Os pássaros da noite (The Birds of Night) (March 17, 2022)
Written by Rebecca Winzenried, an arts writer, former program editor for the New York Philharmonic, and former editor in chief of Symphony Magazine
Published by Playbill - New York Philharmonic
Copious written correspondence – letters, notes, documents, journal entries – was part of daily life for past generations of composers, leaving paper trails that can be mined for motivations, inspirations, moods, even dalliances. Still, by the then common standards, Robert and Clara Schumann provided a particularly rich treasure trove. The Robert Schumann Research Center in Düsseldorf places their total correspondence (to each other and others) at an estimated 20,000 letters.
It’s no wonder, then, that Andreia Pinto Correia turned to Robert and Clara’s letters for her New York Philharmonic commission premiered this week. The Portuguese-born composer often mines artworks and literary sources for her work, citing the influence of her family of scholars and writers. As a child she often accompanied her father, who studied medieval Iberian traditions, on his field research as director of the center for folk research at the University of Lisbon. And she observed as her mother, a professor of German literature, searched for the precise language needed for translations into Portuguese. Pinto Correia subsequently developed a habit of diving deep into research before settling down to compose.
Os Pássaros da noite (The Birds of Night) takes flight from a quote she discovered in an 1848 letter from Robert to his close friend, the composer and conductor Johannes Verhulst, which reads, “the melancholy birds of night still flit round me from time to time, yet they can be driven off by music.”
The composer’s poetic reference was to the mental illness – evidenced by episodes of mania, depression, and delusions – that had begun to consume his life. He voluntarily committed himself after a suicide attempt in 1854, and remained institutionalized until his death two years later (officially of pneumonia).
Pinto Correia also found a thread of melancholy woven into the letters between Clara and Robert. From the beginning they had much to be melancholy about, as her father strenuously objected to the blossoming romance between Robert, his piano student, and the teenage Clara, a successful concert pianist. His attempts to keep them apart, forbidding any communication and whisking his daughter away on tour, only resulted in secretly delivered letters and rendezvous, with Clara suing for the right to marry without parental consent. The couple finally prevailed and wed in 1840, a day before Clara’s 21st birthday. Robert was nine years older.
To acknowledge the dedicated partners, Pinto Correia structures her work in pairs. Os Pássaros da noite begins and ends with nocturnes, the first equivalent to dusk and the second to dawn, when the dark forces of night have lifted. Extremes of register, low to high, are paired in the same instrument groups, and dense textures play against more sparse scoring. Pinto Correia points to several solo turns, especially in the trumpet section, where virtuosic moments “symbolize cries of the night – and of the soul.” She describes Os Pássaros da noite as reflecting something of a different pace from her previous work, saying it is “more dramatic, with some explosive sections, and fast moving in pace.”
The composer experienced moments of melancholy in her own musical development. She set her sights on saxophone performance after falling in love with classical and jazz music as she listened to her parents’ albums. She earned a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music, in Boston, but injured her hand in an accident shortly after arriving, dashing any hope of a performing career. Pinto Correia returned to Portugal, taking a six-year hiatus to heal before deciding to refocus on more technical aspects of music-making. After enrolling in film score classes, she pivoted again, to contemporary composition, studying with Michael Gandolfi at New England Conservatory. She earned master’s and doctoral degrees there, also working with John Harbison and Steven Stucky.
A consistent flow of commissions followed, resulting in music that is often described as meditative and full of harmonic detail and aural color. Pinto Correia received a 2020 Arts and Letters Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which recognizes composers who have arrived at their own voice. Notable premieres have included her String Quartet No. 1, Unvanquished Space (2018), by the JACK Quartet; Ciprés (2018) by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra; and Timaeus (2015), commissioned in honor of Elliott Carter and premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra to open Tanglewood’s 75th anniversary season. Among her new works on the horizon: a string quartet for Brooklyn Rider, a group that takes its name from the borough Pinto Correia now calls home.