Frederic Mompou (1893-1987)
Piano Music Volume 3
Variations sur un th�me de Chopin; Trois variations; Souvenirs de l'exposition; Paisajes; Pessebres; Impressions �ntimes; Planys
It was the great cellist and composer Gaspar Cassad� who, in 1938, suggested to Mompou the possibility of collaborating on a joint work, variations for cello and piano based on the Prelude Op. 28 No. 7 in A major by Chopin. The project was abandoned, but by this time Mompou had composed four variations which appeared with the curious title 'Three (sic) Variations' for his instrument, the piano. A commission from the Royal Ballet Covent Garden, London, was the occasion, in 1957, for finishing the work. The planned ballet came to nothing, but it led to one of the composer's most ambitious creations, which also exists in an orchestral similarity (largely the work of conductor Antoni Ros-Marb�).
The Chopin Prelude, with its extreme brevity and perfect concision, proved to be an ideal vehicle for Mompou, who found in the piece affinities with his own sound world. The first variation, apart from some added personal harmonics, leaves the theme virtually intact, while the second, repeated in its entirety, introduces a new figuration, 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 Tempo lento, represents a major departure from the initial mood. This is taken further in the fourth variation, in F major, which is immersed in the world of the Catalan composer. The fifth returns to the key of A major and its indication Tempo di Mazurka constitutes a homage to one of Chopin's most important genres (the Prelude on which the Variations are based can itself be regarded as a short mazurka). The sixth variation, in G minor, is rather like a transfiguration of Chopin's melody into the language of the M�sica Callada, Mompou's masterpiece. The seventh, again in A major, appears to pay homage this time to the more brilliant side of Chopin's music, while the eighth, in F major, appears to quote the accompaniments based on repeated notes which characterise the Chopin Preludes in E minor and D flat major. A further return in the ninth variation to the initial key signals the evocation of another of the great genres in Chopin's pianistic output: the waltz. The expressive centre of the work is found in the tenth variation, expressly entitled �vocation. In its first part, in F sharp major, Mompou appears to be quoting himself (various commentators have pointed out the similarity to the Can�� i dansa No. 6). The central part, which in the planned ballet in fact corresponded to the evocation of the figure of Chopin, recalls the well-known melody of the second section of the Fantasie-Impromptu Op. 66 by this composer. Mompou makes it his own with a harmonization which transforms it radically. The key of F sharp minor is retained during the eleventh variation, totally immersed in the Mompou idiom. The final Galope, once again in A major, introduces a fairly uncommon side of Mompou, as a composer of music which dazzles. In a final synthesis of the Prelude and Mompou's own harmonic and instrumental patterns, the final Epilogue returns to a mood of sobriety, more characteristic of the composer's music.
In 1921, Mompou composed the delightful Trois variations which are conceived on a much smaller scale than the Chopin variations. The theme, of a strange modal character which causes it to oscillate between the tonal centres of D flat and B flat, is introduced as a simple unaccompanied melody. The first variation, Les soldats (�The Soldiers�) refers to a childhood memory: Masses in which military musicians took part, which he used to attend with his father (to whom the work is dedicated). A fanfare concludes the variation, although a Satie-like instruction ('r�p�tez, je vous prie') requires the pianist to repeat it in its entirety. The second of the variations, Courtoisie, gives the melody the character of an amiable Vals and the third, Nocturne, transforms it into an evening landscape, full of allusions to mysterious sounds of nature.
In 1937, the publisher Max Eschig commissioned various resident foreign composers in the French capital (including Martinů, Honegger and Ernesto H�lffter) to compose a series of works to celebrate the Universal Exhibition of Paris. These were to be published together in a collection dedicated to the pianist Marguerite Long. Souvenirs de l'exposition opens with the noisy Entr�e. Tableaux de statistique, adopts a sad tone with an underlying irony, which represents the sheer profusion of figures endured by the visitor. After the violent chord which concludes the second piece, a mysterious and very brief nocturne portrays the fascination experienced on contemplating the secrets of the Universe in Le plan�taire. A distinguished fashion parade is depicted in the final Pavillon de l'�l�gance, the most extended of the Souvenirs. Three parts can be identified, the first slow and expressive, followed by another based on a more pronounced rhythm. The same rhythm, but sweeter in character, dominates the final section.
