Cândido Lima interview (2018)

From Unearthing The Music

Cândido Lima presenting his work "OCEANOS" at OUT.FEST 2018. Photo by: Andreia Carvalho

The following is an interview with Portuguese avant-garde composer Cândido Lima, conducted by the Unearthing the Music team prior to his performance at OUT.FEST 2018.

What was the compositional process for “Oceanos” like? Where did the idea for that piece come from, and how did audiences react when it was first presented live?

“Oceanos” arose from an old ambition of mine to create an impactful piece, which I was able to turn into reality during the time when I was in Paris with a scholarship from the (Portuguese) Secretariat of State of Culture. While studying theory at a university there I also composed, particularly by applying to my music the techniques and approaches I discovered while investigating modern technologies, such as pure IT, electronics and electroacoustics.

It was under these circumstances that I (already nearing the end of my time in Paris, which was between 75 and 78) undertook that project, at least in its digital component. As for the electronic component, I had already been able to explore it in previous years at the studio of the University of Vincennes, where I conducted a few electroacoustic music experiments.

In 78, at the end of the summer, I was able to use the UPIC system created by the composer Iannis Xenakis for the first time at the CEMAMu research center (currently CCMIX). There, for a few weeks, I was able to synthesize sound through a very specific process that they then called the ‘conversational process’, which allowed for a direct dialogue between the user and the computer, or in other words, it wasn’t necessary to know how to program the computer in depth, but simply to use the studio’s peripherals. And that’s how the piece was created, through the use of specific electronic material created through the synthesizers at Vincennes’ and CEMAMu’s electronic studios.

Other very important stages in the creation of that work are also worth mentioning, particularly the mixing stage, which occurred in the studios of the national radio broadcaster with the (very generous) collaboration of the radio’s technicians, who were infinitely patient in putting up with me as a composer and as a musician with a computer, as these realities were completely beyond their usual line of work. Although this also served to motivate them, and they would often spend hours with me in the studio at night, from nine to eleven, or even midnight….These technicians and friends were crucial in the completion of this and other pieces through their work and the time they allowed me to spend at the studio.

Cover for the 2016 vinyl edition of Cândido Lima's "Oceanos" by Edições Grama. You can listen to part of this piece at

In between mixing stages, I would return to Paris to gather more electronic material. Eventually I reached the final mix, and that made me feel like the pilot of a spaceship. Being able to achieve this mixture of completely different sound sources generated vastly distinct dimensions in the composition itself: One defined by a mathematical, acoustic and psychological continuum of sound sliding without any major conflicts, and that of a pulse generated by a computer system which, being in its early stages of development, didn’t allow for much more than that. The electronic component was the rhythmic pulse, so to speak, of a piece where one could almost say there is no rhythm – but there’s a sonic explosion, a kind of Big Bang, which processes itself in the waves that come and go between this continuum and the electronic fragmentation. This is the gist of it – it’s a piece that comes from a different world, not only in the point of view of the philosophy of the systems’ creators, but also due to the nature of the sound sources themselves.

Regarding the impact this piece had on audiences: The first time it was presented live was at the Rivoli in Porto in March of 1979 (in a version with an orchestra) as part of a series of concerts promoted by the national broadcaster and the impact was absolutely incredible. The concerts were widely promoted throughout the week, despite the fact that at the time talking about computers was like talking about something out of this world. Back then I even said that I felt like a Martian due to the way people spoke to me about the topic, and how unusual it was to people to hear about computer music. It certainly caught the attention of the audience, particularly the younger generations. The concert was conducted with the help of Miguel Graça Moura’s “Musica Viva” group. And the Rivoli, which at the time had a maximum capacity of around 1000 seats, was packed. To me, the piece’s impact was unexpected: I merely fell in love with the work I had (following an invitation by maestro Gunther Arglebe) in creating the orchestral parts to accompany the electronics, which resulted in a three-part piece that was around 40 minutes long. Sometimes I’d tell my friends that before the concert I made an enemy in each musician in that orchestra, but that at the end of it I won their friendship back. Why? Because this was a veritable sonic avalanche against the musicians, so to speak, and they felt it as an insult, they felt completely vulnerable in what they were playing. But the audience’s response completely changed them, and in fact there are some stories I shouldn’t share with you now, of a humour that’s truly unusual on that kind of stage, but those are best left for another occasion.

