DRAMA, DIALOGUE AND DUEL
A portrait of the composer Bent Lorentzen by Lars Ole Bonde
Bent Lorentzen was born on the 11th of February 1935 in Stenvad - a village in Eastern Jutland - in a multi-talented family. His father was an inventive wag with a partiality for opera and music drama, especially Wagner. The opera singer Kirsten Schultz was a frequent guest, and accompanying her on the piano her younger cousin became intensely absorbed in this way of singing. The singing cousin was later married to the composer Svend S. Schultz, who was already a prolific opera composer. When Schultz visited Stenvad young Bent would help him copying his scores; this turned out to be a kind of informal apprenticeship.
The practical dimension of the composer's craft has a deep meaning for Lorentzen, who was rather ambivalent towards the formal education of composers at music academies and conservatories - of which he has first hand knowledge, both as a student and as a teacher. His own formal education began at Aarhus University (where the composer Knud Jeppesen was ordinary professor) and continued at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen (where his teachers were the composers Vagn Holmboe, Jørgen Jersild and Finn Høffding). He became a reader at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus, where he worked from 1962 to 1971, since when he has worked full time as a composer. During the Aarhus years he attended courses in Darmstadt and Munich (1965), he studied electronic music in Stockholm (1967-68), and he was the co-founder of the Aarhus Opera Group in 1963 and of Aarhus Unge Tonekunstnere (AUT, Young Aarhus Composers' Association) in 1966.
Lorentzen has held important positions in Danish musical organisations, and he has been awarded many prizes in international competitions, including Prix Italia 1970 (for the opera Euridice), the Serocki competition 1984 (for the chamber work Paradiesvogel), International Choral Composition Award in Austria 1987 (for Olof Palme), the Olivier Messiaen Organ Prize 1988 (for Luna), Vienna Modern Masters 1991 (for the first version of the Piano Concerto), the Music and Poetry Prize in Belgium 1989 (for Enzensberger's Prozession). Since 1982 he has received the lifelong grant of the Danish Art Council, and other Danish awards include Choral Composer of the Year 1990, and the Carl Nielsen Prize 1995. In 2003 he received the Wilhelm Hansen Composer's Prize.
Lorentzen's compositions cover all genres, also ‘rare' or ‘unknown' genres - like music for carillons, dramatic pantomimes, bugle ensemble, and ‘tape recorded sounds'. His orchestral music includes concertos for oboe (1980), cello (1984), piano (1984), saxophone (1986), trumpet (1991) trumpet and trombone (1998), violin (2002); the chamber works include solo music for organ, piano, trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, violin, cello and double bass; and in addition to this, string quartets and several works for mixed ensembles (2-12 instruments). He has composed numerous choral works in a unique dramatic style. The list also includes electronic music and instrumental drama. The most important part of his work, however, must be his operas and other works for the stage. Till now Lorentzen has composed 15 operas (in different formats), many of which had their premiere in foreign countries, mainly in Germany. Only one - Der Steppenwolf, based on Hermann Hesse's novel - is still awaiting its world premiere, while many of the others have seen two or more productions. Intensive dramaturgic studies have accompanied the operatic work during the years, and Lorentzen frequently taught music drama at the Copenhagen and Aarhus academies of music.
This composer never settled in an ivory tower. Lorentzen's goal has always been communication and interplay with musicians as well as audiences and institutions. A successful example of the composer's communication strategies was the Ebeltoft Festival (1989-93), a summer festival in an old Danish town, where inhabitants and tourists were offered programs with a fifty-fifty mix of old and new music in carefully selected surroundings (in- and outdoors). This philosophy of multi-sensory surprises created a special and stimulating festival.
Bent Lorentzen's music
As indicated above, Lorentzen is a composer with a rare interest in the interplay between music and listener, no matter whether the listener is a pampered ‘connoisseur' or maybe a schoolgirl trying her strength against tape recorded sounds from everyday life. Composer, musician(s) and producer must create optimum conditions for the -experience, if a dialogue is to emerge. Humour may be an intersection point - and it is often found in Lorentzen's music. This humour may be found in the meeting point of two worlds: the world of sounds and instruments and the world of human experience and expectation. Lorentzen shares this fundamental acceptance of sound in all its variety with Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, a colleague three years his senior. However, Lorentzen's style is unique and very personal, irrespective of genre.
