Lindberg, Magnus

(b Helsinki, 27 June 1958). Finnish composer. He studied piano (Maija Helasvuo and Sebök) and composition (Rautavaara and Heininen) at the Sibelius Academy (1977–81), continued his studies of composition with Globokar and Grisey in Paris (1981–2) and attended courses by Donatoni, Lachenmann and Ferneyhough in Siena and Darmstadt (1979–82). In 1977–8 he worked at the electronic music studio in Stockholm and since 1986 on several occasions at IRCAM in Paris. In Finland he was, with Hämeenniemi, Kaipainen, Saariaho, Esa-Pekka Salonen and others, a founding member of the Korvat auki (Ears Open) society, devoted to the study and performance of contemporary music neglected by established institutions. In 1980 he founded the experimental Toimii! (It Works!) Ensemble, a workshop of 6 or 7 musicians, in which many of his compositional ideas have been forged and tested.

Lindberg is a freelance composer, working to commissions and under the auspices of a state scholarship. He has taught composition at summer courses in Porvoo, Finland (since 1987), at the Centre Acanthes in Avignon (1992), in Darmstadt (1996), at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, where he was Acting Professor (1996–7), at the Britten Pears School in Aldeburgh (since the early 1990s), at the IRCAM Summer Academy in Paris (1997), in Santiago de Compostela (1997), and at Harvard University, where he was visiting professor in 2006. He has planned programmes for the Helsinki Biennale and the Helsinki festival, the Meltdown festival in London and the Avanti! Suvisoitto (Summer Sounds) festival in Porvoo, and he has been jury member in several international competitions and judge of the Toru Takemitsu Composition Award (2004). In 1997 he was the principal featured composer at the Ars Musica festival in Brussels and the Musica festival in Strasbourg. In 2001–2 the Philharmonia Orchestra of London under Salonen played a number of his orchestral and chamber music works in London, Paris and Brussels under the series heading ‘Related Rocks’, and in 2002 he was, together with Saariaho, featured composer at the Royal Stockholm PO’s composer festival. As a performer Lindberg often plays his Piano Concerto (1991, rev. 1994) and gives duo recitals with the cellist Anssi Karttunen, a fellow Toimii! Ensemble member, for whom all of his cello works are written. He also has performed as a pianist in Stravinsky’s Les Noces.

Since the mid 1980s Lindberg has worked mostly on commissions that have come from both individual musicians and institutions, such as the London Sinfonietta, radio stations of a number of countries, IRCAM, the Suntory Hall, the Los Angeles PO, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago SO, the New York Mostly Mozart festival, the New York PO, the Berlin PO and the San Francisco SO.

Lindberg and his music have received several honours. His concertante work Kraft won the 1986 UNESCO Rostrum of Composers, the 1987 Nordic Council and the 1988 Koussevitzky International Critics Award. In 1992 he received the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize for large-scale composition (Corrente II), in 2000 the first European Composer Prize of the City of Berlin for Cantigas, and in 2003 the Wihuri International Sibelius Prize. A recording with his Clarinet Concerto, Gran Duo and Chorale won the BBC Music Magazine Award in 2006 (Premier Recording Award Winner). In 2001 Lindberg was appointed member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, in 2003 of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, and in 2007 associate member of the Académie Royale des sciences, des lettres et des beaux-arts de Belgique. He has been applauded as ‘the most exciting composer of his generation’ (Financial Times, 1997), and Sir Simon Rattle has characterized him as ‘one-man living proof that the orchestra is not dead’.

At the outset Lindberg was captivated by serialism and other organizational methods he discovered in the music of Stockhausen, Babbitt and others, and his early works, before Zona (1983, rev. 1990), were often based on complex formal schemes that controlled rhythm, tempo, pitch and register. He has since widened his horizons to include such different worlds as those of Berio, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Varèse, Stravinsky, Sibelius, Purcell, French spectral music, elements of minimalism, Berlin punk, progressive rock and ethnic music of South East Asia. He takes care, however, to meld elements from different sources into a unity of style that avoids any sense of postmodern stylistic shifting.

While works like Kraft (1985), Lindberg’s international breakthrough, and UR (1986), his first IRCAM piece, were concerned above all with rhythm and rough sonority, abrupt contrasts and weighty sound masses, subsequent works such as Twine (1988) for piano and the orchestral trilogy of Kinetics (1989), Marea (1990) and Joy (1990) were ‘based upon an extended chaconne principle, with chord chains cycling around, undergoing constant transformation and being articulated in a very gestural way’ (Lindberg). Corrente for 16 players and Corrente II for orchestra (both 1992) mark a shift of interest from gestural writing to a more goal-oriented formal thinking. The chaconne principle remains the basis, but is modified to sustain a large-scale development instead of a block-like sequence of sections.

