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Edition Wilhelm Hansen
Photo © Lars Skaaning
How does one describe a phenomenon like Poul Ruders? No sooner have you found the
than something in the music clamours to contradict it. He can be gloriously, explosively extrovert one minute - withdrawn, haunted, intently inward looking the next. Super-abundant high spirits alternate with pained, almost expressionistic lyricism; simplicity and directness with astringent irony.
Try and restrict the language to technical matters and the paradoxes continue: few composers on the contemporary scene are so versatile, so accomplished, so obviously in command of their tools and materials, and yet the music can give the impression of dancing on the edge of a precipice. It is a language of extremes, commandingly integrated - and perhaps all the more startling for that.
Finding his voice has taken him longer than many other composers, he admits, but it has also been an adventure - a period of experimentation and discovery which has led him in all manner of directions, metaphorically and literally; confronting American minimalism in the early eighties and developing his own perspective; making London his spiritual home later in that decade and employing the peculiar English technique of ‘change-ringing’; exploring – in his own words –
in the nineties as a vital counterbalance to the world of violence and desolation he had opened up in his previous works.
In the opera
The Handmaid‘s Tale
(1996-98) more than in any of his other works - Ruders draws together the themes which have preoccupied him for so long: The apocalyptic, the elemental and the human, aching tenderness, grotesque irony, despair – however, also, as in the closing pages of the
(1989), a flicker of hope. For Ruders, perhaps, ‘The One True Path’ is that there is no path at all. And thus the adventure continues.