According to Luciano Berio (Remembering the Future, 2006), the musical development of the last few decades has postulated an opposition between two kinds of musicians, one empirical and the other systematic, “an opposition between the composer as bricoleur and the composer as scientist.” The former takes whatever is at hand as a starting point and proceeds using inductive reasoning, whereas the latter “starts with a preconceived idea, and follows an all-embracing strategy.”
Magnus Lindberg (born 1958) was of the latter kind in his apprentice years at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, where he first attended Einojuhani Rautavaara’s and then Paavo Heininen’s composition class in the latter part of the 1970s. His leading idea was to create an all-embracing strategy for every single composition—an idea that had its roots in the aesthetics of the 1950s, in the thinking of Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis and Milton Babbitt.
Having an all-embracing strategy for a work to be created means that once the rules are set, the piece writes itself, as it were. This is a deductive strategy of composition, and the result is a piece that is the only one of its kind—instead of being an instance of a genre, a type, or a class. Therefore, it must have a proper name; generic names, such as symphony, sonata or concerto, are out of the question. Lindberg’s first totally structured piece was a wind quintet that, characteristically enough, remained virtual, existing in essence but not in actual fact. Another example of this aesthetic is a piece for cello solo, Espressione I (1978), in which everything—pitch, rhythm, timbre, dynamics and articulation—changes from note to note. The piece proved to be unplayable—until the cellist Anssi Karttunen arranged it for two cellos. In its most rigid form, the systematic, deductive way of composition proved to be a dead end.
Berio’s two types, composer as bricoleur and composer as scientist, are ideal types. In practice, a balance must be achieved between them, between the inductive and the deductive way of composition. Lindberg encountered the inductive way at Franco Donatoni’s summer course in Siena in 1979. Donatoni’s method of teaching was peculiar. First thing in the morning he went to the blackboard and started exploring permutations. He took a fragment from somewhere, for instance from Schoenberg, and developed out of it a system of transformations in order to show how to deal with elementary musical material. “His radically different approach was a stimulating shock for me,” Lindberg told Peter Szendy in 1993.
Donatoni’s “radically different approach” was nothing else than bricolage. Bricolage, by definition, is something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available. In this practice, Lindberg encountered an otherness that swerved his thinking from a previous course and set his imagination free. He immediately began to write a quintet for flute, clarinet, piano, violin and cello, Quintetto dell’estate, the score of which is dated July 24, 1979 in Siena and that he considers his de facto opus 1.
In this piece, he used, for the first time, an inductive method of composition. He designed a number of musical objects he called models. A model is “a situation defined in relation to several parameters.” Models are flexible. They tolerate a certain amount of variation without losing identity. The shape of a model is fixed, but its details are open. Models can grow or decrease, stretch or shrink. Music based on models has one drawback, though: discontinuity. As models are closed entities, a way must be found to tie them together, to interlock the brick-like material into a continuous flow of music. Here Lindberg could rely on another source of inspiration that was rather unexpected, Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony, a symphony in one movement with remarkable organic continuity properties.
Another experience that made Lindberg rethink his former basic assumptions came from theater. In 1980, he was asked to write music to Mikhail Bulgakov’s play Molière, or the Cabal of the Devout (1929). Bulgakov was one of his favorite writers because of his technique of parallel development of independent stories. While all of Lindberg’s preceding works had been extremely unified in style and expression, this one is based on contrasts. Different kinds of music are put next to each other (as in much of Stravinsky), and a drama unfolds that is as clear as if the story with parallel developments was told in words.
In April 1981, Lindberg was reflecting on the future direction of his music and wrote down some ideas in his diary. In the focus of his interest were “problems of rhythm, meter, and time-space.” He was dreaming of a new kind of “kinetic art.” Thinking in parameters had to be reconsidered: music should be liberated from handling pure parameters such as pitch and rhythm. Instead, a network of complex fusions of parameters should be created. This would imply finding grades of friction. Friction arises when several different aspects contribute to a situation, and this means that friction is not only an entity in itself, but a result of an imbalance between ingredients. Several ingredients are necessary to make friction.
In the autumn of 1981, Lindberg headed for Paris to continue his studies with Gérard Grisey and Vinko Globokar. He had met Globokar for the first time at the Helsinki Biennale in the spring of 1981, and, impressed by Globokar’s instrumental virtuosity, he also became interested in his aesthetics. He now felt it to be necessary to focus on the problem of form from a different angle than before. Thinking back on that time some years later, Lindberg made one of his famous statements: “My contact with Vinko Globokar in the beginning of the 1980s also made me aware of the necessity of extreme polarities as the basis for thinking on form. Only the extreme is interesting – striving for a balanced totality is nowadays an impossibility. An original mode of expression can only be achieved through the marginal (a romantic perception?) – the hypercomplex combined with the primitive.” (Finnish Music Quarterly, 3-4/1987.)
