Erik Bach (born in
1946) has composed 70 works - many in an easily accessible and highly tasteful
style. He trained at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in music theory/music
history as well as composition, taking his diploma in 1976. He is also a
graduate in musicology from Aarhus University. A few years ago, too, he took
the new degree course in music technology at Aalborg University.
Much of his
working life has been spent on administration and teaching: he was principal of
the North Jutland Academy of Music in Aalborg from 1978 until 1992, principal
of the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Århus from 1992 until 2001 and then a
lecturer at the Academy in Århus. In 2004 he was appointed Director of the
Danish Institute for Science and Art in Rome. Alongside this he has held a long
succession of administrative posts, for example in the European Association of
Conservatories, the Nordic Council of Conservatories and the Danish Music
Réflexions for clarinet and orchestra comes from 1973-74. As a student at
Aarhus University Erik Bach was working on a student thesis about Chopin's
preludes for piano. He analysed the 24 pieces, as usual dividing the short
pieces up into even shorter sequences, and suddenly the idea arose of putting
the parts together "in a new and different way", as he put it.
idea was as old as music itself. European composers have always drawn on their
predecessors. But in the mid-sixties this became a whole epoch, a movement, a
philosophy. Its great breakthrough came with the third movement of Luciano
Berio's famous Sinfonia from 1968 - based on quotations from
Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony and about fifty other works. Postmodernism was
time, the beginning of the seventies, "music on music" was thus still among the
new currents. And, then as now, it appealed much more to Erik Bach than
modernism with its numbers and rows. We have hardly any modernist works from
Erik Bach; nor in fact are there many examples of the flagship current of
Danish -music from the period - the New Simplicity. He is much more the
unifying type, both as a human being and as an artist; a man with the whole of
music history in his backbone.
of the work is both very beautiful and very characteristic of the music of the
seventies: after a slow quotation of Chopin things are set in motion: the
orchestra opens up from a romantic minor to a modern world of light, the first
motifs of the clarinet falling like shooting stars. But it all remains in a
state of -mellow melancholy; a little as if the clock is stopped one afternoon
at the end of the summer - with the high sky, the thin air, the cool sunshine.
Such was the sound of Danish idyll in 1973.
And yet it is almost always Chopin one
hears: sometimes in the form of immediately recognizable melodies taken
directly from the piano music; other times as the harmonies alone, or as traces
of a rhythm; or with quotations from different pieces on top of one another.
"Whether the new work has the necessary
logic and cohesion must be up to the listener to decide," Bach wrote after the
work. Any listener would say yes. The work certainly has logic and cohesion.
But rarely cohesion in -Chopin's own sense. In that respect Bach seems more to
be inspired by the Late Romantics. For example there are lots of Bruckner in
the recapitulation-like ending - in the long echo of the melancholy of the
beginning. At the age of 27 the composer had created not just a collage, but
also his first symphonic poem.
Berlin Revisited was composed in 2002, that is almost thirty years
later. The inspiration came from a visit to the old capital of the new Germany.
"Seeing it again was intense and
overwhelming!" wrote the composer afterwards. And one understands him: few
cities have undergone greater changes in a shorter time - from the ravages of
the war through dramatic division to reunifi-cation, with new subcultures and a
boom in skyscrapers. True, the city itself has always been the stronghold of
the avant-garde. But as a meeting-place for human beings it seems newer than
All the same, the work is not
programmatic. Bach has conceived it as "an inner experience of a metropolis
painted in music", he writes. "The old Berlin forced its way up invisibly through
all the modern facades and reminded me of the first performance of Alban Berg's
Wozzeck in 1925 and of Richard Strauss, who lived there for many years.
Brecht and Weill were there with the Dreigroschenoper and Mahagonny. And then there were the famous cabarets and Marlene Dietrich!"
There is room for all of this. The work
opens with a mighty bang, then a pulsating everyday mood. But the impressions
of history quickly throng in. After just a minute's time one hears optimistic
turn-of-the-century echoes - they may be from Richard Strauss' symphonic poems,
from Alban Berg's expressionism, from hits like "Mack the Knife".
Very many of the quotations can be
recognized immediately; if an oboe plays a couple of notes at a particular
pitch one thinks right away of Ein
Heldenleben. But equally often they are
contradicted or drowned out by quotations of a more inde-terminate origin, as a
rule with a surprising effect: for example what is French Impressionism doing
in the middle of all this? And doesn't that beautiful fanfare come from Danish
The answers are simple enough: everything
has associations with Germany and its capital. One only has to find out how. Berlin
Revisited can be experienced in many
thought-provoking ways - but perhaps best of all through the city as a state of
Astrotrain is much more specific. The work was premiered in 1988 at one of the
North Jutland Young Composers' first events and is still one of Erik Bach's
most Neoclassical and easily accessible works.
At that time
Bach's children were playing with some popular construction toys called
Transformers. You got a particular figure in your hands and twisted the
components a little and in the end you sat there with a different figure. An
old-fashioned steam locomotive could for example turn into a modern spaceship -
thus the title Astrotrain. Bach now got the idea for a work
based on the same principle: a work where "a well defined musical statement is
transformed into another with its background in the same elements," as he wrote.
The technique is thus what the experts
call ‘motivic metamorphosis'. It has a long and glorious past. And exactly like
postmodernism's "music on music" it was given a new lease of life in the
On Danish soil Vagn Holmboe compared it to
"the progress of the grub through cocoon to fully fledged insect" - the
individual was the same, but transformed beyond recognition. Translated into
music, one motif is gradually wrought into another motif such that the common
core of the motifs is gradually reduced to a pure feeling or perhaps wholly
In this piece, though, Bach works with two
motifs: first the very strong and rather mechanical motif of the beginning;
later a calmer and fainter melody in the woodwinds. Now the melodies are sent
on a trip around to the groups of the orchestra and then gathered in the large
middle section of the work - "the contrasts are softened up," writes Bach. It
is not least in this section that one senses Neoclassicist models like Igor
Stravinsky and the Dane Herman D. Koppel.
But in the
end the truth comes to light. The two melodies have despite everything developed
in different directions. Only one melody can remain. Will it be the train or
Søren Hallundbæk Schauser, 2006