Francisco Inácio da Silveira de Sousa Pereira Forjaz de Lacerda is born on the 11th of May 1869, at Ribeira Seca, island of S. Jorge, Azores.

A descendant of a noble family with several generations of amateur musicians, from an early age he showed an admirable tendency towards this art, having received from his father, João Caetano Pereira de Sousa and Lacerda, his first music and piano lessons at the age of 4.

In 1886, he departs for the island of Terceira where he attends the general course of the Angra do Heroísmo High School. It is at this time that he composes one of his first works, the mazurka Uma Garrafa de Cerveja (A Bottle of Beer) dedicated to his friend Luiz da Costa.

After finishing high school, he leaves for Porto to enrol in Medical School while continuing to study piano with António Maria Soller, also attending the Fine Arts Academy.

However, the passion for music is stronger; he abandons the study of medicine, settling in Lisbon, where he enrols in the Royal Conservatory studying under the guidance of José António Vieira, Freitas Gazul, and Frederico Guimarães, among others. He finishes the general piano course with distinction in 1891, becoming, in that same year, provisional teacher of the Conservatory and, in the following year, effective teacher of the same, after auditioning and having as competitors Francisco Bahia and Eugénio Cândido da Costa.

The year 1895 marks the beginning of the internationalization of Francisco de Lacerda. He goes to Paris as a Crown scholar, having been the only candidate in what was the first official music scholarship in Portugal. In the French capital, he first attends the Conservatory (where he studies Harmony with Émile Pessard, History of Music with Bourgault-Ducoudray, Counterpoint with Libert, Composition and Organ with Widor) and, later, the newly formed Schola Cantorum, where he continues his studies of Organ with Guilmant, Composition and Orchestra Direction with Vincent d'Indy and Old Music with Charles Bordes.

It should be noted that, already at this point, Vincent d'Indy had chosen him as his replacement in the orchestra class, discovering in the disciple exceptional qualities as conductor. During this period, he was influenced by the French school of César Franck, Vincent d'Indy, Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Ravel, Francis Poulenc, and Paul Dukas, which would prominently inform his compositions, as well as his style of musical direction.

In 1899, he participates in the celebrations of the Centenary of the Birth of Almeida Garret with Canção do Berço, composed in a popular rhythm of the Azores.

After a stay in the Azores (in the first months of the year), during which he studied the local folklore, he returns to France in 1900. He is appointed member of the jury of the Paris Universal Exhibition, as part of the Portuguese Commission, cooperating with Ressano Garcia and António Arroio. It is also at this time that, influenced by Vincent d'Indy, he makes his first public appearance as orchestra conductor, attaining great success and becoming a valuable collaborator in the series of historic concerts promoted by Schola Cantorum, which included works such as the Ballet Comique de la Royne and Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. Meanwhile, he embarks on a journey that includes Germany, attending the Bayreuth festivals and receiving lessons from Arthur Nikisch and Hans Richter.

In 1904, the jury of a competition instituted by the Revue Musical awarded him the first prize for his work Danse du Voile. In the same year, he takes over the direction of the Concerts of the Casino de La Baule (France). The following year he was awarded the Ordre National de la Légion d' Honneur (National Order of the Legion of Honor) and founded the Association des Concerts Historiques de Nantes, which he directed until 1908, when he went on to direct the concerts of the Kursaal de Montreux. It is due to him, in this period, many presentations of works of authors until then little known, such as Alexandre Borodine, Petrovich Mussorgsky, Gabriel Fauré, Ernest Chausson and Claude Debussy.

In 1910, he is appointed Officer of the Order of Santiago by king D. Manuel II. In the 1912-1913 season, he conducted the Grands Concerts Classiques de la Association Artistique de Marseille.

Health problems as well as the death of his father in 1913, made him return to the Azores, where he remained for eight years (also due to the outbreak of war), dedicating himself to the study of folklore, composition, and musical participation in the local liturgy.

In 1913, again for reasons of health, he refused an invitation to lead the orchestra of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes on a tour to the United States of America. On the island of S. Jorge, in 1920, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of the Red Cross for the services "rendered to the epidemics (...) in the pneumonic flu of 1918".

Back in Lisbon, in 1922, he created the project Uma Hora de Arte ( An Hour with Art) dedicated to the working class. The following year, in collaboration with Afonso Lopes Vieira, Malheiro Dias, Raul Lino, among others, he created the association Pró-Arte. Later that year, he founded the Filarmonia de Lisboa (Philharmonic of Lisbon) which gives concerts, both in Lisbon and in Porto. However, the Philharmonic was short-lived, and not even the support of the great figures of the time could save it.

Dissatisfied with what happened in Portugal, he returned to France, embarking on a career as a conductor that took him to Paris, Marseille, Nantes, Toulouse, and Angers.

Between 1925 and 1928, he again directed, with great success, the Grands Concerts Classiques of Marseille, directing works such as Bach’s Passion According to St. John and Passion According to Saint Matthew, Beethoven’ Solemn Mass, A German Requiem by Brahms, Wagner’s Parsifal, La Vida Breve by Manuel de Falla y Matheu and Debussy’s La Demoiselle Élue, among many others.

Due once more to health reasons, he is impeded from conducting, returning to Portugal in 1928, thus abandoning his international career. At this time, he established himself in Lisbon, organising the musical initiatives integrated in the Portuguese representation in the Ibero-American Exposition at Seville (1929) and dedicating himself to composing, and to the study of folklore and Portuguese old music, holding several conferences.

In search of a cure for his disease (pulmonary tuberculosis), he spends a season in Madeira, where he presides over the Funchal City Festivities Commission in 1932, collecting a substantial amount of traditional music. This activity continues until his death in Lisbon, victim of prolonged illness, in 1934.

Francisco de Lacerda leaves a very varied legacy, including the symphonic poems Almourol and Alcácer, stage music for Maeterlinck’s play Intruder, ballet music, organ pieces, piano, guitar, trios and string quartets. He also leaves Trint-Six Histoires pour amuser les Enfants d' un Artiste (Thirty Six Short-stories to Entertain the Children of an Artist) and the admirable Trovas for voice and piano, a creation of 36 small original pieces that seek to reflect the popular Portuguese and Azorean language. Mention should also be made of the posthumous publication of the Cancioneiro Musical Português, a result of his collections throughout the country.

As a result of his solid academic training and the cultural environment in which he prospered professionally, Lacerda’s work is marked by a personal and original imprint that makes it a precursor to the introduction of Impressionism in Portugal and a symbol of European musical nationalism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Text by José Manuel Bettencourt da Câmara in Cultura Açores

Associação Francisco de Lacerda