About this Recording
8.224008 - CAPRICORN (DANISH 20TH CENTURY MUSIC)
English 

Denmark's geographical position between Central Europe and the Nordic countries is not without significance for a proper understanding of music and musical life in the second half of this century. Sandwiched between north and south, the country has been a melting-pot for various aesthetic tendencies in the field of classical music.

In the 1950s musical modernism took a firm hold, beginning in Central Europe with the work of pioneers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez, and later it made inroads into the Nordic countries as well. At first Danish composers were shocked by the aesthetic developments in modernism; some of them simply could not come to terms with its external, formalized rules for the treatment of musical material. The Danish mentality was hostile to modernism's canon of prohibitions and commands, though that canon was to playa formative role in the evolution of music in the following decades.

Danish composers born in the twenties and thirties felt they had to take a stance on modernism's call for absolute renewal in the material of music. They had grown up with the classicist aesthetic of a Danish tradition represented by names such as Carl Nielsen (1865-1931), Vagn Holmboe (b. 1909), and Herman D. Koppel (b. 1908). Moreover, they all shared an outlook that was the product of a Danish and Nordic musical world where the range of artistic vision was limited by historical circumstances. In particular, World War II had made it impossible for composers to keep up with international trends. It is very much to the point that the older generation could accept Bartók but not Schoenberg; was this a case of 'local characteristics' or 'provincialism'? The younger composers, who felt the need to tryout the technical wonders of the postwar period, realized that a confrontation with their father figures was unavoidable.

This artistic attitude -involving discussion and, to varying degrees, assimilation and acceptance of external trends - resulted in a breach with Holmboe and Koppel, the inheritors of classicism, on the part of composers like Niels Viggo Bentzon (b. 1919), Per Nørgård (b. 1932), Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (b. 1932), and Bent Lorentzen (b. 1935). The enthusiastic and ambitious younger generation found it somewhat provincial that the idiom of Holmboe and Koppel had remained unaffected by developments in the international avant-garde.

All of this makes it understandable that, from the fifties onward, many works by composers born between the wars display tension between the Central European, modernist way of thinking and a special Nordic tone. It is as if one can hear an ongoing discussion between the lines of the music; the conflict between tradition and renewal is heard in many works as a set of oppositions between the idyllic and the apocalyptic, the anachronistic and the absolutely innovative, the local and the global. German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger has written a comment on the Norwegian mentality that could equally well apply to Danish composers: "On the one hand they love anachronism and stubbornly maintain pre-modern styles of thinking and living. On the other hand they have a tendency unintentionally to anticipate the future They are stay-at-homes and cosmopolitans at one and the same time."

Influences emanating from Central Europe at mid-century, and later from North America and the Far East, have accordingly stimulated a fruitful discussion among Danish composers. This is especially true of Per Nørgård, who at an early stage erected a bulwark against the chaotic sounds emerging from the south in the form of his 'universe of the Nordic mind' - a declaration of commitment to the Nordic tone with Holmboe and Sibelius as the great trail-blazers. Nørgård 's natural curiosity made it impossible, however, for him to keep to this narrow path for very long. He began to make forays into the Central European new music environment, from which he imported material to his private - often metaphysical and antagonistic - universe. In the uniquely personal idiom of this composer we find infinite series, overtone series, and hierarchical control of the parameters of music.

Nørgård has exerted tremendous influence on developments in Danish composition. Not only his highly individual works but also his achievements as a teacher and organizer have left their mark on succeeding generations. Some of Nørgård's contemporaries -Gudmund-sen-Holmgreen, Ib Nørholm (b. 1931), and the slightly younger Ole Buck (b. 1945) - reacted to the complexity of modernism by going to the opposite extreme and writing in the simplest possible way. They founded the trend called New Simplicity and were the creators of a style that may be looked upon as a very special Danish version of minimalism.

What unites these composers is their stylistic pluralism, which breaks some of the prohibitions of the leading modernists. They rebelled against the technocratic notion of progress implicit in the autonomous aesthetic, which permitted development in one direction only, and insisted on a multiplicity of forms of expression, making use of collage and playing ironic games with quotations and stylistic elements from older music. Later they changed direction, each of them adopting his own personal perspective on his earlier works, but their output is a typical illustration of something central to the Danish mentality: nothing from outside is uncritically adopted, it has first to be rejected and examined more closely.

This is perhaps especially true of a composer like Karl Aage Rasmussen (b. 1947). He is a multi-artist who participates in musical life on many different levels - as a festival director, new music conductor, writer, debater, and not least composer. His starting point was reception and transformation of the musical tradition in what has been termed 'music on music'. An example is Berio Mask (1977), where he re-uses the music of Luciano Berio, who in turn had re-used Mahler, and so on. But other problems have been taken up in Rasmussen's more recent music, among other things the concept of time. And in light of recent experience he continues to grapple with the big issues of aesthetics, technique, and perception. It is significant that one of his articles is entitled Can Time Be Heard? His thoughts on these topics are expressed musically in the orchestral work A Symphony in Time (on dacapo DCCD 9010), in Movements on a Moving Line for chamber orchestra, and in the string quartets Surrounded by Scales and Solos and Shadows (recorded for dacapo, DCCD 9003a+b, by the Arditti Quartet from the United Kingdom). Rasmussen's Italian Concerto (1981) on the present disc is a sort of lifeline between the composer's early experiments with many different styles and his recent output of works emphasizing construction and stringency just as much as expression.

