BLANCAFORT: Complete Piano Music, Vol. 3 (Miquel Villalba) (Naxos: 8.557334)
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Manuel Blancafort (1897-1987)
Camins Cants intims II El parc d'atraccions Pastoral en solDedicated to Joan
In the 1920s Manuel Blancafort entered upon a newperiod of composition. The desire to distance himselffrom the too present influence of Mompou and of Griegled him to write works of greater formal complexity andlaunch himself into the composition of symphonicmusic: 'The old Maestro Joan Lamote de Grignon hadexplained to me the difficulties that he had every timethat 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 thenonwards I decided that it was I who should have theurge to embark on symphonic repertoire ...'.
The period was one that coincided with importantchanges in Blancafort's life. In 1920 he married HelenaParis and in 1923 began a series of travels, to France,Belgium, Germany, Italy, the United States andCanada, that would bring a drastic change in his life:'After an idyllic youth, a restful life of seclusion wasreplaced by stays in hotels, solitary walks by theworldly surroundings of great ocean liners, the scents ofthe mountains by mists of perfume and of exotictobacco', he remarked sadly. Among his importantjourneys was the first to Paris, on the way to New York.
He spent two days there and it was there that he gavehis Cants intims I to Mompou to hand over to thepublisher Senart. The interest of French publishers inhis music marked the start of international recognition.
Commercial relations were the principal purpose ofthese travels, as he wanted to find firms for themanufacture of pianola rolls, the family business inwhich Blancafort worked throughout his youth,adolescence and first years of maturity. Nevertheless hewould also make use of these journeys to broaden hiseducation and establish contacts with the musical avantgardeof the time. Jazz and American entertainmentsamused him but had no direct influence: 'I attendedperformances but never took part in them, remainingalways an objective observer in his corner'.
Blancafort's meeting in 1924 with the Spanishpianist Ricard Vines was decisive. The latter hadestablished himself as the champion of young up-andcomingcomposers and of new music in Europe.
Through his privileged position in Parisian musicalcircles, Vines could allow himself the luxury ofsupporting those composers that he consideredinteresting, and, together with Debussy, Ravel, Satie,Milhaud and Poulenc among others, Blancafort wouldcome to be part of his usual repertoire. He gave the firstperformance of El parc d'atraccions in 1926 and ofCamins in 1927.
Tensions with his father, who saw with misgivingthe growing dedication of his son to composition to thedetriment of his activity in the family business, wereusual at this time. When Blancafort began to doubt hismusical vocation, Mompou appeared as the guide whoencouraged and stimulated him: 'You have a musicianinside you. Don't give up!', he said.
It was to Mompou that Blancafort dedicated hisfirst important work for piano, Camins. Completed in1923, it was from every point of view a more ambitiouswork than its predecessors. After dealing with smallforms, this suite burst in with the clear intention ofdestroying completely the restricted structures of hisearlier work. The form is expanded thanks to greaterstructural, thematic and pianistic elaboration, while thenumber of pieces in the whole work is reduced. Thepianistic writing is cleaner, technically more complexand has a flexibility that differentiates it from his earlierwork. The content, nevertheless continues to show apreference for the intimate and for themes related to thecountryside.
Contemporary with the former work, the secondalbum of Cants intims offers very similarcharacteristics. In both works the influence of Debussy,whom Blancafort considered the greatest musicalgenius of his time, is still perceptible. He was dazzledby Debussy's mastery in creating new harmonic moodsand by the formidable intution that opened new pathsby the use of archaic modes and new scales, as by hisway of producing sonorities without intellectualarguments, reasons or theories to justify what he did.
The result leads to a harmonic and melodic refinementboasted by the two groups of pieces that thus form abridge towards new stylistic practices.
In 1924 Blancafort finished a work that would behis best known, El parc d'atraccions. Here headmirably brings together the discoveries of Frenchimpressionism and the new aesthetic principleschampioned by Cocteau and Les Six with the particularfeatures of Catalan folklore. The use of cyclic form, inwhich some themes re-appear more or less transformed,is a feature of the whole suite, giving unity to the sixvignettes of this work, dominated by the atmosphere ofa popular fiesta, full of variety, picturesque colour,humour and irony, and where the anecdotal and theparticular has a leading part to play. Ricard Vines gavethe first performance of the work in Paris with greatsuccess and it was immediately taken up in Europe andAmerica. The Polca de l'equilibrista (The Tightrope-Walker's Polka) enjoyed particular popular favour bothas a piano piece and in orchestral and choreographedversions. The interpretation by the ballerina JoanMagriny?á was famous, with designs by Grau-Sala, inthe Cine Urquinaona in Barcelona (1932) and the laterperformances in Switzerland (1934) and in BuenosAires (1935). Blancafort was then considered a musicalenfant terrible and one of the most genuinerepresentatives of the new Spanish school at a timewhen, paradoxically, he was practically unknown athome.
In spite of the new experiences that he had duringthese years far away from his own country, Blancafortcontinued to be that quiet young man, attached to thecountryside and the peaceful rhythm of his native land.
A good proof of that is his Pastoral en sol, which hewrote at one stroke at the exact time when he waspreparing to write a suite of impressions during histravels in America that would become his laterAmerican souvenir. Pastoral en sol has the structure ofa classical sonatina in three linked movements, the styleof which seems to take up again the thread of his Jocs idanses al camp (Country Games and Dances), livelyand free in character, with danceable rhythms andmelodic material with popular flourishes and includingdirect references to traditional melodies, such as StilleNacht, which appears in the second movement.
After the influence of impressionism and theaesthetic of Cocteau, Blancafort moved towards moreclassical forms, like Ravel and Stravinsky, with workssuch as the Sonatina antiga of 1929. From thenonwards, urged on by the lack of a Catalan musicalrepertoire of that kind, he tackled larger forms withvarious symphonic works, two concertos for piano andorchestra, two string quartets and large-scale choralworks in which he showed a creative maturity free fromexternal influences and characterized by thematicclarity, deeply rooted in Catalan culture, through thelogical development of his musical language and aperfect balance of form and expressivity.Miquel Villalba
English version by Keith Anderson