|Works for 2-6 Players
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1. Six Songs (2001) for mezzo-soprano and violin - 10’
2. The Masque of the Red Death (1989-1990) for piano -10’
3. Cavatina (2001) for mezzo-soprano, violin and piano - 2’
4. Sieben Sehnsüchte (1999) for violin and piano - 20’
5. Vokalise (2001) for mezzo-soprano - 3’
6. The Lady of Shalott (1992-1993) for violin solo - 6’
7. Roses Are Falling (1998) for mezzo-soprano and piano - 10’
This concert consists of seven pieces. But they are very closely linked, so in reality the concert consists of a single piece that divides up into 22 movements.
It would perhaps be more correct to call it 22 scenes. For I see the sequence as a small opera. And all the pieces - except the two solo pieces for piano and violin - in fact have a close affinity with the large opera, Under the Sky, which I am writing at the moment. The Cavatina and the Vocalise have been directly ‘stolen’ from the opera. The two pieces surround the longest work in the concert, Sieben Sehnsüchte, which like the two song cycles at the perimeter of the circle (or mirror, if you like) of the concert, have many traces and pre-echoes of the opera. Then besides these two cycles there are the two solo pieces, which as I have said are older, but which thanks to the model that inspired them have lots of implicit drama.
Six Songs for mezzo-soprano and violin was written this spring and was given its first performance by Loré and David at the Hoxton New Music Days in London at the end of June. That concert was the first time we tried out the order of the evening’s concert, but without the recently added Cavatina. Although the songs were only written this year, the music is really older. In l997-98 I was on the lookout for Japanese inspiration! I had agreed to write a work for the Norwegian BIT 20 ensemble, commissioned for a concert with a Japanese theme. I had some difficulty tackling the problem of being inspired ‘to order’; but suddenly I came across a number of poems by the Japanese woman poet Ono no Komachi (834-80). I knew that I would soon be working with singing voices in connection with my opera, so I started to compose small songs - primarily for violin and singer - on the basis of these texts. I also used two poems by the Korean poet Hwang Chin-i (1506-44). These songs, in instrumental garb, came to form the skeleton of the ensemble work This Night of no Moon. And now I have taken the songs out again and given them back their original form - as songs.
"This night of no moon
There is no way to meet him.
I rise in longing -
My breast pounds, a leaping flame
My heart is consumed in fire
The Masque of the Red Death was composed in 1989-90. Originally the piece was commissioned by the American pianist Yvar Mikhashoff, but it was Rolf who gave the work its first performance.
The title refers to a short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s story of the plague which invades and terrorizes a masked ball was only a starting-shot and an inspiration for the music; and the work is not really programmatic - although in the quick staccato clusters of which the piece mainly consists one can hear traces of plague bells and medieval dances.
Cavatina is a small aria from my and the dramatist Peter Asmussen’s opera Under the Sky. One of the main characters from the opera, Ida, a beautiful young woman who is unhappily married to a rather repellent husband, stands looking out of the window and dreams of happiness:
"... I want to be happy ...
I want to see the golden light in the forests.
I want to have my heart torn out and carried through the world
by the hands of my beloved"
Sieben Sehnsüchte was written in 1999 for David and Rolf. As the title suggests, it is in seven movements – each more insanely difficult and bothersome than the other. All sorts of possible and impossible playing techniques have been used, and the performers have to both whistle and sing. However, it is not the intention that the slightly more unusual sound should be heard as effects. Everything is supposed to fuse together into something that is in itself a little opera - a ‘chamber piece’. It was written in a period when I was waiting impatiently for the libretto for Under the Sky, and I see it as a meeting (or seven meetings) between two people - two instruments - longing for each other; longing to merge together. The piece is a kind of sister work to Roses are Falling.
Vocalise is another selection from Under the Sky. Ida’s voice has been taken out of the compact orchestral setting, and is left naked and unaccompanied. Vocalise is one scene earlier in the opera than the Cavatina. Ida enters to where her husband, Magius, is sitting. He wants her dress herself up more, become even more beautiful. Ida wants to feel his love.
"...Do you hear the way I call on you at night-time?
Do you hear the way I cry myself to sleep?
Do you hear the way I long to feel your skin?
I’m burning up with your coldness.
I want you, my beloved, I want you to love me."
She is disappointed, and loses the last remnant of love when she finds out that her beauty and adornment are only to be used in a power game between two men.
In February 1997, at the Tate Gallery in London, I saw a picture by the English Victorian painter John William Waterhouse. The picture kept haunting my memory, and since at the same time I had decided to write a piece for solo viola, the ideas for the music and the memories of the picture began to merge more and more together. I decided to borrow the title from Waterhouse’s picture: The Lady of Shalott. The picture of an insane-looking, pale, perhaps singing woman along in a boat without oars, quietly gliding out from the reeds of the river bank, is an illustration of the end of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem of the same name, which in turn has its origins in the old legends of King Arthur.
My piece attempts to wind - like the river at Camelot - between these sources. The version for violin was composed in 1992.
Roses are Falling had its origin in a small opera sketch I created along with the English poet Selima Hill in just under a week during an opera workshop in the south of England in the autumn of 1998. After the workshop Loré urged me to make a song cycle out of the material. The opera sketch begins with a woman and a man sitting alone in a room. They have drawn aside from the rest of large party and they have just decided to finish their love affair. The other guests at the party come into the room, and amidst the crowd the man leaves the room. The woman is left there alone among all these inconsequential people; alone, singing her own thoughts and torment. The first three songs were all taken from this part. In the fourth song, which was written later, the text is taken from one of Selima Hill’s poetry collections. The fifth and last song comes partly from the beginning of the opera, where the man and the woman sit alone (she knows what is coming), partly from the end of the story, where despite the gap in time and space they "touch each other with their dreams". His voice is heard as a whisper that merges with hers.
"He takes me in his arms like the moon
that turns and takes the evening from the sun".
Bent Sørensen, 2001