and Variations ends with a suspended cadence that allows for a return to the initial theme. Similarly, the return to the theme also ends here with a suspended cadence, assuring the transition to the next variation.

The fifth variation, Alla Marcia, begins with a motive that, in character and according to the composer’s indication, can be likened to marching. This initial motive leads to a second motive, characterized by dissonances in the right hand and a punctuated rhythm in the left hand, deriving from the original theme. After a brief development, both motifs are repeated in a different tonality, leading to the final Scherzando. According to André Vaz Pereira, this Scherzando may be considered a coda4, despite being included in the Alla Marcia variation. A new motif emerges in this section, the last of the piece. It takes the form of a brief fugue wherein the composer combines the formal techniques displayed in the fugue with the rustic character of the theme and of some variations. Reminiscences of several variations are thus found here. This Scherzando culminates with the presentation of this section’s motive on a high-pitch register, with the punctuated rhythm of the Alla Marcia accompanying on the piano’s lower register. After this section, the dynamics diminish gradually, ending with a set of chords in sudden fortissimo.


It is important to mention that, in the manuscript dedicated to Lourenço Varella Cid, the composer registered the date “1/2/1944” at the end of the fourth variation, Allegro Comodo. It may suggest that, firstly, Frederico de Freitas might have considered his work concluded with this variation. The addition of a fugue, a repetition of the theme and two variations may suggest that these developments were undertaken a posteriori. Nevertheless, this explanation is speculative. There is no mention of this date in the letters held at the library of the University of Aveiro addressed to Frederico de Freitas by Varella Cid, and this date is only mentioned in the manuscript dedicated to Lourenço Varella Cid. All known versions, autograph or copies, do not show the aforementioned date.