Light and Melancholy
by Trine Boje Mortensen
The five piano trios on this CD have much in common – and are very different. The overall common features are for example a clarity Nordic, light and open. And fully concurrent with this clarity and this light are the melancholy, the darkness, the shadows. Things never become black and white in this music, rather light/dark, with a rich field of shadows in the middle.
Another point of contact is one of the composers himself: Ib Nørholm. Besides having composed one of the five trios, he has taught three of the other composers and been a regular travelling companion through Danish musical life with the last composer, his contemporary Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen.
The same Gudmundsen-Holmgreen is in a way the odd man out in this context, since his trio has gourmandized Schubert, the epitome of Central European charm and Romantic death-longing. But that same Schubert was a master of describing the misty area midway between light and darkness, where nothing is good that doesn’t hurt and nothing hurts without feeling good. In this way Gudmundsen-Holmgreen himself lands in the area where light and dark are not necessarily opposites, but inseparable partners.
Despite this shared preoccupation with the melancholy light, it is five individual voices that we hear on this CD: from Hvidtfelt Nielsen’s dynamic inwardness through Jesper Koch’s elegance and Lars Hegaard’s sound-objects to Ib Nørholm’s masterly, rigorous expression and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s equally rigorous but more surprising exchanges of opinions. Together a fine catalogue of the richness of music expression to be found in this country, and in the repertoire for piano, violin and cello alone.
Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen: Divertimento (1993)
Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen is a graduate in philosophy and musicology. He has taken his diploma in sacred music and has studied composition both in Copenhagen with Yngve Jan Trede, Ib Nørholm and Hans Abrahamsen, and in Aarhus at the Royal Academy of Music there, where he had his debut concert in 1991 after studies with Per Nørgård and Karl Aage Rasmussen.
Besides his work as an organist and teacher at the Department of Musicology of Copenhagen University, and as a composer, Hvidtfelt Nielsen has also held a number of posts in the Danish musical world, for example in the Composers’ Society, in SNYK, and as a chairman of the board of the music publisher Edition·S.
Hvidtfelt Nielsen has composed in all the classic musical genres, and his musical idiom is characterized by among other things a fine feeling for exploiting the elegiac and the dynamic, so that the music is constantly in motion even when, as is the case along the way in the trio on this CD, one senses that the music is about to come to a halt. This plasticity and flow in Hvidtfelt Nielsen’s music may take many musical forms, but it always drives the music forward, including when forward is inward.
Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen says the following about his piano trio Divertimento:
“The work has its origins in its last movement, which is actually a fanfare commissioned for an official occasion at Egeskov Castle. I received the commission in my capacity as a teacher at the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music in Odense. Since I wanted to bring the music into play in a piece, I tried to imagine a context that would make it more or less credible. So the three added movements I composed have the aim of putting the jubilation of the last movement into perspective. I have problems with jubilation in music.”
And the first three movements certainly do put the final movement into perspective; they function more or less as a counter-image, a photographic negative, and as a great contrast to the hefty rejoicing of the final movement.”
The first movement, Arabesque, has a gentle, flowing expression, interrupted at points along the way by something like chattering birds. At the beginning of the music the words Fluente senza problemi are written – unproblematically flowing. The flowing motion continues in a way in the gliding progress of the short second movement, but it no longer sounds quite so problem-free. The true contrast with the jubilant fourth movement comes in the third movement, which is an Elegy. At the beginning of the movement Hvidtfelt Nielsen has written, “The movement should balance on the edge of falling apart.” There are silences that are painfully long, and the expression is that of a very fervent, inward-looking version of a lament. After this investigation of silence the fourth movement leaps out like a jack-in-the box.
Jesper Koch: Piano Trio (2011)
Jesper Koch (b. 1967) was already composing as a child and has been able to carry some of the dream world of childhood with him through his academy training in both Copenhagen and Aarhus with among other teachers Ib Nørholm, Hans Abrahamsen and Karl Aage Rasmussen, and all the way forward to the intricate compositions of his adult life for orchestras and chamber ensembles of all sizes.
In Koch’s musical universe, childhood must never be understood as something simple. It is the wild, strange and surreal images of childhood juxtaposed with the mixture of seriousness and fervor that function as a catalyst for Koch’s musical imagery.
Jesper Koch’s works have been played by a number of orchestras and ensembles both in Denmark and abroad.
In connection with the first performance of Jesper Koch’s Piano Trio, dedicated to Trio Ismena, the composer wrote succinctly: “There are three movements, each itself threefold. In other words, a thoroughly ordinary piano trio without too much hullabaloo!” The three movements of the trio bear the titles Symmetries – Reflections – Contrasts. These movement titles too suggest a certain coolness and lack of hullabaloo, but the three titles offer good keys to listening to the work, not least in the small melodic motif of the second movement, which is reflected in many ways, with different sounds, throughout the movement.
The lack of hullabaloo and the almost deliberately abstract movement titles conceal music which, like many of Koch’s works, exhibits a pleasure in storytelling and a playful approach to the seriousness of life; a seriousness of whose presence one is never in doubt.
Lars Hegaard: Like a Cube of Silence (2010)
Lars Hegaard (b. 1950) was admitted to the Academy in Odense in 1969 as a guitarist and studied with Ingolf Olsen, who through his work with new composition music introduced the young Hegaard to the contemporary music milieu in Denmark. After graduating as a guitarist, Hegaard began studying composition with Niels Viggo Bentzon, and in 1976 he went to the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen as a composition student with Ib Nørholm as his teacher.
