About this Recording
8.554448 - MOMPOU, F.: Piano Music, Vol. 2 (Maso) - 12 Preludes / Suburbis / Cants magics

Frederic Mompou (1893-1987)
Piano Music Volume 2
Préludes; Suburbis; Dialogues; Cants màgics; Chanson de berceau
Fêtes lointaines

It is not easy to explain the long period of extremely sparse productivity that followed only two years after Mompou's triumphant acclaim in Paris. The composer, who from his first recognised work, Impresiones intimas, (1911-1914), had composed at least one important work for the piano every year, saw his great moment arrive when his teacher, Ferdinand Motte-­Lacroix, played scènes d'enfants and other works in the Salle Erard on 15th April 1921. That success was endorsed exactly one week later in the well-known article by the prestigious critic, Emile Vuillermoz, who proclaimed Mompou as the only true successor to Debussy. However, from 1923 the rate of appearance of new works fell considerably and, in the words of Clara Janes, the 1930s were a 'wasteland'.

Among the most notable of Mompou's works written in the middle of the 1920s are the first six Préludes, the beginning of a set which grew irregularly in number over a period of more than thirty years, eventually to be completed with a further six. The use of the title Prélude suggests that in creating his ideal sound world Mompou was influenced by Debussy and Chopin, whose 24 Préludes was to serve as a theme for Mompou's Variations, one of his most ambitious works.

The first four Préludes were composed between 1927 and 1928. After the more concentrated character of the first (Dans le style ramance), the second is a succession of kaleidoscopic scenes and situations without actually telling us what is being described. The distant return of the initial melody at the end of the piece is reminiscent of Debussy's Préludes. The third Prélude develops melodic fragments of a simple melancholy while the fourth and last of this first set has something of the archaic harmonics and popular themes of Cançons i danses.

In 1930 Mompou composed two more Préludes, the fifth, also close in form and style to Cançons i danses, and the sixth for the left hand. The composer himself affirmed that the basic material of the composition was suggested to him as he played casually on the piano while talking to the Catalan guitarist Miquel Llobet Much later, in 1931, the seventh was composed, the only one which carries a descriptive title: Palmier d'étoiles (literally, palm tree of stars, one of the most spectacular kinds of firework). These feux d'artifice are seen as clearly as those in Debussy's own Préludes yet they possess a charm of their own and evoke the magic which fireworks have for those born on Spain's eastern coast. The eighth and ninth Préludes were written in 1943 and the tenth in 1944.

For the publication of the second book in 1952, however, the present order was chosen. No. 8 extracts the composer's usual sonorities from the development of a simple cell of two notes. The following Prélude shows the influence of both Chopin and Scriabin. The tenth, from 1944, starts with energetic chords leading to a quieter, more singing conclusion. Two more unpublished Préludes complete the set; the first, dated 1952, is melancholic, and is dedicated to the great pianist Alicia de Larrocha. Like so many other pieces by the composer, the last Prélude, thought to have been composed in 1960, develop, its melody by means of ever-so-slightly changing repetitions, before the return of the initial statement in an atmosphere of contained pain.

Mompou gave the title Suburbis (slum quarters) to four pieces composed between 1916 and 1917. El carrer, el guitarrista i el veil cavall (The street, the guitarist and the old horse) describes the images which surrounded Mompou during his long walks through the working class areas of Barcelona, so beloved to him and so frequently evoked with his gift of 'magic realism'. The waltz of the guitarist begins to emerge from the din of the street and the songs of the children's games and, later, the painful walk (péniblement) of the old horse, slowly going its way before the sympathetic gaze of the observer. Las gitanas (Gypsies) 1 and 2 conjure up the adventurous nocturnal walks of Mompou and his friends through the poorest areas of the city of his youth, the shanty quarters inhabited by a marginal population which fascinated the musician. To the attraction of the beauty of the young gypsy girls (as recalled in Chatunca) is added the evocation of unconventional ways of life, including the exotic. La cegueta (The Little Blind Girl) presents a single melody, as the young sightless girl advances with difficulty (péniblement, like the old horse). This melody is later invested with delicate and sonorous chords, as if transfigured. L'home de l'aristó (The Barrel Organ Man) presents several melodies, among them a habanera with which the barrel organ creates a sweeter ambiance in contrast to the earlier din of the street. The idealised image of the itinerant musician, however, is invested with realism: the pianist must play the melodies with groans and out of tune (gémissant et désaccordé).

Although in his letters and writings Mompou shows a certain disdain for the figure of Satie, there can hardly be any doubt about the influence the latter had on Mompou's music. In the two Dialogues of 1923 ('…it is oneself who asks the questions and gives the answers...' said Mompou in explaining the parties to the dialogue) the pianist finds indications, some quite caustic, A la Satie. The course of the Dialague is defined by expressious such as expliquez, quéstionnez, répondez, hésitez, exaltez-vous and even donnez des excuses. This aspect of the score (including the lack of bar lines, so frequent in Mompou) is therefore not far removed from Satie's own Pièces froides.

Cants màgics (‘Magic Songs’) is Mompou's first published work. They evoke a poetic idea essential to Mompou: the mystery of nature, which can be conjured up by music of an imaginary ritual. The first is almost entirely based on one chord, whose repetition in monotonous rhythms has a hypnotic effect. The second presents a simple melody which is interpreted in several different ways, following the indications obscur, clar, brilliant (dark, light, brilliant). The third Cant, repeats a single melody, one of whose variants (marked as sota el pes de la son (under the weight of sleep) is faintly reminiscent of Brünnhilde's dream in Die Walküre. The following piece, Misterioso (Mysteriously) alternates the initial phrase with a livelier passage interrupted occasionally by the doleful ring of distant bells. The two alternating sections in the last of the Cants màgics are marked Calma e inquiet (Calm and restless). The simple melodies are supported by chords in a deliberately repetitive rhythm which sustain the hypnotic magic of these pieces.

Mompou's friendship with the family of the poet Josep Janés bore its most important musical fruit in the cycle of songs for voice and piano Combat del somni (1942-1951), based on poems by Janés. The Chanson de berccau (‘Cradle Song’) was composed in 1951 for the baptism of Elisenda, one of Janés's daughters. In keeping with the genre, the opening melody sustains a rocking motion. The central section avec tendrezse (with tenderness) takes the character of a popular song in the manner of the Cançons i danses. Perhaps the most surprising element of the piece is the final repetition which ends the piece in minor mode, rather unusual for a composition of this kind.

One of the most personal and poetic titles Mompou ever gave to his works is Fêtes lointaines (‘Distant Celebrations’). It is a collection of six short pieces composed between 1920 and 1921 evoking the popular celebrations. Mompou knew in Barcelona or the nearby villages of his time. The first piece begins with sonorous chords, like bells, a section which alternates with a cheerful air. The second piece, vif, begins and ends with a melody hidden in repeated notes. The central section presents a clearer melody, though a rather melancholy one, despite the indication gai (cheerful) in the score. The third is based on a repeated rhythm, later abandoned during the following section and transformed into something very different. Once again an agitated theme contrasts with a quieter melody in the fourth piece while the fifth is notable for a sequence of sections of differing character, with a recapitulation in which the initial phrase reappears in modified form (again, as in Debussy's Préludes). The last of the Fêtes lointaines opens in the style of a dance from the Cançons i danses. The melody which follows is heard again at the conclusion, once more in the distance. Few things are aesthetically closer to Mompou's heart than this vision of popular fiestas of a bygone era which, in a form totally his own, is both dear to the heart yet contemplated in sadness with the distance of that which can no longer be attained.

Victor Estapé
English Translation: Paul Jutsum

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