Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Hans Abrahamsen Schnee

That's Hans Abrahamsen b 1952. He's one of the most interesting composers about at the moment. He studied with Per Nørgård, a favourite of mine. They don't sound alike but if you like limpid lucidity, you'll like Abrahamsen. Beautifully clean, intelligent music. On 7th April Julian Anderson is hosting an Abrahamsen programme at the South Bank. It's free, so if you can get there, don't miss it.

The concert features only two pieces, but they are a good entry into this composer's work. Märchenbilder is an early work (1984) commissioned by the London Sinfonietta. Märchenbilder translates as "Fairy tale pictures", which describes the magical effect.

"Music is pictures of music", says Abrahamsen. "That is a strong underlying element in my world of ideas when I compose - as is the fictional aspect that one moves around in an imaginary space of music. What one hears is pictures - basically, music is already there."

The other piece on the programme is even more intriguing. Schnee (2007) is a two part invention of sorts, with piano and strings in one unit, and clarinet, oboe, piccolo and sound sheet in the second unit. It starts in silence, the violin bowing barely above the level of audibility, but gradually viola and cello join, developing the melody. The piano adds a steady pulse that’s almost metronomic at times but is in many ways the basis of the piece. The second part expands the first, the extra instruments taking up the ideas, though the first piano is still the foundation. It’s tuneful, harmonies circulating backwards and forwards, like the round shape the percussionist draws on the sound sheet, whirring just above the threshold of silence. It’s aphoristic, like an elegantly constructed puzzle. But puzzles can be a lot of fun, and this one operates on several levels, so it would be fun figuring out. Apparently, there will be more as these two parts will be included in a larger-scale work. I heard it in November 2007, and was smitten. PLEASE SEE my piece on Abrahamsen's WALD at the Proms.

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