About this Recording
6.220510 - NORGARD: Mystic Morning / Like a Child / Ut Rosa


Per Nørgård’s choral works form a constant strand through the composers æuvre - from the first in 1952 (Sleep, to a text by Halfdan Rasmussen) to the most recent like Ut Rosa, Morning Myth, Mythic Morning and Two Noctures on this CD, composed fifty years later, The choral works - like the symphonies and certain chamber genres - demonstrate the whole spectrum of development in Nørgård’s music. Nørgård made a personal, mature start in the Nordic choral tradition with the dark-sounding choral suite Aftonaland (“Evening Land”) (1953, dedicated to Sibelius) to poems by Pär Lagerkvist, the Latin Triptychon (1957, for choir and instruments) and the work based on Danish nature poetry Three Thøger Larsen Songs (1957/61) - rounded off by the strong Beach Poppy. Colours and moods in more recent works often point back to these early choral works.

Nørgård’s choral music in the 1960s is usually part of experimental dramatic works (including The Judgeinent, Horrors in Progress, Bobel) - only two a cappella works stand out, although they do so in remarkable fashion: the elegantly exotic Landskabsbillede (“Landscape Picture”) (1961, text by Thorkild Bjørnvig) with a new, refined sensibility, and the campfire-song-like Du skal plante et træ (“You must plant a new tree”) (1967, text by Piet Hem) in tune with the anthems of the day by Donovan etc.

The 1970s saw a feast of a cappella choral works from Nørgård, originating in the melodic hothouse of the composer’s “infinity series music” between Voyaqe into the Golden Screen (1968) and Siddhorta (1979). The list is long and deserves repetition: Libro (1973, R. Steiner and the Psalms of David), Singe die Gärten, mein Herz (1974, R.M. Rilke), Nova Genitura (1975, for soprano, instruments and choir ad lib.), as well as the many related choral works to texts by Ole Sarvig - Frost Psalm (1975-76), Frost Psalm Fragment (1976/2002), Winter Cantata (1976), Winter Hymn (1976/84), Nu dækker sne den hele jord (“Now all the earth is white with snow”) (1976, for 8 tubas and choir ad lib.), The Year (1976/91), Cycles (1977), Maya Dancing (1979/91) - and to texts by other poets: Spring Song (1980, Rilke) and The Word (1982, Grundtvig).

Nørgård’s so-called Wölfli period began with the choral work Wie ein Kind 1980), which has quickly become a modern classic. It was followed by a series of equally unique Wölfli choral works, including The Alarming Duckling (1985) and  D’Monstrontz-Vöögeli (for bird-song and human voices!), Two Wölfli Songs: Abendlied and Holleluja, der Herr ist verrückt (1979/83), as well as the later Grablied und Toottagrab’r-Mazurka (1993), The works Rainy Night (1983/89) and I Hear the Rain (1983/92) were partly based on ‘found’ sound objects (sea surf heard on an Indian beach); to this period too belong the following major choral works: Afbrudt højsang (“Interrupted Canticle”), Skrig- og Drikkevise (“Screaming and Drinking Song”) (1983), Three Agnus Deis (1983) and Tre hymniske ansatser (“Three Hymnic Beginnings”) (1986).

Around 1977 a new ‘Nørgård genre’ arose for choir and percussion based on the infinity series. These were works like Orpheus and Eurydice - the interrupted song (1977, for choir, instruments, percussion and dancers), Early Spring Dances (1979, same ensemble), and Dream Songs (1981, for choir and percussion), The River and its Two Great Banks (1983, for choir and percussion) and Slå dørene op! (“Open up the Doors!”) (1981, for choir, percussion and orchestra, to poems by Inger Christensen).

In 1992 the Danish Association of Amateur Choirs honoured Per Nørgård as Choral Composer of the Year, and for the occasion he composed Four Latin Motets - for 3 or 5 voices (1992, Psalms of David); and with Korbogen (“The Choir Book”) in 1993 (a new, revised collection of 45 choral songs 1952-1992) the simpler choral song genre was continued.

Rêves en pleine lumière (1989/2002, Paul Éluard) and And time shall be no more (1993, to poems by Lundquist, Wölfli, Yunus Emre and Jørgen Gustava Brandt) are larger, denser works, a type continued in the large choral works around the turn of the century, which are the main theme of this CD.

Per Nørgård (b. 1932 in Copenhagen) is one of the central Danish composers of the twentieth century after Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius. His output - more than 300 works - includes opera, symphonies, concertos and ballets as well as film, chamber and electronic music.

