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Per Nørgård

Publisher: Edition Wilhelm Hansen

Symfoni nr. 3 (1972)
Work Notes
I to satser. For orkester og dobbeltkor. Bestillingsværk for Danmarks Radio
Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
50 Minutes
2 choirs

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Programme Note
Per Nørgård Symfoni nr. 3 (1972)
Symphony no. 3 (1972-1975).

Per Nørgård's third symphony, commissioned by The Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra (conductor Herbert Blomstedt) , was premiered in Copenhagen in 1976 and received wide attention. The work gives comprehensive expression to a new realm of musical experience which the composer began to explore toward the end of the 1960s.

While the first period in Nørgård's production, in the 1050s, represents his personal interpretation of the Nordic music tradition – evidenced for example in his “Piano Sonata No. 2” (1957) and “Constellations” for chamber orchestra (1958) – and the second period, in the 1960s, saw him working with serial techniques, musical collage and a new sound-palette - especially in the orchestral works “Iris” (1966-67) and “Luna” (1967) – with “Voyage into the Golden Screen” (1968) Nørgård arrived at a new compositional technique based on the use of a special form of a so-called “infinity series”, a principle of musical motion to be applied to all kinds of scales (chromatic, diatonic et cetera). It is characteristic that Nørgård in the 1970s chose to cultivate diatonic infinity series, already evident in the mythological opera “Gilgamesh” (1971-72). Thus the Symphony No. 3, begun directly after the opera, combines the infinity series, major and minor scales, the partial series of natural harmonics and “sub-harmonics” (Nørgård's terminology) with rhythmic patterns based on the Golden Section (the Golden Mean) in a nexus of synchronous yet disparate elements which serve the composers vision of musical coherence..

The works which followed the symphony – the operas “Siddharta” (1975-79) and “The Divine Circus” (1981-82) and Symphony No. 4 (1981) – usher a new, fourth Nørgård period, in which inspirations from the Swiss´ mental outsider, painter and poet, Adolf Wölfli is becoming dominant, although the basic experiences of the former periods cannot be said to have been abandoned.

In view of this development, one might well ask if the term “modern music” is at all applicable in describing Nørgård's Symphony No. 3. Of course the work is “modern” in the sense that it is responsive to the contemporary cultural and musical climate, but the symphony is neither polemic, extreme nor out of touch with the traditional classical/romantic listener-orientation. The music relates positively and constructively to the traditional musical vocabulary. The work has its own wholly distinctive form, but it is at the same time sustained by a perception of organic coherence which reminds of Goethe. The intent is to show a world in growth, balance - and an interaction between emotion and understanding, and between ascending and descending forces. A comparison of the introductions to each of the two movements bears this out: in the first bars of the works the music moves upward while in the introduction to the second movement it moves downwards.

The first movement consists of the mentioned introduction (in two parts), followed by two larger main divisions. In the introduction, the harmonic and melodic subject-matter is presented and then followed by the rhythmic exposition in which regular, metrical rhythms yield to rhythms based on the Golden section. The first main division builds on a six-voice melody derived from the infinity series, with each voices or part playing the same melody at different speeds and in different keys, each of these keys being built upon specific harmonic partial. The second main division utilizes the same structure, first expanded to an almost pointilistic sound-scape and then compressed into coherent, flowing melodies.

The tendency of the first movement is toward the integrated and general, while that of the second movement, up to the final chorus, is one of a more diversified character. It proceeds stylistically within a very broad spectrum, showing in the course of the movement how Nørgård´s principles of composition can approach a traditional variation or a passacaglia form, producing sections, which remind of Latin American rhythms and then give way to “torn” sounds, only to be followed by an almost classically transparent section with words from Medieval Maria hymns. This particular musical vocabulary is consistently maintained: multiple polyphony and independent individual voices. In the final, summarizing section, which brings the chorus into the aural foreground, Rainer Maria Rilke´s “Singe die Gärten mein Herz” from his “Sonnets to Orpheus” (1922) is heard, and toward the end, a quotation from Schubert´s song “Du bist die Ruh” emerges from the musical structure itself. The words of Rilke´s poem may also convey an impression of the musical idea behind the symphony.

