Scandinavian Greats 11/3/15
Scandinavian Greats 11/3/15
The music of Scandinavia has always been popular in the UK whether it's been Sibelius or Abba
A product, I would venture, of close genetic, historic and social ties. Today I am going to concentrate on half a dozen different composers from different eras to, hopefully, illustrate the vast range and popularity of music produced by our Scandinavian cousins. As always with these talks, the problem is who to include and who to leave out. I've decided to leave out one major figure, Greig, largely because of his familiarity and because, as usual with my stuff, I want to explore one or two byways of Scandinavian music.
1. Sibelius 1865-195, Symphony no 5, 3rd movement (9.15m), Allegro molto - un pochettino largamente.
Simon Rattle, CBSO, EMI, 7497172.
I make no apologies for starting with Sibelius, a particular favourite of mine. I suppose he represents to Finland what Elgar represents to the UK, a sort of musical embodiment of national identity. Much of his music draws on Finnish folklore and was written at a time of struggle for Finnish independence from the Russian empire. It also, often, beautifully evokes the landscape of Finland.
Sibelius was commissioned to write this symphony by the Finnish government in honour of his 50th birthday, which had been declared a national holiday, such was his importance to the Finnish state.. The symphony was originally composed in 1915. It was revised first in 1916 and then again in 1919 to the form we hear it today.
The original version was premiered by Sibelius himself with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra on his own 50th birthday, 8 December 1915. The symphony is in three movements and was inspired by Sibelius watching swans taking off from a lake. I'm going to play the last movement, the Swan hymn. It demonstrates Sibelius's complete mastery of the symphonic form, beautifully integrating horns with strings, the haunting melody of the symphony is re introduced and built upon, with the tension of the piece ebbing and flowing but ratcheted up to a stirring finale. The symphony was among the last pieces he ever wrote, as, from the mid 1920's to his death in 1957 little was penned, the muse had left him.
2. Arvo Part, Alina, ECM New Series 449958-2 Spiegel im Spiegel 10.36m
Arvo Pärt ( born 11 September 1935) is an Estonian composer of classical and sacred music. Since the late 1970s, Pärt has worked in a minimalist style and, for those of you who understand the mechanic of composition, he employs a self-invented compositional technique, tintinnabular, wherein a melodic voice, operating over diatonic scales and a tintinnabular voice, operating within a triad on the tonic, accompany each other. His music is also, in part, inspired by Gregorian chant. As of 2014, Pärt had been the most performed contemporary composer in the world for three years in a row.
Pärt is often identified with the school of minimalism and, more specifically, that of mystic minimalism or holy minimalism.He is considered a pioneer of the latter style, along with contemporaries Henryk Górecki and John Tavener. Although his fame initially rested on instrumental works such as Tabula Rasa and Spiegel im Spiegel, his choral works have also come to be widely appreciated.
Like Sibelius, national identity is important as Part's early career laboured under the yoke of Estonia's subjugation to Russia. Interesting how spiritualism and nationalism can often be closely allied.
The piece I'm going to play you today is called Spiegel im Spiegel. The piece was originally written for a single piano and violin – though the violin has often been replaced with either a cello or a viola. Versions also exist for double bass, clarinet, horn, flute, bassoon, trombone, and percussion. The piece is an example of minimal music.
The piece is in F major in 6/4 time, with the piano playing rising crotchet triads and the second instrument playing slow F major scales, alternately rising and falling, of increasing length, which all end on the note A (the mediant of F). The piano's left hand also plays notes, syncopated with the violin (or other instrument).
"Spiegel im Spiegel" in German literally can mean both "mirror in the mirror" as well as "mirrors in the mirror", referring to an infinity mirror, which produces an infinity of images reflected by parallel plane mirrors: the tonic triads are endlessly repeated with small variations as if reflected back and forth.
3. Carl Nielsen 1865-1931 Symphony no4, The Inextinguishable, final movement, Allegro.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Jean Matino, RCA Classics 74321212962, 7.44m.
Carl August Nielsen (9 June 1865 – 3 October 1931) is widely recognised as Denmark's greatest composer, and is also remembered as a skilled conductor and a violinist. Brought up by poor but musically talented parents on the island of Funen, he demonstrated his musical abilities at an early age. While it was some time before his works were fully appreciated, even in his home country, Nielsen has now firmly entered the international repertoire. Especially in Europe and the United States, his music is ever more frequently performed, with interest growing in other countries too. Carl Nielsen is especially admired for his six symphonies, his Wind Quintet and his concertos for violin, flute and clarinet. In Denmark, his opera Maskarade and a considerable number of his songs have become an integral part of the national heritage. While his early music was inspired by composers such as Brahms and Grieg, he soon started to develop his own style, first experimenting with progressive tonality and later diverging even more radically from the standards of composition still common at the time. For many years, he appeared on the Danish hundred-kroner banknote.
