About this Recording
8.224246 - LORENTZEN: Colori / Goldranken / Nachtigall / Abgrund / Five Easy Piano Pieces

Drama, drive and sensuous appeal
- a portrait of the composer Bent Lorentzen

 Bent Lorentzen was born on the 11th of February 1935 in Stenvad - a village in Eastern Jutland - in a multi-talented family. His father was an inventive wag with a partiality for opera and music drama, especially Wagner. The opera singer Kirsten Schultz was s frequent guest, and accompanying her on the piano her younger cousin became intensely absorbed in this way of singing. The singing cousin was later married to the composer Svend S. Schultz, who was already a prolific opera composer. When Svend visited Stenvad young Bent would help him copying his scores; this turned out to be a kind of informal apprenticeship.

The practical dimension of the composers craft has a deep meaning for Lorentzen, who was rather ambivalent towards the formal education of composers at music academies and conservatories - of which he has first hand knowledge, both as a student and as a teacher. His own formal education began at Aarhus University (where the composer Knud Jeppesen was ordinary professor) and continued at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen (where his teachers were the composers Vagn Holmboe, Jørgen Jersild and Finn Høffding). He became a Reader at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus, where he worked from 1962 to 1971, since when he has worked full time as a composer. During the Aarhus years he attended courses in Darmstadt and Munich (1965), he studied electronic music in Stockholm (1967-68), and he was the co-founder of the Aarhus Opera Group in 1963 and of Aarhus Unge Tonekunstnere (AUT, Young Aarhus Composers’ Association) in 1966.

Lorentzen has held important positions in Danish musical organisations, and he has been awarded many prizes in international competitions, including Prix Italia 1970 (for the open Euridice) the Serocki competition 1984 (for the chamber work Paradiesvogel, International Choral Composition Award in Austria 1987 (for Olof Palme), the Olivier Messiaën Organ prize 1988 (for Luna, Vienna Modern Masters 1991 (for the Piano Concerto), the Music and Poetry Prize in Belgium 1989 (for Enzensberger’s Prozession). Since 1982 he has received the lifelong grant of the Danish Art Council, and other Danish awards include Choral Composer of the Year 1990, and the Carl Nielsen Prize 1995.

Lorentzen’s compositions cover all genres, also ‘rare’ or ‘unknown’ genres - like music for carillons, dramatic pantomimes, bugle ensemble, and ‘town sounds’. His orchestral music includes concertos for oboe (1980), cello (1984), piano (1984), saxophone (1986), trumpet (1991) trumpet and trombone (1999), violin (2001); the chamber works include solo music for organ, piano (complete on this CD), trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, violin, cello and double bass; and in addition to this string quartets and works for mixed ensembles (2- 12 instruments). He has composed numerous choral works in unique dramatic style. The list also includes electronic music and instrumental drama. The most important part of his work, however, must be his operas and other works for the stage. To date Lorentzen has composed 13 opens (in different formats), many of which had their premiere in foreign countries, mainly in Germany. The most recent opera - Der Steppenwolf based on Hermann Hesse’s novel - is still awaiting its world premiere. Intensive dramaturgic studies have accompanied the operatic work during the years, and Lorentzen frequently teaches music drama at the Århus and Copenhagen academies of music.

This composer never settled in an ivory tower. Lorentzen’s goal has always been communication and interplay with musicians as well as audiences and institutions. This effort has not always been successful - in special cases the composer’s management led to conflict instead of contact. An example was the ‘Opera dispute’ in Aarhus 1969, where Lorentzen, as a leading member of AUT, articulated a critique of the prevailing traditional and conservative line and autocratic leadership style of the Danish National Opera (Den jyske Open) at that time. No consensus was possible, and the culmination of the conflict came, when members of AUT interrupted an open performance with a demonstration in the theatre. A resolution was read aloud to the astonished audience, before the demonstrators were removed. Lorentzen wrote two articles in the local newspaper with a thorough analysis of the situation of the open as a threatened species’ in the musical fauna. It is interesting to observe - more than 30 years later - that most of Lorentzen’s ideas and recommendations have been turned into reality by later generations. His own experiments were many, and during the 1970s three of his operas had their premiere at - Den jyske Opera. A later, very successful example of the composer’s communication strategies was the Ebeltoft Festival (1989-1993), a summer festival in an old Danish town, where inhabitants and tourists were offered programs with a fifty-fifty mix of old and new music in carefully selected surroundings (in- and outdoors). This philosophy of multisensory surprises created a special and stimulating festival.

