Film and Tv
‘It is snow, it is snow!’ So sing the instruments in Hans Abrahamsen’s
(2008), one of the most remarkable musical compositions of this century so far. Snow, in returning the world to whiteness, makes each winter a spring: a clean sweep, a fresh page.
when it first appeared – at Witten in 2008 and on disc the next year – seemed very much like a new start, and indeed, Abrahamsen is a composer who has made the new start almost a way of life. From the early winter works,
(1976-78) - the defining work of his mid-twenties - and
(1985), to the recent
for violin, piano and strings (2010-11), with its chilling-exhilarating quasi-unisons of high piano and string harmonic, we sense the fresh flakes falling, quietly blanking out the landscape. We may feel we recognize this music, even as we recognize also its unfamiliarity, the sharp scent of new snow.
Hans Abrahamsen was born in 1952, and received his musical education from, amongst others, Per Nørgård, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen and György Ligeti. An early beginner – his first published works date from when he was sixteen – he had produced a sizeable output by the time he reached thirty: several orchestral works (including
Nacht und Trompeten
(1981), a luminous and dramatic nocturne commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic), two string quartets and numerous other pieces, mostly instrumental. In 1984 came a set of seven piano studies (later increased to
) after which Abrahamsen’s productivity gradually slowed, then stopped.
In 2000 he completed his first extended work in a decade an a half, the
, at once intimate and tightly crafted, as close to Schumann as it is to Stravinsky, speaking at certain moments with intense poignancy. What might have seemed a breakthrough, however, proved an impasse, and it was at this point that Abrahamsen turned again to his piano studies to remake the first four as
Four Pieces For Orchestra
, which had its UK premiere at the BBC Proms in 2005.
The new millennium has brought a sequence of major new works that opened in earnest with
Third String Quartet
(2008), in four short movements, is a relatively simple piece that remains deeply puzzling;
for fifteen players (2009) is at once natural depiction (in this case of shadowy forests), cultural evocation (of horn calls, hunts and lurking mystery) and elaborate musical construct; and the
(2010-11), exquisite and touching, reaches steadily to moments of bursting brilliance.
In addition to his small yet condensed output of original works, Abrahamsen has found an outlet as an arranger and, indeed, as a rearranger, which – in Abrahamsen’s own words – allows him to
in aspects of other composers’ music. Prominent Danish composer Per Nørgård benefited from Abrahamsen’s reorchestrating abilities in 1992 when the latter produced a new sinfonietta version of Nørgård’s small ensemble work
marking the occasion of that composer’s 60
birthday. In recent years, Abrahamsen’s work as an orchestrator has gone on, notably with a reduction of Nielsen’s
Symphony No. 6
(2010) and an arrangement of Debussy’s
Hans Abrahamsen received the Carl Nielsen Prize in 1989 and the Wilhelm Hansen Composer Prize in 1998. He is featured composer at the Witten Days for New Chamber Music in Germany in spring 2012.
© Paul Griffiths
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