About this Recording
8.557333 - BLANCAFORT, M.: Piano Music, Vol. 2 (Villalba) - Jocs i danses al camp / Cants intims I
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Manuel Blancafort (1897–1987)

Manuel Blancafort (1897–1987)

6 Peces breus • 8 Peces per a piano • Jocs i danses al camp • Cants íntims I

 

Manuel Blancafort lived through troubled times, witnessing the end of a world view and a vision of art which had remained more or less unchanged for hundreds of years, and the birth of the avant-garde music of the twentieth century. Drawing on a wealth of internal inspiration however, he was able to tread his own path and maintain his individuality. His inner world grew from his experiences of nature, intimacy and memory, as well as life in his home town of La Garriga. A somewhat withdrawn character, he had a tendency to melancholy: “I always enjoyed silence and my own company, and I spent much of my childhood alone, not needing outside entertainment,” he wrote in 1929.

Blancafort himself has said that he wrote most of his early works after returning from long days spent in the mountains, in sunshine, wind, fog or rain. Through music he could record his impressions, like pages in a diary without words. Despite their obvious romantic character, these pieces also display a clear concern for concision and structure: “Be wary of Romanticism! Don’t deny, don’t betray your intelligence”. His discovery of French and Russian music and the première of Albéniz’s Iberia were vital to his development as a composer, opening up the musical direction he was to take. Reacting against the predominance of Wagnerism at the time, Blancafort believed that Catalan music should be characterised by clarity: “simple, without excessive counterpoint or nebulous chromaticism which would drown out our lyrical tradition’s purity of expression”.

 

His ideal of the non-improvised, non-spontaneous, balanced “well-made work” and his understanding of the intimate were very much in line with the sense of order and simplicity central to the Catalan writer-philosopher Eugeni d’Ors’ Noucentisme (“20th-centuryism”) — a cultural movement with political aspects, whose theoretical-aesthetic doctrine was drawn up by D’Ors in 1908. Blancafort met him in 1918 at one of the cultural gatherings at the Hotel Blancafort in La Garriga. D’Ors listened to music by Blancafort and Frederic Mompou, who was also present, and the three men discussed the new direction Catalan music should take. During his stay there, D’Ors also read the pamphlet Le Coq et l’Arlequin, published that same year by Jean Cocteau who had become the spokesman for the “Groupe des Six”: this was their manifesto for the new trends in French music. Mompou had introduced his younger colleague to these ideas, clearly mirroring their own views on the future of music, and both composers would adopt them as their own.

 

This second volume of piano works continues where the first left off, bringing to an end the first phase of Blancafort’s compositions for the instrument. The works recorded here are for the most part short pieces which either stand alone or are brought together to form suites, written in ternary structure, with a sense of introspection and nostalgia as well as touches of folk-music, and are, almost exclusively, composed in minor keys: “My earliest piano works were very intimate pieces showing my love for simplicity and for the characteristics of our native melodies”. The 6 Peces breus (6 Short Pieces) and the 8 Peces per a piano (8 Piano Pieces) are clear examples of this early style and the last in his series of piano miniatures. Blancafort was here subconsciously creating a kind of “database” in that in addition to each piece having its own intrinsic value, a number of them were re-used in later works, often having been substantially reworked. Apart from anything else, the miniature form, typical of the French school and popular with many European composers at the time, allowed Blancafort to learn his trade and establish a basis on which he was later able to construct larger symphonic works. Essentially self-taught, he made up for any lack of formal training with extreme compositional rigour, as can be seen in these works, and in the way he revised his compositions, paying attention to the minutest of details, and making modifications without losing any of the original freshness. The result: exemplary work in terms of both construction and inspiration.

 

Jocs i danses al camp (Country Games and Dances) and Cants íntims I (Intimate Songs I) were both composed in the years immediately before his marriage to Helena París, their dedicatee, and are magnificent examples of the dual nature of his music. His more playful, extrovert side is evident in Jocs i danses al camp, which uses folk-based melodic material, while Cants íntims I reflects his nostalgic, introspective side, through a more abstract idiom. The two faces of a coin, they exemplify the aims of their composer: “Music must be a medium for expressing internal sentiments and external impressions”.

In its original version, Jocs i danses al camp consisted of five pieces (the sixth was added much later), which were accompanied by short notes written by Blancafort to capture the playful nature of the cycle. The first piece is headed, “S’ha perdut un anell a veure qui el troba...” (We’ve lost the ring, let’s see who can find it…), and the music echoes the desperate search with a lively rhythm (faster still in the central section), harsh harmonies and an insistent inclusion of a disheartening Lento. A happy ending seems to be suggested by the coda however, when a dance-like melody appears. “Seguim l’ombra d’un núvol” (We follow the shadow of a cloud) portrays the pursuit of a capricious shadow which ultimately evaporates, plunging the pursuers into sadness. As a consolation, in the third piece Blancafort calls to mind walking barefoot on the grass (“de peus descalços damunt l’herba”) and dancing to the sound of a flabiol (a typical Catalan wind instrument) which has its own tonada to play in the middle section. A more relaxed atmosphere comes with the “Joc donant-se les mans” (Holding-hands game) and the serene dance which bring a brief respite before the frenzied running about of part V (“Vine, vine vine, vine! Corre, corre, corre!” — Come on, come on, come on! Run, run, run!). Here the composer includes a “cant per anar a la guerra” (battle-song) in the central section of the tripartite form, the nationalist character of whose words are clear evidence of his deep-rooted love for his homeland. The cycle ends in animated manner with one last reference to folk music: a sardana (traditional Catalan dance).

 

Cants íntims I is characterized by a sense of agitation and, at times, desolation — emotions that were part of that “incomprehensible sadness” which had been with Blancafort since childhood. As in Jocs i danses al camp the influence of both Mompou and contemporary French music can be discerned in the lack of bars and barlines which results in unstable rhythms and sweeping harmonies. The epigraphs introducing each piece underline the extreme nature of this work, whose finale is disconcerting — a gentle lullaby bringing to a close one of the composer’s most heartrending works. Ricardo Viñes, the celebrated Catalan pianist who gave the first performances of many works by Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Poulenc and Milhaud, would often programme this work for his recitals, proof indeed of the growing esteem in which Blancafort’s music was held in Europe’s musical circles.

 

Miquel Villalba

English Version: Susannah Howe


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