Maria Eduarda Mendes Martins is a composer, conductor and arts administrator living in Toronto, and one of the HPO 21-22 Composer Fellows. Her newest piece Echoing Mendelssohn, created during her time with the HPO, premieres at Gemma Conducts Mendelssohn on March 19!
Maria Eduarda has completed a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music composition and is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in music composition (DMA) at the University of Toronto. Born and raised between two Brazilian capitals (Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre), she did not have access to musical education until her adolescence, when she discovered her ability to create medieval-sounding melodies. Now, her music explores experimental and abstract sounds (such as resonance, gradual changes of colour, extended instrumental techniques), while maintaining a deeply melodic and elementary character. By doing so, Maria foregrounds the human connections existing between different times and cultures.
“I believe that art is a form of human expression above anything else. By bringing together music materials that can sound so different, such as melodies from the Middle Ages and soundscapes from the 20th century, I try to demonstrate that there is more to music than how it sounds or how it was composed,” says Maria Eduarda. “It is easy for us as human beings to juxtapose two or three different aesthetics in music or art, but in the world of today that offers thousands of different musical aesthetics at once, the unification of some of these becomes sorely needed. In other words, I already know thousands of words in a given language; now I have to bring these words together in order to create complete/cohesive sentences.”Maria Eduarda Mendes Martins , HPO 21-22 Composer Fellow
Q&A with Maria Eduarda Mendes Martins
On Collaborating with the HPO
HPO: How has your experience been working with the HPO during your composer fellowship?
Maria Eduarda: I have been working closely with Abigail Richardson-Schulte since the beginning of my fellowship program. She has been really helpful and thoughtful with my writing process, giving me valuable advice about score preparation and working with professional orchestras. I have already learned a lot from her, and I’m sure I will learn a lot more.
I first heard about Gemma New and her incredible work many years ago (when I was still a student in Victoria) – back then I could not imagine I would have the chance to work with her one day! I look forward to watching her in rehearsal, and to working with her on my new piece. The entire HPO staff are so helpful and make me feel very welcome in my work with the orchestra! I have heard wonderful things about the caliber of the musicians, and I feel so honoured to work with them.
I feel extremely honoured to have a piece premiering with the HPO! Although I have worked with professional orchestras before, it is the first time my piece will be performed in a main concert series, with major works from the classical music repertoire and under the baton of a world-class conductor. As a newcomer to Toronto, I could not ask for a better way to start working with the local music scene.
HPO: Can you describe how you drew inspiration for this piece from a Mendelssohn theme?
Maria Eduarda: Many of the pieces I write are based on often simple – always unaccompanied – melodies. I like the idea that such elementary melodies can be the foundation of music that is frequently so complex and abstract, such as the music of our time.
Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor starts with an extremely memorable melody, which has a very particular contour. I take this initial melody and create a vortex effect with it, in which (after a big explosion) the middle instruments in the orchestra (i.e., violas) play Mendelssohn’s melody quickly and perhaps unrecognizably, and the melody gradually becomes slower and more recognizable as it reaches the outer instruments of the ensemble. By the end of the piece, the same melody will be played at many different speeds at the same time, basically echoing itself.
HPO: Can you tell our audience what initially drew you to the medieval genre of music and how you discovered your abilities to create medieval-sounding melodies?
Maria Eduarda: I started composing before starting to study music. On my 15th birthday, I was given an electric keyboard as a gift on the condition that I would have to learn how to play it without taking music lessons since music was not considered an essential part of education when I was growing up. So, about a year after accepting that challenge, I saw myself not only playing but also composing some short melodies with harmonic accompaniment.
When I started studying piano and showed these melodies to my teachers, they repeatedly remarked on the medieval qualities and techniques I used (even though I was never conscious of them). It was only before I started my master’s degree in music composition that I began to listen to medieval music repertoire and haven’t stopped since.
There is a simplicity in medieval melodies that I believe to be intrinsic to our understanding of music as human beings. The contour of these melodies often resembles speech patterns and utterances, so I believe they have a fundamental or pre-conscious meaning to us (they certainly do to me).
HPO: Do you have some favourite pieces from this era that you can share? What about them do you love?
Maria Eduarda: I have quite a few! Some examples which have deeply influenced my music are:
Stella Splendens in Monte (Latin for: “Splendid Star on the Mount”)
This is a polyphonic chant written by an anonymous composer, dating from 1399 C.E. It can still be found in a book called Libre Vermell de Montserrat (or “red book of Montserrat”) outside of Barcelona, and it speaks about a star which unites individuals from different origins and walks of life who come together to contemplate it.