His music has often been characterized with the adjective sonic, indicating that sound itself and the material-textural effect of sound is a core element in the music. The composer confirms that he - in an almost childish fashion - is fascinated by sounds, and he does not hesitate in consciously using vulgar sounds when he finds them -appropriate (e.g. the sounds of gastric juices, farts and night pots being emptied in the opera Den stundesløse/The Scatterbrain). This engagement in the sound itself is apparently rare in new music - and certainly not identical with the quest for "unerhörte Klänge" of the postwar European avantgarde. Lorentzen's point of departure is the role of sound and the function of the auditory sense in the phylogenesis of man: the sense of hearing enabled prehistoric man (and still enables modern man) to identify a sound in two dimensions: what is it? (friendly or hostile, wellknown or unknown) and where is it? (close or distant: should I stay or flee?). Sound and timbre unfold as specific identities in space and time, and the human ear and brain (or better: consciousness) has a remarkable capacity of differentiating and processing auditory stimuli cognitively. Working artistically with sounds is promoting a dialogue with the listener based on his/her capacity of discrimination and psychological processing, both cognitively and emotively. Sound is an integral part of universal as well as personal (idiosyncratic) patterns of reactions, thus sound composition may be a means of influencing or even manipulating the listener, psychologically and aesthetically. Sound may be a catalyst of all sorts of associations and it has the potential of evoking a broad variety of imagery. The by-product humour may appear when a skillfully planned sound image meets the expectations of a listener in a surprising way.
Lorentzen's knowledge and fascination of sound manifests itself in numerous ways. He has made intense studies of the sound-producing potentials of traditional instruments, e.g. blowing mouthpieces, producing multi-phones/‘Tongemisch' (in works like Mambo and the Saxophone Quartet), quarter tones/micro-intervals (the solo trumpet in Regenbogen), ways of touching and striking instruments (the guitar in Umbra, and also in many of the piano works). On this CD we can hear all sorts of unexpected sounds from the organ, especially in Triplex.
An examination of the sources of inspiration behind Lorentzen's music during the 1960s and 70s makes it clear that he sought and found contact with international colleagues and trends other than those dominating Danish postwar music: In the 1960s the serialism of the Second Vienna School and experimental electronic music was important for him. Serialism made it clear that not only notes, but all sorts of sounds and compositional procedures could be organised in series, and this was, of course, important for a composer engaged in basic sound perception.
Electronic composition was a natural next step for a ‘sound philosopher' like Lorentzen, as he was an early pioneer in Danish electronic music, and also worked pedagogically with children and amateurs, whom he introduced to this type of music. The inspiration from the ‘sonorism' of the ‘Polish School' of the 1950s (the direct expressive engagement with sound and text, also the aleatoric method of Lutoslawski) is clearly present in the works of the 1970s, but impressionist sound colour visions and expressionist harmony can also be heard in this period, occasionally mixed with slices of (grotesque) humour. In 1977 Lorentzen visited Brazil, and this turned out to be a major inspiration for many years to come, most importantly the rhythmic appeal and sensuous gestures of South American popular music.
Undertaking basic compositional research for many years Lorentzen has analyzed, separated and combined his sound materials and objects in every thinkable way. But the sensuous dimension of the musical performance and the respect for the listener's right to define his/her experience has always played a central role in Lorentzen's universe. This ‘manifest' social engagement may be part of the explanation why Lorentzen has been considered somewhat an ‘outsider' on the Danish new music scene, where -aesthetic principles and problems have dominated for decades.
However, Lorentzen's craftmanship and his expertise within the psychology of sound in combination with an open-minded, experimental attitude make him a leading -Danish composer. He is a genuine homo ludens who works with curiosity and wonder combined with a constructive talent and a sound knowledge of materials and procedures. The aim is not ‘sound realism', but a new (re)constructed and dramatized world of the imagination. This could be called ‘imaginary realism' - the composer once used the concept "sonic hyper-realism". A basic human trait like the contrast between calm, introvert reflection (creative daydreaming) and hectic extravert activity (an audible manifestation) has found an aesthetic form in many of Lorentzen's works. He has never been afraid of going to extremes, as evidenced when sound becomes almost static as a ‘carpet' (of long ‘lines' and ‘sheets'), or when he lets his hair down in stimulating rhythmic convulsions, chromatic ‘curves' or more or less vulgar sound effects.
Since the late 1970s a polarization or complementarity is heard in many of Lorentzen's works: sections with wild or frantic rhythmic activity contrast with sections of calm, ‘Wagnerian' sound carpets characterized by a special chromatic harmonic technique. Examples on a large scale are found in the opera Stalten Mette and the oratorio Genesis. The vocal cycles on this CD illustrate the expressive range and depth of the Wagner-inspired harmonic web, while the contrasts are more characteristic of the organ works, especially Flamma with the percussion contributing to both the drama and the intimate dialogues. Together, the premiere recordings on this CD bring new facets to the portrait of one of the most original composers in Danish contemporary music.
