Bàrbara Duran Bordoy
Musicologist and writer
The beauty of proportion: Mendelssohn and Parera Fons
Today’s programme should not be taken lightly. The period, social context and compositional style of the two composers programmed, Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and Parera Fons (1943), are totally different. Still, they share similar elements in their compositional conception: a love of formal balance and an unusual internal luminosity. These two elements allow them to be included precisely in a classical tradition of art, understood as that which shows a fine balance between the Apollonian side of music, that of measured proportions and clear structures, and the more Dionysian character that displays vitality and expressiveness.
In an interview a few years ago, Parera Fons explained that folk music, which belongs to the oral tradition, forms part of his own musical universe unconsciously. “Melodies that are kept in the memory, as if locked away in a drawer, but one day they return unexpectedly.” In this work commissioned by the OCNE (world première at this edition of the Festival de Pollença 2022), he opens his personal drawer and pulls out the melody of the Cavallets de Pollença, the one that Baltasar Samper picked up one day around 1924; and this is one of the tunes that immediately anchors the town’s music memory. The Overture begins with a somewhat mysterious introduction, where the trumpets initiate a piece with historical overtones. Without conjuring up any specific memories, a soundscape is drawn that mixes different melodic motifs that prepare the entry for a lively and playful dance. This scenery is rounded off by the horns’ introduction, which unfolds a certain solemnity, with small linking motifs provided by the woodwind and string section. A feature of this opening is the presence of a very energetic rhythmic base. In conjunction with the metrical shifts that delimit the formal sections, this pushes the Overture into a spinning wheel of exuberant vitality. In any case, Parera Fons seems to remember the tunes as an element that becomes the basis for the elaboration of this material almost in the form of a variation and adds all the details that his creativity suggests, transforming the old contributions into a contemporary work rather than direct imitations of Pollença’s repertoire. Therefore, this work is based on elements of traditional music that in no way condition the harmonies or melodic treatments used by Parera Fons but rather constitute the tool that allows him to work creatively towards a stylistic fusion, in the end, is full of modernity.
If an instrumental vocal can synthesise the gateway to Romanticism, perhaps it is the solo violin that opens Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor. A lyricism, but also a kind of life-giving gravitas that transforms into a passionate, intimate, expressive and musically free voice, where the seeds of full Romanticism can be found. In the first half, the violin exhibits a tireless melody; its prominence does not prevent the orchestra from playing the role of interlocutor: at certain moments, the violin descends to the low register to place the orchestra in the foreground. The placement of the virtuosic cadenza, just before the re-exposition and not at the end, is also noteworthy.
The opening piece of the second half is tender and will reappear after the mid-section, whereas the third half is opened by a short brass introduction, followed by a rampant, virtuosic and unstoppable piece. It is reassuring to know that the technical details of this composition were painstakingly worked out over seven years with Mendelssohn’s violinist friend Ferdinand David, who followed the compositional process from 1838 until its première in Leipzig in 1845. This long gestation, combined with extraordinary expressive power, makes this violin concerto one of the most spectacular in musical history.
Symphony no. 3 in A minor op. 53 “Scottish Symphony” followed a similar path. In 1829, following the educational guidelines laid down for men of wealthy families of the time, Mendelssohn set out on a journey of global “discovery,” which took him from his home to London and Edinburgh. The famous visit to the cave of Fingal was the basis for the composition of the Overture The Hebrides. It is obvious that this trip struck a chord in Mendelssohn’s soul, for even then, he began to think about the creation of a symphony. A trip to the ruins of Holyrood Palace Chapel made him connect with Scotland’s historical past and the memory of Queen Mary. That evening he wrote home, describing the visit and the composition of some twelve bars that would be the opening twin of the Andante. The violins begin with a voice that gradually leads to a dark and melancholy theme with personality. Its conclusion leads to an Allegro ma un poco agitato, which gradually opens out into a dramatic and suggestive character. In brief, the brass calls illuminate the strings, in brief, counterpoint figures. The clarinet is the first to bring out a motif that undoubtedly harks back to Scottish folk rhythms.
The second movement, Vivace non troppo, exhibits a light-hearted theme that awakens the whole orchestra and seems to contrast with the third movement, Adagio. This movement is reminiscent of mysterious Scotland, the Scotland of legends; a delicate air gives way to powerful homophony. Without abandoning the epic and grandiose tone, the repertoire is combined with small sections full of lyricism. The fourth movement, Allegro vivacissimo, is headed by a magnificent and solemn theme, somewhat like a victory march. Although the Scottish Symphony does not contain a closed descriptive agenda, one cannot help thinking of a clear reference to Scotland’s historic past.
Mendelssohn and Parera Fons, the two protagonists of today’s programme, draw their inspiration from popular music: Mendelssohn indirectly references Scottish ballads and dances with inspired melodic and rhythmic design; Parera Fons draws on Pollença’s folk dancing to capture the elusive essence of the people’s identity. Beyond that, however, a common trait between the two creators could be described as a simple, natural elegance, a beautiful proportion between all the elements that make up their musical productions.