The most impressive manifestation of this new aesthetic is Kraft (1985), a piece for six soloists and orchestra that led to Lindberg’s international breakthrough. “I was living in Berlin at that time. Nights, in the nightclub, I encountered an expression of such violence that I wanted to blow something similar into the symphony orchestra.” The decisive nightclub experience was the German punk rock band Einstürzende Neubauten. One of their “trademarks” is the use of instruments made of scrap metal and building tools, and this is exactly what Lindberg took from them. In Kraft, members of the ensemble play not only clarinet, cello, piano and normal percussion instruments, but also pebbles, sandpaper, water in a bowl and all kinds of scrap metal objects found in junkyards, such as buckets, boilers and shock absorbers of demolished cars. This is pure bricolage in its original physical form. But the solid backbone of Kraft, nevertheless, is the work of a composer as scientist.
While Kraft is concerned with rhythm and rough sonority, abrupt contrasts and weighty sound masses, the focus of most of Lindberg’s subsequent works has been on harmony. The method is always the same: The harmony is organized in a series of 6–13 chords that is recycled over and over again as in the baroque form of chaconne. In most cases there are two harmonic layers: every chord has a ”shadow” that is based on its virtual fundament and is derived from the overtone series of which the actual surface-level chord is a selection. When this chord is supported by its shadow, i.e. by other tones belonging to the same overtone series, its sound becomes more rich and resonant. Trying to combine this kind of harmonic thinking with the previous method of interlocking brick-like gestures proved to be a challenge. Lindberg, therefore, soon developed a more goal-oriented formal thinking that never loses sight of its telos. The chaconne principle, recycling a set of chords, remained intact but was modified to sustain a new kind of large-scale progression and development, which includes the use of the chords in different transpositions.
Thinking of form as a process instead of a sequence of block-like sections has enabled Lindberg to adopt multi-movement forms in orchestral works since the 1990s. The continuity of form as a process is further emphasized by letting the movements follow each other without a break. The movements, of which the massive 40-minute Aura (1994) has four, Cantigas (1999) five, and Seht die Sonne (2007) three, incorporate a variety of textures. Characteristic and recurring texture types are canons, loops, chamber music, soli, chorales and machines, some of which are also present in the works on this CD.
EXPO (2009) is an inaugural piece, with its name celebrating Alan Gilbert’s first season as the New York Philharmonic’s new Music Director and Lindberg’s first season as its Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence, but the title also refers to exposition as a musical term, to something that is exposed. The work is based on two opposed characters, fast and slow, and a friction between them in sections where the pulse is slow but the surface full of nervous activity. Fast music often takes the character of a perpetuum mobile in the strings, as in the very beginning, where three bars of slow chorale texture in the brass immediately answer it. In the course of the work these two characters undergo various shadings both after and on top of each other creating a tension that only relaxes in the final pianissimo bars of the full orchestra.
EXPO was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert, Music Director.
Before his Piano Concerto No. 2 (2012), Lindberg had written five other concertos—for piano (1991/94), cello (1999), clarinet (2002), orchestra (2003), and violin (2006)—and they all bear, in contrast to most of his other works, only a generic name that emphasizes their being instances of a long tradition within the genre. Both piano concertos may be characterized as crypto-Ravelian, the first attached to Ravel’s G-major Concerto and the second to the Concerto for the Left Hand. Lindberg’s No. 2 is in three movements played without interruption. The first movement, which contains all material, ends with a Grand Pause, after which the piano starts the second movement alone, slowly, in a quasi-improvisatory manner, as if hesitating about how to proceed. Characteristic of this movement is the alternation of slow and fast sections, on the one hand, and a dialogue between piano and orchestra, on the other. The third movement has the more straightforward character of a finale. Towards the end there is a large written-out cadenza that neatly leads to the conclusion. The concerto bears the marks of a work written by one pianist for another, extraordinary pianist.
Piano Concerto No. 2 was co-commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert, Music Director; the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.
Al largo (2010) is a work of symphonic dimensions. According to the composer, its name means being offshore, on the open sea, where no land is visible. This image includes the connotation of something vast around and deep below. The work is divided in two halves. It starts with joyous fanfares that recall the beginning of an earlier work, Feria (1997), and evolves, deconstructing the fanfares, with noise and energy, toward an intimate slow section with lush, longing harmonies of divided strings. A majestic climax introduced by solo horn leads to an airy section in which a mellow oboe solo seduces the string quartet into a passage of chamber music. The return of the fanfares soon after marks the beginning of the second half. The motion gathers new momentum and develops a previously unheard richness of color until a Grand Pause suddenly interrupts it. A new wave of fast music with a hyperactive surface level takes over the fanfare topos and leads toward a climax until it must, after a final horn signal, surrender to slow music with those longing string harmonies familiar from the first half. A short coda ends with parallel oboe and horn solos above an arpeggio of a single second violin that is a quotation from the final bars of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (1899).
Al largo was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert, Music Director; the London Philharmonic Orchestra; and Casa da Música Porto (Portugal). Dedicated to Alan Gilbert.
Dr. Ilkka Oramo is Professor Emeritus of Music Theory at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.