To this day the piece’s impact (both in Portugal and abroad) has kept growing…from the suspicions of whether it was truly “music” or not and the scepticism about its composer, there came a gradual change towards a great enthusiasm regarding the music, as it truly is completely distinct to the rest of Portuguese music, from the classical to the contemporary, and thus it incites completely distinct reactions on listeners. For instance, a critic from (Portuguese newspaper) Expresso said I wasn’t a composer, since the piece didn’t have any counterpoint…I usually say that some people are intelligent but have ‘fissures’, and this critic was clearly a man of knowledge but riddled with fissures, to have said this about the piece… Xenakis’ music, for instance, has no counterpoint, and he didn’t go through the conservatory, but he’s from another world, his music has a different kind of counterpoint, as does “Oceanos” and many other electronic pieces by myself and other composers – it’s just not counterpoint as it is traditionally seen. So though there were these kinds of reactions at first, some people were quite enthusiastic about it. For instance the director of the electroacoustic studio at Vincennes was very happy about the piece, and the next day Xenakis himself said something like “Not bad”, which coming from Xenakis is an enormous compliment, he even described the work as a “magma” (“Pas mal du tout, ça!...Est un magma” were his words). And in fact, the piece functions like a fantastic magma. This is why I say that this work should be listened to outdoors, since it’s an explosion, a psychological, physical, emotional, political explosion if you will, an aesthetic explosion as well…

Interestingly however, I thought it would be sort of like a meteor, an explosion falling on the concert hall, but many people then (including some who were a part of the performance) described it as “relaxing”. While to me it seemed a bit like an arrow shot at the audience, an aggression, after considering the piece’s immersiveness I understand why listeners would use terms like “relaxing” and “tranquillising” to describe it, and that perspective is very interesting to me. It was the spontaneity, the intuition of those with no preconceived aesthetic or cultural notions of what music should be like and just hear it the way it is. So this was a piece which could create that sort of conflict in listeners yet didn’t - instead it led to a great immersion, even a sense of peace. That’s what I hear when I listen to it, not aggression or any sort of assault but this sense of immersiveness, and this has been the case along the years with several audiences, despite what some wise, erudite Lisboan critic might have said about it. Ridiculous – I’m not a true composer because “Oceanos” has no counterpoint! (laughs). So that’s the gist of it, the piece has been on a long journey and I believe it’s here to last.

What drove you towards composing and which were your first experiences in the field? Who influenced you in the process?

Cândido Lima in Barcelona, 2017

What I can tell you is that being part of a family of popular musicians, people who played music at the village level, fadistas, guitar and mandolin players, music was in my DNA, and it was part of my life from early on. Throughout my childhood and as a teenager I studied basic music theory and I soon discovered my tendency towards composition. I was an organist in Braga from early on, and I even ordered a book on composition from the Musical Library of Porto to my village during the school holidays. They sent me a book that was absolutely impossible to understand for a 16 year old teenager (though I now keep it as sort of a relic in my personal library) – a harmony book by Tomás Borba, a great teacher who was in the national conservatory at the time, and I thus started trying to understand composition. No one ever told me to compose liturgical music though, which was the music people would compose in that day and age, in the villages and churches in Braga and throughout Portugal – I wanted to compose music beyond that tradition.

