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PER NØRGÅRD: NINE STUDIES (1959) for piano
Nine Studies from 1959, dedicated to the pianist Elisabeth Klein. The work was
premiered by Anker Blyme on March 6, 1960 at the State Museum of Arts, Copenhagen,
along with another work for piano by me, Four Sketches.
The nine movements are places symmetrically around a midpoint (movement
5) that therefore – reasonably enough – is called Intermezzo, a sort of accompanied
recitative with a short, singable melody that eventually appears in the upper voice after a
long two-voice introduction (and before an equally long epilogue).
This pivot-point intermezzo is probably the freest in its composition of all the movements.
In contrast, the remaining movements are so strict in their procedures that they could almost be called “predetermined” in that their opening motifs (from four- to eleven-toned)
are gradually (from presentation to presentation) transformed into whole new melodies.
This development of a few-note nucleus into a long melody anticipates the imminent discovery (or rediscovery?) of the infinity series, sought after for so many years.
The individual characters of the single movements in Nine Sketches, however, is first
and foremost determinded by the coupling of the melody (tone row) to a rhythmic series,
whose number of durations notably always diverges from the number of tones in the
row with a difference of one single duration, whereby the melody’s contour is constantly
To these variations in the rhytmic field are added further transpositions of the
original motif’s single notes: with each repetition one of the motif’s notes is transposed
(for example, the interval of a fifth, up or down, or a fourth up or down). This technique
is related to a practice in 15th-century European vocal polyphony where similarly
a recurring melody (tone row) called “Color” (often a part of a Gregorian chant)
was combined with a recurring, divergent succession of durations (series of rhythms)
called “Talea”.Thus, at each reappearance of the original melody it will present itself
in a new rhythmic shape, and in three of the Nine Studies (the second part of movement
1, along with movements 3 and 7) this complex of predeterminations consitutes
the whole composition! As for the remaining movements, the above-mentioned procedures
“only” result in the secondary voice for a dance-like “free melody” – one that
after all is not that free, in it always creates consonant harmonies with the simultaneous
soundings of notes in the other voice, and among these (: overtones) nothing but
octaves and fifths, so again: this is close to a unison music of sorts.
Per Nørgård 2009