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Father Guilherme Schmid, SDB (1910-2000) and Music in Twentieth-Century Macau (2)

admin / December 22, 2020

Jen-yen Chen
Graduate Institute of Musicology
National Taiwan University

As already indicated by the foregoing discussion, Father Guilherme Schmid’s twenty-six years in Macau included activity as a conductor and a composer. His initial appointment in Macau was as an instructor in St. Joseph’s Seminary, where he taught until 1960 and conducted the student choir, named the St. Cecilia Capella, as well as the student band, whose repertoire included marches and operettas. His interests were obviously wide-ranging and not limited to strictly liturgical music, as further illustrated by ensembles outside of the seminary which he also directed, the wind band of the Instituto Salesiano and the Banda da Policia de Segurança Pública (Public Security Force Police Band). Wind bands had occupied a significant place in the musical life of Macau since the early nineteenth century, in part through collaborations with religious institutions, as in accompanying the annual public procession of the consecrated Host during the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi. In addition, Father Schmid’s early years in Macau were especially rich ones for instrumental ensemble music, perhaps surprisingly given that this was the period of World War II, but in fact a large number of refugee musicians spent these difficult times in Macau which provided a safe haven due to Portugal’s wartime neutrality. They came principally from China, Hong Kong, and the Philippines, and returned home following the cessation of hostilities in 1945, though the subsequent Chinese Civil War brought a new influx of instrumentalists from abroad several years later.

Assessing Father Guilherme Schmid’s achievements as a composer remains a challenging task because his large output has not yet been systematically catalogued and new works continue to be discovered, such as a Mass in B flat major for three voices and organ found at a secondhand stall in 2009 by João Ng Seng Hang, director of the Coro Perosi. Nevertheless a general picture emerges through the variety of genres in which Father Schmid was active, again revealing an artistic personality of impressively diverse range. The published compilation of the liturgical vocal repertoire of St. Joseph’s Seminary, titled Exultate, includes a total of 107 compositions from Father Schmid’s pen plus his harmonization of a melody by Father Mariano Pinho (1894-1963), a Portuguese Jesuit priest. Of these, ninety-five are settings of Latin texts, among them two complete Mass Ordinaries, the Missa Regina Sacratissimi Rosarii in F major for two voices and organ and the Missa Salve Regina in D major for three voices and organ. The remaining twelve are settings of Portuguese texts. Beyond the context of music for use in church settings, Father Schmid also produced a significant quantity of works for wind band, many of the manuscripts of which remain at the offices of Macau’s municipal police. Theatrical music formed his third area of active compositional interest, and his oeuvre includes the melodrama A Cruzada dos Pequenos (The Children’s Crusade), a performance of which took place on 3 February 1945 at the Orphanage of the Immaculate Conception under the direction of Father Áureo Castro (1917-93), as well as operettas such as Os Mártires da Cesaréia and Marco, o Pescador. The genre of operetta achieved enormous popularity in Austria during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, especially through the works of Franz Lehár (1870-1948), and so Father Schmid’s attraction towards such a “lowbrow” art is not surprising. But aside from evoking his homeland, music theater in Macau belonged to a didactic tradition which extended far back into European music history, including the earliest stages of the Western presence on the southern Chinese coast. Thus, for example, the annual letters sent by Jesuit missionaries in Macau back home to mission headquarters in Europe sometimes mention dramatic performances at the College of St. Paul, among them a tragedy presented, with musical accompaniment and some dialogue translated into Chinese for the benefit of those who did not understand Portuguese, on the steps leading up to the collegiate church (letter of 1596), and a comedy of astonishing length, spanning two days, with each day’s segment lasting five hours (letter of 1604).

            A final topic which this article of course needs to consider is Father Guilherme Schmid’s legacy as a teacher of music in Macau. During his quarter-century in Asia, he taught a wide variety of subjects which included Gregorian chant, solfeggio, harmony, and counterpoint, and also offered individual lessons in organ and violin. Among his students at St. Joseph’s Seminary were Father Castro, Doming Lam Ngok-pui (1926-), Father António Lau Chi Ming (1938-), Father Benjamin Leong Nga-Ming (1930-2001), and Father Cláudio Lo Kai Soi (1933-2017). The brilliant compositional achievements of several of these pupils, and especially of Castro and Lam, are testimony to Father Schmid’s pedagogical excellence, particularly with regard to guiding talents arguably greater than his own and establishing the foundations upon which they could attain impressive heights. Thus, his own music largely remains within a conventional tonality, that is, the system of the twenty-four major and minor keys, while occasionally surprising the listener with an unexpected modulation or shift to a different key. Father Castro’s, by contrast, demonstrates a richness of complex, late Romantic harmony which perhaps recalls that of a composer such as Hugo Wolf (1860-1903). And Lam, who achieved international renown as a major figure in the avant-garde music scene, has cultivated a distinctive style marked by an extraordinary range of coloristic nuances (achieved in part through employing traditional Chinese instruments); his production of music for use in the Catholic liturgy as practiced in Cantonese, to which he has committed himself with renewed energy late in his career, both demonstrates outstanding proficiency in tonal contrapuntal techniques and features a striking revival of a medieval sound world (illustrated by parallel vocal lines in “primeval” intervals such as fourths and fifths and cyclical melodic movement), all drawn together within an idiosyncratically modernist temperament. It is in helping to bring forth artists of this stature that we can most clearly identify Father Schmid’s important contribution to the musical life and culture of Macau.

            Father Guilherme Schmid spent his final six years in Macau as director of the Instituto Salesiano, and returned to Austria in 1966. He passed away on 22 February 2000, two months before his ninetieth birthday, and was buried in Unterwaltersdorf.