So gradually, in a self-taught manner, I started learning from historical or technical books, books on harmony (the functional classical harmony) and such. Even from early on, as an organist, I had contacts with the repertoires of authors in European cathedrals that composed in a more modern (though not yet contemporary) music style, music along the lines of Debussy, Ravel, etc, and without noticing it these influences made their way inside my brain little by little. Slowly I started creating my own path, at first by writing my own little throwaway pieces (particularly when I entered the Conservatory) and by learning and practising my built up my knowledge in a logical way, from the classics to the more modern and contemporary music. If you ask me how I made it to contemporary music, however, I’ll answer that I have no idea! Because every context I lived in, not only as a student but in my family as well, was always contrary to it. But I followed a certain order in a natural way through creating and discovering, and that’s how I found my path as a composer.

I could end here to keep this answer relatively small – I am naturally a musician, and naturally (but perhaps less so) I am a composer, though nothing in my family could indicate that I would have the urge to create. I had that perception very early on, when I was 16 or 17 or even before, so I went by myself (and that’s an important aspect) finding my own path, looking for accomplices and teachers, always not perfectly knowing what was going on. When people talk to me about my career…well, I have to say I don’t have one, I have a personal path that diverges from the codes and patterns that usually define the life of an artist.

During your military service, you were stationed in Bolama Island in Guinea-Bissau and were able to even compose and record pieces while there, as well as acquire a harmonium for the local church. Can you tell us about that experience?

I can tell you that neither the military service nor the war made me submit to the law of the impossible, so I did what Ulysses did in the ancient histories: I created a Trojan horse, because I got a piano through the Colonial War… there’s a text I wrote about that for an exhibit in Porto curated by Paulo Vinhas, and I spoke precisely about that metaphor, of having called that piano the “Trojan Horse”. It went from a small village in Minho to Guinea-Bissau.

At the time I lived in Lisbon and I had a piano that was loaned to me by the Gulbenkian Foundation, which was at the house of my very good friend Fernando Serafim, who hosted me when I went to Lisbon from Braga. I asked the Foundation if I was allowed to take the piano to Guinea, and even though they were very sympathetic (as they always were – I have an enormous debt to the Gulbenkian Foundation, particularly the people responsible for the Music Service), they told me the piano would have to be prepared for the weather conditions there, or “tropicalised”, so they couldn’t lend it to me. However, there was a piano at my house in the village that had been bought from neighbours of mine when I was young, and I told my father that if there was no piano in Guinea that I would send him a telegram saying “Send Piano” - and that’s what happened. That piano helped me continue my path as a pianist and composer.

The "Trojan Horse" piano. Left: At Cândido Lima's village in Minho, 1960. Right: In Bolama Island, Guinea-Bissau, 1966.

In Guinea-Bissau I did in fact write some music – by my own volition – in anonymity. For instance, I wrote a piece that was premiered in 1968 when I returned to Portugal, for violin, voice and piano, with a poem by Fernando Pessoa (“Impressões do Crepúsculo”). I also created some of what I think is some of my most important music: a series of songs for the youths there, many of which were recorded by young people at the school in Bolama, where I would teach choral singing in the morning, before service hours. One day I needed some new music to teach there and I didn’t have any. I saw an African soldier with a book – my old third grade book – which I asked to loan, and I took the poetry there to create those songs for the youth. I had already composed three of them before going to Africa, but the rest were written there. I took the book and I wrote the melodies in two days, then months later, after the summer holidays, I wrote the piano part in 8 days in blueprint paper. Afterwards I would have to go to the Engineering headquarters in Bissau to make copies for the students.

So that was my musical experience there: completely unconventional. There were even occasions where I was threatened with being “sent to the scrubland”, one time I was playing piano out of the service hours. This threat was made by a Captain who had nothing to do with my unit, and there were more threats of the sort, but I never cared and I was safe as long as I respected the rules. There was also another time where myself and Mário Rodrigues, a friend of mine who was a violinist with the Porto Orchestra, performed in Bissau, which also led to some curious events where I was able to confront the military without them realizing it, at a night where there was a dinner/concert where I featured by playing piano for them, but that’s a story full of twists and irony and is thus also better told on some other occasion, when we have more time.

