Frederic Mompou: unpublished music from the 40s  

This album features piano works by Frederic Mompou that remained unpublished during his lifetime, composed in the period 1944 to 1955, not long after Mompou’s return to Barcelona following a twenty-year stay in Paris, and not included in the complete works that I recorded for Naxos between 1997 and 2000 (8.554332, 8.554448, 8.554570, 8.554727).
The ballet Don Perlimplín was commissioned from Mompou by the ballet impresario the Marquis de Cuevas in the wake of the success won in London by House of Birds, a ballet based on orchestrations of some of the Catalan composer’s piano works. The idea for the new ballet, for which Mompou wrote an entirely original score, came from the set designer Xavier Coll. It was based on Federico García Lorca’s play Amor de Don Perlimplín con Belisa en su jardín (The Love of Don Perlimplín and Belisa in the Garden). This tells the tale of a nobleman from Granada who marries the unsuitable Belisa. In order to seduce her, Don Perlimplín invents the character of a lover with whom she immediately falls in love. She confesses this to her husband, who rushes off to kill his rival—in other words, he kills himself. Mompou began work on the music but realised he would not be able to complete the orchestration in time for the première and asked his friend and fellow-composer Xavier Montsalvatge for help. While most of the music is Mompou’s, Montsalvatge added two original dances: Panaderos populaires (track 11) and the dance that follows the Prelude (track 2), as well as creating some of the linking passages between numbers and the orchestration. Don Perlimplín was first performed at the Liceu Theatre in Barcelona on 8 May 1956. It was subtitled “Ballet by Xavier Coll in three scenes, based on an eighteenth-century fable”, thereby avoiding mention of the name of Lorca, assassinated in the early days of the Civil War by Franco’s Nationalist troops. The original piano version of the ballet was only published in 2007. To quote Montsalvatge (from his Papeles autobiográficos), Don Perlimplín was “clear proof of Mompou’s talent”. The music is quintessential Mompou: at times contemplative—if still a long way from the mysticism of Música callada—at times displaying an uninhibited Romanticism with affinities to that of Poulenc, a composer he greatly admired—although, as so often in his music, we also hear the sound of bells—and at times, in the passages of amorous exultation, betraying the unexpected influence of Tristan and Isolde, the only work of Wagner’s that Mompou admitted to liking.
Ballet is a collection of short pieces that Mompou wrote for inclusion in a bibliophile edition of a book by the same name featuring poems by Ricard Permanyer and illustrations by the artist Josep Mompou, the composer’s brother. The result was a set of twelve short musical epigrams for piano: this is music of great concision, almost without development, opening with a Prelude which is in fact the original version of his Prelude No.6 “pour la main gauche”. The score of this version does not specify that the piece should be played with the left hand only, though it is very similar to the definitive version, if less developed—the recapitulation is reduced to a Da capo al fine—and there are hardly any expression markings. The Prelude, easily the longest piece in the collection, is followed by a series of brief sketches, most less than a minute in duration. Some conjure up dance rhythms—waltz, mazurka, blues, forlane, pavane—salon music with an unmistakably French flavour, tinged with melancholy and nostalgia. Others bear poetic titles, such as A la recerca de l’oblit (In search of oblivion), reminiscent of Fauré (a composer revered by Mompou), or Oreig i vol de gavines (Storm and flight of seagulls). The penultimate piece, Èxtasi, provides a first inkling of the ascetic mysticism of Mompou’s masterpiece, Música callada (1959–67), a work the composer would declare was “all my true music”.
Among Mompou’s unpublished manuscripts there are two delightful versions of the traditional French song Au clair de la lune, both dated November 1946. The original melody does not appear at the beginning of either piece, but is gradually brought to mind as the music progresses, disguised in enveloping harmonies and unusual modulations. Both titles—Glossa and Fantasía—were added by Mompou’s wife, pianist Carmen Bravo.
The Romança is a miniature dated 29 October 1944, and is less than a minute long. It was dedicated to his future wife on the occasion of the third anniversary of their engagement (they only married in 1957). The Moderato expresivo of 27 July 1946, meanwhile, is a piece the composer would develop and extend, including it as No.18 of the third book of his Música callada.
The album ends with the only three chamber works in Mompou’s catalogue. Altitud (Altitude) was written in Paris in 1928, and includes various sketches and fragments destined for a string quartet he never completed. It was first performed by the virtuoso violinist Francesc Costa at Barcelona’s Palau de la Música in 1929.
El pont (The Bridge) was originally composed for solo piano in 1947 (included on Naxos 8.554727), and was to have formed part of Mompou’s Paisajes collection. Ultimately, however, he changed his mind, apparently because he was unconvinced by “its perhaps overly melodic-romantic nature” and considered it “an expressive vehicle with little validity in our age”. Nonetheless, in the introductory notes to El pont, he declared that “though such doubts assailed my spirit in the past, over the years they have gradually vanished, rather than grown stronger”. In 1976 therefore, in response to a commission from the Spanish Education and Science Ministry for a tribute to Casals on the hundredth anniversary of the cellist’s birth, Mompou returned to the piece, creating a new version for cello and piano which, while retaining the same principal theme as the piano original, has an entirely different development section.
The 3 Comptines were originally written for voice and piano in 1926. In 1978 Mompou, along with a number of fellow musicians, travelled to New York to take part in a concert dedicated to Catalan music. It turned out to be an eventful occasion: the singer who was due to perform did not appear and Mompou had to race against the clock to finish this version for piano (four hands) of his three little songs based on traditional children’s counting-game rhymes (the first is Catalan, the second and third French). The première was given by Mompou himself and Alicia de Larrocha (who, as part of the same concert, also gave the first performance of Mompou’s Cançó i dansa nº14).

Jordi Masó

(Booklet notes for the CD “Frederic Mompou: Piano Music Volume 5”. Naxos 8.570956)