Mompou in the cupboard (Mompou’s juvenilia)

“On the top shelf of the cupboard I found two folders I had almost forgotten about, crammed with all Federico’s harmony exercises and first attempts at composition. The exercises are written in pencil and some of them are very moving, because even though they are early works, they are full of that distinctive soundworld of his.” Thus reads the diary entry of 13 January 1985 made by Carmen Bravo, wife of Frederic Mompou. Two weeks later, on the 29th, she continues: “We have been reading (and I have been playing) the manuscripts from the old folders…There are forerunners of Suburbis, Fiestas lejanas, etc., whose ideas, rhythms, chords are already very individual.”
Much of the music on this album has been selected from the contents of these folders, which have recently been published for the first time thanks to the generosity of the Fundació Frederic Mompou and its president Joan Millà. I discovered the other pieces in the Biblioteca de Catalunya’s Mompou Collection. None of the works featuring here has appeared in any of my previous volumes of Mompou’s piano music recorded for Naxos (8.554332, 8.554448, 8.554570, 8.554727, 8.570956). I decided to exclude fragments and unfinished pieces, and to record only the finished works, works that at the time Mompou—an extremely self-critical and rigorous composer—chose not to make public. All show us a composer who has already created his own idiom, despite his youth, and were written between 1911 and 1918, a period which saw the appearance of his first published works: Impressions íntimes (1911–14), Pessebres (1914–17), Scènes d’enfants (1915–18), Suburbis (1916–17) and Cants màgics (1917).
In October 1911 Mompou travelled to Paris, taking with him a letter of recommendation from Enrique Granados to Gabriel Fauré (the young Mompou had decided to become a composer after attending a concert of Fauré’s music in Barcelona in 1909). He was too shy and introverted, however, to attend an interview with the French composer in order to apply to study at the Conservatoire, but he did take private piano lessons with Ferdinand Motte-Lacroix, a pianist who was to become one of the first performers of Mompou’s music. He continued to make frequent trips to Paris until 1914, when he settled in Barcelona following the outbreak of World War One. He would later spend an extended period in the city, from 1923 to 1941, years that were to establish him as a composer.
The first work on this CD, El plany del captaire (The Beggar’s Lament)—in other manuscripts entitled Gitanos (Gypsies)—was written in 1916, and was probably originally intended to form part of the above-mentioned suite Suburbis, which does include two numbers with that same title. The next four pieces were also inspired by the composer’s contemplation of Barcelona’s suburban landscape: Les fàbriques prop de la platja (The Factories near the Beach) is undated, and is one of the first examples of Mompou’s liking for the piano’s resonant harmonies; Record de platja (Beach Memory) was composed in 1914, and is a melancholy work with the characteristic rhythm of Gymnopédie; Barri de platja (Beach District), which in some manuscripts is headed Al mar (By the Sea), was written in 1911 and is a miniature of enormous interest since it presents—with insistent repetition—the first chord that Mompou devised for himself, the so-called “metallic chord” or “Barri de platja chord” (“this chord is all of my music” he wrote in 1910); Camins de sorra (Sandy Paths) probably dates from 1914: its ternary form and the minimalism of the central section point to its having been conceived as part of the suite Fêtes lointaines.
The 5 impressions date from 1918, and Mompou considered entitling them Impressions 2 to differentiate them from his earlier, already published Impressions íntimes. The theme of the first, untitled impression, was re-used in his 1937 collection, Souvenirs de l’Exposition. The second recalls a galant dance, while the third, Dansa de la noia que salta a la corda vora el riu (Dance of the Girl Skipping by the River) was originally part of the Pessebres suite. Number 4 is an innocent waltz, and the fifth, Petit cementiri a la tarda (Little Cemetery in the Evening) brings to mind Gregorian chant. Composed two years later, in 1916, L’ermita de La Garriga (The La Garriga Hermitage) was part of a set of Impressions de La Garriga which were never completed. It was in La Garriga—a small town about twenty miles from Barcelona—that Mompou first met fellow composer Manuel Blancafort, who was to become one of his closest friends. Blancafort’s father, who owned a well-known spa hotel, let the two friends use a room with a piano so that they could play and discuss music together: they called that room “the hermitage”.