I kept those experiences close, however - when I returned to Europe (to the ‘metropolis’, as it was said back then) those songs for the youth remained very valuable to me, something that was totally unlike my nature as a contemporary composer, though they were marginal works that could be misunderstood by “vanguardist” musicians (though Lopes Graça and Filipe Pires were very complimentary when they heard them on the radio much later), so I kept them for years in a drawer until one day a friend asked me if I had any songs for children. I showed him those songs and in a way they had the same impact as “Oceanos” to him, these were completely marginal….Years later the Institute of Children’s Studies of the University of Minho (through the work of prof. Elisa Leça) released an exceptionally rich edition of those songs. Those pieces have nothing of erudite or contemporary, but if you ask me which I prefer, “Oceanos” or these songs for the youth, I would put them at the same level.

You were the first Portuguese composer to use a computer in music. When did it happen and how was it applied? What led you to experiment with it? What was the technology like at the time?

One of the most extraordinary and vital decisions I took in my life was to enroll at the Faculty of Philosophy. It allowed me to revisit some concepts I had previously explored in an amateur manner and restructure my thoughts, not only as a person but as a musician, and all of my following life as a teacher and musician (and an intellectual, if you will), comes from there. The great classics of literature and philosophy and every other concept I had previously inferred intuitively, was explained there in an absolutely visceral and passionate way and that’s why I, while teaching my classes and composing my pieces, fell in love with those humanistic-philosophic studies. I attended a class there, Philosophy of the Mathematical Sciences, which I talked about often. That was the first time (in 71 or 72) that I heard prof. Vitorino de Sousa Alves, who was a poet of mathematics - he talked about mathematics like it was poetry, as I saw Xenakis do years later. We didn’t understand anything he said, of course (Vitorino or Xenakis for that matter), but he was the one who taught me about symbolic logic and I believe that it was in his class that I first heard about computers. That led me to a few books, such as “Music, Scientific Discipline” by Pierre Barbot, which I lent to that professor. Later he told me that he understood everything about the mathematics in that book, but not the music, as it wasn’t his field. I also read “Music Architecture” by Xenakis, for instance…so, I bought books on related topics and would discuss their contents with my teachers. There was another professor who left a big impression on me, even though his course was short – Luis Archer, who taught Molecular Genetics (!) – his class fascinated me, and there were three other classes (Philosophy of Biological Sciences, Mathematics and Physics) where I heard about computer technology for the first time.

So, when I asked for a scholarship to go to Paris for the first time, I had this urge to explore the technology more, and I even asked Xenakis to help me find my way in that field. He gave me a few clues in Paris, namely that the University of Vincennes had a department of Pure Information Technology, and some Computer Music users. Several years later came the IRCAM, and at the time they were starting to teach classes on Computer Science connected to the CEMAMu, the programme I alluded to before, and I attended a series of classes at the Sorbonne and the Panthéon on the topic as well. There were two distinct worlds there – computer science directed towards big business and the technological world in general, but also the world of music, at the CEMAMu/UPIC, with the system created by Xenakis.

That’s when I started putting this interest into practice – as I mentioned before while discussing “Oceanos” – as a composer. I did in fact compose two pieces at the time, “Oceanos” using electronics and the computer, and “A-mèr-es” for an orchestra and magnetic tape, but also computer music and other instruments, as well as electronics and other material I gathered at the University of Vincennes, CEMAMu and CNET. I wrote that piece using very conventional technology at the time, a Solar computer with a graphical table, as if I were an architect, and a screen where I could see what I was writing - a conversational system, like their creators called it. At the time there were two people there, a musician (Cornelia Collayer) and a computer engineer (Guy Médique) that I worked with to use that system.

