Rudiger Meyer

The Devil and a New Beginning

Way back in February, shortly before the first Corona lockdown, KoncertKirken provided the setting for an atmospheric Frankenstein’s Lab in which the sounds three newly composed works were mixed with excerpts from Bach’s 6 Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin.

The new works are part of an ambitious project in which the violinist and composer Kuno Kjærbye has asked Lil Lacy, Bo Andersen, and Hanne Tofte Jespersen to each compose a piece for solo violin – to be performed alongside Bach’s Sonatas & Partitas over the course of three concerts.

Lil Lacy

Frankenstein’s Lab thus provided the first performance of these pieces along with small excerpts from Bach’s works. The evening appropriately opened with The Beginning, the 1st movement of Lil Lacy’s work, followed by a conversation between musician and composer – a special peek into the core of this artistic collaboration, and an opportunity to experience the sound of Kuno’s violin resonating in the KoncertKirke space.

Lil told, amongst other things, of how their collaboration established itself through extensive conversations, with Kuno’s longstanding relationship with Bach’s music as an important source of inspiration. She also chose to challenge him – tried to bring out the devil in him – in the 2nd movement of her piece: The Devil and a New Beginning, writing for both violin, voice and breath. Her piece is intended to function both as an independent work and as transition between the movements of Bach’s Sonata in G minor and Partita in B minor.

Lil talked about how the Bach pieces can create a specific mood, an almost trance-like state, and Kuno spoke about about the spiritual qualities and freeing aspects of performing the Bach cycle in its entirety, even though it demands much from both the performer and the audience. They considered how Bach’s works can provide a mirror in the context of the modern works: The two poles give life to each other in a way that can be inspiring for both composer, musician and audience.

Bo Andersen

Bo Andersen’s Reminiscenze - di qualcosa ascoltato molto tempo fa included, uncharacteristically for him, amplification and a delay effect. He explained that he found composing within the context of Bach’s works somewhat claustrophobic. Their stringency gave him a feeling of being constrained and made him the wish to break into another room – which he did through the use of amplification and the delay effect: Both a new room within the piece and metaphorically for himself as a composer. A way of dealing with the difficulty of composing for a classical instrument with an incredibly large and well established repertoire, and at the same time challenging himself as a composer to find new ways of saying things.

His piece contains many reminiscences, small ‘pictures’ of Bach taken from the Partita in D minor without being direct citations that can be pinpointed. Kuno demonstrated a few of these, and talked about his own associations – amongst them similar occurrences in the music of the Polish violinist and composer Grażyna Bacewicz.

Hanne Tofte Jespersen

Hanne Tofte Jespersen’s work, FANTASIA under indtryk af J.S. Bach does include a direct Bach citation, but not as something she based the work on, more as something that emerged as she worked on the piece.

She explained that living together with Kuno meant that she had in effect also been living together with Bach’s works for solo violin for a long time. Her composition process was not so much a case of attempting to write in the style of Bach, but rather of entering into a Bachian space.

She too had faced the question of how to write for solo violin, and what she could bring to a repertoire with so many iconic works, but nevertheless found her way to an opening motif, and like a baroque composer set about unfolding that motif into a series of episodes.

She began to think of writing variations over that first motive – with the thought of it being a transition between the Sonata in C major and the Partita in E minor. How might her piece function between the two masterpieces? It was at this point that she came up with the analogy of a making a painting intended to stand between two Rembrandts.

With the opening established, a folk melody repeatedly came into in her head that she began to consider as potential material for the piece. And while working with that material a chorale kept coming to mind – which turned out to be Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein, the chorale at the closing of the St John Passion that had made a strong impression on her while singing in the Passion as a 13–14 year old.

Given her own approach of building on the melodies that came to mind, rather than strictly unfolding her opening motif, she went on to tell of the approach to Bach’s solo works taken by the German musicologist Helga Thoene in which, through an analysis of number relationships, hidden psalm melodies are uncovered.

Although Hanne was herself somewhat hesitant in relation to such speculative explanations, she found the recordings provided with Thoene’s book convincing. See, for example, the following video which demonstrates these connections in relation to the Chaconne from the Partita in D minor.

Hanne’s thinking is that Bach was steeped in a solid tradition with 200 years of Lutheran psalms as a part of his vocabulary – that for him it must have been very natural to use these ingredients in his music. In her own case she took it as an impetus to pay attention to the connections that arose somewhat naturally, and use them as the basis on which she could carry out a similar experiment for herself: a narrative with prayers in the form of a fantasia.

Panel Discussion with Jexper Holmen

The evening ended with a short panel discussion moderated by Jexper Holmen. Kuno reiterated the value of the juxtaposition of old and new, emphasising how, from a personal point of view, the new works provided fresh inspiration in the face of falling into stereotypical ways after having played the Bach works over the course of many years. The new provides a mirror to the old and vice versa – with differences as well as similarities becoming apparent over the span of 300 years.

Kuno was asked whether he had composed any works for solo violin himself, and he explained that despite having many sketches, he hadn’t been able to complete a work.

Regarding the roles of composer and performer, he referred again to the lines that can be traced from Bach to Bacewicz and the Six Sonatas for solo violin by Eugène Ysaÿe. He told of Ysaÿe’s difficulties in continuing after completing the first, pastiche based, Sonata and the quotations from Bach’s Partita No. 3 that he employed in the Malinconia movement of his Second Sonata while nevertheless composing in a way that remains distinct from Bach’s.

Kuno’s point with it all was that it was not only a question of the poles of the old and the new and the light that they could shine on each other, but also the composers in-between those extremes and the new elements that were waiting to be discovered there.

* * *

The Concerts

The program of the three concerts is as follows:

25 October, 2020, 16:00 - Engholmkirken
Engholm Kirkevej 1, 3450 Lillerød
free admission

J.S. Bach: Sonata in G minor and Partita in B minor

Lil Lacy: Three movements in contrast to and correspondence with Bach’s Sonata in G minor & Partita in B minor in a church room (2020 - premiered by Kuno Kjærbye March 1, 2020 in Engholm Church)

break

J.S. Bach: Sonata in A minor and Partita in D minor

Bo Andersen: Reminiscenze - di qualcosa ascoltato molto tempo fa (2020) (premiere)


1 November, 2020, 16:00Engholmkirken
Engholm Kirkevej 1, 3450 Lillerød
free admission

J.S. Bach: Sonata in C major and Partita in E major

Hanne Tofte Jespersen: FANTASIA under the impression of J.S. Bach (2020) (premiere)


7 November, 2020, Kl. 14 - Elsinore Song Factory
Ydunsvej 16, 3000 Helsingør
Ticket: 250 kr. incl. wine, water, and snacks during the break

J.S. Bach: Sonata in G minor and Partita in B minor

Lil Lacy: Three movements in contrast to and correspondence with Bach’s Sonata in G minor & Partita in B minor in a church room (2020)

break

15:30

J.S. Bach: Sonata in A minor and Partita in D minor

Bo Andersen: Reminiscenze - di qualcosa ascoltato molto tempo fa (2020)

break

17:00

J.S. Bach: Sonata in C major and Partita in E major

Hanne Tofte Jespersen: FANTASIA under the impression of J.S. Bach (2020)


Special thanks to Jexper Holmen, Katrine Gregersen Dal (who also provided some of the photos in this post) and the Danish Composers’ Society for helping make this evening possible.


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