Part One of "Sudden Landscapes" was premiered on March 20, with Stavanger Symphony Orchestra and conductor Christian Vasquez. Nils Henrik Asheim played the organ part, which instead of featuring independent solo passages engages in a tight and constant interplay with the orchestra.

"Mazurka - remaking Chopin" was recorded on a special instrument: Collard & Collard piano from the 1820s at Ulefoss Hovedgård in Telemark. Searching for recordings of Chopin on period instruments brought few results. Most of them are made on grand pianos, but the square piano (taffelpiano) gives a more intimate sound, still with amazing dynamics.

Venezia_BT_20110322


THE MAZURKA ROAD

For whatever the reason, perhaps I was in a melancholy period, Chopin’s mazurkas turned up on my piano, day after day over the course of one year.

Little by little, as the music was played over and over again, it began to live its own life. Small details grew larger, tore themselves loose, and formed their own music.

I contacted Gjertrud’s Gypsy Orchestra, and we began to toy with the material together. We discovered clues from so many places in this music and wanted to pursue them to see down which road they would lead us.

We unraveled seams, stopped for two measures to create an opening in time, and wove tapestries of sound around Chopin’s shadow. In order to encircle the soul of the mazurka, we had to attack from different angles.

1 Mazurka, opus 68 no. 2, A minor

. . . strings, strings . . . as your finger runs across the strings of an instrument, the theme arises. The wheel spins slowly around, an endless trail of A-minor, journey, train, cart, Central Europe . . . into the realm of folk music.

2 Mazurka opus 7 no. 3, F minor 

The rhythm, mazurka in ¾ time, a basic pattern of two short notes and two long. The extremes: the dance in the ballroom and the Dance Macabre. A rhythmic skeleton pared down to the bone, turned into a caricature.

3 Mazurka opus 33 no. 4, B minor

Improvisation: When Chopin played, he ornamented differently each time. Improvisation can also dissolve the themes, allowing colours to bleed into one another—the colours from the old Collard & Collard piano.

4 Mazurka opus 33 no. 3, C major

The miniature, based on two chords, the first merging into the second. We peer inwards into the inner workings, a music box duplicated in a minuscule kaleidoscope.

5 Mazurka opus 17 no. 4, A minor

Telling a story, unrestfully, slow line dance over no floor. We follow the composition as we would a film . . . scenes, images, shadows, landscape. At a certain place, a parenthesis in time . . . a long improvised moment.

6 Mazurka opus 67 no. 4, A minor

The folk music collective, the Gypsy Orchestra’s typical style of playing. The violinist leading, the others skillfully embellishing around a traditional arrangement . . . the voices flow together, flow apart.

7 Mazurka opus 6 no. 1, F-sharp minor

The opening, a gesture, an invitation to something? Chopin is radical, questioning. The mazurkas abound with openings rather than conclusions. In the middle: the archetypal mazurka devouring itself!

8 Mazurka opus 7 no. 1, B-flat major

The unbecoming Chopin . . . the street and art colliding, perfume and the odor of dung. The power in the leap upwards, the dancer magnified to King Kong out of control . . . and Bartok comes to visit.

9 Mazurka opus 24 no. 4, B-flat minor

For those in the know, a guessing game. Where does this buoyant mazurka come from, where does it lead? To Schönberg, and beyond into modernism, or to the charm of the old-fashioned gramophone?

10 Mazurka opus 30 no. 4, C-sharp minor

Chopin as dance music, more difficult than expected. No one ever danced to a concert pianist, so where is the model? A slow Polish folk dance provided us with some kind of an idea.

11 Mazurka opus 24 no. 1, G minor

Musical cultures intersect, we scan radio stations. The horn violin (Stroh violin) evokes Romanian music . . . gradually several musical nationalities are layered one upon the other.