As for “A-mèr-es”, I have to say that it was triggered by Xenakis’ intervention at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, when he spoke to the people in charge of the Gulbenkian Foundation who had gone there to see the premiere of “Phlegra” (one of his most extraordinary pieces), suggesting that they should “commission a piece from Cândido” (“Il faut commander une oeuvre à Candidô!”, it was exactly what he said), which immediately led Dr. Pereira Leal to turn to me and say “We’re going to commission a piece from you”. “A-mèr-es” is one of the works I consider amongst my most important, in many ways more so than “Oceanos”, a more abstract, less immersive, and less emotional piece from the point of view of the audience. It was premiered in November 79 by the Gulbenkian Orchestra and Michel Tabachnik, a great maestro. There’s an important note I should mention about the concert: Two spectators wished for my death during the break! One said: “You should be killed.” And the other: “You should die!” I don’t know if they were twin brothers, but that’s what I heard. I was both jeered and applauded – the audience was split.

João de Freitas Branco's review of the debut performance of A-mèr-es for Diário Popular, 21/11/79

There was, however, an exceptionally complimentary review by Dr. João de Freitas Branco, in “Diário Popular” that I only heard about years later when a friend told me about it. He was quite excited about the piece and also addressed the audience, writing that 30 years before they would have attacked Mahler as well. In fact, the concert also featured music by Mahler and Shubert, so it was only natural that an audience that was there to hear music by those composers would have felt insulted by a piece that is a true avalanche - not only the electronics but the orchestral part as well. As for me, I took in all of audience’s comments serenely, “candidly” as I usually say in jest. A maestro friend of mine, Pedro Amaral, often tells me envies me for having had someone wish that I would die!

You were able to study abroad, both composition with Iannis Xenakis and Electroacoustics at Vincennes and Panthéon-Sorbonne. Did you feel that the access to musical knowledge and culture in Portugal was somewhat limited? Upon your return, did you find an audience interested in your work?

Well, I evidently left for Paris at a time of great chaos in Portugal. In fact, even before speaking about the dearth (of everything) before the 25th of April (of 74, the Carnation Revolution), I have to mention that I thought I wouldn’t even be able to leave (which I was desperate to do, I must say), because I was one of the directors at the Porto Music Conservatory, and immediately after the revolution people who refused being in charge of anything were seen as anti-democratic. So I had to accept being a director when my name was put forward during the various elections, even though I had no wish to do so at the time. Thus my only solution was to go abroad, and to that end I asked for a scholarship from the Secretariat of State of Culture. I was convinced that they wouldn’t give it to me, so in September I went to Paris on a trip by my own means, but while there I got the news that the scholarship had been granted. I went back to Portugal immediately to get ready!

I understand now why the scholarship was granted to me – because I wrote Xenakis a letter to host me and allow me to continue my studies at his university. Well, Dr. João Freitas Branco, who was the Secretary of Culture at the time, was a man of Mathematics and had a tremendous admiration for Xenakis. I have no doubt that he was a deciding factor in receiving that scholarship and thus off I went, at a time that Portugal was experiencing a social and political ‘boom’.

Going back to your question, well, it’s evident that culture in Portugal was in a terrible situation before the 25th of April. So my concern was to, every time I left the country, not only gain new knowledge but to figure out how to share it when I returned, which I was able to do later on in my life as a teacher but also as a television host. In fact the first TV series I created, “Sons e Mitos”, had that objective – to transmit the knowledge I gained – and this during a time where there was barely any national television production, especially in Northern Portugal. Yet, I was allowed to create three series, always concerned with bring out the knowledge I had acquired to a country that was kept away from it due to the political and economic powers that ruled it. I never imagined being at a concert, or listening to someone speak, or even creating something that couldn’t be presented in my country. Even today, while I don’t enjoy presenting myself in public (it’s always much more comfortable to be listening to others!), I feel a sort of vertigo and a fascination for being on stage speaking and doing things, teaching and sharing what I know, as I did on the television and radio programmes. That’s very important to me.

