|About this Recording
8.572220 - BLANCAFORT, M.: Piano Music, Vol. 5 (Villalba) - Nocturnes / Hommage a Fauré / Peces petites per a mans menudes / La verge de Palau Solitar
Manuel Blancafort (1897–1987):
To Frédéric Gevers, in memoriam
The Spanish Civil War (1936–39) and the years of hardship that followed brought about a radical change in Manuel Blancafort’s life. The advent of new technologies led to the closure of his family pianola-roll business and Blancafort had to rely on his wits in order to support his numerous family. His first move was to set up “Perfumes Blancaflor”, a small company manufacturing beauty products, based at his family home in the spa town of La Garriga. Some of his children worked there, making lipsticks and other cosmetics, while he ran the business from Barcelona, where he had to be on his guard against potential antibourgeois reprisals. Once the war had ended, the whole family moved to Barcelona and Blancafort went to work for the Sudamérica insurance company, eventually becoming head of its transport section. Some years later, he left Sudamérica and ended his working life at the publishing house Ariel, where he was responsible for an engineering trade magazine called Acero y Energía (Steel and Energy).
In these years spent having to earn a living in jobs that wore him down, Blancafort had little time for composing. He distanced himself from Barcelona’s public musical life, which had resumed in the early 1940s, instead frequenting a number of private salons where he played his own works and established relationships with performers faithful to his music, such as pianists María Canals and Ricardo Viñes, and composer, violinist and conductor Eduard Toldrà. What little free time he had, he devoted to his music and, despite his withdrawal from public life, he became increasingly well known. Over the years, he received numerous prizes, awards and commissions, earning himself a pre-eminent place in Spanish musical circles. Although at first glance this period might seem less than conducive to creative activities, it was in fact during these years that Blancafort wrote some of his key orchestral and chamber works. His piano writing, on the other hand, did suffer, and after the Five Nocturnes and a few short works, he wrote little more for the instrument.
His creative impulse was also challenged by his move to the city, which deprived him of his major source of inspiration: “In 1939 I lost the immense benefit of permanent contact with nature”. Then, as he felt the effects of old age: “My thoughts now are stale, they’re not advancing, but have run aground. I’m like a bird without character whose wings have been clipped”. The external affected the internal, and his music underwent a profound change, reflecting his life and experience rather than what he could see.
The Cinc Nocturns (Five Nocturnes) illustrate that transformation well. The first two, written in 1930 and 1931 respectively, are clear expressions of his love of nature. The tonal ambiguity of the first takes us to the depths of night-time, darkness cloaking its forms, while the second, with its chiaroscuro effects, is reminiscent of his early work La lluna brilla (Moonlight) from Notes d’antany (Notes from years gone by, Naxos 8.557332, Vol.1). The Third and Fifth Nocturnes herald a more abstract, less sensory-based phase, and the troubled, tumultuous nature of their music captures something of the violent period the composer had just lived through. The last to be written, the Fourth Nocturne (1942) is conceptually similar. It was originally intended to be the first of his Estudis d’expressió (Studies of Expression), then to be the opening work in a cycle of Peces espirituals (Spiritual Pieces), but in the end both these ideas were rejected and it was included alongside the other four nocturnes. As one might expect, however, it has clear expressive and spiritual elements. The set as a whole was not designed as such: only the first two bore the title of “nocturne” and it was in response to a commission from the Catalan Composers’ Association, created in 1974, that Blancafort added the three more independently conceived, if complementary, pieces to form the collection.
Hommage à Fauré is a work written “à la manière de…” and clearly imitates the French composer’s style in its continuous melodic discourse and its predilection for enharmonic modulation (whereby a common note leads the music from one to another, unexpected, key). The 2 Tonades are part of a planned cycle of three on which Blancafort began work in 1943 and of which the second, the Tonada sentimental, remains lost and unidentified today. In this case, the word tonada (a general term for “tune”, or “melody”) refers to a song tune. Thus the Tonada ingènua (Innocent tune) uses a melody of markedly innocent and childlike character, while Tonada intermitent (Intermittent tune) presents its tune in three different ways which reappear but are interrupted by a monotone, repetitive section, hence the title.
