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Hans Abrahamsen : let me tell you

Commissioned by Stiftung Berliner Philharmoniker with the support of Danish Arts Foundation
Work Notes Commissioned by Stiftung Berliner Philharmoniker with the support of Danish Arts Foundation
Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen
Category Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
Duration 30 Minutes
Solo Voice(s)
Orchestration 3(afl:2pic).1+ca.2+bcl.2+cbn/4230/timp.3perc/hp.cel/str
Availability Hire  Explain this...

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Full Score(s) WH31688

Programme Note

The orchestral song cycle let me tell you by Hans Abrahamsen based on the novel ‘let me tell you’ (2008) by Paul Griffiths, has been initiated by Barbara Hannigan. In the work, Ophelia tells her story in a first person narrative devised by Griffiths using only the 481 word vocabulary given to her in Shakespeare‘s Hamlet. He uses a constrained writing technique similar to those employed by the avant-garde Oulipo group. It is a text of delicate and fragile atmosphere and the selections for the song cycle have been a joint effort by all three artists.
This is the second commission Abrahamsen has received from Berlin Philharmonic with the support of the Danish Arts Foundation. It follows Nacht und Trompeten in 1971 which was championed by Hans Werner Henze, who was, at that time, composer in residence at the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.


  • The result is ravishingly and astonishingly beautiful. Abrahamsen's
    vocal writing makes much use of stile concitato, the repeated-note
    emphases that hark back to Monteverdi, and also exploits Hannigan's ability to rise effortlessly to the limits of the soprano range. And
    he surrounds the voice with glistening, deliquescent textures that can
    seem almost weightless until a growling line in the bass brings them
    fluttering to earth. The music sometimes seems as much an exercise in memory as the text, touching on familiar, tonal shapes and harmonies
    without being explicit and embracing microtones in the final section. (...) It's a very special piece indeed.
    Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 19/06/2014
  • Perhaps the writer Paul Griffiths and the composer Hans Abrahamsen might have thought : "Come on, let’s write something for Barbara Hannigan, something with snow, light and a beautiful human being, something that must carry the listeners away” - and just like that, it is has come about. “Let me tell you” is the title of the new seven-part cycle for soprano and orchestra. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra premiered the piece, conducted by Andris Nelsons. It was a triumph. Normally the Philharmonic audience does not welcome contemporary pieces with such impetuous affection, but here both music and text spoke directly to the listeners. As in Griffith’s novel with the same title, “Let me tell you” is limited to the 481 words that Shakespeare gives to Ophelia in “Hamlet”. The fifth movement culminates with the sentence: “You have sun-blasted me, and turned me to light.” The ecstatic skyward flying soprano is surrounded by high strings, the tender shine of the trumpets and the glitter of metal percussion. Ophelia is not drowned like in Shakespeare, she does not float away as a dead flower-garlanded nymph, here she goes into the snow. It was shockingly beautiful how Hannigan – singing everything by heart – set the extremely high tone, soft and bright, floating down from there. “Snow falls. So: I will go into the snow. I will have my hope with me.”
    Abrahamsen, one of Denmark’s most prominent composers, knows what the human voice is like and how to intensify its effect. The orchestration is exquisite, the whole work in its discrete and tasteful neo-tonality is more proof that contemporary music can take or even shatter larger audiences.

    Jan Brachmann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 24/12/2013
  • "Let me tell you" is a virtuosic, unconventional, enigmatic and beautiful piece. Paul Griffiths compiled the text of words used by Ophelia in Shakespeare's "Hamlet", and with this material he reaches up to metaphors of modern physics: "time bended, time blown up here and there."
    Similarly Abrahamsen writes music of finest moods and nuances of expression with triads, scales and clear intervals. The fifth song evokes love, exuberance and "showers of light" - but despite the familiar idiom nothing is unambiguous, nothing is stable in this score: everything is refined and shifts against each other as if one perceived the sounds through cracked glass.

    Peter Uehling, Berliner Zeitung, 22/12/2013


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