Gendering the Piano: Avec Picasso Ce Matin… and Valse, Valsa, Vals; Keuschheits Waltz by Constança Capdeville

Alfonso Benetti, Helena Marinho, Luís Bittencourt, Mónica Chambel

Inet-MD –  University of Aveiro, Portugal


The works created by the Portuguese experimental composer Constança Capdeville (1937-92) that involve the piano, as a solo or ensemble instrument, present two main chronological perspectives: 1) the early piano compositions highlight the piano as a solo instrument, presenting programmatic titles or conventional designations, and display tonal styles allied to an apparent simplicity, expressed through a limited range of dynamics and technical instrumental resources; 2) from the 1970s, a growing focus on scenic and gestural components changed her approach to the piano, challenging its perception as a mere musical instrument amongst other resources, in musical theatre projects involving multimedia, dramatic contents and methods.

Aiming to understand and evidence this outlook, this proposal focused on the procedures and strategies created and employed in order to enhance and unveil the gendered representations conveyed by the solo piano works. Research questions addressed the use of the piano as a locus of gendered representations, subtly implicit in the composer’s materials, but also connected to the instrumental affordances and techniques suggested by the scores and scripts.

This research discusses two piano works composed after 1970: Avec Picasso ce matin… (1984) and Valse, Valsa, Vals; Keuschheits Waltz (1987). The latter was initially conceived as an independent piece, but was later included as an intervention in the music theater work …For a Stabat Mater (1987). Avec Picasso ce matin…, for solo piano, recorded tape, and light design, cites two men often reported as notorious Spanish womanisers: Picasso (explicitly, in the title, and as author of the pre-recorded texts) and Don Juan (implicitly, by reusing some of the materials of the music theatre work Don’t, Juan, from 1985). This suggests that a similar outlook on the piano might be shared by Avec Picasso ce matin… and Don’t, Juan: the piano as the overpowering beast, and the pianist as the character who tries to seduce, punish or calm it, like the “torero” mentioned in the text of the pre-recorded tape. Valse, an atonal piece, integrates extended techniques, such as clusters and exploration of sounds through percussion techniques, and theatrical elements, such as the declamation of text fragments. Chastity, as a sensual element, alludes to the relationship between the pianist (the work was dedicated to a woman pianist) and the piano.

 Research methods combined archaeological (Foucault 2002 [1969]), ethnographic (Bayley 2011; Canonne 2018), and experimental approaches (Assis 2018), exploring the relationship between archival contents and performance, and the role of ethnography in the recreation of experimental productions. Procedures involved identifying common themes, musical materials and instrumental techniques, and experimenting performing strategies. The performances were infused with the procedure of ‘infection’, combining our reading of the original materials with newly-created and adapted materials that reinforced a gendered reading of the works. Selected examples of some of our strategies will be described as the basis for a discussion of recreative performing protocols, and the relation between historical representations displayed in staple repertoire and discourses about the piano, and its reinvention as a staged (male) character in some of Capdeville’s works.

 Keywords: Performance ethnography, Experimentation, Recreation practices



Alfonso Benetti is fellow researcher at the University of Aveiro/Inet-MD (Institute of Ethnomusicology – Centre for Studies in Music and Dance), in Portugal. In this context, he has developed extensive work on expressivity and piano performance, autoethnography, artistic research and experimentation in music performance – thematic in which is co-coordinator of a project approved for funding by FCT (Foundation for Science and Technology). He has published articles and participated in several conferences (Portugal, Germany, Brazil, Spain, England and Belgium), is a member of editorial committees of scientific publications and events, a member of the founding committee of the IMPAR (Initiatives, Meetings and Publications on Artistic Research) and an associate editor and founder of the IMPAR-Online Journal for Artistic Research. Benetti is also the creator and coordinator of the Xperimus Ensemble – a group of artists/researchers devoted to the subject of experimentation in music performance. Complementarily, the book Fashion, Music and Feeling, published in co-authorship with Dr. Rafaela Norogrando, is a result of the interdisciplinary character of his work. His artistic performances are marked by a variety of styles and repertoires, involving from classical and contemporary traditional works to musical experimentation and interdisciplinary artistic means. Dr. Benetti has been a guest soloist with orchestras from Brazil and Portugal and has performed in concerts, recitals and music festivals in Portugal, Brazil, Germany, England, Austria and Poland.

Helena Marinho is Associated Professor at the Department of Communication and Art of the University of Aveiro (Portugal) and integrated researcher at the Institute of Ethnomusicology – Centre of Studies in Music and Dance. Her main research interests include performance research, and 20th/21st Portuguese music history and musical practice. Helena’s publications include book chapters published by Colibri, Caminho, Imperial College Press, Brepols, Editions Hispaniques, and articles for Musica Hodie, Opus, E-Cadernos CES, Psychology of Music, Studies in Musical Theatre. She is regularly invited to present her research at national and international conferences. She has led three multiannual research projects financed by the Portuguese Government Foundation for Science and Technology, and European funds: “Images from Land and Sea: Frederico de Freitas and music in twentieth-century Portuguese culture” (2012-15), “Euterpe unveiled: Women in Portuguese musical creation and interpretation during the 20th and 21st centuries”, and “Xperimus: Experimentation in music in Portuguese culture: History, contexts and practices in the 20th and 21st centuries” (ongoing). She was panel member for the evaluation of projects for the European Commission Culture Programme, and jury member for the research scholarships of the Foundation for Science and Technology. She is consultant for the Portuguese Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education (A3ES). As a pianist, Helena Marinho has presented solo and chamber concerts in the main venues and festivals in Portugal, as well as abroad; she has played in the U.S.A., Brazil, Ireland, UK, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Sweden, Norway, Ethiopia, India. Her performing activities include projects with modern piano and fortepiano, as she has recorded (or participated in) 12 CDs, playing Classical to contemporary (acoustic and mixed) repertoire on both on instruments. Several of the artistic projects she conceived and performed have been selected for funding by the Portuguese Culture Ministry.

Luís Bittencourt is percussionist, composer, artist-researcher and music producer. He is considered “a master of sound experimentation” (Vision Magazine) and his performances “a torrent of originality” (Casa da Música), presenting works by international composers and his own compositions. Bittencourt has performed and collaborated with Lee Ranaldo and Leah Singer (Sonic Youth), Jeffrey Ziegler (ex-Kronos Quartet), Phill Niblock, Found Sound Nation, Gabriel Prokofiev, David Cossin (Bang on a Can), Jon Rose, among others. Besides his activities as solo performer, Bittencourt is full-time artist-researcher in the project “Xperimus: Experimentation in Music in Portuguese Culture: History, Contexts and Practices in the 20th and 21st centuries” and integrated researcher at INET-md

Mónica Chambel is a PhD student in Music, Analysis and Music Theory, at the University of Aveiro. She has developed research on topics such as Portuguese music from the 20th and 21st centuries, experimentation in music and inter-artistic relations, and the study and recreation of Cosntança’s Capdeville music-theatre works. She was researcher in the project “Euterpe unveiled: Women in Portuguese musical creation and interpretation during the 20th and 21st centuries” and producer of the artistic research project “Capdeville XXI”, financed by DGArtes. She is a member of the Post-ip Group (INET-md / UA).