While Mompou was obviously fascinated by the poetry of the city and urban scenes, his attraction to the natural world can also be seen in some of his juvenile works, such as the two Pastorals. The static character of the first, Pastoral en la boira (Pastoral in the Fog), contrasts with the frenetic Pastoral salvatge (Wild Pastoral), a rare example in Mompou’s catalogue of a work demanding a certain pianistic virtuosity. Camí de muntanya (Mountain Trail) is in fact the original, plainer version of the melody that appears at the start of Jeunes filles au jardin, the delightful closing piece in Scènes d’enfants. Les amigues retornen del camp (The Girls Come Back from the Country), composed in 1916, shows occasional signs of romantic excess, something Mompou always avoided thereafter. El camí del jardí (The Garden Path) is one of his earliest compositions, dated 1911. It belonged to a projected suite called Motius (Motifs) which came to nothing. Written in 1912, Montseny was inspired by the massif of that name, close to La Garriga, and recalls the romantic intensity of the Prelude No.1 of 1927. In L’eco (The Echo), of 1914, Mompou experiments with the resonances of the instrument: he notated on the score—on a separate stave—the sounds that will result when the pianist plays the music written, the dissonances create clashes and the harmonics sound (in other words, Mompou composes the resonances!).
Impressions de muntanya (Mountain Impressions) was written in the winter of 1910 and is comprised of three very short pieces: Dansa de poble (Villagers’ Dance), rustic in nature, with harsh dissonances; El repòs dins el temple (A Moment’s Rest in Church), which ends with the evocation of a liturgical chorale; and Pastoral, another recollection of an idyllic mountain landscape. Pensament (Thought) is an obsessive piece, reminiscent of the primitivism displayed in Cants màgics, a suite to which it perhaps originally belonged. The 2 petits preludis (Two Little Preludes) were written in 1912, between Paris and La Garriga. The first, Oració d’ermita (Hermitage Prayer), is based on a repetitive melody that Mompou would use again in the last of the Souvenirs de l’Exposition. The second is a very simple piece entitled Il·lusió (Illusion). For its part, Preludi (1913) may call to mind Erik Satie, a composer who undoubtedly influenced Mompou when he was starting out, although he never declared any special affection for the Frenchman’s work (by contrast, he was devoted to the music of Francis Poulenc). The 2 arabesques are from 1915 and were written after the Debussyan model, if on a far more modest scale.
The titles of the following three pieces lead us to believe that they were discarded from Pessebres (Nativity Scenes): Estanys de paper de plata (Tinfoil Pools [part of home-made Nativity scenes]) includes in its coda a curious literal quotation from the Catalonian national anthem, Els segadors (The Reapers); the Dansa dels tres reis que han caigut del camell (Dance of the Three Kings who have fallen off their Camels) uses a certain exoticism to depict the oriental origins of the Three Wise Men journeying to visit the baby Jesus; the Cançó i dansa del pessebre (Nativity Song and Dance) is a forerunner of the Canciones y Danzas that Mompou wrote throughout his life, although unlike the majority of these, this work makes no use of folk-tunes: the song is a delicate berceuse, while the character of the dance veers between innocent and shameless.
Finally, Les hores (The Hours) was written on “the first day of the year 1915”, as inscribed on the manuscript, while Ball pla (Low Dance) is a harmonization of a Catalan folk-tune that Mompou returned to in the Danza of his Canción y Danza No. 15 for organ.

Jordi Masó

(Booklet notes for the CD “Frederic Mompou: Piano Music Volume 5”. Naxos 8.572142)