Lars Hegaard’s works draw inspiration from many places: the beat music of the sixties, ethnic music, and on the whole the music that is found far from the concert halls and the more museum-like sides of classical music. All this inspiration from other sources is integrated to a high degree in Hegaard’s music, which invites the listener into an open, spacious world of sound that can feature anything from abstraction to down-to-earth storytelling.
Lars Hegaard’s Like a Cube of Silence for piano trio consists of five movements that have no titles, but each is associated with a piece of text from Robert Musil’s novel The Man Without Qualities:
1. Like a cube of silence the empty air stood in there; only after a while one detected people, who sat silent alongside the walls.
2. The truth being not a crystal you can stick into your pocket, but an infinite liquid one
falls into –
3. The vertical strictness of the universe ...
4. Like a locked tower of flesh Diotima looked at him across a deep valley.
5. People’s faces reminded one of floating foam.
There are features that bind all five movements together: a strange energetic longing, as if a traveller is on the way towards a much-missed place. All five movements also have the structure – characteristic for the composer – of motivic objects that are clearly demarcated from one another. Lars Hegaard more than anyone understands how to use contrasts and oppositions large and small to drive the music on. Clear musical statements stand alongside one another – without one another they might have a quite different meaning; with one another they create a continuity of statements. Like a Cube of Silence is dedicated to Trio Ismena
Ib Nørholm: Trio No. 3 “Essai in memoriam” (1999)
Ib Nørholm (b. 1931) studied composition with among others Vagn Holmboe and graduated as both a composer and organist from the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. Later he himself had a huge influence on subsequent composer generations when he began teaching and became professor of composition at the Academy in the years 1981-2000.
Nørholm has always been able to be investigative and curious in his compositions. The curiosity has resulted in works of very different characters, but always with an assured Nørholmian element of quality-consciousness, a will to stay in motion and at the same time maintain a clear analytical approach to the material.
Nørholm’s list of works is long and includes operas, symphonies, chamber music, songs and solo works, with striking items in each genre.
In 1999 Ib Nørholm composed his third piano trio for the ensemble Copenhagen Piano Trio, to whom it is also dedicated. The work has the opus number 155 and bears the title Essai in memoriam. The work is “in memory of music as such” says the composer. The trio is typified by clarity and drive, but this clear light has many facets, and now and then the drive pauses for breath and the expression changes to something dreamingly vague or searching. The title of the third movement, Conflitto, could in a way describe the whole trio. The first movement has passages bursting with energy, but they do not conceal the movement’s generally serious expression. The second movement is called Intermezzo, is shorter and thoroughly stirs things up with its almost jazzy rhythms and elegant energy.
Then comes the third movement with the title Conflitto written above the first hesitant bar. In the dictionary the word simply means conflict. The movement is full of contrasts, but with the consistent clarity and energy that is typical of the whole work, the contrasts become mobilizing and relevant. The three instruments are sometimes clearly demarcated with their own statements and are then gathered into a common expression in both quiet and agitated passages.
Nørholm’s third piano trio is a powerful work that includes delicate – and in brief passages almost melancholy – music.
Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen: Moments musicaux (2006)
Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (b. 1932) studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen with Finn Høffding as his teacher. With a background in the Danish composition milieu under the influence of Carl Nielsen, Vagn Holmboe and Finn Høffding among others, Gudmundsen-Holmgreen and his contemporaries – including Ib Nørholm and Per Nørgård – had the opportunity in the course of the 1960s to explore among other genres the serialist music that was being written by Boulez, Stockhausen and others, and the experiments in sonority of a composer like György Ligeti, just to mention a few of the composers of the time who in various ways offered a contrast to the music that was composed in Denmark at the time.
Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen was involved in developing a musical idiom that was labelled New Simplicity. Other composers involved were Henning Christiansen and later Ole Buck. Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s role in Danish musical life is quite unique, as he has been able to remain at the centre of developments and at the same time, in his own way, to stay on the periphery. Many ensembles both in Denmark and abroad have premiered and played Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s works even though he has never at any time been a ‘household name’ on the international musical scene. Rather a constant surprise.
In his own programme note to Moments musicaux Gudmundsen-Holmgreen writes:
“A friend of ours – Helge Nielsen – decided to present his life partner Ida Haugsted with a piece of new music (by me), since “truth to tell he had not showered her with gifts hitherto”. An unusual initiative I could only applaud. Since I knew Ida particularly appreciated Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, I decided to please her with quotations from it – with added fragments from the same master’s Moments musicaux. It was a dubious idea or a very difficult task. The special Schubert tone or character, or let us just say ‘mood’ that I must presume is the deeper-lying reason for Ida’s declared weakness for Schubert is destroyed by cutting him up. And that was just what I did. The quotes are of limited length, mixed and piled on top of one another. Ida will miss her Schubert – but on the other hand will get another – new – one.”
There is a development across four movements which is suggested by the movement titles: 1. Talking. Shouting, 2. Mumbling, 3. Up. Down. And dreaming, 4. Humming. Whispering.
There is an obvious contrast between the Talking and Shouting of the first movement and the Humming and Whispering of the last. Some congeniality has crept into the conversation. Perhaps even intimacy. The composer himself calls the four movements, “Four stages in human exchanges of opinion. An imaginary sequence of scenes.”
At the same time Gudmundsen-Holmgreen says that there is a very high percentage of Schubert in the work. Mostly from Schubert’s own Moments musicaux, but also from the Arpeggione Sonata mentioned above, which Gudmundsen-Holmgreen in fact admits he is less fond of. Although the percentage of Schubert is high in the trio, the music is put together in an extremely Gudmundsen-Holmgreenish way, where the Schubertian totality becomes many single components assembled in surprising ways and in several cases on top of one another.
Moments musicaux was premiered by Trio con Brio Copenhagen.
© Trine Boje Mortensen, 2015