The music designed to accompany the sardana (a traditional Catalan dance of Sardinian origins) is usually written for an instrumental ensemble known as a cobla. This generally comprises trumpet, trombone, flugelhorn, double bass and a number of typically Catalan instruments such as the flabiol, tible, tenora and tamboril (a one-handed flute, higher- and lower-pitched double-reeded woodwinds, and small drum, respectively). Structurally, the sardana is formed of two tirades or sections, known as curts (short) and llargs (long), which appear in alternation between seven and ten times, to a 2/4 or 6/8 rhythm. When composing it was Blancafort’s habit to produce an initial, synthesized version for piano. Testament to this are his Sardana simfònica (Symphonic Sardana), whose title points to its unusually extended development and general dimensions, and La verge de Palau Solitar (The Virgin of Palau Solitar), which is based on the popular Catalan song La Mare de Déu (Mother of God) for the curts and a piece entitled Goigs de Santa Maria de Palau Solitar (Song in honour of St Mary of Palau Solitar) for the llargs.
Obsessió (Obsession) represents Blancafort’s later piano works, and its unsettling music seems to echo his early Cants íntims I (Intimate Songs I, 1919; Naxos 8.557333, Vol.2), whose fifth piece bears the epigraph “queixant-me amargament” (as I bitterly complain).
Tres consejos de Turina (Three pieces of advice from Turina) is based on three earlier pieces, here reworked in different ways: Paraules de queixa (Words of complaint, 1917), Arietta-confidència (Ariettaconfidence, 1915) and Sense títol—Allegretto grazioso (Untitled—Allegretto grazioso, 1916). (See Naxos 8.557332, Vol.1.) The three parts of Tres consejos were written in 1983, inspired by the comforting words of a letter written to Blancafort in 1929 by Spanish composer Joaquín Turina, in which he expressed his support (“I think you are on the right track”), urged him to “persevere with the clarity and simplicity of [his] style” and to remain “faithful to [him]self”, rejecting “disruptive influences”.
At the age of 85, Blancafort paid homage with his Elegia to Frederic Mompou, referred to in the dedication as his “beloved friend”. This is a score with mournful overtones and dotted with retrospective images, above which there hovers a clear sense of premonition: “Of all our friends, you and I are the oldest: the only survivors of the last century. Now life wants to slip away from us.”
And in the end, death did prevent Blancafort from completing his final piano project, Peces petites per a mans menudes (Simple pieces for little hands), dedicated to his grandchildren and, perhaps, intended to contain a musical portrait of each of his children. The first sketches of the album were entitled Fulles infantívoles (Childish pages) and Pàgines retroactives (Retroactive pages), showing that he also wanted to create a group of musical miniatures depicting childhood in general. On one of these final piano pages he wrote the following: “Clou els ulls, gira la vista temps enrera”—“Close your eyes and look back”.
The Manuel Blancafort Foundation
This excellent recording is the last in a collection that brings together Manuel Blancafort’s complete piano works, a series which has, in a way, taken shape in parallel with the emergence of the Manuel Blancafort Foundation. When, in 2001, pianist Miquel Villalba expressed his interest in Blancafort’s work, the composer’s family allowed him access to his manuscripts, which they were then in the process of donating to the Biblioteca de Catalunya. The work he has since carried out on the unpublished scores means that this second complete recording is almost double the length of that made in 1997 by Antoni Besses. The scale of the project undertaken by Villalba and the need to continue the work of recovering, conserving and publicising the composer’s legacy led his descendants in 2003 to establish the Manuel Blancafort Foundation (www.manuelblancafort.org).
Sergi Blancafort and Xavier Calsamiglia
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