by Trine Boje Mortensen
“When I was seven or eight years old I went to ‘musical appreciation’ with the piano teacher Else Prins. It was a kind of introduction to classical music for children. I was completely blown away by it!”
This fascination with the world of classical music intensified; it resulted in compositions even in his early teens, and at about the same time Niels Rosing-Schow (b. 1954) became friends with Hans Abrahamsen, who became a colleague in music and in musical analysis, composition and ideas.
Niels Rosing-Schow’s path took him via the department of musicology at the University of Copenhagen to the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen with Ib Nørholm and others as his teachers in composition. Besides his studies at the Academy, Niels Rosing-Schow came into contact with the Group for Alternative Music and with the Danish brand of New Simplicity. Although these movements, so crucial to recent Danish musical history, did not necessarily leave strong traces in Rosing-Schow’s works, in the composer’s own words they opened up a musical space and attuned his ears to structural clarity and the power of the individual musical event.
A subsequent study period at the Ateliers UPIC of Iannis Xenakis in France in the 1980s meant that Niels Rosing-Schow, more than many of his contemporaries, formed ties with the French contemporary music milieu and French colleagues.
The fusion of the French focus on sonorities with the Nordic fondness for the multi-layered and for structural thinking gives Niels Rosing-Schow’s works a special position in Danish and international music. His music mixes Nordic light, golden phrasing, a keen sense of sonority and musical layers that illuminate one another – all seasoned with a feeling for giving the music content and weight.
Besides his work as a composer, Niels Rosing-Schow has for many years made his mark on Danish musical life in a wide range of administrative areas: as chairman of the Danish Composers’ Society in 2008-14, and as a teacher since back in the eighties, culminating in his appointment as a professor of composition at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen in 2013. Of this extensive work on several fronts for the vitality of new music in society, the composer says: “For me these are three sides of one and the same thing: music and what it can do for us as people – the thing that already fired my enthusiasm as a seven-year-old! Writing music is my own way of giving expression to what is important to me. And it’s so important that I would also like to teach others to develop whatever they may have within them. The third way is to fight politically to ensure that new music has its place in society. In that way the three things are meaningfully interconnected for me.”
Nanu (2007) – a small dramatic scene – is music where the listener is allowed to look into another world; a world of simplicity and gravity. Niels Rosing-Schow himself writes this about the work:
“Nanu means ‘bear’ in Greenlandic. The basis of the work is a Greenlandic melody that also appears in my work Piseq. The melody is mentioned in among other places the ethnomusicologist Michael Hauser’s book Traditional Greenlandic Music, where it says that the song is part of the legend Anoritôk:
“The legend tells the story of the woman Anoritôk, whose son had been killed by the other hunters because he teased them. Instead they gave her a bear cub that she took care of and brought up. The bear played with the children of the settlement and later the hunters took it hunting with them. It was very good at securing food for its foster-mother, but when the hunting declined it began to steal from the meat racks of the other hunters. In the end they killed it. Anoritôk searched for it in vain and went up behind the houses and sang:
She who thinks she has a bear as her child
is marked by so much searching:
a bear, a bear, a bear.
She went on singing for a long time and in the end she turned into stone. People used to bring her sacrificial gifts and smear her mouth with whale blubber.”
Lines for guitar solo was given its first performance by Jesper Sivebæk in the same year, and in that connection the composer wrote:
“Lines consists of three small, unpretentious movements. I imagine that they are musical counterparts to written texts: a synopsis, a poem and an interpretation of the hidden meaning.”
Although all three movements are in the composer’s words unpretentious, they are not without a certain mystery. They are different, each coloured by its own mood. There is thus not much musical similarity between the energetic restlessness of the first piece, Outline, the mystique of the second piece, Verse, where the guitar ends up transformed into a percussion ensemble, and the subdued folk-like tone of the last piece, Between the Lines. Together, the three pieces make up a kind of colour-changing gobstopper where instrumental sound and format are maintained but everything else changes the further you move through the pieces.
Alliage I (2010)
An alloy – alliage – is a mixture of two metals; in this case a mixture of two instruments, and not only a mixture, but a fusion of two sound-worlds. The connections between the notes and the rhythms they play are sometimes quite obvious – they move at the same time, create a common music – at other times perhaps rather less obvious, simply because the sounds are not identical despite the fact that the two instruments play together and play the same thing. But in the end, when they have run out of notes, the accordion and saxophone end up merging together in the breathing of a common musical organism.
Along the way the music gives the listener the opportunity to focus on both the differences between and the sameness of the instruments. Both make sense in the course of listening – from the solitary melody of a shawm at the beginning through rich harmonies and rampant note cascades to the quiet breath of the ending.
… aus atmen … (2014)
… aus atmen … expire, breathe out ... getting the air out of your lungs, blowing, whistling, sighing. But also what ‘comes out of the breath’ – that is, the sounds of the flute. In the work you therefore find all the sonorities of the flute expressed, all the way from the slightest airy sounds to the clearest notes, and everything in between.
... aus atmen ... was composed as a competition piece for the entrants who reached the semi-finals of the Carl Nielsen International Flute Competition in 2014. Niels Rosing-Schow says that the work was written so it would not solely be technically demanding (which it is!), but would also make great demands on the soloist’s musical interpretation. It requires a broad approach, a sense of form and expression, to bring out all the nuances among the technical subtleties. In writing the work the composer worked closely with Hélène Navasse, who plays the work on this CD.
Alliage II (2008)
As in Alliage I the instruments in Alliage II are fused in a quite unique alloy. The full tone of the viola is made fluid and light by the flowing note cascades of the accordion, and in return the accordion gains edge and aggression from the viola. Again the two worlds merge together into one that opens up for the listener, who can now at the same time go exploring in the world of each of the two instruments and in the fused, newly-created world of sound they make.
Three Simple Songs (2013)
A voice and a guitar – such a simple and inexhaustible combination. In the three simple songs with texts by three different Danish poets (Piet Hein, Grethe Risbjerg Thomsen and Pia Tafdrup) there is a light that in its own way can be called Nordic, and a simplicity with connections back to the Danish New Simplicity that Rosing-Schow encountered in his youth – and to his teacher, Ib Nørholm, to whom the songs are dedicated. Each of the three simple songs is in its own way about the precious moments when the world reveals its endlessness to us.
Ritus I (1991)
Niels Rosing-Schow has composed several works with the title Ritus. According to the composer it refers in an abstract way to music from the rituals of other cultures. Perhaps Ritus I is an abstract portrait of a raga, which can be heard as a ritual exploration of a mood. In the introduction the music attempts to find its scale, which is revealed a few minutes into the work in a clear form as an ascending melody line which pushes the music forward – questioning, but with its own quiet drive – after the atmosphere-evoking introduction. Gradually, as the work progresses, the flute and percussion give and receive musical motifs and figures in a constantly accelerating and increasingly intricate pattern.
The flautist Svend Melbye, who plays the work on this CD, commissioned the work Ritus I in 1990 for his debut concert on graduation from the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen.
The genesis of this CD has extended over a number of years. Niels Rosing-Schow has been determined to record precisely this repertoire with these soloists: “The CD not only bears the title Alliages as a reference to the works Alliage I & II, but also as a tribute to the musicians who perform the music, to the alliance between me as composer and the musicians. It is true of all the music on this CD that the works are played by the musicians for whom I have written them, and who have been my close partners in the realization of the works.”
© Trine Boje Mortensen, 2014