The first of the three Paisajes (�Landscapes�) is linked to a crucial event in the composer's life. His years in Paris (the last stage of which was not a productive one for new works) ended in 1941 when, because of the war, he decided to return to his native city. The renewed interest in composition, which led to the great works of his maturity, was closely linked to the blossoming of his love for the young pianist Carmen Bravo, his future wife. After arriving together for a concert in the Palau de la M�sica Catalana in 1942, they decided to leave and go for a walk in the beautiful Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. Stopping in a square and contemplating the central fountain, they heard the midnight chimes. La fuente y la campana (�The Fountain and the Bells�) depicts the moment: after a brief introduction we hear a simple melody in G minor, half archaic, half folk-like in character. A repeated sombre G represents the chimes (though there are not exactly twelve), above which the motif of the introduction returns. The middle section attempts to reflect the magic of the moment, with the trickling of water through which the same melody can still be heard, as if in a dream, before the first section is re-stated. El lago (�The Lake�), composed in 1947, portrays a pond on the hill of Montjuic in Barcelona. Impressionistic arpeggios, reminiscent in texture of Chopin, paint a picture that 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 special relationship Mompou had with the region of Galicia, in the north west of Spain (for several years he attended the International Music Courses in Santiago de Compostela) is reflected in Carros de Galicia (�Galician Carts�) of 1960. The dissonant chords which are heard in ostinato form at the beginning of the piece are inspired by the characteristic creaking of the traditional carts of that area. The different sections of the piece alternate the sound of the approaching carts with their distant echo, between snatches of melody which float like memories.
Pessebre, (�Cribs�), written between 1914 and 1917, alludes to the popular custom of the 'pessebres', the representation of scenes connected with the birth of Christ by means of little figures with which the Spanish, and especially the Catalans, decorate their homes during the Christmas season. The cheerful Dansa (�Dance�) depicts popular rejoicing with two musical ideas which, though not directly quoting traditional songs, are in the same style. One cannot help associating the hermitage of the second piece, L'ermita, with the circle of friends of the same name to which Mompou belonged, as did his brother, the painter Josep Mompou, who designed a well-known symbol of the group which was later adopted by the composer as his own identifying mark. After the quietness of the second piece, we hear El pastor (�The Shepherd�), one of the basic characters of popular Christian imagery. A melody, appearing at first unaccompanied, as if from a shepherd's flute, is developed and contrasted with other ideas, all in folk-like idiom.
The collection Impressions �ntimes. Planys (�Intimate Impressions. Lamentations�) must be considered as Mompou's first work. At the age of barely seventeen, the composer, who did not complete the work until 1914, already appears as someone with a personality to which the years would bring experience, but which was already in essence well-formed. A first group makes up the four Planys (�Lamentations�). The intimate and elegaic nature of the first two pieces gives way to the openly sentimental style of the third, and to the intense agitato (an atypical marking of Mompou) of the last. Ocell trist (�Sad Bird�), with its majestic sadness, so inherently characteristic of the composer, is based on the only three notes which a family pet bird could sing. La barca (�The Boat�) is also based on a repeated melody in various forms, with a monotonous rhythm which seems to imitate the rocking motion of the sea. Rocking of a different kind is found in Bressol (�Cradle�), a berceuse, as its title suggests. The intimate Secret is founded on a dotted rhythm in the accompaniment above which an elegant melody rises and, unable to develop, merely repeats itself several times, Gitano (�Gipsy�), the longest of the pieces, attempts to describe the personality of a gipsy who made a vivid impression on Mompou, who was always fascinated by people of the lower classes This work ends with sonorous and colourful dance melodies, where the true personality of the composer blossoms.
Translation: Panl Jutsam