The piece I am going to play you today is the final, fourth movement of Symphony No. 4, Op. 29, FS 76, also known as "The Inextinguishable" was completed in 1916. Composed against the backdrop of the First World War, this symphony is among the most dramatic that Nielsen wrote, featuring a "battle" between two sets of timpani.
The symphony is scored for 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in C, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 sets of timpani, and strings.
The symphony's four movements are played without breaks – attacca subito (literally "attack quickly; suddenly"). The first movement begins with a fierce tutti pitting D minor against its flat seventh, C, in an almost antiphonal manner. After the tutti, the clarinets introduce in A major the lyrical theme that will culminate the work. The second movement, for woodwind in G major, is more an intermezzo than the expected adagio. That function is fulfilled by the third movement, which opens with a cantilena from unison violins, then builds to a climax before concluding with a single oboe playing over trills in the upper strings. The clashes of the first movement reappear in the final movement, in which two sets of timpani duel from either side of the orchestra. This passage calls on the two timpanists to change the pitch of the timpani while playing. At the very end E major emerges as the key to conclude the work. It is the most recorded of Nielsen's symphonies.
4. Jan Gabarek, In Praise of Dreams, track 3, One Goes There Alone, 5.06m, ECM18809811068
Jan Garbarek (born 4 March 1947) is a Norwegian tenor and soprano saxophonist, active in the jazz, classical, and world music genres. Garbarek was born in Mysen, Norway, the only child of a former Polish prisoner of war Czesław Garbarek and a Norwegian farmer's daughter. Effectively stateless until the age of seven (there was no automatic grant of citizenship in Norway at that time) Garbarek grew up in Oslo.
Garbarek's sound is one of the hallmarks of the ECM Records label, which has released virtually all of his recordings. His style incorporates a sharp-edged tone, long, keening, sustained notes, and generous use of silence. He began his recording career in the late 1960s, notably featuring on recordings by the American jazz composer George Russell (such as Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature). If he had initially appeared as a devotee of Albert Ayler and Peter Brötzmann, by 1973 he had turned his back on the harsh dissonances of avant-garde jazz, retaining only his tone from his previous approach. Garbarek gained wider recognition through his work with pianist Keith Jarrett's European Quartet which released the albums Belonging (1974), My Song (1977) and the live recordings Personal Mountains (1979), and Nude Ants (1979). He was also a featured soloist on Jarrett's orchestral works Luminessence (1974) and Arbour Zena (1975).
As a composer, Garbarek tends to draw heavily from Scandinavian folk melodies, a legacy of his Ayler influence. He is also a pioneer of ambient jazz composition, most notably on his 1976 album Dis a collaboration with guitarist Ralph Towner that featured the distinctive sound of a wind harp on several tracks. This textural approach, which rejects traditional notions of thematic improvisation (best exemplified by Sonny Rollins) in favour of a style described by critics Richard Cook and Brian Morton as "sculptural in its impact", has been critically divisive. Garbarek's more meandering recordings are often labeled as New Age music, a style generally scorned by more orthodox jazz musicians and listeners, or spiritual ancestors thereof. Other experiments have included setting a collection of poems of Olav H. Hauge to music, with a single saxophone complementing a full mixed choir; this has led to notable performances with Grex Vocalis, but not yet to recordings. In the 1980s, Garbarek's music began to incorporate synthesizers and elements of world music. He has collaborated with Indian and Pakistani musicians such as Trilok Gurtu, Zakir Hussain, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Ustad Fateh Ali Khan. Garbarek is credited for composing original music for the 2000 film Kippur.
In 1994, during heightened popularity of Gregorian chant, his album Officium, a collaboration with early music vocal performers the Hilliard Ensemble, became one of ECM's biggest-selling albums of all time, reaching the pop charts in several European countries and was followed by a sequel, Mnemosyne, in 1999. Officium Novum, another sequel album, was released in September 2010. In 2005, his album In Praise of Dreams was nominated for a Grammy. Garbarek's first live album Dresden was released in 2009.