The dogmatic innovation philosophy of the fifties may not be normative any more, but its lessons have not been forgotten and there is still a demand for inner consistency in music. The latter appears to be a key issue for Poul Ruders (b. 1949), who at the beginning of his career wrote pieces full of irony, distance, and pastiche, just as his leading contemporaries Bo Holten (b. 1948), Rasmussen, and Hans Abrahamsen (b. 1952) were doing. In the course of the eighties these composers have overcome the shyness that their ironic posture actually concealed, and are no longer afraid to make grand statements in their works. Much the same can be said of Niels Rosing-Schow and Erik Højsgaard (both born 1954), who are represented here by Voix Intérieures and Paysage blême respectively. Their music has a lyrically searching character, but this does not imply that they have no use for constructionism. They have created a special synthesis of expression and construction that can be heard in their instrumentation and orchestration, and more generally in the refined treatment of sound in their works.

Anders Nordentoft (b. 1957) belongs to the most recent generation of Danish composers. If he enjoys an outstanding reputation among his contemporaries, this must be due to his ability constantly to challenge himself; he never lays down a fixed scheme determining the form and development of a composition. Nordentoft's work is a kind of prose discourse rooted in a Utopian concept of music. "I compose in order to realize the thoughts and dreams I have always had;' he says. "I can best describe those thoughts and dreams as 'wild forms'. The outcome of this in his compositions is an undefinable tension, often in the shape of violent outbursts of energy. Such structuring of 'wild forms' can be observed in many of his scores, for example Entgegen for sinfonietta, Cathedral for solo cello, Born for orchestra, and The Nervous Saurian on this disc.

Almost hidden away behind the violent exterior and physical immediacy of Nordentoft's compositions, one senses a frail and delicate music related to the innocent, poetic world of childhood. But experience always intervenes as an unavoidable and almost painful mediator, giving a feeling of loss when the process is at an end. The schizophrenic and unpredictable dimensions in his work make Nordentoft’s a veritable musical storyteller; however, rather than adopting a programme music approach to his material, he relives in abstract musical form what his generation has learnt about innocence and experience.

Anders Beyer, 1994

THE WORKS   

Italiensk Koncert (Italian Concerto) was composed in 1981 and first performed by The Eisinore Players, conducted by the composer, on July 3rd of that same year at a concert in Mexico City. With obvious reference to Bach's famous concerto, it is a piece in 'Italian' style. For a contemporary composer, however, this is something rather ambiguous. The three movements thus refer to three Italian modes of expression, whereas each at the same time is an 'ommagio' to an Italian composer. The first movement refers to Niccolo Castiglioni, a music of high registers, nervous activity and reminiscenses of stately baroque. The second movement is related to 17th century composer Bernardo Pasquini, known among other things for his imitations of birds. The middle section of this movement further contains a reference to Stravinsky. The last movement is an 'ommagio' to Luciano Berio: rapid, multicoloured unisons in a dynamic, dramatic flow. The piece is in E major and E flat major, with a constant tightrope balance between the two.

Karl Aage Rasmussen

Voix Intérieures (Inner Voices) 1990-92. The title has a double reference: to 'inner voices' of the mind, expressing our (hardly conscious) impulses, feelings, dreams, and to the 'inner voices' of the music in the sence of internal parts and relations. Thus the title points to the obscure reflections of the one meaning in the other. During the piece there is a gradual transformation of the internal parts, such as interval-patterns, sonorities and dynamics - running alongside the easily perceptible expansion of register. The music is so to say 'turned inside out'.

Niels Rosing-Schow

The Nervous Saurian (1989-92) is a 3-part composition in one movement, for clarinet, cello and piano. The title as well as the music refers to Øglernes Frise (The Frieze of the Reptiles), a (science fiction) novel by Danish author Bo Green Jensen, beautifully illustrated by Knud Steffen Nielsen. It is the story of a (dream-) journey back to the land of the Lizards, to the Archean, the accession, the afternoon, the death and the inheritance of the reptiles. Here however, in the climax of the reptiles the conception of time changes: thousands of years pass like seconds. Even the most violent pain connected with birth and death, the rush of fear and joy, the swiftness of reflective actions and the most dramatic changes are caught and disappear in a slow blurred time - although the experience is paradoxically near. And the main character of the story, the eccentric Dr, Green, states: 'There will be a time when the desires of Man can be fulfilled only in the land of Lizards".

Anders Nordentoft

Paysage blême (1991) - a pale and blurred landscape… Having worked for a long time on an opera I needed a break for the dramatic genre. I started to work on a piece of music which has a contemplative and (almost too) monotone character - a 'paysage blême'. Technically the work is quite simply constructed and essentially based on three elements: a slow written-out rallentando, slow and gradual harmonic changes and an (almost too) endless melody, All of it sometimes temporarily broken, leaving behind distant sounds, almost audible slight movements and silence, I owe the title to Verlaine (from Arietta III): "...Combien ô voyageur, ce paysage blême te mira blême toimême…". Paysage blême was commissioned by and is dedicated to the Capricorn ensemble.

Erik Højsgaard


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