12 Mazurka opus 63 no. 3, C-sharp minor

Piano . . . the mazurkas are so unquestionably  solo piano music . . . as an homage to the original we create a superpiano by pairing it with the cimbalom . . . finally, the two instruments become a match.

nils henrik asheim (translation: Jim Skurdall)



MAZURKA-VEIEN

Uvisst av hvilken grunn, kanskje jeg var i en melankolsk periode, dukket Chopin-mazurkaene opp på mitt piano, dag etter dag gjennom ett år.

Etter hvert som den ble spilt om og om igjen, begynte musikken å røre på seg. Små detaljer forstørret seg, rev seg løs og dannet sin egen musikk.

Jeg kontaktet Gjertruds sigøynerorkester, og vi begynte å leke oss igjennom materialet. Vi fant spor fra så mange steder i denne musikken, og ville spille videre på disse for å se hvilken vei det førte oss.

Vi rekket opp sømmer, stoppet opp ved to takter for å lage en åpning i tiden, vi vevde lydtepper rundt skyggen av Chopin. For å sirkle inn konturene av Mazurka-sjelen måtte vi angripe fra forskjellige kanter.

1 op 68 nr 2, a-moll

…strenger, strenger… trekk fingeren over et strengeinstrument, og temaet oppstår. Hjulet spinner sakte rundt, en endeløs landevei av a-moll, reise, tog, kjerre, Sentral-Europa… inn i folkemusikken.

2 op 33 nr 2, f-moll

Rytmen, mazurka i ¾ takt, en grunnfigur av to korte toner og to lange. Ytterpunktene: dans på ballsalen og danse macabre. Et rytmisk skjelett skåret ned til beinet, vrengt til en karikatur.

3 op 33 nr 4, h-moll

Improvisasjon: Når Chopin spilte, ornamenterte han ulikt fra gang til gang. forandret i øyeblikket. Improvisasjon kan også løse opp temaene og la fargene flyte over i hverandre. Fargene fra det gamle Collard & Collard pianoet.

4 op 33 nr 3, C-dur

Miniatyren, bygd på to akkorder, den første som faller inn i den andre. Vi kikker innover i detaljen, spilledåsen, mangfoldiggjort i et bittelite kaleidoskop.

5 op 17 nr 4, a-moll

Fortelling, uro, en langsom linedans uten gulv. Vi følger komposisjonen som en film… scener, bilder, skygger, naturmaleri. Ett sted, en parentes i tiden… et langt improvisert øyeblikk.

6 op 67 nr 4, a-moll

Folkemusikk-kollektivet, sigøynerorkesterets typiske spillestil. Fiolinisten leder, de andre dekorerer med snirkler rundt et tradisjonelt arrangement… stemmene flyter sammen, flyter fra hverandre.

7 op 6 nr 1, f#-moll

Åpningen, en gestus, en invitasjon til noe?  Chopin er radikal, spørrende. Mazurkaene er fulle av åpninger istedenfor konklusjoner. I midten: ur-mazurkaen som fortærer seg selv!

8 op 7 nr 1, Bb dur

Den ukorrekte Chopin… kollisjoner av gata og kunsten, parfyme og møkkalukt.  Kraften i spranget oppover, danseren forstørret til King Kong uten kontroll... og Bartok kommer på besøk.

9 op 24 nr 4, b-moll

For de innvidde, en gjettelek. Hvor kommer denne vektløse mazurkaen fra, hvor går den? Til Schönberg og videre inn i modernismen, eller til sveivegrammofonens sjarm?

10 op 30 nr 4, c#-moll

Chopin som dansemusikk, vanskeligere enn ventet. Ingen har noengang danset til en konsertpianist, så hvor er modellen? En langsom polsk folkedans ga oss en slags idé.

11 op 24 nr 1, g-moll

Musikalske kulturer krysses, vi skanner radiostasjoner. Trompetfiolin (Stroh violin) peker mot rumensk musikk… etterhvert legges flere musikalske nasjonaliteter oppå hverandre.

