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The Music of Per Nørgård

The Music of Per Nørgård. Fourteen Interpretative Essays, edited by Anders Beyer. Scolar Press, Ashgate Publishing, London, Vermont 1996.

By Christopher Culver

5.0 out of 5 stars 

A varied set of topics and perspectives that greatly increases appreciation of his music. 
Reviewed in the United States on April 12, 2006.
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase

The Music of Per Nørgård. Fourteen Interpretative Essays, edited by Anders Beyer, contains various perspectives on the great Danish composer and his work by Danish and English scholars. Released in 1996, it covers his early work, the ’infinity series’ music, the Wölfli period, though regrettably it came to early to examine his recent and exciting works as the sixth symphony and the second violin concerto.

The volume contains several highly enlightening musicological essays. ”Beyond Infinity” by Erling Kullberg, by far the most useful essay here, is an exhaustive introduction to the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic infinity series and how they are tied together in Nørgård’s work. Having read this, I’m finally able to appreciate the third symphony. Ivan Hansen’s ”Waves, Hierarchies, Interferences” explores Nørgård’s percussion music, including its use of the infinity series, ’Sun and Moon’ music, and the ’music of interference’ that Nørgård embarked upon in around 1985. There are also essays about Nørgård’s organ music (written by organist Jens E. Christensen), operas (Jens Brincker), and choral works (Jean Christensen).

Other essays are about Nørgård’s general aesthetic. The first of these is Jørgen I. Jensen’s ”The Great Change: Per Nørgård and Adolf Wölfli” which recounts Nørgård’s turn from the infinity series to a schizoid style inspired by the mad Swiss artist who composed his works in a Bern asylum. Jensen was with Nørgård on October 9, 1979 when the composer encountered Wölfli’s art for the first time at a Danish exhibit, and offers an intimate portrayal of how Nørgård’s entire approach changed, along with a short biography of Wölfli. Regrettably, there is no musicological analysis of the major Wölfli-period works here (the fourth symphony, Wie ein Kind, and The Divine Circus), just general musings. ”Connections and Interspaces” by Karl Aage Rasmussen and ”Art and Truth: Per Nørgård and Martin Heidegger” by Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen concern some of the metaphysical concerns of his music, as does ”In Search of the Spirit”, Stephen Johnson’s dialogue with Nørgård.

Poul Ruders’ ”Mind the Gap!” is a ”colleague’s personal view” of Nørgård’s work, with some interesting points on the spirituality of his music. The last essay is a contribution from Nørgård himself. ”Early Worlds” is a series of touch reminisces on his childhood and the formative experiences that led to his career in composition.

The typesetting is excellent, and all musical notation is properly engraved, so one doesn’t have to fear undecipherable hand-written scores. While quite a lot has been written about Nørgård’s work – the composer himself has been quite prolific in explaining his philosophy – most of this has been in Danish and there were few resources for the English-language audience. This collection is really an essential purchase for the English-speaking fan of Nørgård.