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), Inter-national 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 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 14 operas (in different formats), many of which had their premiere in foreign countries, mainly in Germany. The most recent opera - Der Steppenwolf based on Hermann Hesse's novel - is still awaiting its world premiere. Intensive dramaturgic studies have accompanied the operatic work during the years, and Lorentzen frequently teaches 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 succesful 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-Holm-green, 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). 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 the 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 (idio-syncratic) 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). Many examples can be heard in the concertos recorded on this CD.
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 the 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 for 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 openminded 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 ‘imagi-nary 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 three concertos on this CD include many of the features described above, but they also bring new facets to the portrait of one of the most original composers in Danish contemporary music.
The concerto as a genre in Lorentzen's production
Concertos play a prominent part in Bent Lorentzen's catalogue of musical works. Over two decades he has composed seven concertos, some of them in more than one version. The composer is attracted by the basic dramatic and narrative potential of the genre. The concept of ‘concerto' has changed in meaning over the passage of time. The meaning of the Latin concepts ‘conserere' and ‘consertare' is ‘interconnecting' and ‘discussing', respectively, while the Italian ‘concertare' means ‘connecting'. ‘Concert' can also be used as a neutral term, indicating an orchestral composition with one or more soloists, with exposed contrasts between the movements, both in tempo, mood and character (such as slow vs. fast, sad vs. joyful, extrovert vs. introvert).
All meanings mentioned above are relevant when it comes to Lorentzen's concertos. They can be enjoyable or subtle ‘discussions' or even ‘rows' between soloist and orchestra, or between soloists.
Unlike the symphony the concerto has survived 20th century modernism as a genre without problems. This is partly due to the fact that virtuoso soloists always look for new challenges, and partly to the preferences of the concert audience. Finally, ‘concerto' has always been used as a very broad term from a formal point of view. Thus, at the core of the concerto is "The conception of the solo-ensemble relationship as a dramatic one, with each side expressing ‘characters' involved in calm discussion, violent argument or independent development." (Grove Music Online)
These features speak to a composer like Lorentzen who has explored the world of music drama and instrumental theatre for many years.
Another attractive feature is the special scope of collaboration between composer and soloist during the composition process. Of course, the composer may find independent inspiration to melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, formal and other compositional novelties; however, the true expert on the sound world of the instrument is the soloist. The list of Lorentzen concertos shows that they are all written for standard instruments, for which many composers, departed or living, did write concertos. As listemers, we may think that we are familiar with the ‘concerto sound'. However, when Lorentzen and a virtuoso musician explore and analyze the musical and sonic potential of an instrument together, new and different listening experiences are undoubtedly uncovered. The piano, for example, can be ‘attacked' like a percussion instrument or, like a string instrument, it can be plucked, rubbed or stroked with clubs. Under the well-tempered surface of the modern double (or French) horn with its four valves we find the original, natural horn with its natural harmonics. All brass instruments can produce an astonishing variety of sounds with different muting techniques, and even a mouthpiece can produce thrilling musical sounds without the rest of the instrument.
The three concertos recorded here form a cornucopia of sonic impressions, and the auditory titbits are not limited to the solo instruments. As always in Lorentzen's orchestral compositions, the percussion section plays a prominent part in the shaping of soundscapes and narratives. But all instrumental sections contribute, and the listener may often ask him- or herself: What am I hearing - where is it coming from - and what do I get out of this? The answer is almost never without ambiguity. The answer is blowing in the - wind!
Even if the three concertos are very different, some common features can be identified. (1) The polarity of dramatic extroversion and meditative introversion is present in all three works; (2) the same goes for the broad variation of musical sound and sonic qualities. (3) References to harmonic and melodic elements known from Wagner's musical dramas may be detected by the listener, especially the use of augmented or diminished triads and seventh chords, and the use of interwoven chromatic melodic lines. Other common features to be identified by score readers are the use of ‘senza misura' notation, i.e. sections without fixed meter or time, and graphically indicated tempo relationships.