Bent Lorentzen’s music
As indicated above, Lorentzen is a composer with a rare interest in the interplay between music and listener, no matter whether the listener is a pampered ‘connoisseur’ or maybe a schoolgirl trying her strength against tape recorded sounds from everyday life. Composer, musician(s) and producer must create optimum conditions for the experience, if a dialogue is to emerge. Humour may be an intersection point - and it is often present in Lorentzen’s music. This humour may be found in the meeting point of two worlds, the world of sounds and instruments and the world of human experience and expectation. Lorentzen shares this fundamental acceptance of sound in all its variety with Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, a colleague three years his senior. However Lorentzen’s style is unique and very personal, irrespective of genre.

His music has often been characterized with the adjective sonic, indicating that sound itself and the material-textural effect of sound is a core element in the music. The composer confirms that he - in an almost childish fashion - is fascinated by sounds, and he does not hesitate in consciously using vulgar sound when he finds them appropriate (e.g. the sounds of gastric juices, farts and night pots being emptied in the opera Den Stundesløse. This engagement in the sound itself is apparently rare in new music - and certainly not identical with the quest for “Nie erhörte Klänge” of the postwar European avantgarde. Lorentzen’s point of departure is the role of sound and the function of the auditory sense in the phylogenesis of man: the sense of hearing enabled the prehistoric man (and still enables modern man.) to identify a sound in two dimensions: what is it? (friendly or hostile, well known or unknown) and where is it? (close or distant: should I stay or flee?). Sound and timbre unfold as specific identities its space and time, and the human ear and brain (or better: consciousness) has a remarkable capacity of differentiating and processing auditory stimuli cognitively. Working artistically with sounds promotes a dialogue with the listener based on his/her capacity of discrimination and psychological processing, both cognitively and emotively. Sound is an integral part of universal as well as personal (idiosyncratic) patterns of reactions, thus sound composition may be a means of influencing or even manipulating the listener, psychologically anesthetically. Sound may he a catalyst of all sorts of associations and it has the potential of evoking a broad variety of imagery. The by-product humour may appear when a skillfully planned sound image meet the expectations of a listener in a surprising way.

Lorentzen’s knowledge and fascination of sound manifests itself in numerous ways. He has made intense studies of the sound producing potentials of traditional instruments, e.g. blowing mouthpieces, producing multi-phones / ‘Tongemisch’ (in works like Mambo and the Saxophone Quartet, quarter tones / mico-intervals (the solo trumpet in Regenbogen), ways of touching and striking instruments (the guitar in Umbra, and also in many of the piano works). Last, but not least, Lorentzen has experimented with the human voice and its almost unlimited expressivity, from soft whispering and ‘Sprechgesang’ to the professionally trained opera voice, including micro-modulations of, and play with, vibrato and glissando, not forgetting expressive breathing, yelling anti screaming (in the choral works and some of the operas).

An examination of the sources of inspiration behind Lorentzen’s music during the 1960s and 70s makes it clear that he sought and found contact with international colleagues and trends other than those dominating Danish postwar music: In the 1960s the serialism of the Second Vienna School and experimental electronic music was important for him. Serialism made it clear that not only notes, hut all sorts of sounds and compositional procedures could he organised in series, and this was, of course, important for a composer engaged in basic sound perception.

