|Liner Notes: Erik Bergman: Concertino Da Camera, Etc / Almaviva Ensemble|
Free spirit - impossible to define
The credo of composer Erik Bergman (born 1911) was crystallised back in 1966, when he wrote: "Technique is vital, there's no getting away from it, no compromising, becouse without it you get lost in daydreaming. But every composer must use his technique to express his innermost being, his very own message."
Ten years later he returned to the same theme: "It takes strength to be one's own self, and no one can say I've ever tried to take the easy way out." And only recently, in 1990, he formulated his thoughts as follows: "Every time you have to start right from zero. You always have to take yourself by the scruff of the neck and decide what you really want to do, independently. You can ultimately only rely on yourself. If I were 18 now, I would study the use of a computer in music, and modern studio techniques. It's too late for that now. Whatever you do,be thorough. And I think my music still has sometning to say, even by conventional means."
Independence and renewal are the underlying qualities of Bergman the composer. It is easy to effuse, but keeping one's word is a laborious and often weighty obligation for any artist. And no one can say Bergman has ever tried to take the easy way out.
Erik Bergman grew up in a musical atmosphere tinged with national romanticism but came into contact with dodecaphony while studying in Berlin in the 1930s. It was some time before he began to apply the 12-tone system, having taken further lessons from Wladimir Vogel. The seeds of dodecaphony were already sown in the piano work Espressivo written in 1952, but the 12-note system did not really take root in Finland until as late as 1957, when Bergman completed his orchestral work Tre aspetti d'una serio dodecafonica. In his Aubade of 1958 he also applied serialist principles to the rhythmic parameter. Nevertheless, like many of his contemporaries, he soon became irked by the restrictions imposed by the system. Discarding his early romantic and brief serialist periods, he then set about writing music marked by ecstatic and free invention kept in check by inner discipline.
Erik Bergman has always kept his ears open for non-European tonal influences. He has made studies and recordings of ritual music from Tibet and folk music from Bali and while on his travels acquired a considerable collection of instruments.
All this has left its mark on Bergman's music. His extensive chamber music, choral and orchestral output reveals a composer who is above all a colourist. His search for new sounds in the 1970s and 1980s also resulted in new notations. His previously unexpressed visions have often been captured on paper by means of rich graphics or 3 time-space notation.
In 1991, on his 80th birthday, Erik Bergman put the finishing touches to his first opera. Conquering new territory still seems to be of vital importance to this composer.
Silence and Eruptions op. 91, 1979. Few works have been given a title that so aptly describes their content. This work in four movements for wind quartet, string quartet and percussion is founded - as its name suggests- on strong contrasts. The first and third movements represent the different colours of silence, while the second and fourth release the resulting tensions.
The true substance of Silence and Eruptions is time, used either with a liberal hand or in the most sparing manner. Clearly defined rhythmic shapes, improvisation and episodes hovering on the borders of audibility alternate with one another and give the work its overall drama.
Silence and Eruptions speaks in a musical sign language bearing all the freedom of improvisation. By contrast, the Concertino da camera op. 53 of 1961 represents Erik Bergman at his most constructive. The other works on this record use second notation. Every detail of the Concertino is precisely entered in the spirit of Schoenberg.
Dedicated to Francis Travis, the work is, as its name implies, a small-scale concerto, and for eight soloists. It is full of independent solo lines woven into a rich polyphonic texture in which the orchestral episodes are no more than brief interludes.
The dodecaphonic structure of the Concertino keeps strictly to the rules, but the one-movement overall form nevertheless relies on free association. Bergman is a composer of melodies, but not of themes. In his chamber concerto he does not "study" motifs in true dodecaphonic manner but concentrates on constructing episodes of independent characters.
Lament and Incantation op. 106 (1984) is a study bordering on a primitive ritual of the similarities and dissimilarities between the human voice and the cello.
In the first part, the lament, the cello and the voice make use of the same motifs and colour effects, almost as if to provoke one another until they are finally reconciled in the closing morendo.
The Incantation section is, by contrast, a slowly evolving process ending in a virtuosic and frenzied state of trance. The text, made up of vowels, consonants and syllables, imposes no obligations as regards its content and no checks on the composer's freeflowing fantasy. The work is one of the most un-intellectual ever written by Bergman - to be understood only in a positive sense.
In terms of notation and colour Triumf aff finnas till op. 87 (1987) for soprano, flute and percussion is akin to the Lament and Incantation. But this time it is anchored on the associations aroused by the text. The words by the splendid Finland-Swedish poet Edith Södergran, exuding a tormented faith in life, are clothed by Erik Bergman in a richness of sound.
For a composer who has for decades championed renewal and invention, life alone - existence - is a triumph in itself.
Triumf of Being Here (Trans. Keith Bosley)
0, a star just fell with a crash!
Triumph of living, triumph of breathing,
I walk on sun, I stand on sun,
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