The occasional musical references to Wagner, Monteverdi or other composers could be considered semantic in nature. However, in most cases the composer almost immediately obstructs potential semantic associations. The Wagner references may serve as an example: Musical quotations can easily be identified, as can the Wagnerian technique of chromatic ‘displacement'. But when Lorentzen includes e.g. the so-called ‘Tristan chord' or the ‘Curse -motif' in his music he does not want the listener to think of emotional conflicts or themes from The Ring or Tristan and Isolde. The references are used as musical ‘question' or ‘exclamation' marks. The listener who is not familiar with a specific motif may think ‘This sounds somewhat familiar, I wonder what it is about?' The listener who identifies the reference may be attracted or provoked and think ‘What on earth is this motif doing here?' The answer may be that Lorentzen has chosen a musical or sonic ‘icon' for a thorough and systematic syntactical investigation. The original semantic ‘meaning' of the reference is less important.
The Piano Concerto
In 1991 Lorentzen was awarded 1. Prize of the Vienna Modern Masters competition for the concerto. The version recorded here is rearranged for sinfonietta and solo piano (2002). Many of the piano techniques applied here were developed in the composer's earlier compositions for solo piano (Dacapo 8.224246). Minimalist disposition of sections built on melodic or rhythmic modules can be identified, as can the almost systematic exploration of the piano soundscape. In the piano concerto we hear the instrument as a ‘melody maker', as a ‘percussion soundboard', and sometimes even as an ‘unknown voice'.
1. Tranquillo - Molto agitato
The curtain rises. It sounds like two stretch-mounted and complex chords distributed over the whole orchestra plus the solo instrument. A rhythmic element is added, in the form of a tom-tom ostinato. Being played pianissimo, the ostinato produces a feeling of unrest, maybe even disturbance, as strings and winds still produce sustained chords. The solo piano is restricted to short five-tone motives with left and right hand polarized in octaves, and with two-part sequences and arpeggios. In the molto agitato section the use of the piano as a percussion instrument is prominent. The musical material is a major seventh chord in a chromatical downward movement where right and left hand enter a complex rhythmic dialogue. A clarinet participates in the musical flight, also with a major seventh as the governing interval. The motif is condensed in piano clusters before the tutti entry, which is in unison, but still in blocks of seventh chords, and with the tom-tom ostinato as background. The movement comes to an open ending, the solo piano whispering in pianissimo.
The long and very slow second movement has no fixed meter. The texture is quite thin, with only few instruments interacting at the same time. The piano frequently plays in unison octaves, in motives orbiting round in small tonal space without a centre. The two percussionists make their contribution to the mysterious and almost surrealist mood, with several types of glissandi produced by tubular bells sunk in water, sirens etc. Other instruments make their contributions with sounds produced as special effects, e.g. whispering in the mouthpiece, striking strings with fingers, and producing very slow glissandi. The oboe near the end of the movement produces one of the few distinctive melodic motives. It is atonal, but is it dodecaphonic? No, only 11 of the 12 tones in the chromatic scale are included ...
The role of the piano again changes in this movement. The opening introduces a chromatic cakewalk-theme in the piano, right and left hand mirroring each other at a great distance. This theme of contrasts and high energy appears to be a ritornello, dividing solo-episodes of a grotesque character. First episode introduces the clarinet mouthpiece; second episode the double bass with electric amplification (especially of attacks); and the third episode is starring the trombone with wa-wa mute. The movement ends in an orgy of changing and alien soundscapes.
4. Ben ritmico
The finale is a swinging burst of rhythmic fireworks with South American inspiration. Elastic percussive polyrhythms dominate the opening, and the piano throws a few testing chords into the rhythmic (mael)strom before the main theme is introduced. This is primarily based on the rhythmic contrast between quavers in triple time and block chords in quadruple time. The orchestra enters with a fanfare announcing a ‘duet' of tympani and low brass, still in swinging, changing meters. The piano replaces the brass, and the tympani return together with the orchestral fanfare. A section scored for tympani and percussion only leads to the final piano cadence, and the movement ends in a frenetic tempo with the main theme played by the full orchestra followed by a canon for two decreasing, chromatic parts with the piano alternately co- and counter-operating.
