Thursday, September 22, 2005

Pondering Per Nørgård

This semester will include (amongst the zillion other things I'm doing) a project studying the music of Per Nørgård. His music is not well-known in this country, for reasons unknown. He's composed a vast amount of music, and at a very high standard of quality. Part of his neglect may have to do with the fact that he's Danish, and was never very well-connected to the power-base of new music in the 1950s and 60s. Also, his music is decidedly eclectic in its influences, and while he investigated many of the usual post-war avant-garde techniques, he never really bought into any of them completely. He instead came up with his own process, called the Infinity Series, which is a sort of "musical DNA" that allows a composer a tremendous amount of flexible control over pitch relationships, while retaining an organic consistency that is remarkable. I've started using this in a couple of my own pieces, and I find that there's a world to be discovered within. Nørgård used this process exclusively for about twenty years before venturing into new territories, but it remains an important facet to his craft.

I am currently studying a choral work for 8-voice choir and 8 instruments called 'Singe die Gärten, Mein Herz,' a stunning setting of a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke It's unutterably beautiful in a number of ways, and Nørgård later used the piece as the climactic focal point of his Third Symphony. The piece projects a glowing resonance throughout its 11-minute duration and I was thrilled to learn from reading the score that Nørgård specifies that the work be performed in "well-temperament," an older tuning that has fallen into dis-use, but which is much more "in tune" than is today's equal temperament. As someone who has been interested in other tuning systems for a while, I am positive that this aspect is one of the factors that unconsciously drew me to the piece. If this sounds intriguing to you, I recommend a CD of Nørgård's choral music that is currently available on DaCapo. Otherwise, stay tuned for more updates as I delve deeper into this music.

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