After the 25th of April you were a part of RTP (the Portuguese TV Broadcaster) with the programme “Sons e Mitos”, as you’ve mentioned. Can you tell us more about the programme and that experience in general? “Sons e Mitos” was born precisely out of that fascination of mine with composition and with sharing. I approached the TV station with the idea and they accepted, but the situation was so difficult at the time, from the technical point of view, that we only made 7 episodes (they were usually 12 at the time). Fortunately I still have copies of those seven episodes since they were recorded by a former student of mine in Trofa called Elizabete Abreu, because at the time very few people owned a video recorder! There were times when, for various reasons, I felt like getting rid of those tapes, but fortunately I had the wisdom to keep them, because they are perhaps some of the most interesting documents in Portuguese music and television history. It was the first time (and still one of the few times) that someone fearlessly took on contemporary music in an explicit and integral way on television. Many of my colleagues and friends who made television shows spoke about contemporary music, but mixed together with other music, mostly the classics, but never focusing their attentions on modernity, on the truly transformative music that shaped ideas throughout the world.

“Sons e Mitos” was the first programme to approach this subject – in fact, I had the opportunity to re-listen to some parts of the programme during an exhibit at a gallery in Porto, in the Almeida Garrett Library, and at the time I said “This is crazy, how was it possible to hear some of the most advanced works by Cage, Xenakis, Stockhausen, etc, to use a tape recorder at that time…” Sure, one might say that there wasn’t enough television production at the time, so they would take up anything that was offered to them, but the broadcasters had the chance to refuse it if they didn’t like it and that wasn’t the case - in fact, it was perfectly accepted. The reviews, by people like Mário Castrim for instance, were enthusiastic regarding that program, and the audience would call the station and ask who I was! So there was some extremely positive feedback on the part of the audience and the critics, which allowed me to then move on to create other series, but that one in particular allowed me to present fragments of great works by Cage, the Vienna School, live Schoenberg, and also Alban Berg, Webern…there were some new pieces with the Música Nova Group that we recorded on “Sons e Mitos”…computer music, Messiaen’s music, all of the most advanced music of the 50s/60s.

That’s the major lesson I take from my relationship with TV – actually, I often say that I have two lives, or three, or even four: the life of the conservatory teacher, forced to follow the conventional, and the other lives given to me by my friends in the radio and television, not to mention my university studies in France. What I was prevented from doing in the school curricula (which I still sought to subvert, within the law) of conservatories, was allowed out of them, either on TV or on the radio, and even in newspapers. I wrote chronicles for more than 10 years for Jornal de Notícias, where I wrote one weekly, even two times a week at one point. Those radio shows I was in with Júlio Montenegro, “De toda a música” were also twice weekly at one point.

I survived as a man and a musician (financially speaking) thanks to the conservatory, but in mental, intellectual and affective terms I was saved by television, radio and the press. Because everything I could say and be beyond my life as simple school teacher, I could do outside. I did so inside the system as well, but in a much more restricted way. Through moving students, obviously, by talking of all of these subjects as well, but there always came a time where I had to leave them to the side because there was a school programme to follow which had nothing to do with those interests of mine. Despite this I still managed to subvert many things inside the system and above all to change some people’s minds. I don’t know if it was enough to influence Portugal’s collective subconscious (only the naïve could truly think that) but some people still talk about my influence in their thinking when it comes up.

You lived as a musician and composer before and after the revolution. How would you characterise the musical milieu in Portugal during the dictatorship? How did you feel it change after it ended?

