Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dom António de Bragança, the Author of the “Fado das Horas”

One of the readers of All This Is Fado, who has been a long-time follower of the music of Maria Teresa de Noronha, recently inquired whether it would be possible to find out more information about Dom António de Bragança, the author of the famous “Fado das Horas.” After carrying out a little research on this aristocratic fado poet, with some help from my good friend Ofélia Pereira, this is what I have been able to compile.

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Over the course of its history, fado has appealed not only to the working classes, but the nobility has also shown a pronounced interest in the genre, enabling it to move freely across social boundaries. In fact, the foundational myth of fado, dating back to the 1820s, has to do with the illicit love affair between the prostitute Maria Severa and the Count of Vimioso, an aristocrat who excelled at bullfighting and enjoyed fado singing. Many have been the members of the upper classes that have fallen prey to the lure of fado, from nineteenth-century noblemen such as Dom José Almada e Lencastre and the Count of Castelo Melhor to more contemporary singers like Maria Teresa de Noronha and Vicente da Câmara, who belonged to the privileged classes and decided to pursue a career in fado.

Dom António José Manuel de Bragança is actually related to Vicente da Câmara, and his love of fado goes back to the years of his youth. Born in 1895, Dom António soon followed in the footsteps of his brother Dom Pedro de Bragança, who was ten years his elder and was known for his rowdy, fun-loving ways, as well as for his eccentricities. Dom Pedro was very adept at hunting and bullfighting, but he also had a talent for songwriting and even got around to making some records accompanied by Raul Nery on the Portuguese guitar and Júlio Gomes on the guitar. As for Dom António, he concentrated on songwriting and soon emerged as a magnificent poet, penning the lyrics of fado classics such as “Fado Rosário” ("Fado of the Rosary") and “Fado das Horas” (“Fado of the Hours”), the latter recorded by Maria Teresa de Noronha, who counted him among his favorite lyricists.

The poems of Dom António de Bragança, usually full of witty rhymes, are inspired by the spontaneity and lightheartedness of folk poetry, but they are always very carefully constructed. Many of them explore the ubiquitous theme of love, but some others are highly self-referential and attempt to depict what fado means. For instance, Eduardo Sucena (1) claims that his “Fado da Verdade” (“Fado of Truth”) is a defense of fado against the fierce criticism of the genre made by Luís Moita in his famous 1936 book Fado, Canção de Vencidos (Fado, Song of the Defeated):

Once someone said
That fado put to sleep
Those who heard its moaning
That fado takes away our energies
That it takes away our happiness
That it is a song of the defeated

It is a heresy, it is a sin
To say such things about fado
To make such a statement
If fado is sad, when it is sung
It only brings to tears
Those who have a heart

The connection with Moita’s book, a collection of lectures read over the airwaves in which he blames fado for many of the social problems that were plaguing Portugal at the time, is obvious here, and Dom António’s very poetic reply in the second stanza speaks for itself. When dealing with the topic of love, however, Dom António favored a much more playful approach, as in the first stanza of his “Fado Rosário”:

When she gave me a rosary one day
My mother asked me
To pray for everyone
Yet I committed a great sin
For I completely forgot her plea
And only prayed for you.

The great aristocratic fado singer Maria Teresa de Noronha.

In the “Fado das Horas,” one of his masterpieces that will be forever associated with Maria Teresa de Noronha, he achieves a highly dramatic effect by virtue of his use of the oxymoron, thereby illustrating the paradoxical nature of love and the fugacity of life. It is worth translating the poem in full because of its lyricism and poetic quality:

I used to cry because I did not see you
Now I cry because I see you
But I am simply crying because
I want to see you all the time

Time flies by in a whirl
When you are talking, I listen
In the hours of our lives
Each hour lasts just one minute

When you are by my side
I feel that I rule the world
But time is so cruel
Each hour lasts only one second

Stay very close to me
And do not ever go away
So that my poor heart
May live at least for an hour.

Dom António de Bragança passed away in 1964, at age 69, leaving behind an important legacy of poems, many of which have become fado classics and entered the repertoire of some of the great performers of the genre. He ranks high among the several aristocrats that have paid heed to the calling of fado and devoted their artistic efforts to increasing the fame and reputation of the style. Although he never made any records, Dom António will always be remembered as one of the top songwriters of the fado aristocrático.

Links: For more information in Portuguese about Dom António de Bragança and other renowned aristocrats whose lives crossed paths with fado, click on Fadistas Como Eu Sou: Fidalgos Poetas e Fadistas.


(1) Eduardo Sucena. Lisboa, o fado e os fadistas. Edições Vega, 1992: 139-40. This book includes an entire chapter devoted to the so-called aristocratic fado, featuring a basic analysis of the relationships established between fado and the upper classes.