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8.224119 - BENTZON, J.: Racconti
English 

Racconti

Jørgen Bentzon’s six Racconti were composed in the years 1935-49. All the works are in one movement and each is for its own ensemble. In the writing of several of the Racconti we find Bentzon perfecting his character polyphony, where it is the character of each instrument that determines the nature of the musical material and its treatment, and where compositional techniques like fugue and imitation are renounced. Bentzon took the word racconto from Italian, where it means a tale or account, and it is precisely an almost conversational, narrative element that is typical of these six chamber music works. The attempt to let the instruments, so to speak, “be themselves”, can he heard in the work of several other composers of the period, for example Finn Hoffding in his characterful Dialogues for oboe and clarinet of 1927; hut in his Racconti Jørgen Bentzon elahorates and develops this instrumental aesthetic. Another important source of inspiration for the development of character polyphony was certainly Carl Nielsen’s Wind Quintet.

The first of the six racconti has the title Racconto. A Tale for Flute, Saxophone (E flat), Bassoon and Double-bass Op. 25. The work is end-dated July 1935 and dedicated to the German-American saxophonist Sigurd M. Rascher, who taught at the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen in 1933-38 and at the Conservatoire in Malmö, Sweden, in 1934-38. Rascher persuaded many composers to write for his instrument; besides Scandinavians like Lars-Erik Larsson, Svend Erik Tarp and Jørgen Bentzon, also Frank Martin, Jacques Ibert, Darius Milhaud and Paul Hindemith. Racconto No. 1 was first performed at the society Det Unge Tonekunst-nerselskab on 25th October 1935 by Johan Bentzon, Sigurd M. Rascher, Kjell Roikjer and Willy Hugge-Jensen. The work was also performed at the ISCM festival in London in 1938.

The piece has strong rondo elements and in the middle has a development section. Flute and saxophone have both been granted a cadenza. The piece alternates between tonic and dominant section, and only in the saxophone cadenza does the tonality move out into the remoter tonal regions. The tonality is tied to a number of central notes in the flute and saxophone. at some points different central notes appear at the same time in both instruments.

Racconto No. 2 Op 30 was composed in 1936 for the ensemble flute, violin, viola and cello. Here too we find rondo elements and as Morten Topp has demonstrated, the work is in some place, strongly modal and is marked by polyrhythmic passages. Like the first Racconto, the second has prominent cadenzas, especially for the flute. The cadenzas function as form-creating elements in the structure and strengthen the rondo aspect.

In his Racconto No. 3 Op. 31 of 1937 Bentzon returns to chamber music for a small wind ensemble - not as in the Sonatina Op. 7 for flute, clarinet and bassoon, but for the more normal wind trio consisting of oboe, clarinet and bassoon. In this Racconto we notice the use of homophonic texture - something Niels Viggo Bentzon has commented on as follows: “Sound effects of this nature are at all events in stark contrast with the otherwise strongly polyphonic way of writing, but they still often provide a pleasant ‘gap’ in the otherwise slightly tiring, constant ‘sliding in and out of the lines’” (Niels Viggo Bentzon: “Jørgen Bentzon’s Kammermusik: Tredie Periode (Racconto’erne)”, Dansk Musiktidsskrift XIX/8 (Oct. 1944), p. 158).

From 1937 on there was a longish break in the series of Racconti, and stylistically too we feel a distance between No. 3 and No. 4 The latter, Racconto No. 4 Op. 45, was composed in 1944 for the ensemble violin, cor anglais and piano. Stark diss0nances run through the work, which with its kaleidoscopic character seems almost improvised.

The very next year Bentzon composed Racconto No. 5 Op. 46, where he returned to the winds, in which he had previously shown great interest and with which he had been successful. The instrumentation used is the classic wind quintet which Carl Nielsen had given new currency with his Wind Quintet of 1922. In Bentzon’s work we experience great spirituality and a virtuoso treatment of the instruments. The work represents a break with certain basic principles of character polyphony: Morten Topp writes: “In Racconto No. 5 we find a number of elements which do not belong to strict character polyphony group polyphony, where several instruments play homophonically against a solo part or another instrument group of a different character; imitation, which had previously been wholly avoided; parallel motion or union among several instruments; and in one case a tutti in pure homophonic texture” (Morten Topp, op. cit. p. 57)

Jørgen Bentzon composed his last Racconto, No. 6 Op. 49, in 1948-49. The work, dedicated to Vagn Holmhoe, is for string quartet. The introductory viola theme recurs several times, and this structures the piece in four sections. The homophonic element is very prominent.

The series of Racconti represents Jørgen Bentzon’s work with the character polyphony principle. As will he heard, there is a development of this compositional method through the various ensemhle types. The six Racconti constitute a rare group of works in the music of the period, where a writing technique is elaborated and tried out down to the smallest detail. It provides food for thought that Vagn Holmhoe, to whom the last Racconto was dedicated, began on his own long series of string quartets in 1949.

Claus Røllum-Larsen, 1998


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