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geographical position between Central Europe and the Nordic countries is not
without significance for a proper understanding of music and musical life in
the second half of this century. Sandwiched between north and south, the
country has been a melting-pot for various aesthetic tendencies in the field of
1950s musical modernism took a firm hold, beginning in Central Europe with the
work of pioneers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez, and later it
made inroads into the Nordic countries as well. At first Danish composers were
shocked by the aesthetic developments in modernism; some of them simply could
not come to terms with its external, formalized rules for the treatment of
musical material. The Danish mentality was hostile to modernism's canon of
prohibitions and commands, though that canon was to playa formative role in the
evolution of music in the following decades.
composers born in the twenties and thirties felt they had to take a stance on modernism's
call for absolute renewal in the material of music. They had grown up with the classicist
aesthetic of a Danish tradition represented by names such as Carl Nielsen (1865-1931),
Vagn Holmboe (b. 1909), and Herman D. Koppel (b. 1908). Moreover, they all shared
an outlook that was the product of a Danish and Nordic musical world where the range
of artistic vision was limited by historical circumstances. In particular,
World War II had made it impossible for composers to keep up with international
trends. It is very much to the point that the older generation could accept Bartók
but not Schoenberg; was this a case of 'local characteristics' or
'provincialism'? The younger composers, who felt the need to tryout the
technical wonders of the postwar period, realized that a confrontation with
their father figures was unavoidable.
artistic attitude -involving discussion and, to varying degrees, assimilation
and acceptance of external trends - resulted in a breach with Holmboe and
Koppel, the inheritors of classicism, on the part of composers like Niels Viggo
Bentzon (b. 1919), Per Nørgård (b. 1932), Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (b. 1932),
and Bent Lorentzen (b. 1935). The enthusiastic and ambitious younger generation
found it somewhat provincial that the idiom of Holmboe and Koppel had remained
unaffected by developments in the international avant-garde.
All of this
makes it understandable that, from the fifties onward, many works by composers born
between the wars display tension between the Central European, modernist way of
thinking and a special Nordic tone. It is as if one can hear an ongoing
discussion between the lines of the music; the conflict between tradition and
renewal is heard in many works as a set of oppositions between the idyllic and
the apocalyptic, the anachronistic and the absolutely innovative, the local and
the global. German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger has written a comment on the
Norwegian mentality that could equally well apply to Danish composers: "On
the one hand they love anachronism and stubbornly maintain pre-modern styles of
thinking and living. On the other hand they have a tendency unintentionally to
anticipate the future They are stay-at-homes and cosmopolitans at one and the
emanating from Central Europe at mid-century, and later from North America and the
Far East, have accordingly stimulated a fruitful discussion among Danish composers.
This is especially true of Per Nørgård, who at an early stage erected a bulwark
against the chaotic sounds emerging from the south in the form of his 'universe
of the Nordic mind' - a declaration of commitment to the Nordic tone with
Holmboe and Sibelius as the great trail-blazers. Nørgård 's natural curiosity
made it impossible, however, for him to keep to this narrow path for very long.
He began to make forays into the Central European new music environment, from
which he imported material to his private - often metaphysical and antagonistic
- universe. In the uniquely personal idiom of this composer we find infinite
series, overtone series, and hierarchical control of the parameters of music.
exerted tremendous influence on developments in Danish composition. Not only
his highly individual works but also his achievements as a teacher and
organizer have left their mark on succeeding generations. Some of Nørgård's
contemporaries -Gudmund-sen-Holmgreen, Ib Nørholm (b. 1931), and the slightly
younger Ole Buck (b. 1945) - reacted to the complexity of modernism by going to
the opposite extreme and writing in the simplest possible way. They founded the
trend called New Simplicity and were the creators of a style that may be looked
upon as a very special Danish version of minimalism.
these composers is their stylistic pluralism, which breaks some of the prohibitions
of the leading modernists. They rebelled against the technocratic notion of progress
implicit in the autonomous aesthetic, which permitted development in one
direction only, and insisted on a multiplicity of forms of expression, making
use of collage and playing ironic games with quotations and stylistic elements
from older music. Later they changed direction, each of them adopting his own personal
perspective on his earlier works, but their output is a typical illustration of
something central to the Danish mentality: nothing from outside is uncritically
adopted, it has first to be rejected and examined more closely.
perhaps especially true of a composer like Karl Aage Rasmussen (b. 1947). He is
a multi-artist who participates in musical life on many different levels - as a
festival director, new music conductor, writer, debater, and not least
composer. His starting point was reception and transformation of the musical tradition
in what has been termed 'music on music'. An example is Berio Mask (1977), where
he re-uses the music of Luciano Berio, who in turn had re-used Mahler, and so
on. But other problems have been taken up in Rasmussen's more recent music,
among other things the concept of time. And in light of recent experience he
continues to grapple with the big issues of aesthetics, technique, and
perception. It is significant that one of his articles is entitled Can Time Be
Heard? His thoughts on these topics are expressed musically in the orchestral work
A Symphony in Time (on dacapo DCCD 9010), in Movements on a Moving Line for chamber
orchestra, and in the string quartets Surrounded by Scales and Solos and
Shadows (recorded for dacapo, DCCD 9003a+b, by the Arditti Quartet from the
United Kingdom). Rasmussen's Italian Concerto (1981) on the present disc is a
sort of lifeline between the composer's early experiments with many different
styles and his recent output of works emphasizing construction and stringency
just as much as expression.
dogmatic innovation philosophy of the fifties may not be normative any more,
but its lessons have not been forgotten and there is still a demand for inner
consistency in music. The latter appears to be a key issue for Poul Ruders (b.
