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Peter Bruun

Born: 1968

Nationality: Danish

Publisher: Edition Wilhelm Hansen

Photo © Lars Skaaning

Throughout the last couple of years musical theatre has played an important role in Peter Bruuns work. In collaboration with author Ursula Andkjær Olsen, director Ditte Bjerg and scenographer Filippa Berglund, he has set up the productions, Miki Alone and The art of choosing – the right melody. Peter Bruun received The Nordic Council’s Music Prize 2008 for Miki Alone. He also received WH’s Composer Prize in 2000. 

Room for a diversity of expressions
Peter Bruun (b. 1968) took private composition and theory lessons with Niels Marthinsen and studied philosophy at Århus University from 1989 to 1991. He graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in Århus following studies of composition and music theory with teachers such as Karl Aage Rasmussen, Per Nørgård, Hans Abrahamsen and Bent Lorentzen. Early on, Bruun distinguished himself as one of his generation’s most promising composers, who had the will to regard his work in a larger historical and philosophical context. Bruun’s will and ability to reflect on both compositional and fundamental questions concerning the capacity of music, makes him an artist that one cannot and does not wish to avoid. 

Peter Bruun’s works roughly extend over a ten year period. The diversity and the wish to explore different ways of expression are striking, however, at the same time one senses an overall goal: faith in the possibility of finding new roads in working with melody, harmony and tonality. In his music Bruun travels back in order to see the new in the well-known. He is not trying to reinvent anything, as he is not old enough to have been through tonality/modality, and to have encountered serialism’s trials in order to discover a new realization about the viability of the old modes of expression. Basically, Peter Bruun has not inherited past generations’ need to clash with father figures or institutions. This creates space for a different interpretation of history. 

The composer’s historical consciousness, practical disposition and theoretical knowledge have led to a gradual awareness of challenges and possibilities in different musical materials. This does not mean that Bruun has found his ‘tone’ or his way; he is constantly in motion mentally and is always trying out new forms, media and modes of expression. He has stated, “Uncertainty is not a step on the way to clarification, but a foundation”. His works are often made in collaboration with the musicians or ensembles, who have ordered the work. The artist decides on vocal and instrumental possibilities and is often inspired by the performers’ experiences. This has resulted in fruitful collaborations with for example percussionist Thomas Sandberg, the group Tukutukahh (Four percussionists and one flute), Århus Sinfonietta, Esbjerg Ensemble, Ensemble 2000, the quartet Danske Rør and the actress Anna Christine Løf. Peter Bruun has been especially interested in smaller mixed chamber music groups where the vocal aspect is often important. 

In attempting to pin down Peter Bruun’s music, one can add a word to what has already been described, namely: repetition. The complete quality of expression in the composer’s music can be carefully attributed words such as tuneful, supple rhythmic sequences, stylistic flexibility, conspicuous curiosity towards unusual instrumentation, pluralistic mentality, tonal melodies, repetition as a constructing factor and displacement of certain returning patterns. The last two aspects give the music an extensive time-related feeling, an experience of being in surfaces or music as a state. Due to their outer shells and rhythmic profiles, several works reminds us of music from different cultures, sometimes characterized as oriental or ethnic music. 

The fact that Peter Bruun’s disposition is open to different forms and expressions makes his works a melting pot for different impulses, where greatness means bringing together differences to new aesthetic wholes. It is not an easy task. Working with cultural legacy calls for clarification on what the musical language must be used for, whether the music is a symptom of something else and whether it means anything. In the composer’s own words: “I do not have an aesthetic standpoint. I have established this by searching my inner self in trying to find it. In a way it has been painful to realize this since my approach to writing music has been highly speculative, precisely motivated by an interest for the aesthetic: what does music mean, why is music a certain way and how can we wish for it to be?” 

One of the reasons Peter Bruun is becoming an even more distinct voice within Danish music is that he is not afraid of being out of date. Concepts such as avant-garde, retro, modernism and postmodernism do not really exist with Bruun. First and foremost, he is honest and sincere in dealing with the material and the ideas and does not have a specific agenda. It is this position towards music and realising it in correlation with other people that make Peter Bruun one of the most interesting composers of his generation. 

© Anders Beyer 2000
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