12 op 63 nr 3, c#-moll

Piano…mazurkaene er så veldig solo-pianomusikk…som en hyllest til originalen lager vi et superpiano i duo med cimbalom… og de to instrumentene får hverandre til slutt.

nils henrik asheim

Updated 22jan 2011

(For the first time I'm blogging while writing a new piece. We'll see how this works)

The wind orchestra is divided in two equal orchestras. That is, equal number of musicians.

Giovanni Gabrieli's Sonata Pian e Forte gave me some input, also the topography and architecture of the city of Venice.

There are a few main ideas:

The bridges

Inspired by Venice's bridges where slanted lines meet curved lines. This is not transferred by any mathematical means to music, but used as inspiration for creating "constructions" for one of the two orchestras. Sometimes, also for two orchestras mirroring eachother in a distorted way. The most basic version consists of series of short repeated stabs that form a construction - often mounting and descending. The most elaborate fill out the gaps between the (imaginary?) stabs with ornaments and movements.

The water level

This layer is connected to the statistics of world sea level from 1994 to 2010. One oscillation per year, plus a steady linear increase. The water is interpreted as a blurred line. Also, it brings garbage with it.

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The chord layer

The chords form an independent layer in the music. They stay in the middle register, as a sustained layer.  The harmony should be simple and open, so that it does not lose its character when elements are superimposed on it. The water level layer fx will be combined with it, mixed into it, the bridges layer is superimposed.

I am writing 3-part chords where one chord always is meant to overlap the next one. Not all 6 resulting parts need to be used all the time. One of the parts could be sustained as a drone through a series of chords.  The chords may be simplified and complexified. What chords? I am attracted to triads and to the combination of two triad-like chords. So that's why there are many fifths present.

The sequence of chords is always kept. Idea: The falling fifths, taken from Gabrieli's Sonata. There are 5 sections in the chords sequence: A, B, C, D and E.  Starting to work on this, I imagine that the 5 sections correspond to 5 parts of the whole composistion. Though, not necessarily border-to-border.

The sections are written with a built-in overlap: material from A is inserted into B, from B is inserted into C etc. A sequence of chords is like a row of houses. You come to a corner and peep into a new street (from A into B). Still you keep some orientation from A in your mind.

There is a rhytm, a pace as we walk slowly from chord to chord, or fall into next chord if you like, the character of this rhythm should be slightly different from section to section.

There's an idea of never bringing things to rest. No "cadences". Often the falling fifths sequence leans towards its end and through this the next sequence gets a flying start. A feeling of film editing, go on, go on.

I spent a lot of time on this layer trying out options before I made the final decisions and started composing. Each section will have its own texture: Originally my idea was to define textures as Glass, Sand, Brick, Wood and Dirt, and impose these textures on the music at any moment. Finally the choice was to lock this to the five sections of the piece (= the five versions of the chords layer). As for now, my plan is to let every section have its own texture (= a combination of playing techniques, motivic figures, dynamics) so that when chords from A are played in the B section, the texture will still belong to B.

The disaster layer

Not so much a description of a phenomenon of disaster but a collective reaction on something.

Please don't hesitate to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

INSTRUCTIONS ON PLAYING TECHNIQUES

glissando on damped string (vln bar 10-11, vlc bar 16)
no pitch should be heard, only a "sound".

fast & light bow (vln bar 22, vlc bar 35-36)
the "z" means a rapid trill (= left-hand tremolo) between the pitch (1st note) and the damped sound (x-shaped note)

pizz. on damped strings. (vln bar 54)
should be played as arpeggio

dry rebounding sound without pitch (vln bar 130)
the bow should rebound for the whole length of the note duration

sweeping, circular bow
try to use much of the string's length when turning the bow direction, so the shift is not noticeable

Actually an improvised concert does not need to be prepared at all. Still, mostly there is some kind of planning involved. For the interested, here is an example, a brief run-through of how it was conceived - planned - realized. Welcome inside.

I had the pleasure of giving a workshop on organ improvisation for students of the Belgrade Music Academy. We achieved a lot on 5 days. The closing students’ concert was an important try-out, displaying lots of ideas, creative energy and skills.