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Work Information

Poul Ruders : Abysm

Publisher Wilhelm Hansen
Large Ensemble (7 or more players)
Year Composed 2000
23 Minutes
Orchestration 1(
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Full Score(s) KP01055

Programme Note

November 2000
The title of the piece "Abysm" derives from the literary quotation heading the first of the 3 movements of the entire work.
Not uncommonly writers put a motto - often a short quotation from famous literary pieces ... on the page preceding their own work, as an "appetizer" of sorts or a spiritual and mental companion to what the reader is about to experience.
That´s exactly what I had in mind, when I set out to compose this piece for BCMG. Each of the 3 movements is inspired by a short literary quotation taken out of its original contents, serving solely as a spiritual inspirator for the music that follows; in other words, it´s the beauty and profundity of the words and the many-layered associations yielded by them, which are mirrored in the music.
The 3 tone-poems - or tone-chapters, rather, are:
"...What seest thou else/In the dark backward and abysm of time?"(W. Shakespeare "The Tempest")
"...put your face on the burning sand and on the earth of the road, since all those who are wounded by love must have the imprint on their face, and the scar must be seen"("The Conference of the Birds" by Farid Ud-din Altar)
"...The Spectre Rose in Pain/A Shadow blue obscure & dismal."(W.Blake "Vala or the Four Zoas")


  • '...the piece that made the strongest impression...was Abysm, a BCMG commission from 2001 from Danish composer Poul Ruders. This took as its inspiration Shakespeare's phrase "dark backward and anysm of time", and spun from it something unfathomably deep.'
    Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph, 19/03/2008
  • Abysm is the title of a work which indeed plumbs the emotional depths: its long first section beginning with sustained ejaculations of sinister intent and ending with subterranean sonorities that fade into troubled silence. A short brutal, clattering second section ("Burning") leads to the pan-filled "Spectre": not easy listening but a hugely impressive essay in controlled intensities.
    Barry Millington, The Times, 20/06/2001


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