About this Recording
8.225294 - HOMS: Piano Sonata No. 2 / Presences / 9 Sketches
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Joaquim Homs (1906-2003)
Piano Music • 3
This is the third and last volume of the complete works for piano of Joaquim Homs recorded by Jordi Masó. Far from being a mere complement to the previous volumes, it almost stands apart as the most interesting of the set for various reasons. We find here both delightful miniatures as well as works of a more substantial formal construction; pages both from his early and mature works; transcriptions of works originally written for other instruments and works written originally for the piano; music for two and four hands; flashes of warmth, and elements of deep bitterness; popular flavour and academic rigour; clear, contained expressionism and tentative echos of neoclassicism; works already published and revisions of unpublished manuscripts; pieces which have won awards and others which have been awaiting their first performance. In short, an apt selection which makes this edition one of the most representative to date, not only of the pianistic output of this Catalan composer, but of the whole of his work. Since the notes written for previous volumes have already outlined the inherent characteristics of Homs’ piano works, we shall here limit ourselves to making a contextual reference which serves as a framework for the works to be found on this recording.

Originally written for cobla (small wind and percussion band for performing the music of sardanes, the traditional dance of Catalunya), the Three Sardanes (1951) for four hands starts us off in a tremendously evocative way, as a consequence of the Catalan roots of the composer. Without any reference to any theme belonging to the popular songbook, we can nevertheless recognise the characteristic rhythm of the sardana and the essence of this traditional Catalan dance. Their inspired melodies stay clearly in our memory from the first listening and, while still contained within a markedly tonal mould, the occasional dissonances indicate the tendency of the composer to free himself from the rigidity of this harmonic system. The late first performance of the three pieces, in 1998, was to be a recurring factor throughout Homs’ life, even to the point where, on many occasions it never took place at all. The Andante for piano four hands (1940) is a reduction of a previous work (the Andante from the Wind Quintet No. 1), but on this occasion the noticeable predominant feature is the discipline of serialism. The technique, however, is always used in a free, flexible and totally personal way. Thus, as is usual with the composer, the metrics of the first bars set out the kind of articulation and pattern of intervals that are to later arise throughout the whole piece.

The first complete work that Homs himself catalogued is the Nou apunts per a piano (Nine sketches for piano) (1925-26). They are nine brief pieces inspired by the texts of Sebastià Sànchez-Juan (the first six and the ninth), Joan Salvat-Papasseit (the seventh) and Rabindranath Tagore (the eighth). The poems appear under the musical lines even though it is a work for piano solo. They act as inspiration to the performer and are never intended to be sung or recited. This brief cycle is especially representative because it is pivotal in Homs’ development as the only student of Robert Gerhard (a direct pupil of Schoenberg) and the spring from which he would drink directly of the teachings of the Vienna School. These Sketches clearly show Homs as a composer who was ahead of his time.

Far from the classical-romantic tradition, Homs wrote the Piano Sonata No. 2 (1955) with the good fortune of having it first performed in Ulm (Germany) a few months after it was performed in Barcelona by Jaume Padrós. Thus the composer’s presence is noted once more outside his home borders, a presence which was not limited to the three occasions when he was selected to represent Spain at the festivals organized by the ISCM (International Society of Contemporary Music) in Paris (1937), Warsaw (1939) and Stockholm (1956). This second (and last) Sonata consists of three movements in which the musical plot is based on the continuous rotation of a series of twelve different notes. Their corresponding mirrors and retrogressions appear both vertically and horizontally. The name Derivations rather than Variations in the second movement, was well chosen, as is seen in the correspondence between Homs and his teacher and friend Gerhard, who wrote that “it describes much more adequately the mental attitude of the serial technique” instead of the term which arose in Classicism “which to a certain extent inevitably implies repetition”.

The Toccata (1948) has been justifiably rescued from oblivion. A manuscript written on lined paper which has deteriorated with the passage of time, and even difficult to read, does not hide an admiration for Bach, so characteristic of a large part of expressionist music. This composition, so delightfully unlike the rest of his piano output, is based on a contrapuntal figure which clearly shows the mastery, applied in his own language, of an instrument he had taught himself, alongside his academic title as cello teacher.

The Diptych II (1994) was commissioned for the Tenth Piano Competition of the town of Berga (Barcelona) as a test piece. This occasion kept Homs active, (he was already finding it somewhat difficult to compose because of serious problems with his sight) and, above all, its first performance was assured. For the same reason, Record del Mar (Memory of the Sea) (1995) also managed to come before the public, as the fruit of another commitment: an undertaking with Cecilia Colien for a personal project which she herself financed. It consisted of an album for piano of contemporary Spanish and Portuguese pieces. In fact, this piece was to be among the last of the pages that Homs wrote, the first of his final bursts of creative activity. Homs had the habit of not throwing away any document, regardless of its importance. Because of this fact, the Vals de suburbi (Suburban Waltz) (1931) was found among the rough drafts of his personal file. This small copy, barely a page long, turns out to be a piece of charming curiosity.

The present recording ends with nothing less than an corner-stone in his life and his compositional career: Presències (Presences) (1967). Written in memory of his wife, the painter Pietat Fornesa, it distils a bitter and deep pain for the death of a being who was dearly loved. Designed to be played without a break, the seven pieces are of a highly intimate nature, evoking the unforgettable moods of moments spent together. Although they do not set out to be descriptive, nor do they have any title, Homs does indicate, in order to orientate the listener, that the first two pieces evoke moments spent together beside the sea and the mountains, these being landscapes from early periods in his life which made a deep impression on him. The third simply refers to a dream. The fourth presages the imminence of death. In the fifth anguish, tenderness and desperation are expressed in turn. The sixth recollects a final dream and the seventh refers to the contemplation of death.

Musically, movements I, IV, and VII are based on the same series of twelve notes, but presented in a very free and personal way (for example, the sequence is not fully announced until after the first bars have been played). Number II – V and III – VI are built on another two, interrelated by various common elements, alternating agitated passages with brief motivic cells, until they reach a mournful low note which appears to presage the dissolution of the rhythm and the melody. All of them are of a very simple structure and their unity stems much more from the nature of the dominant emotive climate than from the serial relationships mentioned. The seven movements each last approximately three minutes, the last four being intimately linked with the final presence of death. The unexaggerated expressionism of the composer adapts perfectly to the distilled atmosphere of this masterpiece of the twentieth century, which plunged the composer into an aesthetic period of a more desolate and introspective nature. Described by the composer Ramón Barce as schematic, profound and beautiful, Presències won the Premi Ciudad de Barcelona of 1968 (Barcelona City Prize) in its orchestral version.

The whole programme here recorded offers a valuable introduction into the personal universe of Joaquim Homs.

Ignacio José Valdés Huerta
(translated by Paul Jutsum)

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