Nørgård’s early works continued the Nordic tradition of Carl Nielsen and - especially - Jean Sibelius. Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996), his teacher in his youth, sharpened his interest in organic musical development - ‘metamorphosis’: ‘seeds’ of rhythmic and melodic motifs were developed into larger, layered musical polyphony in a mainly modal tonal idiom - as we can hear in the 1950s, for example in the First Symphony. The encounter with the Central European avant-garde around 1960 inspired Nørgård to experiment with a wide variety of idioms and genres, including collage composition (The Young Man Must Marry, Tango Chikane etc.), percussion music (Rondo, Waves), electronic music (The Enchanted Forest), happenings (Babel, Horrors in Progress) and at almost psychedelic type of interference music for orchestra (Iris, Luno).

At the same time Nørgård worked with his own serial technique, called ‘the infinity series’ - related to the ‘fractal’, visual infinity patterns described at the end of the 1970s by the physicist Mandelbrot. The infinity series is a principle of musical motion (within a freely chosen scale) that generates constantly varying melodic patterns. A musically interesting feature is that an infinity series is repeating itself ‘fractally’ in other tempo layers in a multifarious (in principle endless) polyphony - not unlike the ‘prolation canons’ of the Renaissance. From the orchestral work Voyage into the Golden Screen (1968) until c. 1980, Nørgård developed a personal musical universe on this basis, involving natural harmonics and rhythms based on the Golden Section - in a balanced, harmonious - sounding new music that can be heard for example in his Third Symphony, the operas Gilgamesh and Siddharta, and in many choral works and chamber works like Spell, Whirls, World and Seadrift. “I stand with one foot in western rationalism and the other in eastern mysticism, yet I feel both are alien to me. I am, so to speak, a kind of third point in the picture” as the composer said of his music in that period.

Around 1980 Nørgård radically changed course towards a spontaneously composed, dramatic, ‘schizoid’ style inspired by the Swiss ‘mad artist’ Adolf Wölfii (1864-l930) in a number of choral works, the opera The Divine Circus (based on texts by Wölfli), and in the Fourth Symphony, Indischer Roosengoaaten und Chineesischer Hexensee.

Later Nørgård worked mainly with new kinds of multidimensional tempo relations and new tonal series, for example in solo concertos for violin, viola and cello, in the 1990s combined with direct, often violent expression - for example in the Fifth Symphony and Sixth Symphony, the piano concerto In due tempi, the opera Nuit des Hommes and the orchestral work Terrains Vagues.

In the new century Nørgård seems to be exploiting his whole repertoire of techniques and idioms, including a revived interest in brand new - previously overlooked - aspects of the infinity series (for example in Harp Concerto No. 2, Through Thorns.

Characteristic of the composer Nørgård - from the 1950s until today - is his preoccupation with the organic, especially the drama that is inherent in the multilayered, and which creates ‘interference’ in any organism. Stylistically, Nørgård is difficult to pin down, for he is constantly ‘en route’. The driving force seems to be the urge to strike out on new paths, if necessary forgetting earlier practices - for a while. In his own words: “I find myself on a succession of different slippery slopes, but always on slippery slopes. Yet this isn’t a matter of escaping, for usually earlier strategies and ideas emerge again later - in new contexts.”

The two choral works Morning Myth and Mythic Morning were composed in 2000, between the Sixth Symphony and the orchestral work Terrains Vagues. These two sister works are based on the same musical themes and are settings of the same poem (Mytisk morgen by Pia Tafdrup, from the collection Dronningeporten, 1998), on the one hand as a relatively simple strophic choral song (Morning Myth), on the other as an almost microscopically illuminated symphonic tone-poem for 12 voices and bass clarinet (Mythic Morning — where it is advisable to have the poem before one while listening). Of the works Morning Myth and Mythic Morning the composer writes: “Just as a spring morning by a small lake, full of birdsong, can seem like sheer idyll, Pia Tafdrup’s poem Mythic Morning seems at first glance to depict this idyll. But behind its vibrant vitality - in many tempi - death is always lurking: “even in the day’s hello there was a farewell pang”. The calculated maliciousness that the human consciousness can add to the relentless law of nature is expressed too - when birdsong from trees suddenly sounds “like hearts skewered hot upon a hook”. The poem is a myth of death amidst life.

“The myth speaks in narrative form of what is true at all times. And there is an almost dizzying spectrum of ‘times’ in Mythic Morning: from inconceivably fast ‘shrill lightnings’ through cellular time (“where seed desired to blindly meet the egg”), to the now-time of the animals (when “birds rose upwards to the sky or sang”), the psychological time of human beings, as well as the equally inconceivable slow movements of the seasons and plants (“anemones crept down the slope”).

“It is a combination of the many time-dimensions of this poetic universe with a core of calm (“filled with an eternal time”) that has inspired me to write Mythic Morning for 12-part choir and bass clarinet. In the combination of the subtly shaded choral spectrum with the refined overtone mysteries of the bass clarinet I looked for that ‘third sound’ that could include both a “wild, strangely simple game” as well as the “death that was in every place”.

