The Portuguese composer, Jorge Croner de Vasconcellos (full name: Jorge Croner de Sant’Anna e Vasconcellos Moniz Bettencourt; = JCV), had a remarkable musical ancestry. His father, Alexandre Bettencourt (1868-1945), a brilliant violinist, pupil of the French master Léonard, directed the best violin class ever in the Lisbon Conservatory of Music. His father’s sister, Mathilde das Nogueiras (1859-1941), a great opera singer, became an associate in Paris of the famous master-singer Pauline Viardot-Garcia. His mother, Laura Croner (1887-1962), a talented violinist and pianist, continued a long musical lineage begun in Portugal at the dawn of the 19th century by the German, Joseph Croner, whose sons, Antonio José Croner (1826-1888) and Raphael Croner (1828-1884) - great-grandfather, and great-granduncle of JCV - were remarkable concert performers, respectively on the flute and the clarinet. Cezaltina Croner (1864-?) and Regina Croner Cascais, daughter and granddaughter of Raphael, both pianists, together with JCV, continued that musical line into our days.
Having started solfège with his mother, Jorge Croner de Vasconcellos then studied piano with Alexandre Rey Colaço, and composition with Luis de Freitas Branco, Francisco de Lacerda, and Eduardo Libório. Simultaneously he followed a course of studies in Philosophy at the Faculdade de Letras of the Lisbon University. In 1934 he won a scholarship from the Portuguese Junta de Educação Nacional to study at the École Normale de Musique in Paris, where he remained through mjd-summer 1937. There he studied harmony, counterpoint and history of music with Nadia Boulanger; composition first with Paul Dukas, then with Roger Ducasse; piano with Mme Giraud-Latarse; and interpretation with Alfred Cortot. He benefited as well from workshops with Igor Stravinsky. In 1938 he was made professor pro tempore of composition at the Conservatorio Nacional de Música (Lisbon) a post he kept until his death.
With the exception of opera, Jorge Croner de Vasconcellos’ oeuvre covers practically all genres. Technically it is characterized by the use of dissonance both as a mean of structure and color. He availed himself freely and discretely of all the idioms in use up to the end of World War II: modality, whole tone scale, polytonality, building up chords on intervals other than the 3rd. From the tonal period he kept the idea of tonal center and of the cadence, while broadening the former to the twelve semitones, and expanding the latter to all intervals beyond ascending 4th and descending 5th. Perhaps inspired by the theoretical work of his contemporary, Paul Hindemith, he sought a musical language which could both supersede Wagner’s romantic chromaticism and the atonalism of the second Viennese school. However, his deep southern instinct guided him away from intellectually closed systems. His style exhibits varied and compelling rhythms, rich harmonies, and by and large, ignores great rhetorical devices, favoring rather concise and faithful expression. From the standpoint of content, it tends to be defined by an often melancholic ethos, direct expression of emotion, formal clarity and transparency, love of subdued colors and soft contours, the capacity to express passion but restraint in exhibiting force, and often a frank sense of humour.
As teacher Jorge Croner de Vasconcellos shunned dogmatism, and was an expert guide. His class favored the development of the most diverse personalities - from Constança Capdeville, to Maria de Lourdes Martins, Filipe Pires, Armando Santiago, Filipe de Sousa, and so many others. Privately he was an excellent voice coach, earning recognition from some master teachers in that area.
Jorge Croner de Vasconcellos was also an excellent pianist both as soloist and accompanist, though he abandoned his solo career around 1943 due to health problems.