MOMPOU'S PERFORMANCE STYLE
Frederic Mompou's career as a pianist was nothing but promising in his early adulthood. After being accepted in the Conservatoire of Paris he became renowned among his colleagues, performing regularly in small circles and soirées.
However, Mompou's introverted character, as well as his real need to compose, contributed progressively to the abandonment of his early wishes to become a concert pianist. The only pieces he dared to play in front of the public were his own works wherein he felt he could communicate something of relevance to the audience. On this matter, Mompou once declared:
I composed only for myself. I hate bravura music, big things. I am a simple person... I compose at the moment when I feel the inspiration. I don't think of being listened to by thousands of people or just one person. I just compose because I have the inspiration and the need to compose1.
Nowadays, the music of Mompou is still a matter of interest around the world but little is discussed about his interpretations on the piano. With this research, I want to focus the attention on Mompou's performance style so in order to inspire pianists who approach his works with the knowledge of how he would have performed them.
After having analyzed Mompou's recording of Cants Màgics I can affirm that Mompou's performance style was clearly influenced by some of the pianistic practices of the 19th century. Below I summarize these which are exendedly described in Da Costa's book called Off the Record.
Dislocation (or asynchronization) means playing one hand or voice slightly after the others, even if they are written as if they had to be played simultaneously. It was an expressive resource employed to highlight the most important melodic line. However, since the second half of the 20th century and until now this practice has been a sign of bad taste.
2. Unnotated arpeggiation
Although this practice was originated during the Middle Ages, it lasted until the late romantics. It had different functions over the years. Mompou used to employ arpeggiation in the beginning chords of some musical phrases. It allowed him to give the music an extra impulse without sounding harsh.
3. Tempo modification
Tempo modification, also referred to as tempo rubato, was very common in the 19th century. It consisted of speeding up or slowing down to the taste of the musician to indicate tension and distention in the musical discourse. Although this practice is still used by modern pianists, now it is employed in a much less pronounced manner. In contemporary performance, such outdated rubato is often considered as a lack of control from the interpreter.
4. Rhythmical alteration
Rhythmical alteration is, as the word says, the modification of the rhythm of some notes by lengthening or shortening them.
Mompou possessed some own characteristics that differentiated him from other pianists. I proceed now to briefly describe them:
Mompou was the master of resonances. As mentioned in Chapter One, the Catalan composer believed in the power of the ambiguity between consonance and dissonance. Accordingly, his use of the damper pedal was always very present, mixing different harmonies in a way that to modern piano conventions would be unacceptable.
The damper pedal also allows vibrating all the harmonics of the piano which contribute to a more beautiful sound.
Another quite peculiar use of the pedal for Mompou was the creation of "hiccups" in more rhythmical passages. He released the pedal allowing short rests to happen. It gives the listener the impression of the existence of a rhythmical silence.
It is very common for Mompou to pedal written rests. He used to say: music and silence were two sides of the same coin and there is not a clear separation between these two.
Mompou's toucher on the piano is never superficial. Even if he writes pianissimo passages, these are played with a deep attack, with weight to produce a cantabile. In a sense, Mompou does not play in an impressionistic manner that could suit Maurice Ravel or Debussy. Instead, he creates concrete sounds wherein every layer of sound is distinguishable.
On the other hand, for Mompou the indications forte and fortissimo passages are synonyms of grandeur, not necessarily more volume.