MOMPOU: Paisajes / Impressions intimes / Variations (Jordi Maso) (Naxos: 8.554570)
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Piano Music Volume 3
Variations sur unth?¿me de Chopin; Trois variations; Souvenirs de l'exposition; Paisajes;Pessebres; Impressions intimes; Planys
It was the greatcellist and composer Gaspar Cassado who, in 1938, suggested to Mompou thepossibility of collaborating on a joint work, variations for cello and pianobased on the Prelude Op. 28 No. 7 in A major by Chopin. Theproject was abandoned, but by this time Mompou had composed four variationswhich appeared with the curious title 'Three (sic) Variations'
for his instrument, the piano. A commission from the Royal Ballet CoventGarden, London, was the occasion, in 1957, for finishing the work. The plannedballet came to nothing, but it led to one of the composer's most ambitiouscreations, which also exists in an orchestral similarity (largely the work ofconductor Antoni Ros-Marb?á).
The Chopin Prelude,with its extreme brevity and perfect concision, proved to be an idealvehicle for Mompou, who found in the piece affinities with his own sound world.
The first variation, apart from some added personal harmonics, leaves the themevirtually intact, while the second, repeated in its entirety, introduces a newfiguration, although the melodic outline of the Prelude is clearly recognizable.
The third, for the left hand, changes the key to D major and with its Tempolento, represents a major departure from the initial mood. This is takenfurther in the fourth variation, in F major, which is immersed in the world ofthe Catalan composer. The fifth returns to the key of A major and itsindication Tempo di Mazurka constitutes a homage to one of Chopin's mostimportant genres (the Prelude on which the Variations are based canitself be regarded as a short mazurka). The sixth variation, in G minor, israther like a transfiguration of Chopin's melody into the language of the M??sicaCallada, Mompou's masterpiece. The seventh, again in A major, appears topay homage this time to the more brilliant side of Chopin's music, while theeighth, in F major, appears to quote the accompaniments based on repeated noteswhich characterise the Chopin Preludes in E minor and D flat major. A furtherreturn in the ninth variation to the initial key signals the evocation ofanother of the great genres in Chopin's pianistic output: the waltz. Theexpressive centre of the work is found in the tenth variation, expresslyentitled ?ëvocation. In its first part, in F sharp major, Mompou appearsto be quoting himself (various commentators have pointed out the similarity tothe Can?ºo i dansa No. 6). The central part, which in the plannedballet in fact corresponded to the evocation of the figure of Chopin, recallsthe well-known melody of the second section of the Fantasie-Impromptu Op.
66 by this composer. Mompou makes it his own with a harmonization whichtransforms it radically. The key of F sharp minor is retained during theeleventh variation, totally immersed in the Mompou idiom. The final Galope, onceagain in A major, introduces a fairly uncommon side of Mompou, as a composer ofmusic which dazzles. In a final synthesis of the Prelude and Mompou'sown harmonic and instrumental patterns, the final Epilogue returns to amood of sobriety, more characteristic of the composer's music.
In 1921, Mompoucomposed the delightful Trois variations which are conceived on a muchsmaller scale than the Chopin variations. The theme, of a strange modalcharacter which causes it to oscillate between the tonal centres of D flat andB flat, is introduced as a simple unaccompanied melody. The first variation, Lessoldats ('The Soldiers') refers to a childhood memory: Masses in whichmilitary musicians took part, which he used to attend with his father (to whomthe work is dedicated). A fanfare concludes the variation, although a Satie-likeinstruction ('repetez, je vous prie') requires the pianist to repeat it in itsentirety. The second of the variations, Courtoisie, gives the melody thecharacter of an amiable Vals and the third, Nocturne, transformsit into an evening landscape, full of allusions to mysterious sounds of nature.
In 1937, the publisherMax Eschig commissioned various resident foreign composers in the Frenchcapital (including Martinů, Honegger and Ernesto Halffter) to compose aseries of works to celebrate the Universal Exhibition of Paris. These were tobe published together in a collection dedicated to the pianist Marguerite Long.
Souvenirs de l'exposition opens with the noisy Entree. Tableaux destatistique, adopts a sad tone with an underlying irony, which representsthe sheer profusion of figures endured by the visitor. After the violent chordwhich concludes the second piece, a mysterious and very brief nocturne portraysthe fascination experienced on contemplating the secrets of the Universe in Leplanetaire. A distinguished fashion parade is depicted in the final Pavillonde l'elegance, the most extended of the Souvenirs. Three parts canbe identified, the first slow and expressive, followed by another based on amore pronounced rhythm. The same rhythm, but sweeter in character, dominatesthe final section.
The first of the threePaisajes ('Landscapes') is linked to a crucial event in the composer'slife. His years in Paris (the last stage of which was not a productive one fornew works) ended in 1941 when, because of the war, he decided to return to hisnative city. The renewed interest in composition, which led to the great worksof his maturity, was closely linked to the blossoming of his love for the youngpianist Carmen Bravo, his future wife. After arriving together for a concert inthe Palau de la M??sica Catalana in 1942, they decided to leave and go for awalk in the beautiful Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. Stopping in a square andcontemplating the central fountain, they heard the midnight chimes. Lafuente y la campana ('The Fountain and the Bells') depicts themoment: after a brief introduction we hear a simple melody in G minor, halfarchaic, half folk-like in character. A repeated sombre G represents the chimes(though there are not exactly twelve), above which the motif of theintroduction returns. The middle section attempts to reflect the magic of themoment, with the trickling of water through which the same melody can still beheard, as if in a dream, before the first section is re-stated. El lago ('TheLake'), composed in 1947, portrays a pond on the hill of Montjuic in Barcelona.
Impressionistic arpeggios, reminiscent in texture of Chopin, paint a picturethat is haunting, yet full of poetry of daily life: in the middle section,nature springs to life and we can hear the jumping of frogs. The specialrelationship Mompou had with the region of Galicia, in the north west of Spain(for several years he attended the International Music Courses in Santiago deCompostela) is reflected in Carros de Galicia ('Galician Carts') of1960. The dissonant chords which are heard in ostinato form at the beginning ofthe piece are inspired by the characteristic creaking of the traditional cartsof that area. The different sections of the piece alternate the sound of the approachingcarts with their distant echo, between snatches of melody which float likememories.
Pessebre, ('Cribs'), written between 1914 and 1917,alludes to the popular custom of the 'pessebres', the representation of scenesconnected with the birth of Christ by means of little figures with which theSpanish, and especially the Catalans, decorate