Electronic composition was a natural next step for a ‘sound philosopher’ like Lorentzen, as he was an early pioneer in Danish electronic music, who also worked pedagogically with children and amateurs, to whom he introduced this type of music. The inspiration from the ‘sonoriam’ of the Polish School’ of the 1950s (the direct expressive engagement with sound and text, also the aleatoric method of Lotoslawski) is clearly present in the works of the 1970s, but impressionist sound colour visions and expressionist harmony can also he heard in this period, occasionally mixed with slices of (grotesque) humour. In 1977 Lorentzen visited Brazil, and this turned out to be a major inspiration for the years to come, most importantly the rhythmic appeal and sensuous gestures of South American popular music.

Undertaking basic compositional research for many years Lorentzen has analysed, separated and combined his sound materials and objects in every thinkable way. But use sensuous dimension of the musical performance and the respect for the listener’s right to define his/her experience has always played a central role in Lorentzen’s universe. This ‘manifest’ social engagement may be part of the explanation for why Lorentzen has been considered somewhat an ‘outsider’ on the Danish new music scene, where aesthetic principles and problems have dominated for decades.

However, Lorentzen’s craftmanship and his expertise within the psychology of sound in combination with an openminded experimental attitude make him a leading Danish composer. He is a genuine homo ludens  who works with curiosity and wonder combined with a constructive talent and a sound knowledge of materials and procedures. The aim is not ‘sound realism’, but a new (re)constructed and dramatised world of the imagination. This could he called “imaginary realism” - the composer once used the concept “sonic hyper-realism”. A basic human trait like the contrast between calm, introvert reflection (creative daydreaming) and hectic extravert activity (an audible manifestation) has found an aestethic form in many of Lorentzen’s works. He has never been afraid of going to extremes, as evidenced when sound becomes almost static as a ‘carpet’ (of long ‘lines’ and ‘sheets’), or when he lets his hair down in stimulating rhythmic convulsions, chromatic ‘curves’ or more or less vulgar sound effects.

Since the late 1970s a polarization or complementarity is heard in many of Lorentzen’s works: sections with wild or rhythmic activity contrasts with sections of ‘wagnerian’ sound carpets characterised by a special chromatic harmonic technique. Examples on a large scale are the opera Stalten Mette and the oratorio Genesis. The piano works include many of the features described above, but they also bring new facets to the portrait of one of most original composers in Danish contemporary music.

The piano music
Already from the early Easy Pieces, Lorentzen’s piano music can be characterised as a balanced unity of extemporaneous generosity and conceptual precision. The music has a strong vitality shaped by rhythmic variability, dramatic contrasts and a richness of ideas at the micro level. The soundscape of the piano is investigated thoroughly, physically as well as acoustically: we hear the piano as a singing voice, as a percussion instrument and as a mysterious source of sound-giving. The world of associations inherent in the more or less programmatic titles bear witness to the composer’s own sources of inspiration. Many of the titles refer to German literary culture, with Hermann Hesse’s The Steppenowolf as a continuous source of inspiration. The titles are meant as invitations to the listener, even in cases where programmatic elements are obvious (as in the musical quotations in Colori).

A characteristic feature in many pieces is the presence of musical motifs, rotating or orbiting round themselves in half and whole tone intervals. In Goldranken they appear exclusively in slow tempo, but in other pieces (e.g. Colori I) they move very fast. This feature is not limited to the piano music, it is also frequently heard in the orchestral music, e.g. the prelude to the opera Fackeltanz and the introduction of the Piano Concerto.

Colon (1978)
1. Rosso 2. Bianco 3. Oro 4. Azurro 5. Nero
The composer’s programme note:

The piece depicts 5 different colours in 5 discrete movements: 1. Rosso is a flapping red banner including a short and naïve quotation from “Internationale”. 2. Bianco is composed of long whole and brevis notes including a short Palestrina quote. 3. Oro depicts gold as used for the decoration of old altar-pieces. 4. Azurro is composed of aetherical piano harmonics. 5. Nero is built on different associations to the colour black, especially impressions from South America.

