Rasmussen: Italiensk Koncert (Capricorn Ensemble) (Dacapo Classical: 8.224008)
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Denmark'sgeographical position between Central Europe and the Nordic countries is notwithout significance for a proper understanding of music and musical life inthe second half of this century. Sandwiched between north and south, thecountry has been a melting-pot for various aesthetic tendencies in the field ofclassical music.
In the1950s musical modernism took a firm hold, beginning in Central Europe with thework of pioneers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez, and later itmade inroads into the Nordic countries as well. At first Danish composers wereshocked by the aesthetic developments in modernism; some of them simply couldnot come to terms with its external, formalized rules for the treatment ofmusical material. The Danish mentality was hostile to modernism's canon ofprohibitions and commands, though that canon was to playa formative role in theevolution of music in the following decades.
Danishcomposers born in the twenties and thirties felt they had to take a stance on modernism'scall for absolute renewal in the material of music. They had grown up with the classicistaesthetic of a Danish tradition represented by names such as Carl Nielsen (1865-1931),Vagn Holmboe (b. 1909), and Herman D. Koppel (b. 1908). Moreover, they all sharedan outlook that was the product of a Danish and Nordic musical world where the rangeof artistic vision was limited by historical circumstances. In particular,World War II had made it impossible for composers to keep up with internationaltrends. It is very much to the point that the older generation could accept Bartokbut not Schoenberg; was this a case of 'local characteristics' or'provincialism'? The younger composers, who felt the need to tryout thetechnical wonders of the postwar period, realized that a confrontation withtheir father figures was unavoidable.
Thisartistic attitude -involving discussion and, to varying degrees, assimilationand acceptance of external trends - resulted in a breach with Holmboe andKoppel, the inheritors of classicism, on the part of composers like Niels ViggoBentzon (b. 1919), Per N?©rg?Ñrd (b. 1932), Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (b. 1932),and Bent Lorentzen (b. 1935). The enthusiastic and ambitious younger generationfound it somewhat provincial that the idiom of Holmboe and Koppel had remainedunaffected by developments in the international avant-garde.
All of thismakes it understandable that, from the fifties onward, many works by composers bornbetween the wars display tension between the Central European, modernist way ofthinking and a special Nordic tone. It is as if one can hear an ongoingdiscussion between the lines of the music; the conflict between tradition andrenewal is heard in many works as a set of oppositions between the idyllic andthe apocalyptic, the anachronistic and the absolutely innovative, the local andthe global. German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger has written a comment on theNorwegian mentality that could equally well apply to Danish composers: "Onthe one hand they love anachronism and stubbornly maintain pre-modern styles ofthinking and living. On the other hand they have a tendency unintentionally toanticipate the future They are stay-at-homes and cosmopolitans at one and thesame time."
Influencesemanating from Central Europe at mid-century, and later from North America and theFar East, have accordingly stimulated a fruitful discussion among Danish composers.
This is especially true of Per N?©rg?Ñrd, who at an early stage erected a bulwarkagainst the chaotic sounds emerging from the south in the form of his 'universeof the Nordic mind' - a declaration of commitment to the Nordic tone withHolmboe and Sibelius as the great trail-blazers. N?©rg?Ñrd 's natural curiositymade it impossible, however, for him to keep to this narrow path for very long.
He began to make forays into the Central European new music environment, fromwhich he imported material to his private - often metaphysical and antagonistic- universe. In the uniquely personal idiom of this composer we find infiniteseries, overtone series, and hierarchical control of the parameters of music.
N?©rg?Ñrd hasexerted tremendous influence on developments in Danish composition. Not onlyhis highly individual works but also his achievements as a teacher andorganizer have left their mark on succeeding generations. Some of N?©rg?Ñrd'scontemporaries -Gudmund-sen-Holmgreen, Ib N?©rholm (b. 1931), and the slightlyyounger Ole Buck (b. 1945) - reacted to the complexity of modernism by going tothe opposite extreme and writing in the simplest possible way. They founded thetrend called New Simplicity and were the creators of a style that may be lookedupon as a very special Danish version of minimalism.
What unitesthese composers is their stylistic pluralism, which breaks some of the prohibitionsof the leading modernists. They rebelled against the technocratic notion of progressimplicit in the autonomous aesthetic, which permitted development in onedirection only, and insisted on a multiplicity of forms of expression, makinguse of collage and playing ironic games with quotations and stylistic elementsfrom older music. Later they changed direction, each of them adopting his own personalperspective on his earlier works, but their output is a typical illustration ofsomething central to the Danish mentality: nothing from outside is uncriticallyadopted, it has first to be rejected and examined more closely.
This isperhaps especially true of a composer like Karl Aage Rasmussen (b. 1947). He isa multi-artist who participates in musical life on many different levels - as afestival director, new music conductor, writer, debater, and not leastcomposer. His starting point was reception and transformation of the musical traditionin what has been termed 'music on music'. An example is Berio Mask (1977), wherehe re-uses the music of Luciano Berio, who in turn had re-used Mahler, and soon. But other problems have been taken up in Rasmussen's more recent music,among other things the concept of time. And in light of recent experience hecontinues to grapple with the big issues of aesthetics, technique, andperception. It is significant that one of his articles is entitled Can Time BeHeard? His thoughts on these topics are expressed musically in the orchestral workA Symphony in Time (on dacapo DCCD 9010), in Movements on a Moving Line for chamberorchestra, and in the string quartets Surrounded by Scales and Solos andShadows (recorded for dacapo, DCCD 9003a+b, by the Arditti Quartet from theUnited Kingdom). Rasmussen's Italian Concerto (1981) on the present disc is asort of lifeline between the composer's early experiments with many differentstyles and his recent output of works emphasizing construction and stringencyjust as much as expression.
Thedogmatic innovation philosophy of the fifties may not be normative any more,but its lessons have not been forgotten and there is still a demand for innerconsistency in music. The latter appears to be a key issue for Poul Ruders (b.
1949), who at the beginning of his career wrote pieces full of irony, distance,and pastiche, just as his leading contemporaries Bo Holten (b. 1948),Rasmussen, and Hans Abrahamsen (b. 1952) were doing. In the course of theeighties these composers have overcome the shyness that their ironic posture actuallyconcealed, and are no longer afraid to make grand statements in their works. Muchthe same can be said of Niels Rosing-Schow and Erik H?©jsgaard (both born 1954),who are represented here by Voix Interieures and Paysage bl?¬me respectively.
Their music has a lyrically searching character, but this does not imply thatthey have no use for constructionism. They have