About this Recording
8.570542 - LINDBERG, M.: Piano Music (van Raat) - Klavierstuck / Play I / Jubilees / Twine / Etudes
English  German 

Magnus Lindberg (b. 1958)
Complete Piano Music


Whoever becomes acquainted with the compositional style of Magnus Lindberg by hearing his most recent piano compositions will be baffled to hear his earlier works, and vice versa. The Jubilees and the two Etudes, strongly influenced by Debussy, Scriabin and Rachmaninov, seem to be in stark contrast to his early strictly modernist works such as the Klavierstück or Musik för Två Pianon which seem much closer to the works of Pierre Boulez and Brian Ferneyhough. On listening more closely, however, all these works can only originate from the same artistic mind of one of Finland’s most important living composers, constantly seeking new ways to create sounds that break silence in the most powerful way.

Magnus Lindberg came to the immediate attention of the world of classical music when he announced his artistic credo as a budding composer in the late 1970s. Together with Finnish contemporaries such as Kaija Saariaho, Jouni Kaipainen and Esa-Pekka Salonen, he formed a group with the name “Ears Open!” (“Korvat Auki!”) in 1977. With the goal of reliving the spirit of modernism and innovation in Finnish musical culture, a number of striking compositions followed which, in many different ways, were much more extreme in their musical parameters than the works of any of Lindberg’s teachers, the well-known Einojuhani Rautavaara and Paavo Heininen.

Musik för Två Pianon (1976) was one of Lindberg’s first pieces, right before this period. At times very densely scored for the instruments, the piece is heavily based on mathematical serial procedures. Durations, pitches and dynamics were calculated for each single note using specific compositional laws. The result is seemingly objective music, however, with dramatic harmonies and aural explosions. Already apparent in such an early work is Lindberg’s notion of different layers of music: when one layer stops, another becomes audible: wild outbursts are interrupted by moments of seemingly timeless sustained notes. These extremely long durations make up their own structure, separating the flow of the music.

In Klavierstück (1977), this time scored for one piano only, Lindberg applied similar principles. However, the composer by that time had already developed a more flexible approach to music: with dynamics indicated for each note, the rhythms were notated more freely, using many fermatas and appoggiaturas. Silence in this work, again, is as important as sound. The unusually dramatic first section of the composition, with fast, angry rumbling passages in the bass register makes way for icy and delicate flurries of ‘note clouds’ in the midst of floating musical air, covering up an arching slow, single-note melody which forms a sub-layer.

The concept of music in its most pure form, stripped from any embellishments, is heard in the third movement of Tre Pianostycke (1978). In this movement, we hear just a single melody shared between the two hands of the pianist, with an occasional chord to provide for a harmonic context. The three pieces, written as educational material for piano students, generally seem to form a fingerprint of Lindberg’s later style: the use of different sound layers through extreme dynamics creating a sense of foreground and background; holding certain keys within a chord after its attack, revealing a sense of hidden polyphony; rhythmically complex structures; a sense of drama and last but not least, an acute ear for harmonic colour of alternating dramatic and spectral qualities.

Play I (1979), again for two pianos, forms a new direction in Lindberg’s compositional career. Although he was still influenced by the sound of serialist composers of his time, his approach especially to rhythm and form became radically more free compared to his earlier works. On large sheets of paper, groups of notes are found in spatial notation. Both pianists are free to choose the order in which they play them, according to certain pre-determined rules. All sections have different rules, but the Movement sections are generally notated precisely. Besides the playful, free character of the work, the Debussy- and Scriabin-like textural qualities of Movements form a new element in Lindberg’s musical language.

After a compositional silence of two years in which the composer rethought the direction of his musical evolution, the first work with which he reappeared on the music scene was Twine (1988). Not less complex than any of his earlier works, this composition was based for the first time mainly on symmetrical harmonic sequences, in which root notes were actually found in the middle of the chords. A special pedalling technique is prescribed, using the middle pedal of the grand piano. This pedal sustains the main harmonies of this composition, creating a constant harmonic background, as a sublayer to the otherwise melodic lines. Although this piece bears conceptual relationships to Luciano Berio’s Sequenza IV for piano, it has a striking and highly individual sense of Romantic drama and direction, besides echoes of French Impressionism and occasional strong bass lines which sound as if they come straight from an experimental rock group.

During the twelve years that followed, the compositional style and ideas of Magnus Lindberg continued to evolve. Seeking more connections with tradition, all elements of his early works – the complexity, the polyphonic approach, the preference for a dramatic development and the importance of harmonic colour – came together in a highly individual style which, in terms of harmony and gesture, ranges from Rachmaninov and Liszt to Scriabin, Debussy and Messiaen. The resulting transformation of sound, however, is hard to compare with any other composer’s style. The compositional process of the six Jubilees (2000) started as a single piece written for the occasion of the 75th birthday of Pierre Boulez, but soon five more movements were added. Every movement seems to shed a new light onto a basic set of spectral sonorities. The first movement acts as a kind of exposition for the other five movements, in which many compositional elements of the initial movement are explored. It is a telling fact that Lindberg later orchestrated the score for chamber orchestra; even though this is piano music, it is created from a mind which thinks in terms of the broadest possible orchestral colours and polyphonies. The two Etudes (2001 and 2004) are in many ways an extension of the Jubilees, in which Lindberg experiments with short form. Pianistically, both etudes share specific techniques, such as parallel intervals, with the piano studies by Liszt, Chopin and Debussy. Very evident in the piano writing of these works is Lindberg’s own capabilities as an accomplished pianist.

Retrospectively, it is not difficult for anyone willing to keep his or her ears open, to notice that the most recent stylistic achievements by Magnus Lindberg are in fact much more closely related to his early works than they seem at first hearing. All the seeds had been planted at an early stage, and the harvest is rich. This harvest not only fits the (musical) nature of Finland, but it stretches out far beyond.

Ralph van Raat


Special gratitude goes to the Finnish Music Information Centre (FIMIC) and Boosey & Hawkes for generously providing the scores for this recording

This recording was made possible, in part, by the Fortis MeesPierson Award of the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

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