How like a haiku
Is the music of Mompou:
What is needed, stays;
What is not, is gone.
Once the image is painted
The sound fades away.
“The music of Federico Mompou is the music of evaporation.”1
These words by pianist Stephen Hough caught my attention. I hadn’t heard the name Mompou, or his music, for a few years. At that time I had heard some pieces from his Canciones y Danzas (Songs and Dances). And delicate little pieces they were.
But evaporation? Definitely. Let me explain.
In his delicate miniatures, Mompou distilled his music down to quintessential elements. It is simple in the way a haiku is simple—there may be few notes, few words, but they are exactly the ones needed to convey the thought, nothing extraneous is included. Some pieces even dispense with the bar lines separating measures of music in a seeming suspension of time. Listen to Impresiones intimas (Intimate Impressions) No 1, the first piece in this video, just one minute in length.
Mompou began writing music in 1917, and was an honorary member of Les Six in Paris. He was still writing in 1979. Perhaps his most well-known work is Música Callada (Silenced Music; typically translated as Music of Silence or Silent Music), a cycle of music written in four books between 1959 and 1967.
Mompou’s works have been recorded by many performers. In this video Canción y danza No. 6 is performed by six different pianists (so you can compare their approaches). Here is a video of Mompou playing his own work and telling stories about his life (in Spanish, no English subtitles).
Here is a documentary for Spanish-speakers (no English subtitles available).
Those who would like to play the music of Mompou may benefit from the contents of a letter written by Mompou’s wife, pianist Carmen Bravo. Here is a translated excerpt:
The majority of pianists who play the works of F. M., despite their obvious dedication and the loving care with which they interpret it, do not always manage to comprehend the blend of spirituality, poetry, and passion intermingled in it, and, many times they highlight one of these elements too much, forgetting the others, or relegating them to a secondary status. Another essential factor in the interpretation of this music is its characteristic “rubato,” which is difficult to apply, and apply judiciously.2
So much to consider in so few notes. It is indeed the art of haiku.
“My only desire is to write works in which nothing is missing and nothing is superfluous.”
- Stephen Hough, official website, writings, http://www.stephenhough.com/writings/album-notes/mompou-piano-music.php
- Fundació Frederic Mompou, http://fundaciomompou.cat/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Consells-de-Carmen-Bravo-sobre-la-musica-de-F.Mompou.pdf . Translation by C. Gallant.
Image attribution: Photo by Eric Christian, copyright 2016.