At the beginning of his autobiography Sigismund Neukomm asserts he is no genius like “Mozart the immortal”. Nontheless he was very famous in his own days. His music, largely published, was performed in many solemn occasions: at the Vienna congress, for example, commemorating the death of Louis xvi, or at Notre-Dame cathedral celebrating the arrival of Louis XVI in Paris. He was the friend of many renowned musicians – a.o. Dussek, Cherubini, Grétry, Gossec, Monsigny –, Cavaillé-Coll’s collaborator, the musician of the prince of Talleyrand as well as of the Courts of Russia and Portugal, the favourite student of Joseph Haydn, the professor of Mozart’s son. Made Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur and distinguished by many European countries, the composer travelled throughout Europe, and beside Russia and Africa, also visited South America.
In April 1816, Neukomm went to Brazil with the duke of Luxembourg, who was in charge of restoring the diplomatic relations between France and Portugal. The Napoleonian invasions a few years earlier, had forced the king of Portugal to escape and to settle down with his Court in Rio de Janeiro. Thus D. João vi – today recognised as a protector of the arts – created in Brazil a cultural, intellectual and political eμervescence that led the country to set apart from Portugal and declare its independance in 1822. As a protégé of the count de la Barca, Neukomm enjoyed in the first years of his Brazilian stay a very enviable position. But when the Count died, the turmoil of the independence movement and the jealousy of the King’s favourite composer, Marcos Portugal, made his position more and more difficult. A few days only before the King’s return to Portugal – once again escaping –, Neukomm left the country. The five years spent in Rio de Janeiro had been very fruitful: he transcribed and harmonised the modinhas by Joaquim Manuel da Câmara, used for the first time a Brazilian theme in a classical music work – L’Amor brazileiro [sic], a capriccio on a Brazilian lundu –, wrote a mass for the acclamation of D. João vi and maintained with the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung a corres- pondance constituting today a rich testimony of the musical Brazilian life of these days.
(translation Philippe Do)
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