About this Recording
8.557334 - BLANCAFORT, M.: Piano Music, Vol. 3 (Villalba) - Camins / Cants intims II / El parc d'atraccions / Pastoral
English  German  Spanish 

Manuel Blancafort (1897-1987)
Camins • Cants íntims II • El parc d’atraccions • Pastoral en sol

Dedicated to Joan

In the 1920s Manuel Blancafort entered upon a new period of composition. The desire to distance himself from the too present influence of Mompou and of Grieg led him to write works of greater formal complexity and launch himself into the composition of symphonic music: ‘The old Maestro Joan Lamote de Grignon had explained to me the difficulties that he had every time that he had to programme Catalan symphonic music; we have no tradition of orchestral music, he told me. This left a deep impression on me and from then onwards I decided that it was I who should have the urge to embark on symphonic repertoire …’.

The period was one that coincided with important changes in Blancafort’s life. In 1920 he married Helena París and in 1923 began a series of travels, to France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the United States and Canada, that would bring a drastic change in his life: ‘After an idyllic youth, a restful life of seclusion was replaced by stays in hotels, solitary walks by the worldly surroundings of great ocean liners, the scents of the mountains by mists of perfume and of exotic tobacco’, he remarked sadly. Among his important journeys was the first to Paris, on the way to New York. He spent two days there and it was there that he gave his Cants íntims I to Mompou to hand over to the publisher Sénart. The interest of French publishers in his music marked the start of international recognition. Commercial relations were the principal purpose of these travels, as he wanted to find firms for the manufacture of pianola rolls, the family business in which Blancafort worked throughout his youth, adolescence and first years of maturity. Nevertheless he would also make use of these journeys to broaden his education and establish contacts with the musical avantgarde of the time. Jazz and American entertainments amused him but had no direct influence: ‘I attended performances but never took part in them, remaining always an objective observer in his corner’.

Blancafort’s meeting in 1924 with the Spanish pianist Ricard Viñes was decisive. The latter had established himself as the champion of young up-andcoming composers and of new music in Europe. Through his privileged position in Parisian musical circles, Viñes could allow himself the luxury of supporting those composers that he considered interesting, and, together with Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Milhaud and Poulenc among others, Blancafort would come to be part of his usual repertoire. He gave the first performance of El parc d’atraccions in 1926 and of Camins in 1927.

Tensions with his father, who saw with misgiving the growing dedication of his son to composition to the detriment of his activity in the family business, were usual at this time. When Blancafort began to doubt his musical vocation, Mompou appeared as the guide who encouraged and stimulated him: ‘You have a musician inside you. Don’t give up!’, he said.

It was to Mompou that Blancafort dedicated his first important work for piano, Camins. Completed in 1923, it was from every point of view a more ambitious work than its predecessors. After dealing with small forms, this suite burst in with the clear intention of destroying completely the restricted structures of his earlier work. The form is expanded thanks to greater structural, thematic and pianistic elaboration, while the number of pieces in the whole work is reduced. The pianistic writing is cleaner, technically more complex and has a flexibility that differentiates it from his earlier work. The content, nevertheless continues to show a preference for the intimate and for themes related to the countryside.

Contemporary with the former work, the second album of Cants íntims offers very similar characteristics. In both works the influence of Debussy, whom Blancafort considered the greatest musical genius of his time, is still perceptible. He was dazzled by Debussy’s mastery in creating new harmonic moods and by the formidable intution that opened new paths by the use of archaic modes and new scales, as by his way of producing sonorities without intellectual arguments, reasons or theories to justify what he did. The result leads to a harmonic and melodic refinement boasted by the two groups of pieces that thus form a bridge towards new stylistic practices.

In 1924 Blancafort finished a work that would be his best known, El parc d’atraccions. Here he admirably brings together the discoveries of French impressionism and the new aesthetic principles championed by Cocteau and Les Six with the particular features of Catalan folklore. The use of cyclic form, in which some themes re-appear more or less transformed, is a feature of the whole suite, giving unity to the six vignettes of this work, dominated by the atmosphere of a popular fiesta, full of variety, picturesque colour, humour and irony, and where the anecdotal and the particular has a leading part to play. Ricard Viñes gave the first performance of the work in Paris with great success and it was immediately taken up in Europe and America. The Polca de l’equilibrista (The Tightrope- Walker’s Polka) enjoyed particular popular favour both as a piano piece and in orchestral and choreographed versions. The interpretation by the ballerina Joan Magrinyà was famous, with designs by Grau-Sala, in the Cine Urquinaona in Barcelona (1932) and the later performances in Switzerland (1934) and in Buenos Aires (1935). Blancafort was then considered a musical enfant terrible and one of the most genuine representatives of the new Spanish school at a time when, paradoxically, he was practically unknown at home.

In spite of the new experiences that he had during these years far away from his own country, Blancafort continued to be that quiet young man, attached to the countryside and the peaceful rhythm of his native land. A good proof of that is his Pastoral en sol, which he wrote at one stroke at the exact time when he was preparing to write a suite of impressions during his travels in America that would become his later American souvenir. Pastoral en sol has the structure of a classical sonatina in three linked movements, the style of which seems to take up again the thread of his Jocs i danses al camp (Country Games and Dances), lively and free in character, with danceable rhythms and melodic material with popular flourishes and including direct references to traditional melodies, such as Stille Nacht, which appears in the second movement.

After the influence of impressionism and the aesthetic of Cocteau, Blancafort moved towards more classical forms, like Ravel and Stravinsky, with works such as the Sonatina antiga of 1929. From then onwards, urged on by the lack of a Catalan musical repertoire of that kind, he tackled larger forms with various symphonic works, two concertos for piano and orchestra, two string quartets and large-scale choral works in which he showed a creative maturity free from external influences and characterized by thematic clarity, deeply rooted in Catalan culture, through the logical development of his musical language and a perfect balance of form and expressivity.

Miquel Villalba

English version by Keith Anderson

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