“Mythic Morning - besides Frost Psalm (1976) my longest choral work so far - was composed for and dedicated to Ars Nova and Jens Schou, whose cultivation of the harmonic spectrum of the bass clarinet was an important contributory factor to my embarking on the composition.

Morning Myth - dedicated to Ars Nova - is based on themes and motifs from Mythic Morning, which I have later ‘distilled’ in this strophic, mainly homophonic (and shorter!) a cappella choral work with the same Tafdrup poem set in three varied double verses (1-2, 3-4, 5-6) ending with a separate longer verse (7). The two works - respectively through-composed ‘panoramically’ and strophically ‘narrative’ - can be performed separately; the performance of both settings in the same concert does however provide an opportunity for a - differently illuminated - immersion in the dense poetic universe of the poem.”

The title Ut Rosa has an air of the works around the Third Symphony, Nova Genitura and the Sarvig choral works. The composer’s ideas have a tendency, already mentioned, to reappear at a later juncture and to join forces with the prevailing currents - as is evident from the note on Ut Rosa (2000): “In 1975 I wrote the ensemble work Nova Genituro for soprano and - primarily - Baroque instruments (and choir ad lib). This included a simple Marian hymn with an anonymous medieval text. I little knew then that I would often return later to this music - even all the way into the new millennium. In 1975 the melody was already used in a 22-minute work for tenor (or soprano) and lute (or harp), Fons Laetitiae (The Fount of Joy). And in 1977 the melody became one of the two main subjects in the orchestral work Twilight. Later the composer Hans Gefors finished his opera The Park with a version of the melody in a paradisiac quodlibet. And in 1992 I arranged the melody as a strophic a cappella choral song with the title Flos ut rosa floruit. I felt that there was more to be found in this music in the summer of 2000. Just as fascinated as I was 25 years ago, in Ut Rosa I moved further into the ‘musical garden’, which among other things had the melody generated by every third note in the diatonic infinity series (and their fifths and thirds), Here I discovered a whole new bouquet of polyphonies, relatively proportioned in accordance with ‘the Golden Section’. And later again, in 2003, the melody became the structural basis for my 20-minute Harp Concerto no. 2, Through Thoms.

“The four verses of the anonymous medieval hymn are formed in Ut Roso as four independent choral pieces, combined without breaks in the c. 11-minute six-part work. The choral piece from 1992 forms the opening verse, the natural point of departure for the new melodic and contrapuntal developments in the subsequent three movements. Ut Rosa was composed at the request of Ivan Hansen, to whom the work is dedicated.”

Per Nørgård’s Wie ein Kind (1980) was the first in the series of Wölfli works, which marked a turning-point in Nørgård’s music around 1980, after among other things the Third Symphony and the opera Siddharto. “As is well known, I changed my tune there to a different, less hymnic sound when Adolf Wölfli started to play along with my orchestra”, as Nørgård put it in 1982, with a clarifying”…“and it quite certainly stirred up deep sorrow, as well as making forgotten joys flare up - so that the ‘cosmic’ (and socially innocent) period has for the time being given way to the horror (and the happiness) that hide behind the security (and insecurity) of everyday life.” Other works inspired by Wölfli were the Fourth Symphony, Indischer Roosengarten und Chineesischer Hexensee (1981/82), the opera The Divine Circus (1982), and the above-mentioned Wölfli choral works. Of Wie ein Kind Nørgård wrote in 1980: “In this work I wanted to juxtapose two poetic idioms, one originating in the schizophrenic Adolf Wölfli’s tormented soul, the other in a highly respected and famous poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. The first movement, Cradle Song (Wiigen-Lied, in Wölfli’s typical spelling) has many psychological aspects, and it is interrupted by among other things a strange faraway calling that recalls the cries of a street trader or a mother calling from a window high up in a tenement to her child down through the narrow shaft of a back yard. The second movement, Spring Song (Frühlings-Lied, to a text by Rilke) is the song of the happy child, a child in balance with herself: open, playful, sensing. Funeral March with Attendant Minor Accident (Trauermarsch mit einem Unglücksfall, by Wölfli), the third movement, repeats the musical themes of the first movement - but a male soloist who does his best to sing like the other singers suffers the most terrible torments.”

Adolf Wölfli was born in 1864 in Switzerland. His parents were very poor, and his unhappy, lonely youth reached its sad climax when he was twice caught in attempts at sexual assaults on under-age girls. From 1895 until his death in 1930 Wölfli was an inmate of Waldau, an asylum for the insane. There he developed a unique artistic idiom whose intensity has made an impression on an increasing number of people. He painted, wrote poetry and decorated more than 20,000 metre-sized pages. As early as 1921 Wölfli’s physician and psychiatrist Walter Morgenthaler published the book Ein Geisteskranker abs Künstler about Wülfli’s paintings and writings, and among others the poet Rainer Maria Rilke expressed (in correspondence with the Freud disciple Lou Andreas-Salomé) his “captivation by this glimpse of the phenomenon of creation.”

