Les Inondations de Murcie, Scène caractéristique op. 28

José Vianna da Motta (1868-1948)

Ref. ava161571

Les Inondations de Murcie, Scène caractéristique op. 28

At the age of eleven José Vianna da Motta composed Les Inondations de Murcie, Scène caractéristique op. 28 which is classed with his childhood works written between 1873 and 1883. Although "Les Inondations de Murcie en 1879" is printed on the front cover of the manuscript – the title specifies the year of the disaster that inspired the author to compose this work –, we opted for the title written in the header of the manuscript score's first page.

            On October 15th, 1879, violent and sudden precipitations flooded the basin of the Segura river. The height of the water reached its historical maximum (nearly four meters in some streets of Orihuela City), causing thousands of deaths and devastating the region of Murcia. Due to its unique dimension, this disaster remained known as Riada de Santa Teresa. In solidarity with the victims of the catastrophe, several institutions and personalities organized fundraising campaigns. The Spanish and international press joined these efforts which probably explains Vianna da Motta's reference to the French journalist Édouard Lebey on the first page of his manuscript: "– Édouard Lebey – (to the Parisian party committee)" (translated from Portuguese). It is possible that Vianna da Motta composed this work in honor of the victims, having in perspective its publication in the only issue of the Paris-Murcie, Journal publié au profit des victimes des inondations d'Espagne (Paris-Murcia, Journal published for the benefit of the victims of the floods of Spain) published in December, 1879 by the Comité de la presse française under the direction of Édouard Lebey. The context of this publication also explains the fact that the composer gave to this work a title in French and used French in the indications related to the scenes of the catastrophe he imagined: Avant l'orage (Before the storm); Le temps commence à se troubler (The weather becomes overcast); L'orage (The storm); Le désespoir (The despair); Des renversements (untranslatable); La Prière (The Prayer); Hymne triomphale en action de grâce (Triumphal hymn in thanksgiving).

            Les Inondations de Murcie, Scène caractéristique op. 28 is most likely Vianna da Motta's most elaborate childhood work, on the compositional, musical and pianistic levels. Revealing an early mastery of harmony and counterpoint, his pianistic writing sometimes breaks the chains of academic rules in search of dramatic effects evocative of natural phenomena. It also allows digital comfort, which shows that at that time, composition at the piano was a common practice for Vianna da Motta and that the process by which the rules of composition were applied was not really intellectual but praxis.

            As can be seen from the analysis of the structural scheme below, this piece is constructed through the succession of contrasting moments, a logical consequence of the musical description of a dramatic scene.






















































However, in the introduction, Vianna da Motta uses a Wagnerian procedure to make this musical passage a presage, presenting dramatic musical elements that will be used throughout the piece. The relation between the harmonic degrees I and vi present in the sequences of the A major and F sharp minor chords in bars 1 to 3 is transposed in D minor on the theme of The Prayer (b. 113+), while their writing in tremolos appears in each section where the composer evokes atmospheric agitation. Still the E–E?–F–G–A motif of bars 7 to 9 is present in the intermediate voices of bars 15 to 17 and bars 34 to 36.

            In a Chopinian style, the Andantino pastoral of bars 9 to 29 (Before the storm) installs a calm atmosphere. Its simple melody, mostly accompanied by dominant and tonic chords over an A pedal note, reaches its greatest brightness at bar 21 with the modulation to the key of C sharp major. This theme reappears in A major at bar 29 (The weather becomes overcast) with a wavy accompaniment in the left hand and an intermediate voice in tremolos on the right hand giving the first warning signs of the storm.


            The Lisztian passage of measures 43 to 62 (The storm), based on a melodic theme inspired by a motif of the previous theme, decomposed in tremolos in the right hand over ascending and descending chromatic scales in the bass registers of the piano, accompanied by crescendi and diminuendi, creates a musical atmosphere full of turbulence in an organized confusion.

            Still under the influence of Liszt and after a long dramatic silence at bar 62, a bridge of six measures, characterized by the succession of moments of disturbance and silence, introduces perhaps the most enigmatic musical passage of the work (b1). The left hand in tremolos, in the extreme bass, under the dynamics pianissimo and the indications Ped. sempre and una corda creates a distant sound carpet over which the right hand is placed, in the extreme treble, with the fast notes of its trills, of its arpeggiated motifs and its tremolos, which can evoke gusts of wind. The abrupt sequences of the C minor and C major harmonies from bars 71 to 73 reveal the attention given to color. Also the atypical rhythm of the right hand of measure 74 (sixteenth note, dotted eighth note) and the accents on the highest notes of this passage reveal the importance that Vianna da Motta gives to the timbre effect in the construction of a musical dramaturgy.

            In the section corresponding to bars 77 to 87 (b2), Vianna da Motta introduces a melody built around the two motifs of three successive eighth notes present in the theme of the Andantino pastoral (Before the storm). Over the sound carpet started in the previous section, to which are added ascending and descending chromatic scales, this passage culminates in the fortississimo of bars 86 and 87, where the diminished chord and the descending chromatic scale allied with the crescendo lead to a new suspension on a dramatic silence.

            It is then that the composer represents The despair of the people in an Allegro vivace (b. 88-110) characterized by a typically Beethovenian writing based on variations. Still in this section, on the chromatic scale of bars 108 to 110, Vianna da Motta writes "Des renversements", a strange indication which makes us believe that it is a mistake. However, it is possible that here the composer wanted to create an unexpected effect of reversal of the situation since this brief passage serves as a transition between The despair and The Prayer of the people that appears in the Andante religioso of bar 113.

            The theme of The Prayer, which is heard up to measure 125, returns twice in sections where the melody is decomposed in tremolos (cf. b. 126 and 156). Vianna da Motta seems to want to represent the trembling voice of the people praying in the face of the disaster. Between these two moments of anguish, a musical passage in D major appears as a brief hope: first in a Brahmsian style, with full chords solemnly supporting the melody in homorythm (b. 138), then in a Lisztian style, where the lyricism of the melody of the right hand is exacerbated by the accompaniment in arpeggios in the left hand (b. 146). This passage is perhaps the one that best reflects the influence that musical romanticism of the nineteenth century had on the young composer's creation.

            It is in the tone of D major, in a solemn and glorious style, with rhythms characteristic of marches, harmonies and brilliant timbres, that the composer imagines the end of the drama of Murcia. The long passage of the final section of bars 166 to 241 (Triumphal hymn in thanksgiving) thus represents the gratitude of the people for divine salvation.