The Italian Concerto
The concerto was written for the solo instruments trumpet and trombone and (in the recorded version) sinfonietta (i.e. 15 solo instrumental parts). The composer had a close cooperation with the soloists Martin Schuster (who played the first performance of Lorentzen's trumpet concerto Regenbogen), and Niels-Ole Bo Johansen (who presented first performances of numerous Lorentzen compositions for trombone, with or without other instruments or electronics).
The double concerto has five movements or sections: Preludio - Allemanda - Adagio-Allegro - Sarabanda - Giga. In other words, there is a reference to the traditional baroque suite, introducing courtly or popular dances in a more abstract, stylized form. However, with the outline of the concerto as the experiential starting point, the ‘dances' appear more like recognizable shapes emanating from a huge cloud of sound, represented by the percussion prelude and interludes, and the dances appear to be (more or less) contemporary.
Most of the time the soloists present themselves in the foreground while the orchestra supports with a backdrop of different compositional textures.
The prelude opens with thundering or rumbling fanfares and trills for percussion and brass, bringing thoughts of Monteverdi's operatic introductions. The character is solemn and worthy, calling for the listener's attention. Then appears the shape of the first dance, which is actually a ‘ride'. The motif is unmistakably taken from the Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner. However, this is not music-on-music in a semantic sense; the listener is not invited to reflect on Valkyries dealing with dead heroes or cheering their father. It is more like a musical play with the fanfare as a musical ‘icon', the broken triads as the basic form of musical signalling. A long sequence of fanfares is introduced, initiated by the two alternating soloists and presenting with all sorts of variations of the triad. Then the ‘ride' disappears in the ‘cloud' of percussion and brass thunder.
‘Allemanda' used to be the term of a stable German pairs dance followed by a livelier dance with the same music transformed into triple time. In the stylized form of the suite we hear a movement in quadruple time often introduced by, and structured in two repetitions. This is also what we meet in Lorentzen's composition, but with a contemporary twist. The introduction is scored for ‘talking brass'. Trumpet and trombone are muted in a flexible way, producing the impression of two persons (man and woman) in conversation. The ‘verbal' dialogue leads to a ‘physical' dialogue on the dancing floor, apparently of an intimate nightclub.
The standard third movement of a suite is a Courante, where a pair dances in triple time. This dance was characterized by its ‘gliding toe-movements'. (Not) surprisingly, gliding effects (up- and downwards halftone-glissandi) form the basis of the adagio section. Both the soloists and the orchestral players use glissandi, and a ‘flipped' mood is produced, happily succeeded by the cakewalk-allegro with close imitations by the soloists. This fashionable dance of the early 20th century combines syncopation with march rhythms, resulting in a easygoing, non-committal interaction. The woodwinds imitate bits and pieces of the cakewalk rhythm while the strings maintain the solemn fanfares from the opening of the allegro section.
The Sarabanda was the slow, pompous dance of the baroque suite. It was characterized by improvisation, affects and composed steps, often in triple time notation. Lorentzen re-composes some of these characteristics. The soloists nestle up to each other in an intimate ‘quarter-tone-duet' Most of the time they ‘fight shy' of a central tone, but there is also a contrasting episode based on a motif with an octave leap followed by an upwards scale-like movement. The Sarabanda disappears in the cloud, and a short ‘trio' for tympani, tom-toms/cymbals and piano leads to the final dance emanating from the cloud.