Jørgen I. Jensen

Singe die Gärten, mein Herz, die du nicht kennst;
Wie in Glas eingegossende Gärten, klar, unerreichbar.
Wasser und Rosen von Isphahan oder Schiras,
Singe sie selig, preise sie, keinen vergleichbar.

Zeige, mein Herz, dass du sie niemals entbehrst.
Dass sie dich meinen, ihre reidenden Feigen.
Dass du mit ihren, zwischen den blühenden Zweigen
Wie zum Gesicht gesteigerten verkehrst.

Meide den Irrtum, dass es Entbehrungen gebe
Für den geschehnen Entschluss, diesen: zu sein!
Seidener Faden, kamst du hinein ins Gewebe.

Welchender Bilder du auch im Innern geeint bist
(sei es selbst ein Moment aus dem Leben der Pein),
Fühl, dass der ganze, der rühmliche Teppich gemeint ist.

Score preview

  • Ensemble
    Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir
    Tamas Vetö
  • Ensemble
    Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir
    Leif Segerstam
  • Ensemble
    Danish National Radio Symphony / Danish National Radio Choir
    Thomas Dausgaard
  • Ensemble
    Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir
    Tamas Vetö
★★★★ Written for chorus and orchestra, his Third Symphony is conceived in vast, metaphysical terms. Like the symphonies of Mahler and Scriabin, it interrogates the cosmos in search of its meaning. It’s also astonishingly gripping, from the opening growl, suggestive of primal matter heaving itself into existence, to the serene final assertion, its text drawn from Rainer Maria Rilke, that the “whole fine tapestry” of the universe is “pre-ordained”. In between, life takes shape and form, and voices stutter to find words in an organic flood of sound, sometimes beautiful, often deeply unnerving.
Tim Ashley, The Guardian,22/08/2018
This is a symphony that sounds complicated, yet it is both cogent and direct. It is a work that embraces modernism, but is entirely founded on contemporary and classical models. It radiates emotion and depth of feeling, though in a somewhat incongruous way. The 86-year-old composer, who was present for this premiere, had good reason to be pleased with this concert - certainly one of the most note-worthy first performances of this year’s Proms.
Marc Bridle, Opera Today,22/08/2018
This was without doubt a Proms season highlight; if not *the* season highlight ... Nørgård’s Third Symphony, a behemoth of a piece, craggily uncompromising and clearly a work of utter genius ...
Colin Clarke, Seen and Heard International,22/08/2018
★★★★ There’s nothing either neat or concise about Danish composer Per Norgard’s Third Symphony. Composed in 1975, this giant of a work (vast as much in conceptual scope as sheer physical size), the work has taken until now to make its way to the UK - a baffling, unforgiveable delay, belatedly remedied here by Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. There are no obvious footholds or ridges to grip onto in a world that unfolds in a single, ever-evolving musical gesture, and any listening experience is as much about surrender as active path-finding, losing yourself in texture, sensation. Dausgaard gave us a strong sense of pulse, animating Norgard’s shimmering, microtonal canvass, generating a sense of direction and rippling impulsion. The BBC SSO gamely shape-shifted from oaken solidity (anchored in cellos and low brass) to liquid mercury in woodwind and tuned percussion, with the combined London Voice and National Youth Chamber Choir glinting through the texture with exquisite subtlety. It may not always be clear what’s going on in Norgard’s musical world, but it’s definitely somewhere you want to be.
Alexandra Coghlan, Independent,21/08/2018
★★★★ The thrill and rewards of being present for the unearthing of a rare treasure were real and palpable. ... This first orbit of Nørgård’s homeworld revealed gorgeous detail, the basic clarity achieved while a lot of the complicated things happened, and the way in which simple harmonies seem to appear as though resolving through clouds of busy activity. It was all laid out with exquisite care and commitment by orchestra, chorus and conductor. If you could join me for another trip round this particular body, I’d point out the enchanting opening of the second movement (of two), the piano melody rising above a gentle cacophony of ideas.
Andrew Morris, Bachtrack,21/08/2018
In short, Nørgård's third symphony is one of the best danish symphonies ever written. Fully comparable to Carl Nielsen's symphonies.
Søren Schauser, Berlingske Tidende,01/01/0001
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