Lisbon Earthquake, November 1st 1755

An extremely powerful earthquake struk Lisbon in the morning of November 1st, 1755. This was a disaster of inconceivable proportions that shocked Europe. The event even inspired Voltaire’s Candide. Musically speaking the destruction of the Royal Palace near Tagus River also destroyed the grand Opera house – the “Ópera do Tejo” – and the music library housed at one of the towers that was begun by King John IV (the first part of its catalogue survives from 1649) and augmented by the following kings.

This archive was one (not to say the biggest) of the largest musical collections in Europe. Browsing the catalogue’s content is for me one of the most frustrating musicological experiences: here you have a list of works by Europe’s famous composers, and also Portuguese, that you cannont acess.

João Rodrigues Esteves (born around 1700), one of Portugal’s finest composers of the first half of the 18th century, died in the consequence of the earthquake.

Another Portuguese finest composer of the first half of the 18th century, Francisco António de Almeida (born around 1702) is also believed to have perished during or afther the earthquake.

Of the group of three composers sent by King D. João V to study in Rome in the beginning of the century – Francisco António de Almeida, António Teixeira and João Rodrigues Esteves – only Teixeira survived this catastrophy, living until 1774.

The Smithsonian Channel produced this documentary. While in scientific terms it is a very accurate view of this disaster, some cultural readings tend to be in some points a bit too “american”. But, still, it is a great production worth seeing in detail.


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