Søren Nils Eichberg: Two Symphonies by Jens Cornelius
‘Composing's something I've always done,' Søren Nils Eichberg says disarmingly. He is trained as a pianist and has no official qualification to prove his capacity as a composer. The music has just come of its own accord.
He has acquired the technique of composing for an orchestra in practice by studying conducting, and as a practising musician he works both as a pianist and a conductor. During the last few years, however, it is definitely composition that has gained the upper hand.
Among his more recent compositions are a cello concerto, a piano concerto, a double concerto and a concerto grosso as well as several operas. Most recently, Covent Garden in London has commissioned a chamber opera from him.
In 2010, Søren Nils Eichberg was the first person ever to be appointed composer in residence at DR SymfoniOrkestret. In the course of three seasons, the orchestra has presented a wide selection of his works, including a first performance of his Symphony No. 2 and Concerto for Orchestra.
Søren Nils Eichberg was born in Stuttgart in 1973. He is of Danish-German parentage, grew up in Denmark, qualified as a pianist in Copenhagen and Cologne, and is at present based in Berlin. His breakthrough came in 2001, when the Greenland-inspired Qilaatersorneq for violin and orchestra gained first prize at the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Brussels. Since then, Eichberg's music has spread to many countries, for it has a spontaneous appeal to both musicians and listeners.
‘My generation of composers is most eager to communicate with the audience,' Søren Nils Eichberg says, ‘and we are not intent on instructing people. We just want to make good music that doesn't make listeners hold their hands to their ears.'
Symphony No. 1
Eichberg's Symphony No. 1 was first performed in 2006 by Odense Symphony Orchestra and must already be considered an ‘early work'.
It is one cohesive sequence and has a subtitle ‘Stürzten wir uns ins Feuer' (‘If we flung ourselves into the flames'). The words are taken from the book ‘The Gospel according to Jesus Christ' by the Portuguese Nobel prize-winner José Saramago. The full quotation is a doomsday vision that reads as follows:
‘... and if we were as foolhardy or reckless as the butterflies and moths, and we flung ourselves into the flames, one and all, the entire human race - then perhaps the blaze would be so fierce and the light so strong that God would open His eyes and wake him from his languid dozing - too late probably for him to manage to recognise us, but time enough to notice the beginning of the great nothingness, now that we were no longer there ...'
The vision immediately fascinated Eichberg when he read the book.
‘For humans there is something directly magically attractive about collective self-destruction and the catastrophe as such, even though it actually seems to be illogical, and time after time we fling ourselves headlong into the fire,' he says. ‘I knew at once that I wanted to use the quotation in music.'
But to place the quotation alongside Søren Nils Eichberg's Symphony No. 1 is also because he felt that it expressed something about the situation at the beginning of the 21st century. ‘Europe was once more conducting a war of aggression, and the political currents that sixty years previously had laid Europe in ruins were on the advance once again. In Denmark, they were even allowed to gain parliamentary influence. The Muhammad cartoons also appeared during that period,' Eichberg has explained.
The symphony is a violent work, one where brutal, boisterous expressions have taken over. ‘The complacent and heroic gesture in the symphony is not only an abstract, artistic vision,' Eichberg says, ‘but can definitely also be interpreted as references to the pompous soundtrack of, for example, Strauss and Pfitzner to nationalism and the lust for disaster that led to the Second World War - and thereby as a sarcastic hint to the present age.'
Symphony No. 2
Symphony No. 2 from 2010 is the jewel in the crown of an entire work-complex that Søren Nils Eichberg had been working on since 2008. During a scholarship stay in Italy, so many ideas presented themselves that not even the three works he was composing at the time could make use of all of them. The material was used for the Double Concerto, for an opera and for an orchestral work commissioned by the German Ensemble Modern. And the material also lives on in his Symphony No. 2, concluding an explosive phase of creativity.
One does not have to know the other three works to enjoy the symphony, Søren Nils Eichberg points out. The material that the works share also finds highly different forms of expression in the various works. In the piece for Ensemble Modern (‘In Circles'), the ideas seem to be restless, transient fancies, while in Symphony No. 2 they are used in a more carefully worked-out fashion.
The symphony is once more an uninterrupted sequence. Despite this, it is constructed using a classical model during which one senses a ‘first movement' a ‘slow movement' and a ‘finale'. The whole work derives from two contrasting themes presented at the start. This introductory section is played twice - a symphonic ploy that goes right back to the infancy of the genre. The ‘double presentation' is particularly useful in music that listeners do not know in advance.
The first theme of the symphony is a series of chords played by the violins and violas. The contrasting theme is a quick, rhythmic bass figure presented by the deeper strings.
As an introduction to the whole piece one hears a series of figures in the strings that are repeated ad libitum. They reappear at the end of the symphony, but the course of the music has altered the material. While initially the expression was aggressive and chaotic, the symphony ends with a concluding ‘satiated' feel to it.
Eichberg has subtitled the symphony ‘Before Heaven, Before Earth' inspired by a verse from ‘Tao Te Ching' by Chinese sage Lao Tzu:
‘Before Heaven, Before Earth, within formless void, and toneless quietude. Aloof, eternally revolving, forever unchanging. Infinite.'
Jens Cornelius, 2013