In 1755 a disaster took place: Lisbon was largely destroyed
by an earthquake. More than 60,000 people, about a quarter of
the city's population, were killed, and the earthquake
was felt as far away as Central Europe. It was also disastrous
from a cultural point of view: the huge court library was destroyed
and because of that a large part of Portugal's music
history was wiped off the musical map. It could well be that
a large part of the oeuvre of Carlos Seixas was also destroyed.
He was a musical prodigy who started his career at the age of
just 14, when he succeeded his father as organist of Coimbra
Cathedral. Two years later he moved to Lisbon where he became
organist at Santa Igreja Patriarcal, which position he held
until the end of his life. In addition Seixas taught the harpsichord
at the royal court. Here he also met Domenico Scarlatti who
entered its service in 1720. There has been much speculation
about the latter's influence on Seixas. Parallels between
the keyboard sonatas of the two masters are obvious, but who
exactly influenced whom is hard to decide. As a matter of fact,
Scarlatti refused to give his younger colleague keyboard lessons.
He was so impressed by Seixas' skills that, according
to a Portuguese dictionary of 1760, he said that it was rather
Seixas who should give him keyboard lessons. He added
that "the man is one of the greatest masters I have ever
It is assumed Seixas composed about 700 sonatas, about 100 of
which have survived, none of them in autograph. A number of
sonatas are in one movement, like the sonatas by Scarlatti.
However, there are also a number which comprise various movements,
from two to four. The harmonic language is often daring and
the virtuosity of the fast movements is astonishing and gives
some idea of the composer's skills.
It is not easy to decide which instrument to choose for a performance
of these sonatas. Musical life on the Iberian peninsula was
under strong Italian influence, and the harpsichords which were
in use were mostly of the Italian type. One cannot exclude that
instruments from elsewhere in Europe were purchased for performances
at the court. At least that was the case at the Spanish court
in Madrid, where French harpsichords were present. The choice
for this disc seems rather questionable, though. Débora Halász
plays a copy by Hieronymus Hass - not Haas, as the reverse of
the tray says - of 1734. It is a huge instrument with a 16'
stop which Ms Halász uses consistently. She has a special liking
for the virtuosic part of Seixas' oeuvre, and the 16'
stop can come in very handy. It ill serves Seixas' music.
We get a one-sided picture, and the consistent change of manuals
causes much disquiet and tends to take attention away from the
It seems that Ms Halász changes the registration while playing.
I can understand that David Blomenberg, in his review
of Volume 1, wondered whether the instrument had knee levers.
To the best of my knowledge Hass didn't produce instruments
with knee levers. Another explanation could be that the instrument
has three manuals. At least one such is known from Hass, but
the 1734 Hass has only two. Could it be the result of recording
technique? Either that or did she receive any assistance to
change the registration while playing? I can't answer
As happy as I am that Seixas is receiving the attention he deserves,
I am not convinced that this is the way ahead. A harpsichord
with just one manual could well suffice to bring out all the
qualities of this master's music.
Johan van Veen