Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mompou: Piano Music, Vol. 6

One of the reasons I’m drawn to symphonic works is for the sheer number of voices an orchestra has at its disposal.  My thought process is: just as a painter with more colours could paint a more complete image, I assume that more instruments would help a composer produce a fuller piece.  Perhaps this is true in an antiquated view of art, but we’re in postmodern times: any form of musical expression is just as valid as the next.  So in that case, what if we could only paint with limited colours?  What if that canvas was small?

I like to think Federico Mompou is an artist perfect for the musical interpretation of this situation.  Piano miniatures and lyric songs being the bulk of his compositions, Mompou was a master of condensation.  It’s his compositional style, ranging from impressionistic to modest and minimal, that keeps you involved.  He employs very simple, even puerile melodies, many of which are tinged with sadness, melancholy, and a nostalgic echo of Mompou’s beloved home in Catalonia.

During his childhood, Mompou’s family owned and operated a bell foundry.  The bells had a lasting effect on his creative energies, the sounds of which are imitated in many of his works.  Even the first track, El Plany del captaire, begins and ends with a distant grandfather clock sound, repeated twice more as a bridge between variations of the melodic theme.  Dissonance is not overwhelmingly common and never claws at your ears.  It rather sits with transient purpose in the ostinato figures. 

In the Naxos label Vol. 6 of his piano music, to be released on June 28th, we find treasures recently discovered in Biblioteca de Catalunya’s Mompou Collection and at Mompou’s home.  I cannot pick a favourite; that’s impossible!  One work, however, does stand out to me: Il.lusio, the second of two petits preludis.  Here I’m reminded of the soundtrack to the movie “In Bruges”, the theme of which (linked here) would be my best pick of a representative track for the mood Mompou writes in.  (As a side note, I recommend this movie to everyone.  It’s a beautifully-executed dark and tragic comedy and I must say the music of Carter Burwell completes the production’s artistic synergy.) 

To conclude, Mompou’s is the type of expression best listened to with imagination and in a responsive state of mind.  Just as acuity from literature cannot be achieved by partially-engaged reading, perceptivity of music is only truly acquired by engrossed listening.  But it’s worth it!  Every piece on this disc left me in a state of understanding.  Not omniscience but as if the moral of a story was unwrapped before me and rushed down my arms as goosebumbs.  “Ah”, I say with a smile, “so that’s what he meant.”

Beauty in simplicity was a motif in this discussion.  What other solo piano works does this theme remind you of? Are these pieces best listened to in a meditative state or do you prefer other genres?  Let me know what you think!

Happy Listening!


  1. I'm really intrigued to hear the piano music of Mompou from your post. I've always been drawn to melancholy piano works and your description reminds me of the piano pieces of Janacek and Suk. I fondly remember my excursion into the Czech piano repertoire and look forward to sampling Mompou. I hope that you'll provide a link to this album when it becomes available!