The Giga of the baroque suite was a fast, French ‘leaping' dance, common in theatres, often for a couple and usually in 6/4 or 6/8 time. In this Giga the soloists make their movements in 6/8 while the orchestra masks the meter in different ways. The principal theme is ‘baroque', a melodic ascending movement over two octaves. The sequence of the solo trumpet is almost always a little longer than the trombone's, no matter which of them take the initiative. The tonal centre changes several times, and the percussion section introduces three contrasting episodes. The soloists blow a few closing fanfares before the orchestra closes the concert with an effective crescendo.
The Hunting Concerto
This concert was written for a modern double (or French) horn plus oboe, gun-shots and strings. The title (and the special instrumentation) has a background in Lorentzen's years as festival producer. When he was artistic director of the Ebeltoft Festival (1990-93) he cooperated with the Frijsenborg Horn Blowers who made first performances of horn signals and short compositions in the open landscape surrounding picturesque Ebeltoft. Gun-shots and the baying of dogs were included as natural elements of larger outdoor soundscapes. Lorent-zen became interested in the natural horn as a provider of signals and producer of moods.
There is a long tradition of hunting horn and hunting signals in Europe. Such signals are described in the literature as early as in the 13th century. The hunting horn we are familiar with today dates back to the court of the Sun King in second half of the 17th century, and Dam-pierre, master of the hunt to Louis XV, composed the basic models of the signals still used in various stages of a hunt, to give information or instruction, or to express joy. In 1705 an employee of Louis XIV, Philidor, transcribed hunting signals like ‘Premier appel', ‘Pour le Chien', ‘La Fanfare' and ‘La Retraite'. The majority is in triple or composed triple time (3/8, 6/8 or 9/8), with melodic motives based on triads produced by different articulation techniques. Signals (for hunters, dogs, beaters etc.) is one category, fanfares another.
Many romantic composers have used the hunting or ‘outdoor' association when composing for the concert horn, e.g. Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Rossini, Weber, Wagner and Mahler. Chiamata is the musical name of a monopho-nic trumpet or horn call, or an imitation of it in other instruments. We hear it as early as in baroque compositions, often as ascending or descending arpeggios, e.g. in Bachs Brandenburg Concerto No. 1. In the 20th century a variety of playing techniques were developed, many of whom are also heard in Lorentzen's concerto: echo and glissando effects, muting techniques (transposing or non-transposing), flutter-tonguing, cuivrés (loud, brassy notes) etc. Lorentzen obtains a special effect by using the natural harmonics of the horn as micro intervals and combining them with the well-tempered tones of the double horn. A similar but small-scale effect was used in Britten's Serenade for tenor, horn and strings.
The soloist opens the concerto with a heroic fanfare (not unlike the theme in Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel). It is interrupted by gun-shots - this is a hunting scene. A more pastoral mood is introduced in a dialogue with the oboe, with strings in the background. There seems to be many birds in this forest. The main section of the movement is a 9/8 time allegro. Here the horn produces fancy fanfares - and the oboe responds. The musical material is broken triads like in Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, and apparently this movement is a rural cousin of the first movement of the Italian Concerto. The movement ends in a very special world of sounds, produced by flageolet-glissandi in the strings.
This Misterioso movement shows its Wagnerian hand from the very beginning by announcing the famous Tristan chord. The solo horn plays accelerating trills, and the oboe responds in arpeggio ‘fans' built on chords with harmonic tension. The following horn fanfares (with and without muting) create a special nocturnal atmosphere not far from 2nd act of Tristan and Isolde. Finally, the soloist is released in an elaborate cadence where the natural harmonics and the pastoral mood go hand in hand. A lengthy interlude with peaceful chirping of forest birds follows before the second movement ends in the same atmosphere as the first. A true mystery.
The hue and cry is resumed in a 9/8 allegro related to the 1st movement. The strings rush along in broken triads, the solo horn presents a variety of signals (based on the intervals of fourth, fifth and octave), and the oboe responds. Orchestra and soloists tear along, but finally the prey is taken. The deadly shots fall, and the horn falls silent.
Lars Ole Bonde, 2006