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Hans Abrahamsen : Schnee

Publisher Wilhelm Hansen
Large Ensemble (7 or more players)
Year Composed 2008
57 Minutes
Orchestration 1(pic,afl).1(ca).1(Ebcl,bcl).0/0000/perc/2pf/str
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Full Score(s) KP01845

Programme Note

Schnee (2006)
2 Canons for 9 instruments
I. Ruhig aber beweglich
(for Piano Quartet)
II. Fast immer sehr zart und stille
(for 9 instruments)

In the beginning of the 90s, I arranged some of J.S. Bach’s canons for ensemble – in total seven single standing works from his entire life span. I became totally absorbed into this music and arranged them with the intention of the music being repeated many, many times, as a kind of minimal music. Obviously, I didn’t know which durations Bach had in mind, but by listening to his canons in this way, a profound new moving world of circular time was opened to me.

Depending on the perspective on these canons, the music and its time can stand still or move either backwards or forwards.

In my own work, an ongoing idea has persisted, of at somepoint writing a work consisting of a number of canonical movements that would explore this universe of time. And when I was offered the commission for Ensemble Recherche and Wittener Tage, it felt as the right time to do this.

Schnee, consisting of canon 1 and 2, will form part of the complete work that will consist of a number of canons – movements – written for various line-ups within the Ensemble Recherche.

In Schnee, a few simple and fundamental musical questions are explored. What is a Vorsatz? And what is a Nachsatz? Can a phrase be answering? Or questioning?

The guideline or rule for the canons is very simple: We start out with an answering Vorsatz, followed by a questioning Nachsatz. Throughout the time of the piece, these two are intertwined more and more, as more and more dicht geführt canons, until, at the end, they are interchanged. Now the question and then the answer. The two canons are identical like a painting in two versions, but with different colors. And where the first one does not include the space, the second one does, as well as containing more canonical traces.

The nine instruments are divided into two groups: the first one situated to the left consists of piano 1, violin, viola and cello, and the second group on the right of piano 2 (pianino), flute, oboe and clarinet. In the middle is the percussion.

Canon 1 is written for group 1 (piano quartet), and canon 2 – which is a kind of doubling of canon 1 – is written for the tutti ensemble.

- Hans Abrahamsen


  • In manipulating the listener's sense of proximity to the sound, Abrahamsen creates a spacial interplay that is far more powerful live than on a recording
    Drew Baker,, 08/01/2013
  • Schnee explores the idea that our perception of nearly identical patterns causes the imagination to project new forms by itself... The listener's awareness fluctuates between following all the intricate processes and letting them go - and slipping into a pleasurable trance.
    Guy Dammann, The Guardian, 25/11/2010
  • Schnee is intense, simple and captivating
    Jakob Weigand Goetz, Seismograf, 26/07/2010
  • Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee is a wonder. How to say how? It is a sequence of aural images of snow, in some cases onomatopoeic (the swish of brushing off a wooden deck, the soft ease-crunch of steps through a fresh snowfall) but more often poetic
    Paul Griffiths, , 22/07/2010


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