5.Peteris Vasks, Voices (Balsis) Symphony for Strings, 1st movement Voices of Silence, 6.00, Teldec 398422660-2
Peteris Vasks was born in Aizpute, Latvia in 1946 into the family of a Baptist pastor. He trained as a violinist at the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, as a double-bass player with Vitautas Sereikaan at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, and played in several Latvian orchestras before entering the State Conservatory in Vilnius in the neighboring Lithuania to study composition with Valentin Utkin, as he was prevented from doing this in Latvia due to Soviet repressive policy toward Baptists. He started to become known outside Latvia in the 1990s, when Gidon Kremer started championing his works and now is one of the most influential and praised European contemporary composers.
Balsis was written in 1991 at the height of Soviet Empires dying excesses and the peaceful resistance of the Baltic peoples. On the day he finished the score all the flags were flying at half mast in all three Baltic countries.
This first movement represents listening to the infinite expanse of a starry night. A string chorale in the eternal silence. Awareness of a vague sense of sadness at the inexorable march of time.
6. Bjork, Vespetine, One Little Indian Records, 589000-2, Sun in My Mouth, 3.00m
Björk (born 21 November 1965), is an Icelandic singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and occasional actress. She initially became known as the lead singer of the alternative rock band The Sugarcubes, whose 1987 single "Birthday" was a hit on US and UK indie stations and a favourite among music critics. Björk began her career as a solo artist in 1993. Her first album, Debut, was rooted in electronic dance music, house, jazz and trip-hop, and is widely credited as one of the first albums to introduce electronic dance music into mainstream pop.Now in the third decade of her solo career, Björk has developed an eclectic musical style that incorporates aspects of dance, rock, trip hop, jazz, electronic, classical, experimental and avant-garde music.
The piece I'm going to play you today is from her 2001 album Vespertine and I think it displays her astonishing talent to experiment and push the boundaries of contemporary.
Björk wanted to make an album with an intimate, winter, domestic sound. With the rising popularity of Napster and music downloads, she decided to use instruments whose sound would not be compromised when downloaded and played in a computer: these include the harp —played by Zeena Parkins—, celesta, clavichord and music boxes, the latter were custom made; strings are also heavily featured. In Vespertine Björk also added "microbeats" made from the sampling of shuffling cards and ice being cracked, among other household sounds with the help of the duo Matmos. Lyrically, it revolves around sex and love —sometimes explicitly—, inspired by the singer's new relationship with Matthew Barney. Other lyrical sources include a poem by E. E. Cummings, the play Crave and collaborator Harmony Korine. Vespertine 's sound reflected Björk's newly found interest in the music of artists such as Thomas Knak, who was also enlisted as a producer.
Vespertine was widely acclaimed by critics. Praise centred on its erotic, intimate mood and sonic experimentation. The record has been featured in several publications' lists of the best albums of 2001 and the best albums of the decade, and was often considered Björk's best album to date.
7. Einojuhani Rautavaara, Cantus Articus, 2nd movement Melankolia, 4.19m, Hannu Lintu, Royal Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Naxos 8554147.
Einojuhani Rautavaara is a Finnish composer of contemporary classical music, and is one of the most notable Finnish composers after Jean Sibelius.
Rautavaara was born in Helsinki in 1928 and studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki under Aarre Merikanto from 1948 to 1952 before he was recommended for a scholarship to study at the Juilliard School in New York City. There he was taught by Vincent Persichetti, and he also took lessons from Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. He first came to international attention when he won the Thor Johnson Contest for his composition A Requiem in Our Time.
Rautavaara is a prolific composer and has written in a variety of forms and styles. He experimented with serial techniques in his early career but left them behind in the 1960s and even his serial works are not obviously serial. His third symphony, for example, uses such techniques, but sounds more like Anton Bruckner than it does a more traditional serialist such as Pierre Boulez. His later works often have a mystical element (such as in several works with titles making reference to angels). A characteristic 'Rautavaara sound' might be a rhapsodic string theme of austere beauty, with whirling flute lines, gently dissonant bells, and perhaps the suggestion of a pastoral horn.
The except I'm going to play you today is from Cantus Articus Op 61. Commissioned by the 'Arctic' University of Oulu for its degree ceremony, it's a 'concerto for birds and orchestra'. All the bird sounds were taped in the Arctic. In this second movement the bird sound you can hear is a shore lark but it's sound has been brought down two octaves to make it a 'ghost bird'
Finally, back to Sibelius, for a rousing piece to send you home humming, the Alla Marcia from the Karelia Suite a call to arms against the Russians.