About this CD's content and form
The two major works receiving their premiere recordings on this cd are sacred vocal cycles composed to the bass Aage Haugland in the 1990s. Lorentzen and Haugland had a close collaboration, especially in operas like Bill and Julia and Pergolesi's Home Service. Haugland sang both cycles before his untimely death in 2000, but there was not time to make recordings then. The CD is structured after an idea of symmetry around a central axis: The vocal cycles open and close. Between them we hear an early organ work - Triplex - and a late one - Saturnus, with Flamma for organ and percussion as the CD's high-intensity axis. The contrast between the last, relatively quiet ‘erotic hymn' and the first, very dramatic organ work may seem great. But you can certainly hear the internal consistency. "I lie at the bosom" ends with a ‘mild' dissonance, and Triplex begins with building a ‘powerful' dissonance. The drama in Triplex is continued in Flamma, in which a soundscape of Dantean dimensions is created through the combination of the organ as an apocalyptic voice and the percussion's alternating wild and ethereal, mysterious gestures. Saturnus begins in the same mood, but develops into a friendly, humorous and deliberately audience-oriented atmosphere, like so much of Lorentzen's music after 1995.
The song cycle was commissioned by Jens E. Christensen for the 300th anniversary of the organ in Our Saviour's Church, Christianshavn, in 1998, and it was sung by Aage Haugland at the premiere. Erotic Hymns - the title provides immediate associations towards a musical rendering of the texts from the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament. There are indeed some references to the tale of Sulamith and Solomon, but Lorentzen's cycle of 9 songs is not based on biblical texts; it is a combination of five hymns from Hans Adolf Brorson's "Faith's Rare Treasure" (1739) and four poems from Ole Sarvig's "Hymns and Beginnings to the 1980s" (1980).
In Brorson's pietistic universe the erotic is a vibrant metaphor for Christian faith, the believer's and/or the congregation's heartfelt and sensual love of Jesus, while Sarvig - who never preaches, but describes and wonders - approaches the religious--transcendent realm through sensual eroticism. In this way, the work becomes a fascinating exploration of the relationship between erotic and religious experience, and Lorentzen uses both simple and subtle means in a highly emotional and often dramatic musical language. An important element in this language is a combination of expressive melody and chromatic harmony. As in several other works from the '90s, one hears an inspiration from Richard Wagner's harmonic universe, with augmented and diminished triads playing a major role. Lorentzen, however, uses the inherent tension of such chords in a very different way from Wagner whose chromaticism always referred to a tonal center. There is no clear tonal center here; the dissonances are not really "resolved", but glide permanently through stepwise chromatic movement in one part, so there always is some - erotic, sensual - voltage present.
In exemplary form this can be heard in the transformation of Berggreen's melody to Brorson's "Wait and be silent" ("Her vil ties"), used freely by Lorentzen in the 1st song "My treasure sweet." The melodic contour of the wellknown hymn tune is immediately recognizable to a Danish listener, but neither intervals nor the melodic note's location in the underlying chord are like the original. The sighing, descending semitone movements in the voice, which symbolize cordial (slightly painful) longing permeates the melodic line, and the dense chromatic accompaniment in a middle register creates a slightly claustrophobic sensation.
Sarvig's apocalyptic "Horror's depths" is a dramatic, introspective Arioso describing world-threatening emptiness and a mysterious hope of redemption in a late, awesome future. Here the chromatic accompaniment is expressive of existential pain while a completely different exterior drama is characteristic of No. 3 "And when Thy voice so strong shall sound". The Luther hymn tune "Out of the depths I cry to thee"" is used as a cantus firmus (‘fixed melody' played in long notes in one part), creating a subtle interplay between the prophetically preaching singing voice and the organ's low register.
"My treasure fine," No. 4, is a great contrast. A quivering soundscape and sensuous chromaticism illuminate the ego's experience of a self-forgetful night of love. The sighing, chromatic melody returns in the 5th song "Rosy cheeks of Jesus sweet," which describes the believer's intensely compassionate experience of the crucified savior's impotence. The cantus firmus tune "Jesus your deep wounds" emphasizes the gravity of this confrontation with "death, fear and angry gestures." A misterioso atmosphere is characteristic of No. 6 "Breath of my life". The experience of eroticism as a ‘response' to the existential questions about the meaning of life and death is clothed in a very simple accompaniment of augmented triads.
