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Joaquin NIN-CULMELL (1908-2004)
12 Cançons Tradicionals Catalanes Harmonitzades per a Soprano i Piano (1957) [28:21]
Homenaje a Frederic Mompou: Què li darem (1990) [1:54]
Sis Tonadas Catalanes del Volum IV (1952) [9:34]
Cançons Tradicionals Harmonitzades per a Cor a Capella (1956-57) [6:16]
Missa Brevis En Honor de Santa Rosa de Lima y del Cristo de Salamó (1998) [9:33]
Joaquin NIN CASTELLANOS (1879-1949)
Mensaje a Debussy (1929) [7:41]
Cançons per a un Cor Femení i Piano (1926) [4:36]
Assumpta (soprano); Pau Casan (piano); David Malet (organ); Cor de Cambra Dyapason/Montserrat Bonet
rec. June 2005, Church of Sant Antoni de Padua, Barcelona and September-October 2005, Studio Albert Moraleda, Llerona
COLUMNA MUSICA 1CM0146 [66:07]


Joaquin Nin-Culmell apparently referred to his family as the “nineses”. It was a remarkable family. Outside the musical environment of a web site such as this, the most famous member of the family was probably Anais Nin (1903-1977), avant-garde novelist, outspoken diarist, bigamist, writer of soft-porn, lover of Henry Miller and others. She was the daughter of the older of these two composers - and claimed that she had an incestuous affair with her father - and brother of the younger.

Both composers led cosmopolitan lives. The father was born in Cuba, his mother a Cuban his father a Catalan soldier. Soon after his birth the family took up residence in Barcelona. Later, around the age of twenty, Joaquin returned to Cuba, where he married Rosa Culmell, a soprano and daughter of a wealthy Cuban family. Husband and wife spent time in both Paris and Cuba. Anais was born in Paris, a son called Thorwald in Cuba and the future composer - Joaquin Nin-Culmell - in Berlin. Nin the elder was a spectacularly unfaithful husband who had many affairs and in 1912 he abandoned his wife and children completely (setting off in pursuit of a 16 year old girl). He made a good career for himself as a pianist and mixed in expatriate Spanish music circles in Paris, in the company of figures such as Turina, Granados and Albéniz. He was also active as a musicologist, undertaking important editorial work on Soler, for example. He later returned to Cuba, where he died. 

The abandoned wife took her children, including the young Joaquin to New York; he returned to Europe in his mid teens and studied with Manuel de Falla, as well as at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1939 he returned to America, taking up a sequence of teaching positions at American universities, eventually taking up a post at the university of Berkeley in 1950, where he remained until his retirement in 1974. Through all these years he also sustained a career as a pianist, in both America and Europe.

For all the internationalism of the lives they lived, the music of both father and son was consistently imbued with a thoroughly Spanish air. The characteristic ternary rhythms, some debts to the folk-song tradition, some typical melodic lines and patterns of phrasing – these and other elements are so evident as to make it sensible to think of both father and son as ‘Spanish’ composers, even if their work also, naturally, reveals their familiarity with other musical traditions too. 

This present CD is largely devoted to the music of the younger Nin. His father is represented by just two pieces, a solo piano piece and a work for Female choir and piano. The older Nin’s piano music deserves to be much better known than it is – more can be heard on Thomas Tirino’s recording of the Complete Piano Works (Koch 3-7516-2).  The ‘mensaje’ (message) he addresses to Debussy is clearly one of respect and admiration – this interesting and striking work draws both on Nin’s Spanish inheritance and on his familiarity with the keyboard music of French impressionism and it fuses the two traditions very attractively. It might, I suppose, be seen as a kind of reply to Debussy’s ‘Spanish’ works such as ‘La Soirée dans Grenade’ and ‘Iberia’. The two cançons for female voices and piano are versions of traditional Catalan Christmas songs, richly – and attractively – harmonised. 

Joaquin Nin-Culmell as represented by a greater range of music, ranging in date from 1952 to 1998. The earliest works here, all dating from the 1950s, are the most explicit in their exploitation of the musical traditions of Catalonia. The twelve Cançons Tradicionals Catalanes are very fine and they get an utterly sympathetic and perceptive performance from Assumpta Mateu, ably supported by Pau Casan (whose work is everywhere exemplary on this CD). Mateu understands perfectly the idioms of the music and does full justice to these subtle and passionate songs. Anyone who likes the songs of, say, Turina or De Falla but is unfamiliar with these settings by Nin-Culmel is strongly urged to make their acquaintance. Full texts of these, and the other vocal works, are provided, but not English translations. The four Cançons Tradicionals Harmonitzades for a capella choir take simple texts and folk melodies and treat them with considerable harmonic sophistication and freedom, not least in the expressive harmonies of the second song, ‘El Niño Perdido’. The six Tonadas Catalanes are delightful elaborations (but never over elaborations) of traditional songs and dances, sparkling and piquant miniatures, played with freshness and delicious clarity by Pau Casan – a native of Barcelona, though his postgraduate piano studies were with Gordon Fergus-Thompson and Roger Vignoles.

Of the later works by Nin-Culmell, the ‘Homenaje a Frederic Mompou’ is a stylistically fitting tribute to another native of Barcelona who spent many of his musically formative years in Paris. More substantial is the Missa Brevis, which omits the Credo. It was written for the wedding of the composer’s niece-grand-daughter and is characteristically accomplished piece of work, harmonically sophisticated and expressive, sometimes in ways which remind one of idioms of modern French sacred music. As so often with the music – and indeed the writings – of the “nineses”, one is led back to Paris, even though Nun-Culmell spent so much of his life in the U.S.A.

At the web site of the Regional Oral History Office at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, one can access lengthy transcripts of interviews with Joaquin Nin-Culmell, conducted just two years before his death. In them he talks of his family, of working with de Falla, of friendship with Messiaen, of studying with Cortot and Dukas (“an extraordinary, cultivated man who could talk about French poets as well as he could and sometimes better than he could about music”) and much, much else. When the family history of the Nins comes to be written, as it surely will, the music of both father and son, and their involvement in the musical life of two continents will surely rank alongside, or above, Anais Nin’s achievement as a writer.

Glyn Pursglove



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