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ClassicsOnline Home » ABRAHAMSEN / RUDERS / NIELSEN / PADE: Piano Music
FOUR PROFILES IN DANISH MUSIC
New piano music by Tage Nielsen, Steen Pade, Hans Abrahamsen and Poul Ruders. Not selected, presumably, to mark out four different corners of the world of musical expression. Rather, one strand of thought runs through the work of all four composers, spun from the question "What can we use the tradition for?". They all have a relationship with the heritage of history, where the old gold glints behind the new edifices. We hear tonality, historicizing and other musical parameters that are no longer 'no-go areas' in compositional music, after being forbidden paths for many years, as a result of the dogmatically innovative philosophy of the fifties.
Works by Ruders and Abrahamsen have kept company before - string quartets by the two composers were recorded by the Kontra Quartet on the same CD (dacapo DCCD 9006). In addition, the London Sinfonietta has recorded Abrabamsen's Walden and Winternacht, and Ruders' Four Compositions (Paula PACD 37) on the same CD. It is no coincidence that Ruders and Abrabamsen are grouped together. Out there, where music threatens to cease altogether to take its final leave of itself and the rest of the world, the two composers meet. One could say that in them the waning of the twentieth century matches the mood of the fin de siècle tendencies of the nineteenth; I am not thinking so much of the music of the Decadents of the 1890s, as of the impression that the various schools of musical thought are learning from one another.
The filtering of tradition through a modern treatment of the material is one of the ways of approaching the four composers. They listen their way, so to speak, through the history of music, and let the past throw echoes back against the modern architecture. This finds expression as memory, as the quest for a lost age. With Abrahamsen and Ruders one experiences first the enjoyment of what is played, then the yearning for the things whose passing the music mourns. It is this sense of the unfulfilled that gives their music such a central position: the feeling of loss when it is allover, and the sense that the composers wish to emphasize physical restlessness and the fragility of the dream image.
Against this background it is not unreasonable to compare Ruders' and Abrahamsen's musical universe to the metaphysics of infinity of the Romantics; perhaps most clearly in Ruders, who makes no bones about his affinities with artists like the painter Caspar David Friedrich and the author Edgar Allan Poe. They all revert constantly to death and metaphysics as their point of departure for artistic creation. Everywhere, Ruders' works ask how aura and experiment can be joined, how the exact and the spiritual can be made to converse without making either of the poles absolute. The very fact that for him the work of art is both exact craftsmanship and a locus for the flow of epiphanies means that, and his unio mystica, he is a star of the first magnitude in the firmament of the new music that spans Ives and Langgaard and Ligeti and - who would credit it? - late Stockhausen.
Poul Ruders' 13 Postludes for piano end with a Requiem. This single observation tells us something about the final destination and the unifying tone of the work. The postludes were written as a follow-up to the monumental First Symphony – Himmelhoch jauchzend - zum Tote betrübt - of 1990. As the word postlude suggests, it is a sequel to something else. In this case it is Ruders' large-scale symphonic work that sounds through the piano pieces as an aesthetic resonance.
Heaven and Hell - nothing less - provide the tension in Ruders' music. The composer's abstract 'sound paintings' tell us of huge movements of the spirit; sometimes with literary models which lay down the fundamental mood: St. John's Apocalypse in the work Saaledes saae Johannes (Thus Saw Saint John); the Klärchens Lied from Goethe's Egmont in the First Symphony. In many cases one can also read this basic mood from the actual titles of the work: Nightshade, Regime, Dramaphonia, Towards the Precipice.
At the beginning of their careers, both Poul Ruders and Hans Abrahamsen wrote works with irony and distance, as did other prominent figures of their generation. Perhaps this compositional practice was a kind of defence against the world. Throughout the eighties Ruders and Abrahamsen emancipated themselves from this distanced universe of expression; they sloughed off the modesty, and raised the metaphorical ceiling of their works.
Abrahamsen began his composing career as a member of the Group for Alternative Music. This was in the sixties, when the new simplicity appeared as a Danish response to the complexity issuing from Central Europe, especially the circle around the so-called Darmstadt School. But in the course of the seventies and eighties Abrahamsen developed a quite personal style where the Modernist lessons of stringency and economy of expression were incorporated in a personal musical universe. This is music which encompasses poetic beauty, but refracted through a constructive filter. The titles in themselves - Winternacht, Märchenbilder and Lied in Fall - suggest the lyrical aspect of Abrahamsen's music.
Yet this is only one aspect of the composer's music. One must take care not to overstress Abrahamsen's lyricism. There has been less interest in the constructive element. lt is important to point that our, and this aspect is documented not least by the piano studies. The first studies build on the experience of the Romantic piano as we know it from Schumann and Chopin. Others treat the piano like a 'rhythm instrument' with reminiscences of Bartok and jazz.