The fervor of the singing voice in No. 7, "How am I to meet Thee", is marked by chromatic ‘sighing', while the hymn tune ("Mein G'müt ist mir verwirret") as cantus firmus gives weight and some tranquility. The last Sarvig hymn "So, so, my sweet," No. 8, is a short recitative, with simple triads and tetrads in the organ. The lovers living in the war-torn world are only refreshed by the grace of the naked savior. In the final hymn Lorentzen has combined an organ accompaniment based on the old hymn tune "Out of the depths" with the melody of a Danish wedding hymn. Brorson's text says: "I lie at the bosom of Jesus so close, drunken and sated with His love." - The listener is tempted to ask: Can this be serious? Morten Frank Larsen interprets the song as a statement of a fervent, ‘drunken' believer who does not feel understood by the outside world. There is actually not so far from this ‘drunken Christian' to Holberg's drunkard, Jeppe, who is portrayed in Lorentzen's latest opera.
Triplex was composed in 1974 and dedicated to Knud Vad, who premiered it on the Arp Schnitger organ of the Ludgeri Church in the Frisian town Norden. It belongs to a group of organ works from the 1970s which were later combined under the heading Organ Music 1 (recorded by Frode Steengaard on the organ of Aarhus Cathedral - Dacapo DCCD 9009). A special feature of these works, inspired by the Swedish organ master Karl Erik Welin, is that Lorentzen has written and published them in "graphic notation." Instead of using exact music notation Lorentzen uses graphic symbols (geometric shapes like triangles, rectangles, lozenges and circles filled with different types of shading, dots and grey/black colors) on one system with an indication of the register within four octave spaces. In the late 1980s the Lorentzen pieces were reprinted, but now in traditional music notation. This led to a debate in Dansk Musik Tidsskrift (the Danish Music Magazine). Lorentzen himself wrote in an article that "My conclusion is that graphical notation, however appropriate it may be, often creates more problems than it solves. My goal for the revision has been: 1) making the notation as traditional as possible, but without changing the music itself, 2) to give the organist full freedom to choose manuals and registration." Subsequently, Lorentzen was accused of "mummifying" the original open approach. But his goal was really pragmatic: It was Lorentzen's wish to make the music accessible for Danish organists - since graphic notation never became a mandatory part of their musical training. Surprisingly, in 2007 Lorentzen produced a revised graphical notation of Triplex: The entire piece, which lasts approx. 10 minutes, is presented on two large sheets, which can be followed also by listeners without qualifications in score reading. In this recording, Jens E. Christensen uses the version with traditional notation.
Triplex is an exploration of the organ's world of sound and expression, completely fresh in its approach to practical performance and the use of registers - a good example of Lorentzen' so-called ‘sonic thinking'. In a very special way it is funny, scary, grotesque and overwhelming all at once, as if the organ is turned inside out so that we can see and hear everything that an organ and its sound is composed of - one might call it a deconstruction of the organ. The result is a soundscape, where the idea of an ‘organ' is often blurred, providing space for many surprising associations - like past dinosaurs, airplanes, War of the Worlds .... Lorentzen has made this kind of ‘exploration' or ‘excavation' of a musical instrument and its possibilities several times, also using electronic processing. One example is Discovering the Piano's Inner and Outer Universe from 1968, published for the first time on CD in 2010.
Flamma (latin = flame) was premiered by organist Christian Præstholm and percussionist Henrik Larsen at the NUMUS Festival in Aarhus 2002. The composer wrote this program note: "What has interested me in this context is the nature of fire or flame, and their psychological associations. Fire is of a strange, elusive nature. We all know the lights, the flashes, the wildly flapping tongues of fire, its transparent, thin and fine lines. Fire can be a dazzling flamethrower, rhythmic and a-rhythmic at the same time, now stealthy and silent, then apocalyptically noisy as a mega big, scary and all-consuming inferno of attacking airplanes, accompanied by corrosive yellow phosphorous flames and suffocating clouds of smoke."
The piece falls into five parts. The first, third and the final fifth parts are characterized by energetic, powerful, and Brazilian-inspired percussion rhythms with a strong pulse, while the organ ‘speaks up' against the percussion with an imposing bass part dominated by big interval leaps and highly dissonant chords in a completely different rhythm from the percussion. The two intermediate sections are highly contrasting: quiet, with the organ in delicate, paradisiac arpeggios, tremolos and trills in different registers, while the percussion player in the first interlude produces strange noises "from another world", for example by striking a cymbal lying on the kettledrum skin with a bow, while the kettledrums ‘sings' a peculiar, soft glissando tune. In the second interlude the ethereal rippling sound of wind chimes is mixed with the organ's spherical tones - and then suddenly interrupted by thunderous drum beats. Flamma is a good example of Lorentzen's dramatic-imaginative writing, also when the instrument combination is unusual: the ‘religious-ecclesiastical' organ versus the ‘sensuous-pagan' percussion.