Cândido Lima in Aveiro, 2017

There was a ‘status quo’ in the political system in general, which went hand in hand with the education system – even if there were forces here and there that wanted to change that ‘status quo’ the fact is that there were not (from a structural point of view) any major changes. Those who were beyond the system survived in various ways: either by isolating and separating themselves from the country within it, or by looking abroad for what the country wouldn’t give them. As a composer I often had to simulate ideas for a lack of available technology. It’s interesting that one time I presented one such experiment, for my piece “Projecções”, at a listening session with several international composers in Darmstadt and the following day I was asked where there was electronic music in Portugal. And I would answer: “There isn’t any electronic music in Portugal”. “What did you show us yesterday, then?” they would ask. It wasn’t electronic music, it was harmonium music simulating electronic music. “If you don’t have a dog, you hunt with a cat”, isn’t that what the people say? Even without the right instruments, if I have an idea of a certain direction for a composition, I know I can realise it with the meagre means I have available (like in ‘Poor Theatre’ in the theatre world).

Before the 25th of April there weren’t any opportunities for composers, the same as with many other areas of art and beyond it. There isn’t much more to mention regarding that time, except that there was a state within the state called the Gulbenkian Foundation where I had a scholarship since 63, well before the revolution. After the 25th of April things were what they were – there was a wonderful but dangerous chaos. I myself had some extremely dangerous interventions shortly before the revolution was definitely launched, because I was the Maestro for the Academic Choir in Coimbra, which then was associated with Salazar’s regime, but since I came from Braga, I kept myself away from that…I was always above politics, I am a man of culture with his own vision and dynamics. I was never a part of any party, and I’m incapable of getting involved with any sects or cults or political parties, etc. However the truth is that in May of 74, appearing in Coimbra and speaking about contemporary music at the Gil Vicente theatre before (one could almost call them so) the hordes of savages, was a scary thing… (laughs) I nearly cried afterwards because I understood what I had been up against, during that concert and dialogue at the theatre….I was associated with the system because, like I said, I was the Maestro of the Academic Choir, from which all of the members were expelled later on. I wasn’t aware of the association they had with the regime then, and that’s why I spoke so passionately about contemporary music, but the dialogue with the audience was something out of this world, and I was so convinced it was a disaster that I didn’t want to mention it ever again.

One day however, an old friend of mine told me on the train that he had read an enthusiastic chronicle about me on the “Jornal de Coimbra”. I was confused at first, but then I looked it up and it was one of the most beautiful things written about me to this day. I realized it was the president of the Coimbra Musical Youth writing, and he said wonders about that night. Despite this the reception was very mixed, and the day after a student who had attended the event told me that I had been under great danger that day…at one point, I even had the lights turned off to perform an improvisation… (laughs) “What have I done?” I said to myself, and then chaos started erupting…Eventually I turned them back on because it was getting late, around midnight or so, and then I was shouted at by someone in the audience, saying that I wanted to be democratic and yet I was turning the lights on with the permission of the masses. To which I answered: “There are many workers here, and we have probably run out of time. I’ll ask for their permission to continue”, which was granted. There was even a moment when one member of the audience said: “You’re speaking about democracy and you have two pianos there, and yet you’re the only one playing!” and I told him to go ahead and play – he went on stage, played a little on the piano and then went back to his seat. So you can imagine the atmosphere that night! But even then, apparently I achieved more than I thought I had, judging from the newspaper article I mentioned. All of this to say that I had some incredible experiences during those early days after the 25th of April. I have to go back to that year before I went to Paris, where there was a conflict between myself as a musician and my job as the director of a Conservatory. I had to be the director for a few months (this was a time when anyone who made a more energetic speech got elected) but later on a friend of mine, Fernando Jorge Azevedo, took over the job and that was fortunate for me, as it allowed me to ask for a scholarship and leave to Paris. In Portugal, in the climate of conflict, disorder and chaos that the country was going through, it wasn’t a time to compose music but a time to hold steady and bear the storm. Later on there was a director at the Conservatory who was a very particular person (a euphemism), who told me in his office: “Well I’m like this, but I get the Conservatory working on order” to which I answered: “I’d like to see you during the 25th of April, you’d have been tossed into the Douro River!” (laughs)

More than culture, you have to talk about tremendous conflict when discussing this period. Culture was also there, of course, but all the ruckus and noise and confusion of the period is the true gist of what was going on. I remember that a former student of mine interviewed me a few years after that, and he had never forgotten what I said during a class after the 25th of April: “I don’t have to change because I’ve changed a long time ago” – and I didn’t even remember I had said such a thing, but it did relate to my personality and it was the truth, and he memorised that as important. My 25th of April had happened a long time ago, so the revolution was simply a part of my own trajectory as citizen and a person of culture.