Structurally the piano studies are intimately related to the composer's Horn Trio of 1984. The horn trio (with the movements Serenade, Arabesque, Blues, Marcia Funebre, Scherzo Misterioso and For the Children) is a through-composed elaboration of the piano studies. The same material reappears in the chamber ensemble work Märchenbilder (1984), which gives us an indication of the composer's fondness for using old material and restating it in a new light and in new contexts. When one listens to these works by Abrahamsen, one realizes that much of the music is treated in accordance with serialist principles, with numerical systems and precisely calculated structures. And this may be surprising at first, given the strong expressive character of the music. But there is another characteristic feature of Abrahamsen's music: expression and construction are two sides of the same thing. Composers like Ligeti (who has also written a horn trio and piano studies) and Nancarrow (who can also write boogie-woogie with a vengeance) must have had no little influence on Abrahamsen's musical self-image.
Abrahamsen's piano studies end with a blues with as valedictory a mood as Ruders' Requiem movement. We can add that for Abrahamsen the farewell has definitive undertones. He planned that there would be a total of ten piano studies The three missing movements already had titles: Rivière d'oubli, Cascades and Le trombe del mattino. But since the studies have now been published in the present seven-movement form by the publisher Wilhelm Hansen, we must assume that the composer considers the seven piano studies to make up an integrated whole.
The actual sound from the instrument interests the composer Tage Nielsen, who works with a very strong consciousness of timbre. He once said that "that Steinway-type tone, which stays there vibrating in the room, is magnificent in itself." A statement like this testifies to the way the ear is of crucial importance for form and content. The bare bones of course have to be constructed properly, but the music also has to have its own idiomatic sound. This view is manifested as a sure sense of form and expressiveness.
Tage Nielsen's piano works are central in his oeuvre. Other piano pieces have already been recorded for a portrait CD (Point PCD 5089). These are Three Character Pieces and an Epilogue (1972-74), with Amalie MaIling at the piano, and Paesaggi (1985), played by Erik Kaltoft and Frode Stengaard.
It is characteristic that Tage Nielsen uses the whole piano, whether in small character sketches outlined with a simple musical gesture, or mighty Brahmsian figurations that fill the whole tonal space. His development can be traced through the piano works; the composer's Hindemith-influenced piano sonata of 1949-50 suffers a sudden shortness of breath and stylistic resistance as a result of the entry of the Darmstadt School on the musical arena in the fifties. The orchestral work II Giardino Magico (1967-68) and the piano work Two Nocturnes (1960-61) are not untouched by the sounds coming from the south.
The serialist technique certainly interested Nielsen, since it provided the opportunity for experiments with sound quality. One clearly hears the inspiration from Boulez and Stockhausen in the piano pieces on this CD; bur not so much in the actual technique; it is rather the sounds, the acoustic phenomena, that take centre stage. We recognize the momentary or Gestalt form so typical of the fifties. Traditionally, we associate the word nocturne with a soulful, dreaming evening mood, with a hint of a parting of the ways. Tage Nielsen's piano pieces try to achieve this with the help of the aesthetic atmosphere of alien planets - and with this valedictory gesture they partake of the basic mood of Ruders and Abrahamsen.
Steen Pade's music at the end of the seventies took its point of departure in a style of composition that conveys associations to the listener. It has been described as a montage style. Pade himself asks of his objets trouvés: "Are the allusions the music itself, or are they rather objects found in an abstract structure?"
This attitude to the composed works recurs in pieces like the orchestral work Arcus (1981, rev. 1984) and the piano piece Florilegium (1979), which is recorded on this CD. Like the other composers of this foursome, Steen Pade too holds lines open back to the tradition. The collection of snapped-up trifles (florilegium actually means 'anthology' in Latin) shows, in mosaic form, the interconnections among different modes of expression which have perhaps been taken from the Classical/Romantic repertoire.
The expression in Pade's piano anthology is cooler than that of rhe other composers; the cathedral of Ruders has been replaced by Pade's conservatoire. Yet Pade still finds room for ingenious passages and striking patterns that insist on repetition. The listener is unsure where it is all going. But curiosity about what lies around the next corner keeps one hanging on. And suddenly it is all - over.
@ 1995 Anders Beyer
Amalie Malling (piano) was born in 1948 in Lübeck, Germany, to Danish parents. She began playing the piano at six, and when the family moved to Denmark in 1961 she took lessons from Herman D. Koppel until1968. After her debut at seventeen in the Tivoli Concert Hall, she continued her studies with Hans Leygraf at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hanover (1968-72) and with Georg Vasarhéyi at the Jutland Academy of Music (1972-73). She has also been on several trips to study with Alfred Brendel. Since 1972, when Amalie Malling won First Prize in the Nordic Music Competition, she has engaged in extensive concert activities as a soloist and chamber musician in Denmark as well as the rest of Europe, the USA, Canada and Japan. She has won many music prizes, including the Gade Scholarship, the Performers Prize of the Music Critics' Circle and the Tagea Brandt Travelling Scholarship.
In recent years Amalie Malling has worked in a regular duo partnership with the cellist Morten Zeuthen, and with the Kontra Quartet, with whom she has recorded a Heise CD with, among other works his Piano Quinter (dacapo DCCD 9113). Amalie Malling's solo repertoire ranges very wide, from Viennese Classicism over the Romantics up to our own time. Besides the present CD of contemporary Danish piano music, she has recorded a CD of piano music by Schumann, and a CD with the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and Michael Schønwandt, with the piano concertos of Schumann and Schoenberg.
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ABRAHAMSEN / RUDERS / NIELSEN / PADE: Piano Music