Lindberg fetches his chords from the cardinality-class 6 of the pitch-class set theory and normally makes use of a limited selection of them only, 13 chords in all, that have two symmetrical forms. He divides them, according to their interval vector, into four groups: chromatic, minor, pentatonic and ‘ethnic’. All chords, consisting out of a hexad and its symmetrical complement, are 12 note. The 12 pitches are distributed over a pitch space of more than two octaves and are available in every second octave only. Lindberg thus uses the chords, also called ‘wide scales’ (Castrén), in the manner of modes. Each mode has a number of melodic figures and harmonies that are characteristic to it and different from those of the other modes. Still more variety is achieved by considering the ‘wide scales’ as partials of virtual fundaments. Here Lindberg’s interest in spectral music, coming from studies with Grisey and analysis of Sibelius’s late works (Seventh Symphony and Tapiola), is made operational in such a way that ‘the music supports its own acoustics’, as the composer has put it. Practically all of Lindberg’s works, with the exception of Engine (1996), composed using a rule-based computational environment (Mikael Laurson’s Patchwork software), make use of this technique which explains the extraordinary unity of his style, easily recognizable when once encountered.

Thinking of form as a process instead of a sequence of block-like sections enabled Lindberg to adopt multi-movement forms in orchestral works of the 1990s: Corrente II (1992), Aura (1993–4), Feria (1997), Fresco (1997–8) and Cantigas (1997–9). The continuity of form as process is further emphasized by letting the movements follow each other without a break. The movements, of which the massive 40-minute Aura has four and Cantigas five for example, incorporate a variety of textures. Characteristic and often recurring texture types are canons, loops, chorales and machines (‘come una macchina’). Sometimes reminiscences to past music unintentionally grow out of a harmonic situation – Purcell in Corrente II, Monteverdi (Lamento d’Arianna) in Feria – and the composer lets it happen. A subtle homage to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring may be heard in Fresco, at the beginning of which two bassoons enter in a high register. Other quotations, such as a reference to Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and to Debussy’s La mer in Cantigas, are more explicit. Extreme examples of music based on other music are Chorale (2002), a parody on Johann Rudolf Ahle’s ‘Es ist genug’, composed to be performed in concert with Berg’s Violin Concerto, and Finale grande (2002), the final movement of Variations on a Theme by Purcell (a joint composition with Colin Matthews, Judith Weir, Poul Ruders, David Sawer, Michael Torke and Anthony Payne).

From the very start Lindberg’s music has made connections with extra-musical phenomena. His first attempt to write for orchestra (Donor, 1974–5) bears a title that refers to Electron Donor Acceptor Interactions; the choral piece Untitled (1978) was inspired by a textbook of phonetics; Action–Situation–Signification (1982), a study in instrumental musique concrète, uses ideas drawn from Pierre Schaeffer’s Traité des objets musicaux and Elias Canetti’s Masse und Macht, and the title of Related Rocks (1997) refers both to rock music’s straightforward type of expression and to Andy Goldsworthy’s transient sculptures in stone. In this work as in some others Lindberg uses electronics to enrich instrumental sounds and to let computer-steered processes become part of a live performance.

Lindberg’s first orchestral trilogy, Kinetics, Marea and Joy, from around 1990, was followed by another around the millennium: Feria, Cantigas and Parada (2001), Parada being a sort of slow movement between the two others. Marea and Joy are scored for chamber orchestra, the others for full-size symphony orchestra, as are Corrente II, Aura and Fresco. In a number of works since 2000 Lindberg dispenses with some sections of the orchestra: Gran Duo (2000) is written for woodwind and brass, Ottoni (2004–5) for brass only, and Sculpture (2005), composed with the architecture and acoustics of the Los Angeles Walt Disney Concert Hall in mind, for a large orchestra without violins. All sections of the orchestra, albeit in different sizes, are again used in concertos, of which Lindberg has written further three since the 1997 Cello Concerto: one for clarinet and orchestra (2002), one for orchestra (2003), and one for violin and orchestra (2006).

If Lindberg’s hitherto largest work, Aura, is a sort of compendium of all the experience he had gathered until 1994, the subsequent orchestral works look in new directions, one of which is a growing interest in melody. Arena (1995), Feria (1997) and Cantigas (1997–9) are openly extrovert and full of instrumental virtuosity. The condensed monumentality of Fresco (1998) strongly suggests a single-movement symphony. Gran Duo (2000) evolves as a dialogue between two spheres, loud and soft, ‘musica alta’ and ‘musica bassa’. Parada (2001), the ‘slow movement’ of the triptych with Feria and Cantigas, has initially and finally a solemn, almost sinister character with some more lively and dramatic sections in between. The Concerto for Orchestra (2003) shares the gestural world of Feria and Cantigas and is faithful to the generic characteristics of its kind. To honour its dedicatee Frank Gehry Sculpture (2005) lives up to its name as a heavyweight sculpture in sound. The Clarinet Concerto (2002) and the Violin Concerto (2006) display a new kind of expressive lyricism and are, at the same time, studies in the relationship between an individual and its surroundings, both natural and social – an aspect that has interested Lindberg since Action–Situation–Signification. Symphonic in character is the three-movement suite Seht die Sonne (2007), whose title refers to the last song of Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder, and which uses the large orchestra of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.