This is a typical Lorentzen note: Brief and laconic. The meaning of the quotations is ambiguous: In Rosso it is possible to identify the line “So comrades, come rally”, however the music is presented piano (p) in the high register, almost hesitatingly, thus making the melody rather unclear. This is in contrast to the two frenetically active parts in ultrahigh register framing the quotation and evolving in circular mirrorings. Other important elements are marcato single notes or 2-3 part ffz-“smashes” (often in sevenths). This may evoke the image of banners fluttering in the May wind. Bianco is a quiet and slow complementary (or contrasting) colour - with a contemplative interchange of 4-5- part chords in a very high register and a short melodic line which may (or may not) be a Palestrina quote (there is no shade of vocal polyphony or other renaissance features in the movement!). In Oro we hear another version of the characteristic circling chromatic melodies (first one part, then two-part, the second part mirroring the first) this time mixed with an almost ‘hysterical’, hammered-on treble part. The dynamic development of the movement intensifies the contrast between the introvert brooding and the extrovert, insisting ‘coleratura soprano’. In Azurro we find a carefully arranged sound production of the harmonics of the piano strings. The strings are manipulated by the pianist in several ways: the score indicates precisely when and how to knock, pluck or scrape the strings. This exploration of the ‘internal organs’ of the piano has a strong and direct impact on the listener’- the piano is transformed into an ‘alien being’. Towards the end of the movement there is a rhythmical reminiscence of Stravinsky’s pagan music in Sacre du Printemps. Nero is a journey into the sombre abyss of the bass register and points towards the sixteen years younger Abgrund. This world of darkness is also dramatic - an ascending/descending mirror duet (with pedal) in the lowest register is one core feature of the movement (referring to the complementary treble duet in Bianco); the other is the use of the piano as a percussion instrument in sections where chromatic chord clustera in deep register are hammered out on tile strings in almost ecstatic Sooth American rhythms. These sections interchange with duets of ‘knocking chords’ and glissandi produced by nails scraping on the strings. The final part of the movement is dominated by contrasts - between high and low, rhythmically poignant single notes and tritone block chords (“Gain e infennale”: joyful and diabolical) - before the closing ‘scraping lamentoso’.

Goldranken (1987)
The title word of this composition is not included in any German dictionary - the composer found it (like Paradiesvogel - Paradise Bird) in Hermann Hesse’s Der Steppenwolf. However, the listener does not need this information, associations to the golden vine are easily produced, e.g. the wind playing with the laburnum vine, waving in many layers (of tempo and pitch). A closer examination makes it possible to identify the tiny components (single flowers or notes) of the vine. The texture is sparse from the beginning, three or four different and apparently independent melodic lines are heard, each in a separate register (very low - middle register - normal song register - very high; c: (sub)bass - tenor - alto - (coleratura) soprano). Each line has its own rhythm and tempo, melodic and dynamic profile (e.g. the long, marked single notes of the bass; the quiet circling melody of the alto). Suddenly and very surprisingly (6:13 on the CD recording) the bass produces an outburst, initiating an interaction of the hitherto independent parts. Imitation occurs (first a four-note motif in alto and soprano), then the motif is expanded. The composition takes on the style of an improvisation, rhythmically as well as melodically. However, an examination of the score makes it clear that nothing is accidental. The characteristic tiny circling motives unfold in half or whole tone steps, in this composition only in slow tempo. The meter is 6/8 all the way through according to the score, and is arranged in three systems: one bass and two treble parts. The ‘circling motives’ are often notated as an interaction of the two upper pails - an ambiguity, since the listener will hear the two parts as one (as they are so close) - separated from the more remote parts in high and low register. The improvised effect of the rhythmic process is produced by arching both the semiquavers of the lively parts, of the dotted crotchets of the low voices, and of the single notes (occasionally duplets) of the bass. Control and spontaneity go hand in hand. From a formal point of view the composition divides into two sections, with the surprising outburst as an axis or centre. Another important difference between the first and second section is that there are only marcato single notes in the first section, mostly at some distance and thus experienced as not interacting, while there are more marcatos in the second section, creating an unexpected connection between the parts. Finally the number of marked and imitated notes decreases, and the composition ends without any marcatos in a quiet middle register.