Cantigas de Santa Maria (Galician-Portuguese for: “Canticles of Holy Mary”)
This is the name of a collection of songs (420 songs in total), written by the king Alfonso X (1221 -1284) and the musicians of his court in the Iberian Peninsula. Several of these songs have inspired my music, in particular my orchestral work called Vortex Cantabilis (2019-2020).
“Saltarello” is the name of a dance type originally from Italy. The piece called “Saltarello I” is the first ever mention of this dance type, currently contained in a manuscript called the “British Library” – it dates from the late 14th century. Although I have not used this melody as a source for a new piece (yet), I really admire this work, in particular the performance by a group called Artefactum.
HPO: How do you stay creative and productive in these recent years given the many impacts of the global pandemic?
Maria Eduarda: I’ve been noticing that whenever I start writing a new piece, reaching the end of this piece becomes one of my most important life goals – I just need to get to the end of it before the idea goes away. This kind of impulse has given me strength to keep writing during the pandemic, but most importantly, I feel inspired by my fellow musicians. They never stopped putting up concerts, featuring our music, making new music happen however adverse the circumstances may have been (or still are)! This inspires me to never stop.
HPO: Can you share a bit about your process of creating music generally and what inspires you, aside from medieval melodies?
Maria Eduarda: Usually, I feel very inspired by ideas that change pre-existing musical concepts, even if slightly, such as writing a piece for trombone and clarinet where the clarinet plays inside of the trombone bell all the time, or a very quiet piece (much like John Cage’s 4:33) where the musicians try to mimic the sounds of the quiet hall with their instruments. By the time the audience realizes the musicians are mimicking their incidental sounds, they start interacting and creating noise purposely to see what the musicians will do.
My compositional process involves a lot of planning: I almost always write my ideas on a piece of paper, and I develop them in terms of orchestration and timing (what happens when and how). By the time I start writing on the staff paper I have a good idea of what I am aiming for, musically.
HPO: What are you looking forward to most in your career currently? Do you have any exciting goals or projects you would like to share?
Maria Eduarda: This will sound funny, but I always look forward to composing more! I have a few more pieces to write this year and I am really looking forward to them. I am also starting to work as a conductor as this is a skill I would like to hone and keep developing if I can. Before coming to Ontario, I used to work on promoting and organizing classical/new music concerts and I am excited to start exploring this possibility here too once I finish school.
More About Maria Eduarda
HPO: We know that your involvement in arts and music organizations in Canada are a big part of what kept you here initially. Are you as connected to this scene today, and if so, what are you involved in lately?
Maria Eduarda: I am still very involved with Canadian music and arts organizations, but more so as a composer now. Every year the Canadian League of Composers chooses an artist or organization to receive an award called the Friends of Canadian Music. This past November (2021), I was selected as a young composer to be the co-winner of this award, which makes me feel deeply involved with the Canadian music scene!
HPO: Who are some of your all-time and current favourites that you listen to most today?
Maria Eduarda: I listen to music written for a multitude of ensembles and formations. I have favourite composers and pieces from each different period of western music, but these pieces are always very immersive in some way. Some examples I can highlight are:
Éliane Radigue (1932-)
She is mostly known as an electroacoustic composer, although she has written for acoustic instruments/ensembles, such as string quartets. I love her music because it demonstrates that we can listen to sounds at levels beyond consciousness. It often sounds like one single note constantly playing for hours, but this one note sounds so beautiful and captivating for so long. This tells me as a composer that microscopic details of this note are constantly changing. One piece that demonstrates these features is called Jetsum Mila (1986).
Kaija Saariaho (1952-)
She is very well known for her orchestral works and operas. What I love about her music is that it sounds so good but I cannot theorize or explain why, exactly; her choices of colour and instrumentation seem absolutely personal to her, which I also admire. One piece that exemplifies these features is her opera L’amour de Loin (2000).
Bryn Harrison (1969-)
MCE (2010) is a piece composed for solo guitar. As many of Bryn Harrison’s works, this piece really amazes me because with one single instrument that has a particularly fast decay, he manages to give the impression that the music is coming from all around the room without any kind of panning or post-production of the sound.
Going slowly back in time, a few composers who I can mention as my all-time favourites are Arvo Pärt (1935- ), György Ligeti (1923 – 2006), Lili Boulanger (1893 – 1918), Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911), L.V. Beethoven (1770 – 1827) – in particular his Missa Solemnis (1824), and many others.
Echoing Mendelssohn by Maria Eduarda Mendes Martins premieres at the HPO concert Gemma Conducts Mendelssohn on March 19, 2022.