A new territorial conquest is Mano ma mano (2004) for guitar, a large symphonic piece in three movements that roughly correspond to the movements of a classical concerto. Konzertstück (2006) for cello and piano lines up with Moto (1990) and Dos Coyotes (2002), written for and with the cellist Anssi Karttunen, the composer’s duo partner, for whom he had already written the solo piece Stroke already in 1984. A Trio for clarinet, cello and piano (2008) bears generic affinity to Bartók’s Contrasts.

Since 2000 Lindberg has written a number of small pieces for different occasions and purposes, in which he tackles the problem of short form. Piano Jubilees (2000), a set of 6 pieces, grew out of a tribute to Pierre Boulez at his 75th birthday and was followed by two studies for the piano, Etude (2001) and Etude II (2004). Partia (2001), a commission of the Turku Cello Competition, is a suite for cello in six movements paraphrasing the baroque Partita. Bubo bubo (2002) for ensemble is a tribute to Oliver Knussen at his 50th birthday, and Tribute (2004) celebrates the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Salonen.


‘Retrospektiivinen katsaus sävellystyöhöni’ [A Retrospective Survey], Ammatti: säveltäjä [Profession: Composer], ed. P. Hako and R. Nieminen (Helsinki, 1981), 85–92
with others: ‘Integrating Constraint Programming in Visual Musical Composition Languages’, ECAI 98 Workshop on Constraints for Artistic Applications (Brighton, 1998)
‘Luonnos omaksikuvaksi’ [Sketch for a Self-Portrait], Ammatti: säveltäjä 2006 [Profession: Composer, 2006], ed. P. Hako and R. Nieminen (Helsinki, 2006), 77–90


R. Nieminen: ‘Focus on the Composer Magnus Lindberg’, Finnish Music Quarterly, ii/3 (1986), 31–41
F. Spangemacher: ‘Punk und Muttermilch: ein Gespräch mit dem finnischen Komponisten Magnus Lindberg’, NZM, Jg.152, no.1 (1991), 25–8
J. Anderson: ‘The Spectral Sounds of Magnus Lindberg’, MT, cxxxiii (1992), 565–7
T. Mäkelä: ‘Viewpoints on Orchestration: Talks about texture’, Finnish Music Quarterly, viii/3 (1992), 40–5
T. Mäkelä: ‘Magnus Lindberg: Changing Style’, Finnish Music Quarterly, viii/3 (1992), 46–8
Cahiers de l’IRCAM: compositeurs d’aujourd’hui, no.3, ed. R. Nieminen (1993) [Lindberg issue]; Eng. trans. as Magnus Lindberg (Helsinki, 1996)
M. Heiniö: ‘Magnus Lindberg’, Suomalaisia säveltäjiä [Finnish composers], ed. E. Salmenhaara (Keuruu, 1994)
K. Korhonen: Finnish Composers since the 1960s (Jyväskylä, 1995)
M. Heiniö: Aikamme musiikki [Contemporary music], Suomen musiikin historia [A history of Finnish music], iv (Porvoo, 1995)
K. Aho and others: Finnish Music (Keuruu, 1996)
P. Szersnovicz: ‘Les horizons de Magnus Lindberg’, Le monde de la musique, no.213 (1997), 58–62
A. Häyrynen: ‘Musique et modernité en Finlande’, Musica: festival international des musiques d’aujourd’hui Strasbourg (Strasbourg, 1997), 33–40
S. Long: ‘Magnus Lindberg’s Recent Orchestral Music’, Tempo, no.208 (1999), 2–10
A. Whittall: Musical Composition in the Twentieth Century (Oxford, 1999), 385–8
M. Castrén: ‘Aspects of Pitch Organization in Magnus Lindberg’s Gran Duo for 24 Wind Instruments’, A Composition as a Problem: Tallinn 2003, 61–74
I. Oramo: ‘Chaconne-periaate ja muoto Magnus Lindbergin Correntessa’ [Chaconne principle and form in Magnus Lindberg’s Corrente], Sävellys ja musiikinteoria, xi (2004), 5–15
J. Anderson: ‘Sibelius and Contemporary Music’, The Cambridge Companion to Sibelius, ed. D.M. Grimley (Cambridge, 2004), 196–218
C. Stenius: Chaconne: en bok om Magnus Lindberg (Helsingfors, 2006)
I. Oramo: ‘Armas Launis, Magnus Lindberg ja toiseuden kohtaaminen’ [Armas Launis, Magnus Lindberg, and the encounter of Otherness], Musica viva! Matti Vainion juhlakirja (Jyväskylä, 2006), 197–205
T. Sosa: ‘Muoto ja dramaturginen ajattelu Magnus Lindbergin Feriassa’ [Form and dramaturgical thinking in Magnus Lindberg’s Feria], Musiikki, xxxvi/2 (2006), 29–64
T. Howell: ‘Magnus Lindberg: Rediscovering Balance’, After Sibelius: Studies in Finnish Music (Aldershot and Burlington, 2006), 231–62




About Ilkka Oramo

Professor of Music Theory, emeritus
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