Carlos Seixas (1704-1742)

José António Carlos de Seixas, one of the most important Portuguese composers of baroque music for key instruments, was born in Coimbra on the 11th of June 1704.

Son of Francisco Vaz, organist of Coimbra’s Cathedral, and of Marcelina Nunes, it is thought that Carlos Seixas studied music with his father in his birthplace. When his father died Seixas succeeded him, at the age of fourteen, as Coimbra’s Cathedral organist, his first high responsibility position.

At the age of sixteen he had an opportunity to work in Lisbon, were he moves to in 1720. The excellent reputation he had as a musician in Coimbra grows in the capital,  and soon after he started working there, Seixas was invited to be an organist at the Patriarchal (who’s Master at the time was Domenico Scarlatti).

The Portuguese court at the time was one of the richest and costly of Europe and the king, D. João V, gave great importance to arts (including music). That situation makes Lisbon an excellent place for any musician to live and develop his art. With a constant flow of work and an economically stable life, which enabled him to develop his music, Seixas worked at the service of the Church, the Court and as a teacher, developing an intense activity as a performer and a composer.

Carlos Seixas died in Lisbon at the age of thirty eight, on the 25th of August 1742. At the time he was the Master of the court Chapel and Lisbon’s Cathedral, and had solid reputation as an excellent composer, performer and teacher.


Work Contextualization

Regarding Seixas’ initial musical education, it might have taken place in Coimbra with his father, this city’s Cathedral organist. During that time young Seixas might have had contact with other Portuguese and Iberian composers and masters through his father’s school, heir of the Iberian organistic tradition of the 17th century.

Even so, there are various opinions on possible influences in Seixas musical background. For example, Santiago Kastner points out the Portuguese 16th century music as one of the probable musical background that influenced Seixas, but Luís de Freitas Branco claims that that influence is more Italian than Portuguese. The debate continues due to a probable contact of Seixas with Scarlatti during the time when both were working in Lisbon, with the examination of who influenced who. In that sense, there is an abundant comparison between both composers’ works, but in reality nobody knows how much the exchange of ideas between them influenced their style and musical production.

Anyway, Seixas, being an excellent musician and composer, probably applied to his compositions the knowledge he achieved during his musical education (whether that knowledge was of Iberian, Portuguese or Italian influence), creating his own style.

In fact, Kastner, one of the greatest experts of Seixas’ work, considers that this Portuguese composer had a very rich musical imagination and that the composition process that he used was, many times, perceived as variable and unexpected. Seixas composed seeking to connect emotions to music, ending up creating a style of his own, very individualist, which goes beyond his time. His musical language privileges the melody which is frequently supported by a simple and effective harmony. His work has therefore an experimental character, which was probably possible due to his professional and economic stability and his position as a musician, as well as due to a certain ‘isolation’ from the exterior (it is thought that Seixas never left Portugal), which allowed him to compose in an autonomous way.


Seixas’ Sonatas

Great part of this composer’s work known in our days consists of Sonatas composed with variable complexity/difficulty level. Such variety is explained because, according to Kastner, Seixas had numerous students and his teaching activity demanded a constant production of teaching material for students whose musical knowledge was variable (from a beginner to a more advanced performer). On the other hand, it is known that some of the Sonatas may have been written to be presented/played by Seixas himself before his peers and in performances in the Court or in his work related to the Church. This way it is comprehensible the discrepancy (of difficulty of execution/performance and complexity of the composition) that one might eventually find if comparing the Sonatas with each other.

About the Sonata, its primitive form dates back to the end of Middle Ages, when originally the term ‘Sonata’ was used to name an instrumental piece written for a solo instrument (with or without accompaniment), in opposition to the ‘cantata’ (musical piece written for voices). During that time, the Sonata had only one movement, but in the baroque the structure had more movements. In that same period Sonatas were written for the Church (Sonata da Chiesa) or for a hall (Sonata da Camera) and begun being written not only for solo instruments, but also for duets or trios. It was between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century (classical style epoch), that the baroque Sonata evolved and suffered major transformations (it begun to be a piece typically divided on three or four movements with a standardized form: it was the beginning of the Sonata form), and started having a more complex and rational dimension.

Therefore, Seixas might have lived on a transition period (which might explain the experimental character of his music) and his Sonatas may eventually be understood on this more comprehensive context of the formal change of the Sonata structure. 


This composer has 4 works on AvA:

12 Toccatas

Ref. ava080180

Work Cover

Available Soon

Five Sonatas

Ref. ava130975

Work Cover

15.00 €

Quatro Toccatas

Ref. ava161630

Work Cover

12.00 €

Sinfonia em Sib M

Ref. ava090308

Available Soon