Danish organ music does not offer many works that go beyond the structure and format of the sonata. Rued Langgaard's Messis (1935-52) is probably the largest, certainly the longest Danish organ work. Lorentzen's The Planets is probably the largest in modern times. In the 1980s he composed some independent organ pieces called Sol, Luna and Mars, but it was not until the 1990s that the impulse came - via a commission from the NUMUS festival in 1995 - to compose an entire solar system. Jens E. Christensen, who also performed the first complete recording of the cycle, writes about Saturnus that "as the seventh and last planet it is happy and festive, a symbol of cheerfulness and a true Christmas party. Also ancient Rome's wild Saturnalia feast in December is echoed in the Latin American carnival rhythms, and the piece is crowned with a Toccata on the Christmas melody "Resonet in laudibus"." Saturnus, with its cheerful and extrovert expression and with its references to Widor's famous 5th organ symphony and other toccatas, is easy to listen to, and probably therefore it has become very popular among contemporary Danish organists.
4 Chorale Motets
The work was premiered by Aage Haugland and Jens E. Christensen in Our Saviour's Church, Christianshavn, in 1995. Kingo's and Brorson's hymns are part of the Danish national church heritage. Kingo's powerful texts provide vivid imagery of basic human experiences, while Brorson speaks more passionately and lyrically - often ‘erotically' as it can be heard in the Erotic Hymns. The melodies are among the most durable in the Danish sacred tradition.
The term ‘chorale motet' refers to the case of a musical setting of a Protestant hymn tune, sung in vernacular tongue. Chorale motets are often scored for many parts, -vocal and instrumental. In the present case there is only the solo voice and the organ. Lorentzen takes the familiar hymn tunes as his point of departure, but the forms are free (except for No. 4, where the melody is virtually unchanged).
No. 1. The traditional melody of Kingo's hymn "Sorrow and joy" is a dance tune and also the basic element in "Loveliest Roses". The first five or seven notes pervade both the solo voice and the organ accompaniment until the last two lines of each stanza. These are dramatized by octave and seventh leaps in the singing voice, amplified by contrasting meters and long notes in the accompaniment.
No. 2. An old Danish ballad tune is also used for the hymn "Begone, World, Farewell". However, nothing is left of the dancing lightness, in contrast Lorentzen amplifies the singer's disgust at the world's deceit and vanity intensely. The singer sings in a free metre and in the tenor range, which gives the familiar melodic motifs an almost Wagnerian flavor. The organ accompaniment is dominated by dense, almost cluster-like chords. The effect is strong, and the music is probably close to what Kingo wanted to express in this text.
No. 3. Lorentzen uses A.P. Berggreen's melody for "Hush Now, 'tis the Time of Waiting" freely. ("Her vil ties" also plays an important role in the Erotic Hymns.) The original long final notes of each phrase, for example, are equipped with an extra, sighing semitone, thus -enhancing the expression of fervor almost by demonstration. The first, third and fifth stanzas have the same chromatic accompaniment, dominated by the initial four-note motif. The second stanza has a single accompaniment of four-note chords with the singing voice a minor third higher. In contrast, the fourth stanza begins in a very low register, and then gradually moves upwards towards the light, like the "first fruits" germinate in "-gentle spring".
No. 4. The melody, which is also used in the Danish hymnal, comes from a songbook published in Meiningen 1693. The composer may be Johann Christoph Bach, who was a conductor there. The melody is known in Germany as related to "Komm, O komm du Geist des Lebens" (1698), but in 1693 it was set to J.C. Werner's pietistic funeral hymn "Ich begehr ‘nicht mehr zu Leben," which also is the foundation of the Danish hymn text. It is a vision of paradise, naive and sophisticated at the same time. Paradise is full of colors, sounds, smells and other sensations, and therefore much more tempting than the miserable prison of earthly life. Lorentzen leaves the melody virtually unchanged and lets the organ bass sing along with the voice in unison.
The other parts are colored by chromaticism - giving the song a certain twist: we may wonder if the singer's vision is perhaps more inspired by spirits than by the Holy Spirit?
Lars Ole Bonde is professor of music therapy at Aalborg University, and professor II of music and health at the Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo. His background is musicology, and he has published extensively on Wagner, opera, music psychology, music education and music therapy. He has studied and published articles on the music of Bent Lorentzen since 1995 and is recently finishing a research project on "Performativity in Bent Lorentzen's operas and chamber music", supported by the Danish Research Council FKK.