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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
Wilhelm Hansen
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
  • 20 AUG 2018
    Symfoni nr. 3 UK Premiere
    Symphony no. 3 UK Premiere
    BBC Proms 2018
    Royal Albert Hall, London, UK
    BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; London Voices; National Youth Chamber Choir of Great Britain
    Thomas Dausgaard, conductor
  • 20 DEC 2007
    DR Radiokoret 75 år
    Radiohusets Koncertsal, København, Denmark
    DR Radiosymfoniorkesteret
    DR Radiokoret; Thomas Dausgaard, conductor
  • 19 DEC 2007
    Radiohusets koncertsal, København, Denmark
    Danish National Radio Choir
    Thomas Dausgaard, conductor

    Other Dates:
    20 December - Radiohusets koncertsal, København, Denmark

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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