Conversations for violin and piano
Conversations for violin and piano
A selection of short youthful pieces will sometimes offer a better introduction to Danish music after WW2 than several comprehensive volumes could hope to do. Together, the seven works featured here are ample proof. One hour, five composers, five distinct voices speaking through nothing more than a violin and a piano - that is all it takes for the listener to feel he is invited into the creative workshop at moments when openness, curiosity and clever insight come happily together.
Delineations of new Danish Music
The five composers selected for this CD release represent very individual musical -languages. And although their personal musical projects are, indeed, individually original they nonetheless exhibit some conspicuous similarities and cross-references. Herman D. Koppel's stringent composition is a profound and elegant expression of rhythmically framed music, recalling the musical world of the young Per Nørgård, who endeavoured in the 1950s to define a unique Nordic tone to succeed that of Sibelius. Although their approaches vary greatly, Niels Rosing-Schow, Anders Nordentoft and Per Nørgård are closely related in their fusion of formal pulse and vibrant poetry. Furthermore, Koppel and Rosing-Schow are strikingly similar in their projection of a kind of elegant, cool distance. And what unites the composers is their courage to execute idiosyncrasies with conviction, even embracing the vulnerability inherent in simplicity. Their music seems in constant search of new avenues of expression and you clearly sense the composers' curiosity and liberating openness towards tradition and the ruling spirit of the day.
Niels Rosing-Schow's ‘E Rigidis' from 1 is, as implied by the title (‘Out of -Rigidity'), a journey away from rigid rules to a place of intuitive insight. The musical idiom is simple and direct and notably employs a succession of mechanical figures that slowly evolve, retrace their steps and engage in mirror reflection. The music develops in a way that evokes an image of the then 27-year-old composer placing a handful or two of toy building bricks at the beginning of his score - a deep eruption, a persistent note on the piano, etc - in order to create a sweep through a totality of notes and allow the austere architecture to dissolve into fluid musical form over the course of 15 minutes. For the composer, ‘E Rigidis' marks a personal departure from a mechanical ‘New Simplicity' to a more fragmented kind of modernism - a theoretical journey that is embodied in the music.
The two short pieces by Per Nørgård offer rare insight into the now 77-year-old composer's early career. ‘Diptychon' (Diptych) from 1954 is one of his very first works, and ‘Fragment V' from 1961 marks the first composition in which he unfolds his celebrated infinity row within a regular and easily comprehended semitone scale. In all its simplicity ‘Diptychon' displays two fundamentally different tableaux: the first coloured by meandering poetry, the second empowered by energised rhythm. Indeed, the composition reflects the two-panel altarpiece to which the title refers. It is as if Nørgård wanted to accentuate his musical idiom by shaping two diametrically different objects from the same material. In the first section the notes (including delicate harmonics) are strung together to create lengthy melodies. In the second section - that is, before the conclusion sees the two worlds coalesce - everything is transformed into individual musical points and distinct musical figures presented with vigorous intensity.
In ‘Fragment V', Nørgård has now reached a new understanding. As the title implies, music can no longer be seen as integrated entities, rather it is defined with a modern approach as small pieces and fractions that offer a glimpse of reality, which is itself fragmented. Fragmentation, however, is no modern invention. Around 1800, German romanticists saw fragmentation as a genre that opened the door to abbreviated visions of universal truths. Nørgård shared this kind of romanticism. How am I to hold my soul so that it does not touch yours?\ - Nørgård has these words from Rainer Maria Rilke's impassioned Liebes-Lied printed above the notes of the violin, as it sets out to meander through a musical landscape of sombre, beautiful and deeply original melodies set against a delicate tapestry of piano play.
The two works by Poul Ruders were both composed around the millennium year - one on either side of it - and in both compositions the violin appears as the instrument of romance. ‘Three Tiny Pieces for Great Friends' consists of three two-minute pieces with the evocative subtitles ‘Romanza', ‘Passione' and ‘Aria' in which the violin appears as the constant source of enticing phrases that come in waves, much akin to the performance of a violinist in a southern European restaurant who goes from table to table to entertain one romantic date after another. The piano, on the other hand, offers commentary on the fiddler's act: short, abrupt interpolations before leaping into the ‘Passione' with aggressive, full-blown chords. However, in ‘Aria', which is coloured by sunset mood, the violin drains the melodies of their momentum. This sentiment is echoed by the piano from which delicate musical tropes emanate. The ‘great friends' referred to in the title are, incidentally, violinist Rebecca Hirsch and pianist Rolf Hind, who performed the world premiere of the piece in 1999. Ruders' second composition on this release has a somewhat different raison d'être. ‘Bel Canto' was composed for the Carl Nielsen Violin Competition in Odense in 2004 to challenge the contestants into offering their most resolved and beautiful performance.
Although his musical idiom differs entirely from that of Rosing-Schow, Anders Nordentoft in his juvenile work ‘Two movements' from 1978 employs mechanical repetition to instil coherence and structure. The underlying mood is poetic and dreamy, interrupted by a brutally punkish melodic mass that tears the listener away from its wondrous melodies. Nordentoft's composition is reminiscent of Nørgård's ‘Diptychon' and shares the same clear division between intimacy and rhythmic pulse. Unlike Nørgård, Nordentoft refrains from relegating the polar opposites to different movements but weaves in and out between ecstatic dream and shattered reality. Note repetitions are a constant feature - in the first movement almost as a counterpart to Chopin's famous ‘Raindrop Prelude'. And they persist whether the music is soft-toned as satin or raw-edged as leather. The music thus becomes a very liberating 1970s-style commentary on the post-war discussions of the validity of individual scales and on the rigid ban on major and minor. To Nordentoft, what makes a decisive difference is less a question of the exact nature of what it is he is working with and more a question of his intuitive approach when shaping it.
Herman D. Koppel's ‘Ternio' from 1951 exhibits some of the same rhythmic clarity found in Nørgård's ‘Diptychon', but with an underpinning notion that is perhaps even more pronounced and, incidentally, far more traditional. The three movements (ternio is Latin for ‘three things together') are fast-slow-fast with a comprehensive rhythmic idea that shapes the music with surgical precision and gives the first movement, especially, a fascinatingly pure expression. The slow pace of the second movement never really becomes emotional in style, and not before the final movement does Koppel let loose and allow the music to really go wild. In this his music recalls the ‘New Objectivity' (Neue Sachlichkeit) that emerged in the late 1920s in central European art and music.
Henrik Friis, 2009\\\