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(b 1945 )

If there is such a thing as 'visual' music - music perceived with immediate clarity, as graphically as a written language - then it is the music of Ole Buck (b. 1945). His works are imbued with lines, prisms and contours as if an airborne cubism has become audible by some stroke of magic; penetrating flashes of colour and dramatic contrasts may characterise these patterns, but more often they are featherlike and frail as gossamer.

Even his musical debut Calligraphy (1964, first performed 1966) resembles a Japanese drawing: crystalline melodic ornaments and a resonant, subdued lyricism unfolding in a meticulously controlled development devoid of rhetoric. The four tiny haiku are sung by a soprano in dense, insistent melismas accompanied by an abundance of fine tracery and sudden bursts of emotion creating a partly illustrative, partly dream-like world of sound. Since then clarity, refinement and the finesse of a clockmaker have characterised Buck's music. The emotional climate of his art may seem cool and dry, but there is always something playful, something narrative and whimsical just below the surface. This is music in which every single element is clearly in focus. Distillation and concentration make it possible for the composer to use practically any kind of stylistic material - from triads to clusters - transformed to become uncompromising parts of a microcosm of moods and textures. Buck always manages to penetrate the surface of the materials he uses, to reach a hard core uneroded by habit, which can be used and reused without the risk of becoming hackneyed.

Even the refinement of his music is of a special order, not dazzling, not sophisticated, but exceptionally and purely composition; hardly intoxicating, but highly suggestive. What Cocteau said about Ravel is equally true of Buck: quot;This is music without juice!" His music rarely swells into large dimensions or extended time spans, it is unusually sensitive to the moment, and is always painted with tiny brushes and fine strokes.

Sonorous, restrained lyricism and crystalline melodic ornamentation also characterise orchestral works by Buck such as Ouverture, Dcor and Prelude I-IV, increasingly displaying his interest in proportion, timing and contrast. The shaping becomes more abstract, and the most unique of Buck's personal methods begins to emerge: repetition. He uses repetition neither as a signpost for the listener (as in classical music) nor as an instrument to evoke 'psychedelic' euphoria (as in American minimalism). Buck uses repetition to clarify and purify single elements, enabling them to interchange and blend in a spectrum where every colour remains pure.

In works such as the wind quintet Signes (1967), extremely limited material is presented in long chains of repetition. Buck surely have recognized intellectual affinities with the New Simplicity of colleagues such as Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen and Henning Christiansen: non-directional forms stripped of tensions and culminations, forms based on objective principles, 'ground rules' and the utmost simplicity. But Buck does not adopt his older colleagues' conscious monotony, or their sceptical attitude to narrative content. Rather he transforms his inspiration into a kind of musical symbol-language consisting of small idioms and building bricks put together in a Lilliputian narrative world, sometimes rigorously controlled, sometimes playfully spirited.

This original aesthetic unfolds naturally in the lightness of his Summertrio (1968), music that proves that importance does not have to be self-important, while the orchestral work Punctuations from the same period resembles the new Polish music in its accurate use of simple, direct means of expression. Buck's music from these years shows a new spontaneity, a less reserved stance, and this is particularly apparent in his rhythm, which becomes a steadily dancing pulse. This also brings him closer to the Italian Niccol Castiglioni's icily transparent musical language, music which has remained dear to Buck. This resulted in the ballet Felix Luna (1971), where Buck's 'concretism' collides with a rather garish stage drama, but more importantly in a series of chamber works rediscovering the beauty of the banal with an absolutely enviable innocence, while still keeping the music in check, far removed from sentimentality. This innocence could well be considered the essence of Buck's use of any musical material - things are never handled with kid gloves, nor are they caressed to death. Whether he alludes to the shimmering sound-lyricism of a Boulez or borrows pastoral moods from Carl Nielsen, it is always done without 'interpretation', irony or melancholy. This is the result of Buck's meticulous, lovingly pedantic manipulation, and also of a cunning art which joins and heals all fractures in the puzzle.

In recent years, he has calmly but consistently explored new areas of his narrowly confined yet fertile territory. It eventually becomes clear that melody, the ancient source of music, is his core concern. He uses melody not only as a raw material, but also as the creative impulse from which he draws a wealth of minute forms, details and connections.

Thus, with his fragile colours, with his acute sense of the poetry even of 'insignificant trifles', and with a humour applied which the lightest of touches, it is clear that Buck is a descendant of that most renowned of all Danes, the great magus of the fairytale. Buck's fairytales are singular in that his figures act in a non-figurative landscape, like silhouettes of fairies and elf-maids, or - to use one of his own favourite images - like flowers. And flowers of all kinds - ice-flowers, fairy-tale flowers, abound in Buck's music, but are conjured up without ever 'saying it with flowers'...

Kart Aage Rasmussen from

"Noteworthy Danes. Portrairs of eleven Danish Composers"

Edition Wilhelm Hansen AS, 1991

Role: Classical Composer 
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