Granito y arco iris
Granito y arco iris
The Danish composer Niels Rosing-Schow's most abiding concern is with musical transformation processes. He is fascinated by the patterns of waves, the contrasts of light and dark and by the forces of growth, transition and decay. This collection of recent chamber and orchestral works beautifully displays Rosing-Schow's subtle sense of instrumental colourings and his distinctly ‘organic' approach to composing.
Niels Rosing-Schow (b.1954) is one of those composers whose individuality becomes more apparent the closer one gets to know the music. He doesn't cultivate novelty or strike eye-catching postures. His most abiding concern is with nature - though not in a merely picturesque or romantic-sentimental way. The patterns of waves, the movement of wind and contrasts of light and dark fascinate him. Like the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis (whom Rosing-Schow admires deeply) Rosing-Schow often derives the structural patterns of his works from visual representations of natural phenomena. At first - also like Xenakis - he used electronic tools to help him turn these patterns into sounds, but with time he has grown able to rely on a more instinctive kind of technique. Once the basic image is in place, the ear leads. My starting point is always something heard\, he says. There may be a good deal of technical, intellectual refinement in that process. The theories of the French ‘spectralist' composers have been influential (Tristan Murail's 7 Pompidou Centre lectures made a powerful impression on Rosing-Schow) - especially their understanding of the connection between harmony and instrumental timbre. But discovering this was, for Niels Rosing-Schow, not so much a revelation as a confirmation of what he had already sensed and begun to create for himself. \\I have always had the feeling that I cannot separate harmonies and sound\\, he says. It is a kind of thinking that could be described as ‘organic', a word often used to describe the transformation and sonority-building processes found in Jean Sibelius, for whom Rosing-Schow also feels a significant affinity. So it is fascinating to discover that Sibelius has also been an important figure for several of the French spectralist pioneers - a circle seems to be completed.
Circular or arch patterns often turn up in Rosing-Schow's music. A very specific kind of natural arc is present in the very title of Granito y arco iris (1999) - (Granite and Rainbow) - written for the bandoneón virtuoso -Alicia Petronilli and the Danish Chamber Players. The title derives from an expression used by Virginia Woolf to indicate what she wanted to achieve in her novels, but it set Rosing-Schow thinking in more personal directions: the rainbow as the intangible, sensuous atmospheric element, the granite as the solid construction. At the end the bandoneón's sustained cluster-notes can be heard as a kind of ‘horizon', with the harmonic spectrum rising above it as an almost pictorial representation of a rainbow. But Rosing-Schow is careful to avoid what he calls \\naïve\\ pictorialism: the musical result is what matters. Challenging thought bandoneón part is, Granito y arco iris is not a concerto: soloist and ensemble interweave motifs and timbres throughout, the soloist relating to the ensemble as ‘first amongst equals'.
The title of Orbis (2002) evokes circular forms more directly. The form of the piece could itself be described as a circle: Orbis begins and ends with the same sustained violin note, G#, so that - as Rosing-Show suggests - when one gets to the end the music could begin all over again. The work is dedicated to the French conductor Jean Thorel, and exploits the forces of his string ensemble - five violins, two each of violas and cellos plus double bass. Nevertheless there is a suggestion of a classic Baroque form - the fugue - in the central section, which begins with a complex rhythmic ‘subject' in the basses, and builds up in imitation. The presence of more-or-less clearly defined sections in Orbis is unusual in Rosing-Schow's mature work. Normally he prefers the kind of gradually transformation processes in which one kind of music merges into another - often through what he calls a \\breakdown\\, like the breaking of a wave. However despite the element of strong contrast here, the music of the quasi-fugal central section can still be felt to grow out of what happens before. The thinking remains essentially organic.
In Equinoxe (2003) it is the notion of the opposition and temporary balance of light and darkness that provides the underlying musical scheme. Bright sounds in the initial stages (piccolo, clarinet, vibraphone, crotales) gradually give way to darker colours (alto flute, bass clarinet, bass drum, low harp tones) towards the close. The very harmonies that suggest light at the start are eventually inverted to convey the idea of darkness - the opposite of light. For a brief period at the heart of the work, the two opposing forces are in balance, as daylight and nocturnal darkness are at the Spring and Autumn equinoxes - this point in the piece is marked by the entry of the bass clarinet, sinking to a low B (concert pitch). But in the end, night is the victor. The poetic idea is summarized in a line from the Danish poet Uffe Harder's Vintersuite printed in the score: \\Mørket skyder sig langt ind over dagen\\ (Darkness makes its way far over the day).
The first three works on this disc demonstrate Niels Rosing-Schow's masterly handling of small ensembles. The power and variegated richness of timbre and texture in these pieces may lead the listener to think that he or she is listening to a small orchestra rather than an ensemble of nine or ten players. Nevertheless, the sumptuous sound world of the full--orchestral Black Virgin (2004-5) may come as a surprise. Rosing-Schow was thinking here of the fascinating yet enigmatic ‘Black Madonna' icons found in churches and monasteries all over Europe, in some cases believed to have miraculous powers. Connections have been drawn to a verse from the Biblical Song of Solomon - ‘Nigra sum, sed formosa' (I am black, yet comely) - but it is also possible that these hauntingly beautiful images derive from a pre-Christian Mother- or Earth-Goddess: \\That's what I'd like to imagine\\, says -Rosing-Schow. A poem by the French writer Gilles Gourdon entitled Black Virgin provided some valuable specific pointers for the composer, but it was the general mood of transcendent sensual ecstasy that gave the deepest stimulus. Some listeners may be reminded of the voluptuous, dark-toned religious works of the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (Poland has a particular fine Black Madonna at the famous shrine in Czestochowa); while Szymanow-ski was not in Rosing-Schow's mind when he composed Black Virgin, it is a comparison that he welcomes.
Finally, the orchestral Orichalk (2003-4) mines another ancient source: the description of the lost city of Atlantis in Plato's dialogue Timaeus. Amongst its most remarkable contents Plato lists the precious metal Orichalk or Orikalk, which is like gold in appearance but is also unusually plastic, capable of being transformed into many different forms, for which it is held in almost religious awe by the citizens of Atlantis. Rosing-Show freely admits that he had a kind of ‘story' in mind here. In the beginning, the Atlantians gather for a ritual celebration. In the slower central section one may imagine that the metal is heated, becoming fluid; then after a timpani fanfare it begins to solidify into a new shape - perhaps a bell, certainly an object capable of the kind of ‘spectral' resonances central to Rosing-Schow's harmonic-sonorous thinking. Again the idea of transformation, of one kind of music merging and morphing into another, is central. \\Fundamentally our emotions are subject to similar principles\\, says the composer. \\For that reason too I think that natural processes are models that can be meaningful to us in terms of what goes on inside us.\\
Stephen Johnson, 2007