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Hans Abrahamsen

Publisher: Edition Wilhelm Hansen

Two Inger Christensen Songs (2017)
Commissioned by Freunde und Förderer der Musikalischen Akademie des Bayerischen Staatsorchesters.
Publisher
Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen
Category
Soloist(s) and Large Ensemble (7 or more players)
Year Composed
2017
Duration
15 Minutes
Language
Danish
Soloist
S
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Programme Note
Hans Abrahamsen Two Inger Christensen Songs (2017)
Two Inger Christensen Songs (2012)

Before writing let me tell you in 2012-13, for Barbara Hannigan and the Berlin Philharmonic to a text by Paul Griffiths, I had written very few vocal works with text. The few pieces I have written all date from the 1970s and early 1980s, when I was in my twenties. The last two of these are settings of poems by the Danish author Inger Christensen. In her poetry there is this perfect balance between heart and brain, feelings and intellect. There is also a clarity in the construction of her poetry, founded on her use of unelaborate and direct language, which nevertheless captures the profundities of the human condition with striking poignancy.

In 1979 I wrote Aria for soprano and 4 instruments to the poem 'Jeg ser de lette skyer' ('I see the light clouds’) from her fantastic cycle of poems 'det' ('it'). Here Inger Christensen explores the idea of human existence as an intermediary between the sky and the earth, an almost separate plane in itself living in balance with the other two. My choice of title alludes to humanity’s place in this divide. The word Aria, which derives from the Latin and Greek word for air (aer), not only aptly describes the style of the song but also neatly hints at how we connect with nature through breathing in the air.

I composed the other setting of Christensen in 1983. I wrote a melody to 'se den vandklare kilde' ('see the limpid spring'), the only strophic poem in her cycle of poems 'alfabet' ('alphabet'). After having given a talk about my music at a high school, I was encouraged by the headmaster to write a song in simple musical language to be sung as a community song, which is a common tradition at Danish high schools. I accepted the invitation and, whilst I composed a song that seems simple, I aimed to imbue it with the same intellectual complexity which Inger Christensen exhibits in her poetry. With this in mind, I turned to the Fibonacci sequence. The music in the song is very much rooted, and grows outwards from, this famous sequence. ‘See the limpid spring’/ is a response to ‘defoliants exist’, a poem that considers the effects of poisons such as dioxin, which destroys trees, bushes, humans and animals alike.

Between 1983 and 2012, whilst I did not write any vocal music, my instrumental works were often inspired by literature. For example, Walden (1978) and Winternacht (1976/78), both borrowed from Thoreau and Trakl, respectively.

In truth, I was never fully satisfied with Aria (even after a revision I completed later in 1979). However, the poems, as well as some of the music, haunted me to be returned to. In 2012, while composing the second song of let me tell you, I revisited these pieces and realised that I should re-compose them once more and score them for a larger ensemble of 7 players, bringing them together as one piece, Two Inger Christensen Songs. In the first song I try to find a voice evoking the feeling of sheer timelessness, one experiences whilst gazing at the clouds and the sun and, in that moment, feeling at one with all of nature. Then in the second song, in another expression of timelessness (this time of a frightening nature), the world has changed, now defoliated and devoid of life.

The piece is dedicated to the memory of Inger Christensen.

© Hans Abrahamsen (2016)

Performances
Reviews
Like a gem, Hans Abrahamsen's Two Inger Christensen Songs shined in all of its simplicity. The violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, celesta and percussion offered a fragmented, transparent accompaniment to Caroline Wettergreen's crystal clear soprano lead. She soared her instrumentally composed voice into extreme heights and sang the second song with a simplicity almost reminiscent of a prayer. Grand applause, also for the composer.
Gabriele Luster, Münchner Merkur,18/07/2017
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