Thursday, May 21, 2009

The National Anthem of Portugal

At the end of the 19th century, "A Portuguesa," was written by the republicans Alfredo Keil (music) and Henrique Lopes de Medonca (words), upset over the British ultimatum to Portugal regarding Africa. Anywhere there was protests against the monarchy as a result, "A Portuguesa" could be heard. The song still echoes the original intent, the verses and especially the chorus speak of a call to arms, the third verse speaks of "insults" and "embarrassment" (which is how the Portuguese saw the British ultimatum), and the original last line of the chorus read "Contra os bretões marchar, marchar" (Against the British we march, we march!). With the success of the Republicans in ousting the monarchy and replacing them with a democratic government, "A Portuguesa" was approved as a national anthem shortly after in 1911, it is the first verse and chorus that is usually presented as the anthem.

In 1956, there were a number of variations of the anthem, not just in its melodic line but also in the instrumentation. Recognizing this, the government named a commission charged with determining the official version of "A Portuguesa." This commission prepared a proposal which, approved by the Council of Ministers on 16 July 1957, remains in effect to this day.

Alfredo Cristiano Keil, born in Lisbon, 3 July 1850, was a Portuguese romantic composer and painter. Son of Johann Christian Keil and Maria Josefina Stellflug, Alfredo was of German origin. Aside from being a composer, he was also considered the last important Portuguese painter in the romantic style. He studied in Munich and Nuremberg with the German romantic painters Kaulbach and von Kreling. Returning to Portugal, where he continued his studies, he became a well known romantic painter, being also the contemporary of the naturalist generation, with his melancholic intimate scenes and landscapes.

As a composer, he gained prominence with his operas "D. Branca" (1883), "Irene" (1893) and "Serrana" (1899), then considered the best Portuguese opera. He composed the music of "A Portuguesa", the Portuguese national anthem, in 1891, with lyrics by poet and playwright Henrique Lopes de Mendonça; it was adopted in 1911, after the proclamation of the Republic the previous year. Ironically, he had died in Hamburg on 4 October 1907, exactly three years before the first day of the Revolution.