Shortly after getting an offer from the Fundación Juan March in Madrid (Spain) to put together a program with Spanish pianist Jorge Robaina of songs for voice and piano composed during the post Spanish post civil war era (1940-1960), I found myself pouring over a book called “Lieder and Songs of Spain” compiled by the Spanish music critic Antonio Fernández-Cid http://www.antoniofernandezcid.com/.
The book listed in alphabetical order the composers, including a short biography and their listing of songs; in some cases the composition dates where included. I came upon a page that had at least three pages listing of song titles by the Catalan composer Narcis Bonet, b. 1933. I became interested upon reading about him on his web page http://www.narcisbonet.org/, and found out he was very much alive and well in Paris, France. I sent him in a note via email in my most polite Spanish explaining my project, and asking if he would care to send me songs composed during the time period of the project. Our author responded with a lovely note, saying he would send the scores via post to the Jorge Robaina’s home in Madrid.
Upon reading the songs at home, I found them charming…because of the dates I had requested, the compositions I received where all from his youthful days, judging from his birth date, these particular songs I selected among the money he sent were composed between ages 19 and 22 :
Per la boira, Comença la tardor and Nit d’abril from his cycle SIX MÉLODIES SUR DES POEMES DE JOAN MARAGALL (1949-1951)
Eugènia from his cycle SIX MÉLODIES (1951)
I found his penmanship clear and easy to read (all songs that he sent where in manuscript form), and was immediately drawn visually to his “Nit d’Abril” (night of april), a short miniature with no time signature or bar lines.
This little 1.5 minute song is breathless and childlike, kind of like musical joy ride; its a beautiful musicalization of this poem by the eminent Catalan poet, Joan Maragall (1860-1911). I found that much of this composers inspiration of this time era were settings of Maragall, who was a pioneer in the modernist aesthetic on Catalan poetry. Being Madrid centric in my musical culture so far, these songs have become my first encounter with Catalan art song and consequently, it’s culture, language and poets.
Eugènia, another miniature, is one page song with the subtitle “Tannka XVIII”, again with attractive penmanship. Its the shortest of poetic thoughts, a musicalization of a japanese Tannka style poem by Carles Riba (1893-1959):
roses, sal i petxines
i es pensaran que passes
entre els jardins i l’ona.
“I will say lemons,
Roses, salt and mother of pearl
They will think you will walk by
within gardens and waves of water”
I found this link on Youtube of Catalan soprano Conxita Badia singing the song, with Narcis Bonet at the piano:
To my knowledge, Eugènia is the only one of these songs that are edited, available through Ediciones Boileau (Barcleona, Spain). Bonet’s aesthetic in these poems remind me of French turn of the century early modern songs, close to Ravel and even Poulenc. The other two songs are a bit longer and just as lovely. Comença la tardor is a tone painting about the coming of autumn, the ending of the song rewards both interpreter and listener with a beautiful ascending line to G natural. The harmonies are definitely in the French line of a Duparc song and is a setting of Maragall poem by the same name. Another setting of a Maragall poem, Per la boira is an ode to the mist that envelopes the country side. The choice of texts by the young Bonet show a predilection for nature and the opportunity to give us musical renderings of beauty in nature. All above songs are for middle voice.
Gifted at an early age, Bonet studied with Eduard Toldrá, Joan Massiá, Joan Llongeres, Emili Pujol and Lluís M. Millet, he moved to Paris to continue his musical studies with Nadia Boulanger and later studies in conducting with Igor Markevitch.
I definitely recommend any singer to explore the song output of this composer; here in the States and even in his native Spain he is not programmed often enough in my opinion. Although there is the hurdle of the Catalan diction, the songs are definitely worth it…
In a recent email exchange in which I asked Bonet about tempos for the songs I’m singing at the concert of Post Civil war songs in Madrid this coming October 31 with Jorge Robaina, he wrote of the songs (Eugènia excluded):