About this Recording
8.573100 - MOMPOU, F.: Songs (Complete), Vol. 2 - Becquerianas / Comptines (Mathéu, Masó)
English  Spanish 

Frederic Mompou (1893–1987)
Complete Songs • 2


Catalan composer Frederic Mompou was always fascinated, even obsessed, by a quest for musical concision, as this second (and last) volume of his complete songs clearly reveals. “I aim to express as much as possible as simply as possible”, he once said. “The more white space left on a page, the happier I am. That’s what I work towards. And it’s why I hate the fact that when people talk about my music they invariably label my works miniatures, little pieces …thereby destroying their true meaning and scope.” Mompou’s relatively small catalogue of works is primarily made up of music for his own instrument, the piano; his focus on shorter forms dates back to the 1920s and his earliest piano pieces (collected together in such evocatively titled collections as Impresiones íntimas, Cants màgics, Charmes, Fêtes lontaines, etc.). In these works, he stripped the music of anything he judged to be superfluous, be it the excesses of Romantic virtuosity or the stridency of the avant-garde. His epigrammatic style can be heard at its most pared-down in Música Callada [Naxos 8.554332], the set of 28 piano works he composed between 1959 and 1967.

The delightful song that opens this album, Cançoneta incerta (Little song of uncertainty), sets a poem by the Catalan poet Josep Carner and was written in 1926, not long after Mompou had moved to Paris (where he was to live until 1941). That same year he also wrote the first three of his Comptines [Naxos 8.570956], traditional children’s counting rhymes based on folk-songs of Catalan, Spanish or French origin. All three are very short, and have a fresh, naïve air. In 1943, Mompou composed a second set in the same genre (Comptines IV–VI), and he later wrote two more which remained unpublished in his lifetime: the comic Frédéric tic tic of 1948, and Rossignol joli (Pretty nightingale), written for the young Clara Janés (who in 1972 was to publish an influential biography of the composer entitled La vida callada de Federico Mompou). As Rossignol joli was a first-communion gift, the song was probably written in around 1948 or 1949 (Clara was born in 1940).

Mompou’s Paris years also yielded the songs Le nuage (The Cloud, 1928), setting a French poem by Mathilde Pomes, and El testament d’Amèlia (Amelia’s last will and testament, 1938), his own arrangement of a Catalan folksong that he later used again in his Canción y danza No. 8 [Naxos 8.554332] for piano (1946).

Et sento que véns (I hear you coming) and Ets l’infinit (You are infinity), both written in 1944, with lyrics by the composer himself, were not published during his lifetime. Both works underwent an unusual transformation: not satisfied with them, Mompou removed their vocal lines and slightly modified the piano writing, turning the songs into solo piano pieces: Preludes Nos. 9 and 10 [Naxos 8.554448], published by Salabert in 1952.

In 1947, Mompou set a poem by Juan Ramón Jiménez, El viaje definitivo (The final journey), this time without piano accompaniment. Four years later, he returned to the a cappella style in Cantar del alma [Naxos 8.573099]: there are clear affinities between the two songs, both in the transcendental themes of their texts and in the plainchant-like settings created by Mompou.

Although it was written in 1949, Cançó de la fira (Song of the fair)—a setting of a poem by Tomàs Garcés—has the festive quality of the much earlier Fêtes lointaines or Suburbis [Naxos 8.554448], although the final bars seem tinged with melancholy and nostalgia. Also from 1949 is Cant de la victòria (Song of victory), the final piece in Ballet, a curious artistic experiment that brought together in a single book the music of Mompou—in the form of thirteen piano miniatures each less than a minute long—drawings by the artist Josep Mompou (the composer’s brother) and poems by Ricard Permanyer. Cant de la victòria is the last of Mompou’s thirteen musical epigrams and the only one not written for solo piano (the other twelve can be heard on Volume 5 of Mompou’s complete piano works, Naxos 8.570956).

Aureana do Sil (Goldpanners of the Sil) is the result of a commission—in 1951 music critic Antonio Fernández Cid invited thirty or so Spanish composers to create songs from lyrics by Galician poets. Mompou chose a poem by Ramón Cabanillas and composed a work of great intensity, with echoes of the music of Poulenc, a composer he knew and admired. El niño mudo (The mute boy) was written four years later, in 1955, and sets a poem by Federico García Lorca. The song was not published during Mompou’s lifetime, and he re-used large parts of the piano material in the second of his Becquerianas, written some fifteen years later.

The austere Ave María was composed in 1957 as a wedding present for Josefina Mompou, the composer’s niece; Sant Martí (St Martin), a song based on a poem by writer and priest Pere Ribot, was commissioned by the mezzo-soprano Anna Ricci, who gave its première, in an orchestral arrangement, in 1961.

Mompou published the first book of his Música Callada in 1959, and the second in 1962: this work’s influence on the song Primeros pasos (First steps) is clear. Written in 1964 to a poem by Clara Janés, Primeros pasos has the economy of means, sombre character and pared-down sound so characteristic of Música Callada, the work he thought of as his most personal and meaningful composition (declaring it to be “all my true music”).

Becquerianas, his penultimate work for voice and piano—the last being the Cinq mélodies sur des textes de Paul Valéry [Naxos 8.573099], completed in 1973—is also the most extensive and one of the most ambitious of his song cycles. It was commissioned by Spain’s Comisaria Nacional de Música to mark the centenary of the death of poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer in 1970. Mompou was not fond of commissions because of the obligation to deliver music on a set date, a difficult requirement for someone who aspired to “compose without haste”. “With endless patience,” he wrote, “I carry on until I reach a satisfactory conclusion, having by that point shaped, synthesized, distilled and, very often, given up and let a great deal of time pass, years if necessary, realizing that time is, always, the best judge.”

The six songs that make up Becquerianas are unusually diverse in character for Mompou. The romantic intensity of the first, Hoy la tierra y los cielos me sonríen (Today earth and heaven smile upon me), with its sinuous vocal lines and voluptuous harmonization, contrasts starkly with the evanescent Los invisibles átomos del aire (The invisible atoms of the air), whose gentle melodic profile tends to move in chromatic intervals. The third song, Yo soy ardiente, yo soy morena (I am passionate, I am dark), is based on a typical flamenco rhythm, the polo—a surprising, and unprecedented incursion by Mompou into Andalusian folk music. The next, Yo sé cuál el objeto (I know the reason why), is more reflective and meandering, as is the contemplative Volverán las oscuras golondrinas (The black swallows will return), the longest of the six, whose piano part includes imitations of birdsong. Olas gigantes (Towering waves), the final song in the cycle, stands out for its unusually virtuosic piano writing and a vocal line of almost operatic dynamism, again unprecedented in Mompou’s production.

Jordi Masó
English translation by Susannah Howe

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