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Bentzon’s six Racconti were composed in
the years 1935-49. All the works are in one movement and each is for its own
ensemble. In the writing of several of the Racconti
we find Bentzon perfecting his character polyphony, where it is the character
of each instrument that determines the nature of the musical material and its
treatment, and where compositional techniques like fugue and imitation are
renounced. Bentzon took the word racconto
from Italian, where it means a tale or account, and it is precisely an almost
conversational, narrative element that is typical of these six chamber music
works. The attempt to let the instruments, so to speak, “be themselves”, can he
heard in the work of several other composers of the period, for example Finn Hoffding
in his characterful Dialogues for oboe
and clarinet of 1927; hut in his Racconti
Jørgen Bentzon elahorates and develops this instrumental aesthetic. Another
important source of inspiration for the development of character polyphony was
certainly Carl Nielsen’s Wind Quintet.
of the six racconti has the title Racconto. A
Tale for Flute, Saxophone (E flat), Bassoon and Double-bass Op. 25. The
work is end-dated July 1935 and dedicated to the German-American saxophonist
Sigurd M. Rascher, who taught at the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen
in 1933-38 and at the Conservatoire in Malmö,
1934-38. Rascher persuaded many composers to write for his instrument; besides
Scandinavians like Lars-Erik Larsson, Svend Erik Tarp and Jørgen Bentzon, also
Frank Martin, Jacques Ibert, Darius Milhaud and Paul Hindemith. Racconto No. 1
was first performed at the society Det
Unge Tonekunst-nerselskab on 25th October 1935 by Johan Bentzon, Sigurd M.
Rascher, Kjell Roikjer and Willy Hugge-Jensen. The work was also performed at
the ISCM festival in London
has strong rondo elements and in the middle has a development section. Flute and
saxophone have both been granted a cadenza. The piece alternates between tonic
and dominant section, and only in the saxophone cadenza does the tonality move
out into the remoter tonal regions. The tonality is tied to a number of central
notes in the flute and saxophone. at some points different central notes appear
at the same time in both instruments.
Racconto No. 2 Op 30 was composed in 1936 for the
ensemble flute, violin, viola and cello. Here too we find rondo elements and as
Morten Topp has demonstrated, the work is in some place, strongly modal and is
marked by polyrhythmic passages. Like the first Racconto, the second has prominent cadenzas, especially for the
flute. The cadenzas function as form-creating elements in the structure and
strengthen the rondo aspect.
In his Racconto No. 3 Op. 31 of 1937 Bentzon returns
to chamber music for a small wind ensemble - not as in the Sonatina Op. 7 for flute, clarinet and bassoon, but for the more
normal wind trio consisting of oboe, clarinet and bassoon. In this Racconto we
notice the use of homophonic texture - something Niels Viggo Bentzon has
commented on as follows: “Sound effects of this nature are at all events in
stark contrast with the otherwise strongly polyphonic way of writing, but they
still often provide a pleasant ‘gap’ in the otherwise slightly tiring, constant
‘sliding in and out of the lines’” (Niels Viggo Bentzon: “Jørgen Bentzon’s
Kammermusik: Tredie Periode (Racconto’erne)”, Dansk Musiktidsskrift XIX/8 (Oct. 1944), p. 158).
on there was a longish break in the series of Racconti, and stylistically too we feel a distance between No. 3
and No. 4 The latter, Racconto No. 4 Op. 45, was composed in 1944 for
the ensemble violin, cor anglais and piano. Stark diss0nances run through the
work, which with its kaleidoscopic character seems almost improvised.
next year Bentzon composed Racconto No. 5
Op. 46, where he returned to the winds, in which he had previously shown
great interest and with which he had been successful. The instrumentation used
is the classic wind quintet which Carl Nielsen had given new currency with his Wind Quintet of 1922. In Bentzon’s work
we experience great spirituality and a virtuoso treatment of the instruments.
The work represents a break with certain basic principles of character
polyphony: Morten Topp writes: “In Racconto
No. 5 we find a number of elements which do not belong to strict character polyphony
group polyphony, where several instruments play homophonically against a solo part
or another instrument group of a different character; imitation, which had
previously been wholly avoided; parallel motion or union among several
instruments; and in one case a tutti in pure homophonic texture” (Morten Topp, op. cit. p. 57)
composed his last Racconto, No. 6 Op.
49, in 1948-49. The work, dedicated to Vagn Holmhoe, is for string quartet. The
introductory viola theme recurs several times, and this structures the piece in
four sections. The homophonic element is very prominent.
of Racconti represents Jørgen Bentzon’s
work with the character polyphony principle. As will he heard, there is a
development of this compositional method through the various ensemhle types.
The six Racconti constitute a rare
group of works in the music of the period, where a writing technique is elaborated
and tried out down to the smallest detail. It provides food for thought that
Vagn Holmhoe, to whom the last Racconto
was dedicated, began on his own long series of string quartets in 1949.
Claus Røllum-Larsen, 1998
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BENTZON, J.: Racconti