Wie ein Kind is dedicated to Erling Kullberg (who has recorded the work with the Da Camera Choir).

Two Nocturnes for 12 voices (2003) consists, like Ut Rosa, of radical recompositions on the basis of earlier themes: in Summer’s Sleep we hear new combinations of two ‘Sarvig melodies’ (one of which is now in the Danish Hymnbook): Michael’s Night is based on an earlier, simple choral song (Star Mirror), now for 12 voices and composed such that an original idea of “simultaneously displaced, opposite motions” (cf. the poem) comes out as desired. Of the nocturnes Nørgård writes: “Summer’s Sleep was composed to stanzas of Ole Sarvig’s poem The Year (from the collection Forstadsdigte (‘Suburban Poems’)) and forms the picture of “the summer of life”, which is asleep - while the “heaven seed” waits for the summer wind (“unseen by worldly eyes”). The many layers of text are expressed musically in a multilayered choral texture with ‘looks’ up and down through the various tempo and time worlds: summer sleep, summer dream.

“The next nocturne, Michael’s Night, takes its name from the author Ib Michael, whose poem Star Mirror (from the collection Himmelbegravelse (“Sky Funeral”) (1986) I pushed/coaxed him to expand from one to nine stanzas. The four selected stanzas set in the nocturne focus on the pan-erotic elements of the moonlit, starlit night. With the titles I have chosen I have stressed the mythic layer of the text, the summer night not as a dream but as sensual reality.

“The two nocturnes are dedicated to Ivan Hansen on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday on 25th February 2003, out of gratitude for over a quarter of a century of inspiring collaboration.”

Morning Meditation (2003), which ends the CD, arose as follows: during a major Ars Nova tour of Scandinavia, in which Nørgård’s Mythic Morning was the main work, the introduction to the work (before the text is sung) gradually developed into a longer and longer improvised intonation for the Ars Nova bass singers, Jens Schou and Tamás Vetö. This is indicated in the score, and in concerts it has an organic and natural effect. However, for the CD medium both composer and performers thought that Mythic Morning should be formed differently. At the same time we did not want to pour out the baby of the introduction with the bathwater, and a new, separate work arose, based on the first subjects of Mythic Morning. Of the Nørgårdian interplay between the bass clarinet and singers (in Mythic Morning and Morning Meditation) one of the main people involved, the clarinettist Jens Schou, writes: “At last I stood in the middle of the choir’s beautifully formed semicircle - a feeling of being in the right place, right in the middle of a vocal ensemble of six gentlemen and six ladies - well-trimmed, sonorous voices that faithfully and hospitably invited an instrumentalist into their midst. It was a dream come true.

“A few years before I had described this dream to Per Nørgård - that is, a choral work with a part for bass clarinet. The bass clarinet integrated in a choral sound. With the instruments softness and wildness, sighs and screams, and its intensity in the depths, which almost seems to resound through the floorboards. Its span is four octaves and thus amply matches the compass of the choir; it can frolic with the sopranos at one moment and at the next can support and deepen a bass motion - then at a third can participate in the altos’ lingering on and savouring of the simple phonemes of the word. The sustained sounds of the choir become a platform for the artless playfulness of the bass clarinet. To this we can add the dynamics of the instrument, which can knock a choir flat, but which also evoke a silence that allows the voice to stand out.

“At the time when the idea of the work put down its first tentative roots, I introduced Per Nørgård to a kind of playing with harmonics - a way of playing that makes it possible at the same time to hold a particular low note (a drone), and to modulate between the 5th-7th-9th and even the 10th-11th and 12th partials - a highly poetic and archaic quality that Per Nørgård knew how to exploit in Mythic Morning. In fact Nørgård found a kind of formula in which a particular succession of notes reflects a sequence in the harmonics.

“In Morning Meditation the bass clarinet allows for a longer period together with the bass singers of the choir, a kind of sound- meditation over or intonation to the poem (“it was like someone pointed ... at a death found everywhere”). On the bass clarinet’s lowest note, the tónos (Greek = tightened string) a range of the odd members of the harmonic sequence can be overblown. Instrument and voices in unison below a free-floating tonal ceiling. A morning meditation.” 

It should be mentioned that the poet Pia Tafdrup, in the article “Mytisk morgen - mytisk aften” (in the book Mangfoldighse-musik - omkring Per Nørgård, Gyldendal 2002) has given an account of her impressions and experience of Nørgård’s setting of the poem Mythic Morning.

Ivan Hansen, 2005

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