What happened afterwards was fantastic, despite all the problems that also occurred there some amazingly transformative events…there’s no time or space now to describe all the good things that happened in music, but also in institutions and the minds of the people, etc. Obviously there’s still a current of conservatism, but parallel to that many great new things emerged, and on a personal level I have to say we don’t have much to complain about these days – merely being here and talking to you, having this kind of concerts… that’s something you could only do underground, hiding from the authorities before the revolution, because if you didn’t you were taking great risks. I never stopped thinking or doing what I wanted, but I remember perfectly that when I was the director of the Conservatory in Braga the previous director told me one day that “some people say you’re a socialist”…and to be called a socialist back then was the same as being called a communist.

Cândido Lima at the Rivoli, 2016

I thought it was funny, because as a director I tried to broaden the institution’s horizons, to bring audiences of different genres, natures and even regions together, taking schools to Lisbon to contemporary music meetings, but all of this was seen in the wrong light before the 25th of April. The students at Coimbra also wanted to put a label on me (they had to, they were part of the system) upon our first meeting: “We heard you were this and that, a communist, socialist, anarchist” and I would answer: “No, I’m not with any party, I like to pummel everyone”. And this was in 73, so you can understand what that life was like. I was completely beyond that, I was invited as a musician and not as a politician, and my answers were always like that. In Paris, when I was at the University, a few enthusiastic Arabs and Africans would ask me about the revolution, and if I was a communist, and I’d always say I was above such labels. I was even invited to a television show once, where they talked about the revolution, and a journalist asked me: “Was the revolution on the left or on the right?” and I answered: “Inside!” They stopped there and went to a commercial break… (laughs)

I even had a few issues with the musical class, especially communists who wanted to associate me with their world – but no, I’m an independent, all I do is for human, educational and musical reasons, I don’t want labels of any kind. Back to what I was previously saying, there is in fact a huge revolution in all parts of the musical spectrum, but perhaps there were also some steps back – especially in television. What I did there, in three series featuring classical and contemporary music, has completely disappeared. Perhaps there’s something like it on cable TV, but I don’t see that attention being paid besides in some scattered programmes here and there. Perhaps it was something you could call a rare event in the theory of probability, but it did happen and it was documented. And perhaps it struck a chord with some people - some recall it every once in a while. Either it did or didn’t, the truth is that some waves of ideas swept the country on many, many levels. Like I said before, there are still a lot of counter-revolutionary, conservative pressures that resist major changes, but at least we can say that there’s a coexistence of different ideas and worlds and that’s also a beautiful thing. Truth be told, there’s not as much resistance as there was to differences, and especially to new ways of thinking and to the freedom of those who are creatively liberated. And before the 25th of April that was almost impossible, and what was possible was very risky, in political, personal, social terms, even in terms of your relationship with your neighbourhood.

But I still follow my own path, with my own philosophical tranquillity, let’s call it that. When I compose a piece all I care about is finishing it. I think to myself that if I’ve heard it, then it doesn’t matter if anyone else wants to hear it or not. I can absolutely say that I write for myself. If you ask me if I don’t enjoy listening to my pieces played by others I would answer that I do, definitely, because one thing is to have it on the inside and another is to hear it in real life, and sometimes you discover new things that were hidden when listening to it in your mind, which is priceless. But I don’t force it to materialise in the external reality – a reality which for many years didn’t allow my ideas to pass through. It was never a problem. I don’t know if this is due to my nature or that of society. However, I don’t care about that. I never forced anything.