1949), who at the beginning of his career wrote pieces full of irony, distance,
and pastiche, just as his leading contemporaries Bo Holten (b. 1948),
Rasmussen, and Hans Abrahamsen (b. 1952) were doing. In the course of the
eighties these composers have overcome the shyness that their ironic posture actually
concealed, and are no longer afraid to make grand statements in their works. Much
the same can be said of Niels Rosing-Schow and Erik Højsgaard (both born 1954),
who are represented here by Voix Intérieures and Paysage blême respectively.
Their music has a lyrically searching character, but this does not imply that
they have no use for constructionism. They have created a special synthesis of
expression and construction that can be heard in their instrumentation and orchestration,
and more generally in the refined treatment of sound in their works.
Nordentoft (b. 1957) belongs to the most recent generation of Danish composers.
If he enjoys an outstanding reputation among his contemporaries, this must be
due to his ability constantly to challenge himself; he never lays down a fixed
scheme determining the form and development of a composition. Nordentoft's work
is a kind of prose discourse rooted in a Utopian concept of music. "I
compose in order to realize the thoughts and dreams I have always had;' he
says. "I can best describe those thoughts and dreams as 'wild forms'. The outcome
of this in his compositions is an undefinable tension, often in the shape of violent
outbursts of energy. Such structuring of 'wild forms' can be observed in many
of his scores, for example Entgegen for sinfonietta, Cathedral for solo cello,
Born for orchestra, and The Nervous Saurian on this disc.
hidden away behind the violent exterior and physical immediacy of Nordentoft's compositions,
one senses a frail and delicate music related to the innocent, poetic world of childhood.
But experience always intervenes as an unavoidable and almost painful mediator,
giving a feeling of loss when the process is at an end. The schizophrenic and
unpredictable dimensions in his work make Nordentoft’s a veritable musical
storyteller; however, rather than adopting a programme music approach to his
material, he relives in abstract musical form what his generation has learnt
about innocence and experience.
Concerto) was composed in 1981 and first performed by The Eisinore Players,
conducted by the composer, on July 3rd of that same year at a concert in Mexico
City. With obvious reference to Bach's famous concerto, it is a piece in
'Italian' style. For a contemporary composer, however, this is something rather
ambiguous. The three movements thus refer to three Italian modes of expression,
whereas each at the same time is an 'ommagio' to an Italian composer. The first
movement refers to Niccolo Castiglioni, a music of high registers, nervous
activity and reminiscenses of stately baroque. The second movement is related
to 17th century composer Bernardo Pasquini, known among other things for his
imitations of birds. The middle section of this movement further contains a
reference to Stravinsky. The last movement is an 'ommagio' to Luciano Berio:
rapid, multicoloured unisons in a dynamic, dramatic flow. The piece is in E major
and E flat major, with a constant tightrope balance between the two.
Voix Intérieures (Inner Voices) 1990-92. The title
has a double reference: to 'inner voices' of the mind, expressing our (hardly
conscious) impulses, feelings, dreams, and to the 'inner voices' of the music
in the sence of internal parts and relations. Thus the title points to the obscure
reflections of the one meaning in the other. During the piece there is a
gradual transformation of the internal parts, such as interval-patterns, sonorities
and dynamics - running alongside the easily perceptible expansion of register.
The music is so to say 'turned inside out'.
(1989-92) is a 3-part composition in one movement, for clarinet, cello and
piano. The title as well as the music refers to Øglernes Frise (The Frieze of
the Reptiles), a (science fiction) novel by Danish author Bo Green Jensen,
beautifully illustrated by Knud Steffen Nielsen. It is the story of a (dream-) journey
back to the land of the Lizards, to the Archean, the accession, the afternoon,
the death and the inheritance of the reptiles. Here however, in the climax of
the reptiles the conception of time changes: thousands of years pass like
seconds. Even the most violent pain connected with birth and death, the rush of
fear and joy, the swiftness of reflective actions and the most dramatic changes
are caught and disappear in a slow blurred time - although the experience is
paradoxically near. And the main character of the story, the eccentric Dr,
Green, states: 'There will be a time when the desires of Man can be fulfilled
only in the land of Lizards".
blême (1991) - a
pale and blurred landscape… Having worked for a long time on an opera I needed
a break for the dramatic genre. I started to work on a piece of music which has
a contemplative and (almost too) monotone character - a 'paysage blême'. Technically
the work is quite simply constructed and essentially based on three elements: a
slow written-out rallentando, slow and gradual harmonic changes and an (almost
too) endless melody, All of it sometimes temporarily broken, leaving behind
distant sounds, almost audible slight movements and silence, I owe the title to
Verlaine (from Arietta III): "...Combien ô voyageur, ce paysage blême te
mira blême toimême…". Paysage blême was commissioned by and is dedicated
to the Capricorn ensemble.
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CAPRICORN (DANISH 20TH CENTURY MUSIC)