Nachtigall for piano and bass clarinet (1988/2000) The opening has the character of a slow introduction to a sonata for piano and bass clarinet. However, it does not continue like that. From 2:15 on cut 7 of the recording the clarinet retires  to the background and the work presents itself more and more as the composer must originally have conceived it: a piano fantasy (in version A with electronic effects) on the musical universe of the nightingale. The clarinet follows the piano-nightingale as a shadow: imitating, echoing, adding colours or forming a background - but the interaction dives not have the character of chamber music in the classical sense. The listener is invited to experience a fantastic, unfolding universe of sounds and timbres, where intervals, chords, tone production and embellishment (arabeques) and micromodulations (trills, vibrato) emanate as ‘new sound’. The music has a sensuous freshness, stimulating the associations of the listener. This is not ‘a concert’; this is ‘music-created-here-and-now: composition taking the form of an improvisation - inspired by the nightingale, one of nature’s most astonishing ‘musicians’. Maybe Lorentzen pays homage to Messiaën who also made the piano sing songs of the nightingale in Réveil des Oiseaux.

Abgrund (1994)
The title (Abyss or The bottomless pit) may be a reference to the Inferno of Dante’s Divine Comedy, but also act III of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde may come to the listener’s mind. The composition belongs to a period in Lorentzen’s work where Wagner-inspired chromaticism is explored in depth. (The ‘Tristan-chord’ heard clearly at 6:03 of cut 8 is a marked point of reference to an informed listener). The composition does not follow any traditional formal principles. It may be heard in two main sections. The first section presents two interchanging elements: A) the ‘ground’ is made of chord blocks in the bass register with a ‘figure’ of a chromatically descending, irregular melody. B) begins with an ‘arpeggio fan’ spreading from a low note and followed by treble parts moving in parallel (twice). Then follow three variations of B, and the section closes with a variation of A.

The second section has a very different character. It may be heard as a lonesome soul wandering in light, but desert realms. C) is a dialog between bass (mf, 1-2 chords) and treble (pp. longer tone rows). In D) the roles are changing: tone fans are presented in the treble, while the bass sings slow melodies, and variations are heard: C’- D’.

Five Easy Fiano Pieces (1971)
I. Waves II. Conaasts III. Waves IV. Bells V. Waves

This was Lorentzens first published piano composition, commisoned by the NMFU (Nordic Music Pedagocial Union) Congress in Århus 1971. In the introduction to the score the composer presents his special notation technique, an important innovation of this period: graphic notations of duration (contrasts) as well as touch (Bells). The fourth movement is probably the first testimony of Lorentzen’s preoccupation with the sound world of hells (in later works he composes specifically for tubular bells, church bells etc.). Five Easy Pieces are minimalistic - in so far as they operate with small and precisely notated modules. Through patterns of repetition and displacement (especially rhythmically, based on addition of extra notes and/or pauses) the listener is offered new possibilities of experiencing the material. This type of minimalism is related to other Danish works from the same period, e.g. the Tricolore series of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen. The short movements are demonstrative in their effects and gesture: The absence of melody and the exhibition of single notes in close distance or blocks of seconds (in I-IV), dynamic contrasts, and (in V) a rhythmical -percussive brutality turns a distant predecessor like Bartok’s Allegro barbaro almost into candlelight music.

Lars Oie Bonde, 2002

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