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Poul Ruders

Publisher: Edition Wilhelm Hansen

Abysm (2000)
Work Notes
Commissioned by Brimingham Contemporary Music Group and provided with funds from the Danish State Art Foundation
Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen
Large Ensemble (7+ players)
Year Composed
23 Minutes
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Programme Note
Poul Ruders Abysm (2000)
The title of the piece Abysm derives from the literary quotation heading the first of the 3 movements of the entire work. Not uncommonly writers put a motto - often a short quotation from famous literary pieces ... on the page preceding their own work, as an "appetizer" of sorts or a spiritual and mental companion to what the reader is about to experience. That´s exactly what I had in mind, when I set out to compose this piece for Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

Each of the 3 movements is inspired by a short literary quotation taken out of its original contents, serving solely as a spiritual inspirator for the music that follows; in other words, it´s the beauty and profundity of the words and the many-layered associations yielded by them, which are mirrored in the music.

The 3 tone-poems - or tone-chapters, rather, are:

I. Abysm
"...What seest thou else/In the dark backward and abysm of time?"(from William Shakespeare: "The Tempest")

II. Burning
"...put your face on the burning sand and on the earth of the road, since all those who are wounded by love must have the imprint on their face, and the scar must be seen"(from Farid Ud-din Altar: "The Conference of the Birds")

III. Spectre
"...The Spectre Rose in Pain/A Shadow blue obscure & dismal."(from William Blake "Vala or the Four Zoas")

- Poul Ruders, November 2000

Score preview

  • Ensemble
    Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
    Oliver Knussen
'...the piece that made the strongest impression...was Abysm, a BCMG commission from 2001 from Danish composer Poul Ruders. This took as its inspiration Shakespeare's phrase "dark backward and anysm of time", and spun from it something unfathomably deep.'
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph,19/03/2008
Abysm is the title of a work which indeed plumbs the emotional depths: its long first section beginning with sustained ejaculations of sinister intent and ending with subterranean sonorities that fade into troubled silence. A short brutal, clattering second section ("Burning") leads to the pan-filled "Spectre": not easy listening but a hugely impressive essay in controlled intensities.
Barry Millington, The Times,20/06/2001
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