Manuel Blancafort (1897-1987)
Complete Piano Music, Vol. 1
Manuel Blancafort i de Rossello was born on 12th August 1897in the spa town of La Garriga, near Barcelona, into an educated, middle-classCatalan family. His parents owned a famous hotel in the town which wasfrequented by many artists, intellectuals and politicians. An enterprising man,and an enthusiast for technological innovation, his father had also set up afactory in La Garriga to produce pianola rolls, and this in effect becameBlancafort's music school.
Blancafort studied music first with his father, and thenwith Joan Alsius, who taught him the basics of composition. Then, as ateenager, he began to work in the family factory. It was his job to examinemusic scores in minute detail and convert the notes into series of perforationson rolls of paper. He was therefore able to learn all about different styles ofwriting, from the classical composers to the latest works by Debussy, Ravel andSchoenberg, among others, and to complete his musical education -- to allintents and purposes he was self-taught. Life at the hotel also gave him theopportunity to meet a number of musicians and composers, including Joan Lamotede Grignon and Frederic Mompou, both of whom gave him advice and looked overhis early compositions.
It was his meeting with Mompou, in 1914, that was to provethe most significant for the young Blancafort, not only musically but alsoaesthetically and spiritually. Mompou took on the r??le of elder brother,supporting Blancafort and guiding him as he took his first steps as a composer,as well as helping him find his way around the rich and innovative musicalscene of 1920s Paris.
The premi?¿re of Blancafort's El parc d'atraccions (Thefunfair), given by the pianist, Ricardo Vines, in Paris in 1926, wasenthusiastically received by that city's demanding public, and Maurice Senart,one of the leading French publishing houses, took an interest in the youngcomposer and went on to publish most of his works.
Unfortunately, a promising career was soon brought to anend: the demands of family life (he was to have eleven children), the closureof his father's factory (caused by the growing success of the gramophone), andproblems arising from the Spanish Civil War combined to oblige Blancafort toset up home in Barcelona and spend most of the rest of his life working for aninsurance company. Despite the restrictions this entailed, he was neverthelessable, with the support of his remarkable wife, to find a few precious momentsin which he could compose, eventually building up a sizeable catalogue of workswhich represent \the living synthesis of Catalan musical culture" (ManuelValls).
Spanish isolation during the Franco years, and in particularthe closure of the French border, made it difficult for Blancafort to achieveany international fame for his work, but he won prizes and officialdistinctions in his native country from 1949 until his death in Barcelona on8th January 1987.
Blancafort's work is clearly rooted in Catalan traditions,and its emotional and aesthetic content is always bound to a stable formalstructure. This "classical" approach, in the strict sense of the word, whereintellect reigns over sentiment, is present in even his earliest works. Inthese, despite numerous touches of Romanticism, the composer succeeded increating, in his own words, "something that stands up". His music has a clarityand simplicity far-removed from the German transcendentalism in fashion at thetime, his aim being to compose music which was "tonal, logical and concise". Tothis end he took French music as his model, although he believed it was not aquestion of "giving Catalan music a French flavour ... it has to speak of thingsCatalan in a European idiom".
Blancafort's choice of the piano for his first compositionswas quite natural, given his years of close contact with the pianola, hisfeeling for French aesthetics and his friendship with Mompou, a fine pianist.
The early works (1915-19) recorded for this first volumedemonstrate Blancafort's preference for short pieces, either complete in themselvesor as sections of a cycle, and for the simple form of the Lied, as well as hisinterest in everyday subjects and intimate feelings, influenced by the naturalworld and by a sense of nostalgia and longing: "I have always loved silence andisolation ... I grew up in a world of melancholy which I myself created". Theyoung composer was setting his imagination to music as he searched for apersonal idiom.
The seven Peces de joventut (Youthful pieces), most of whichare written in minor keys, are a good example of this fundamentally romanticattitude, and are a direct introduction to the composer's world. His firstwork, Record (Memory), was probably written and rewritten many times beforereaching this final version. It brings together the aspects typical of hislater production, simplicity of language, and a fine melodic and harmonicsensibility within a well-structured framework, and owes a clear debt toGrieg's Lyrische St??cke.
The mysteries of nature were an inexhaustible source ofinspiration for Blancafort, as can be seen for instance in the nine Can?ºons demuntanya (Mountain songs -- genuine songs without words) in which we hear thegentle lullaby of the wind caressing the branches (I) and a soothing snowfallon to a frozen landscape (III); we are present at sunset (VI and VIII) and in avalley covered by a dawn mist (II); we feel the sadness of remembrance andfarewell (IV and VII) and the joy of reaching the summit in the dazzling lightof day (V and IX).
The eight pieces that make up Notes d'antany (Notes fromyears gone by) are steeped in the same introspective atmosphere as the previousworks and are strikingly mature. Lament (Lamentation) and La lluna brilla(Moonlight) anticipate the Nocturns (written 20 years later), Recordd'infantesa (Childhood memory) expresses nostalgia for a bygone age, while theautumnal light which opens the cycle, En arribar la tardor (When autumn comes),with a russet carpet of fallen leaves, Al jardi (In the garden), dissipates andis swept aside by the merriment of friends in Els joiosos companyons (The happyfriends) and the spring birdsong of Ocells al cel d'abril (Birds in the April sky).
Blancafort often turned to song in his early days, attractedby its miniature structure and popular nature. This can be seen in his 12Can?ºons, as can his interest in traditional Catalan tunes. He believed stronglyin the importance of nationalism in music and was keen to follow in thefootsteps of Albeniz, Granados and Falla, but with a Catalan bias. The lastfour songs, like the Tema popular from Notes d'antany (which takes its themefrom the traditional Catalan song La filla del carmesi), are full of rich andinventive harmonies. Can?ºo en la solitud, Can?ºo del capvespre, Can?ºo enl'ermita and Can?ºo a la platja (Song of solitude, Song of twilight, Song of thehermitage and Song of the beach) once again set to music the poetic vision of ayoung man inclined to solitude and with a love of nature.
The composer was also fascinated by the theme of childhood.In the same way as Debussy's Children's Corner, Can?ºo de la canalla (Children'ssong) and Can?ºoneta per adormir (Lullaby) take us back to our younger days,using the carefree joy of a children's round and the soporific effects of agently monotonous song, while in Can?ºo del pastoret (The little shepherd'ssong), the shepherd plays his flute in harmony with the echo from themo