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8.554727 - MOMPOU, F.: Piano Music, Vol. 4 (Masó) - Musica callada, Vols. 1-4 / El Pont / Muntaya
Frederic Mompou (1893-1987)
The title of Mompou's masterpiece Música callada comes from the Cántico Espiritual of the Spanish mystic, St John of the Cross, where the expression música callada (music without sound) is complemented by soledad sonora (solitude that clamours). The poet explains 'that music is without sound as far as natural senses and capacities are concerned' but 'solitude sounds out loud through spiritual capacities'. In spite of the apparent clarity of the metaphor, its sense for Mompou was 'difficult enough to explain in a language different from Spanish'. Beyond general understanding of these words, they seem to have a personal significance for the composer, only accessible through his music. Although each of the 28 pieces has the brevity inherent in Mompou's musical language, as a whole the work represents his most ambitious achievement. The four volumes appeared between 1959 and 1967, the period of his definitive maturity, shortly after he had secured his emotional and domestic stability by marrying Carmen Bravo and while he enjoyed the company of an intimate group of friends, Montsalvatge, Turull, and Valls, with whom he could share the worries of that time in Barcelona. His prestige as a composer, almost as a 'living classic', was daily confirmed. His Música Callada is a summary of the most personal elements of his musical language, penetrating to the heart of the 'mysteries of nature', but yet not without echoes of popular music. The work represents his position as 'backward' in respect of the increasingly prominent avant-garde. Mompou renounces the idea of perpetual progress in Art, claiming that 'in this climbing of rugged peaks it is necessary sometimes to take rest'. Yet at the same time his music here reaches the highest level of harmonic difficulty and abstraction possible without ceasing to be his own.
The first of the four volumes, each with a different number of pieces, was published in 1959 and at once sets the pattern, the character of the first piece indicated by the title Angelico, with a melody between the popular and the religious, accompanied by chords of great simplicity, imitating the ringing of bells. The second piece, Lent, develops a single motif among dissonant chords, imbued with characteristic melancholy. The clarity of the almost popular melody of the following piece, Placide, conceals a considerable achievement in harmony and instrumental register that suggest a carillon, with a melody well known as a tuning signal for a leading Spanish radio station. The fourth piece, Afflitto e penoso ('afflicted and suffering'), returns to the world of the second. Its harsh, tortured harmonies lead to a final resolution in E minor, unexpected after the tonally imprecise opening. The following piece has no tempo indication but the required mood, legato metallico, is very important for Mompou, who had called the first chord he devised a 'metallic chord'. The texture is dominated by the repetition of notes as in Chopin's Preludes No.6 and No. 15. For the sixth piece Mompou returns to his characteristic sadness, imbued with almost aristocratic distinction in the grief implicit in its turns of melody and accompanying dissonances. The seventh piece, also marked Lento, adds one passage after another, with a melody of unequivocally popular character at its heart, until the return of the first. The penultimate piece, Semplice, a concise miniature, also has recourse to the mood of traditional song. The first volume ends with a piece, Lento, that captures again the more abstract character of some of the preceding pieces, with a more than usually intense use of polyphony and harmonic dissonances.
The second volume, with seven pieces, appeared in 1962. The first, Lento-cantabile, is written in a style akin to that of the last piece of the first volume. The second, the eleventh of the series, Allegretto, adopts Mompou's popular manner in its succession of rapid dances and reflective melodies. The twelfth piece, Lento, delights in rich dissonances of the kind that characterize the more 'abstract' pieces of the collection. The next piece starts with a melody in popular style, leading to a short central section of almost Bartókian violence. The following piece, the fourteenth, is of great tonal complexity, centred on the key of C minor, but almost atonal in harmony. The Lento-plaintif of the fifteenth piece achieves a very ingenious rhythmic swing with a motif repeatedly superimposed over the simple syncopations of the accompaniment. The piece that ends the second volume, Calme, begins and ends with an impressionist ostinato, with a more clearly defined, central contrasting melody.
The third volume, with only five pieces, was first performed in 1965. The first, Lento, the seventeenth of the whole work, seems to suggest a funeral march. The second, in spite of the indication Luminoso, with reference to the opening motif leads to a more bitter mood, giving prominence to a perhaps significant element from the third piece of the first volume. The nineteenth piece, Tranquillo, is a sad meditation on a single motif, maintained with a calm sameness of tone found also in the following piece. This, the twentieth, Calme, has a central section that momentarily takes on a harsher character, but returns at once to the desolation of the opening. The last piece of the third volume, altogether the most sombre of the whole work, Lento, offers a full gamut of 'metallic' sounds, like bells of different kinds and sizes heard at different distances.
The fourth volume was first performed in 1972 by the great Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha in the festival at Cadaqués. The first piece, Molto lento e tranquillo, includes various melodies in different registers combined with the sound of bells in which Mompou took such pleasure. The following piece, Calme, avec clarté, seems to recall from the past a popular song in a slower tempo. In the following piece, Moderato, a tortuously unwinding passage is heard in alternation with a section full of luminous feeling. The thinning of the textures in the first section of the next piece, with no tempo indication, is replaced by the clarity of outline of the serious central part, before a return to the opening mood. The prolonged and earnest discourse of the twenty-sixth piece, Lento, is followed by the Lento molto of the next, in the abstract mood of various earlier pieces, although towards the end there is a melody in a clear B flat minor, a vivid contrast with the intense dissonances of the rest of the piece. The last piece, Lento, starts with a hymn, followed by passages of varied character that grow harsher in expression. A return to the serenity of the opening hymn brings an ending of the greatest simplicity to a work that deserves to be considered Mompou's musical testament. In the words of the composer: 'This music has no air nor light. It is a gentle throbbing of the heart. It does not seek to reach beyond some minutes in space, but to try to penetrate the great depths of our soul and the most secret regions of our spirit'.
An unpublished example of Mompou's earliest compositions offers an interesting contrast. Muntanya (‘Mountain’) was written in 1915, when Mompou had only composed some of the Impressions intimes and part of the Scenes d'enfant. Previously unknown, in character it belongs to the Cançons i danses and other similar works, and shows how from the very first Mompou set out to find the ideal in sound that he achieved in the works of his maturity. El pont (‘The Bridge’) reflects, according to Mompou himself, his impressions during his walks at Montjuïc in Barcelona In fact the piece was written in 1941 and abandoned at a time when he was worried about the validity of his musical language. He later considered using it in a projected piano concerto. When the Spanish Ministry of Education commissioned from various Spanish composers works for cello and piano, to be published in 1977 in honour of Pau Casals, Mompou used part of El pont to create his only work in this form, retaining the same title. This abandoned piano piece brings deeper understanding of the composer's character and his anxiety over the significance of his own voice in a period of avant-gardisme. His answer was Musica Callada.
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