MOMPOU: Musica Callada / El Pont / Muntaya (Jordi Maso) (Naxos: 8.554727)
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Frederic Mompou (1893-1987)
Piano Music Volume 4
The title of Mompou's masterpiece M??sica callada comes from the Cantico Espiritual of the Spanish mystic,St John of the Cross, where the expression m??sicacallada (music without sound) is complemented by soledad sonora (solitude that clamours).
The poet explains 'that music is without sound as far as natural senses andcapacities are concerned' but 'solitude sounds out loud through spiritualcapacities'. In spite of the apparent clarity of the metaphor, its sense forMompou was 'difficult enough to explain in a language different from Spanish'.
Beyond general understanding of these words, they seem to have a personalsignificance for the composer, only accessible through his music. Although eachof the 28 pieces has the brevity inherent in Mompou's musical language, as awhole the work represents his most ambitious achievement. The four volumesappeared between 1959 and 1967, the period of his definitive maturity, shortlyafter he had secured his emotional and domestic stability by marrying CarmenBravo and while he enjoyed the company of an intimate group of friends,Montsalvatge, Turull, and Valls, with whom he could share the worries of thattime in Barcelona. His prestige as a composer, almost as a 'living classic',was daily confirmed. His M??sica Callada isa summary of the most personal elements of his musical language, penetrating tothe heart of the 'mysteries of nature', but yet not without echoes of popularmusic. The work represents his position as 'backward' in respect of theincreasingly prominent avant-garde. Mompou renounces the idea of perpetualprogress in Art, claiming that 'in this climbing of rugged peaks it isnecessary sometimes to take rest'. Yet at the same time his music here reachesthe highest level of harmonic difficulty and abstraction possible withoutceasing to be his own.
The first of the four volumes, each with adifferent number of pieces, was published in 1959 and at once sets the pattern,the character of the first piece indicated by the title Angelico, with a melody between thepopular and the religious, accompanied by chords of great simplicity, imitatingthe ringing of bells. The second piece, Lent,develops a single motif among dissonant chords, imbued withcharacteristic melancholy. The clarity of the almost popular melody of thefollowing piece, Placide, concealsa considerable achievement in harmony and instrumental register that suggest acarillon, with a melody well known as a tuning signal for a leading Spanishradio station. The fourth piece, Afflitto epenoso ('afflicted and suffering'), returns to the world of thesecond. Its harsh, tortured harmonies lead to a final resolution in E minor,unexpected after the tonally imprecise opening. The following piece has notempo indication but the required mood, legatometallico, is very important for Mompou, who had called the firstchord he devised a 'metallic chord'. The texture is dominated by the repetitionof notes as in Chopin's Preludes No.6 andNo. 15. For the sixth pieceMompou returns to his characteristic sadness, imbued with almost aristocraticdistinction in the grief implicit in its turns of melody and accompanyingdissonances. The seventh piece, also marked Lento,adds one passage after another, with a melody of unequivocallypopular character at its heart, until the return of the first. The penultimatepiece, Semplice, a conciseminiature, also has recourse to the mood of traditional song. The first volumeends with a piece, Lento, thatcaptures again the more abstract character of some of the preceding pieces,with a more than usually intense use of polyphony and harmonic dissonances.
The second volume, with seven pieces, appearedin 1962. The first, Lento-cantabile, iswritten in a style akin to that of the last piece of the first volume. Thesecond, the eleventh of the series, Allegretto,adopts Mompou's popular manner in its succession of rapid dances andreflective melodies. The twelfth piece, Lento,delights in rich dissonances of the kind that characterize the more'abstract' pieces of the collection. The next piece starts with a melody inpopular style, leading to a short central section of almost Bartokian violence.
The following piece, the fourteenth, is of great tonal complexity, centred onthe key of C minor, but almost atonal in harmony. The Lento-plaintif of the fifteenth pieceachieves a very ingenious rhythmic swing with a motif repeatedly superimposedover the simple syncopations of the accompaniment. The piece that ends thesecond volume, Calme, begins andends with an impressionist ostinato, witha more clearly defined, central contrasting melody.
The third volume, with only five pieces, wasfirst performed in 1965. The first, Lento, theseventeenth of the whole work, seems to suggest a funeral march. The second, inspite of the indication Luminoso, withreference to the opening motif leads to a more bitter mood, giving prominenceto a perhaps significant element from the third piece of the first volume. The nineteenthpiece, Tranquillo, is a sadmeditation on a single motif, maintained with a calm sameness of tone foundalso in the following piece. This, the twentieth, Calme, has a central section that momentarily takeson a harsher character, but returns at once to the desolation of the opening.
The last piece of the third volume, altogether the most sombre of the wholework, Lento, offers a full gamutof 'metallic' sounds, like bells of different kinds and sizes heard atdifferent distances.
The fourth volume was first performed in 1972by the great Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha in the festival at Cadaques.
The first piece, Molto lento e tranquillo, includesvarious melodies in different registers combined with the sound of bells inwhich Mompou took such pleasure. The following piece, Calme, avec clarte, seems to recall fromthe past a popular song in a slower tempo. In the following piece, Moderato, a tortuously unwinding passageis heard in alternation with a section full of luminous feeling. The thinningof the textures in the first section of the next piece, with no tempoindication, is replaced by the clarity of outline of the serious central part,before a return to the opening mood. The prolonged and earnest discourse of thetwenty-sixth piece, Lento, isfollowed by the Lento molto ofthe next, in the abstract mood of various earlier pieces, although towards theend there is a melody in a clear B flat minor, a vivid contrast with theintense dissonances of the rest of the piece. The last piece, Lento, starts with a hymn, followed bypassages of varied character that grow harsher in expression. A return to theserenity of the opening hymn brings an ending of the greatest simplicity to awork that deserves to be considered Mompou's musical testament. In the words ofthe composer: 'This music has no air nor light. It is a gentle throbbing of theheart. It does not seek to reach beyond some minutes in space, but to try topenetrate the great depths of our soul and the most secret regions of ourspirit'.
An unpublished example of Mompou's earliestcompositions offers an interesting contrast. Muntanya('Mountain') was written in 1915, when Mompou had only composed someof the Impressions intimes andpart of the Scenes d'enfant. Previously unknown, in character itbelongs to the Can?ºons i danses and other similar works, an