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  • Recent Music of Hans Abrahamsen
  • Matthew Ertz
Hans Abrahamsen. Traumlieder: For Violin, Cello, and Piano (1984/2009). Copenhagen: Edition Wilhelm Hansen, [2010]. [Table of contents, p. [i]; score, p. 1–23, and 2 parts. ISBN 978-87-598-6941-3, pub. no. WH 30687C. $41.]
Hans Abrahamsen. String Quartet No. 3 (2008). Copenhagen: Edition Wilhelm Hansen, [2008]. [Score, p. 1–10, and 4 parts. ISBN 978-87-598-1745-2 (score), 978-87-598-1746-9 (parts), pub. no. WH 30919. $28.40 (score), $26.80 (parts).]
Hans Abrahamsen. Schnee: Ten Canons for Nine Instruments (2006–08). Copenhagen: Edition Wilhelm Hansen, [2010]. [Pref. matter (instrumentation, performance instructions, stage setup, table of contents), p. i–iv; score, p. 1–191. ISBN 978-87-598-2067-4, pub. no. WH 31173. $55.30.]
Hans Abrahamsen. Double Concerto: For Violin, Piano, and String Orchestra (2010–2011). Copenhagen: Edition Wilhelm Hansen, 2011. [Pref. matter (instrumentation, performance notes, stage setup, table of contents), p. i–iv; score, p. 1–57. ISBN 978-87-598-2191-6, pub. no. WH 31276. $72.70.]

While there are certainly many Danish composers throughout history worth hearing, studying, and performing, it seems as though there is often one per generation that stands out as the reigning champion of Danish music. Niels Gade (1817–1890) the composer, conductor, and violinist, spent the beginning of his career in Germany within Mendelssohn’s circle, returning to Denmark at the age of thirty-one due to the First Schleswig War to establish himself in a successful career as a prominent musician and educator. He guided the likes of Edvard Grieg (1843–1907) and Carl Nielsen (1865–1931), the latter who ultimately became known as the greatest Danish composer of all time. Nielsen’s successor was, arguably, the prolific Vagn Holmboe (1909–1996) whose neoromantic/post-Sibelius aesthetic was very influential on his pupils, including the current champion of Danish music, Per Nørgård (b. 1932), who became equally influential due to his development of the infinity row—a compositional process that resembles Sibelian orchestral textures and explorations in tempos and harmony. Presently, there are several Danes vying to be Nørgård’s heir. Of course, only time will tell; it could be decades before one emerges. Each of the members of the current generation all exhibit qualities of their predecessors, while moving forward and developing their own ideas. Those who seem to be receiving the most national and international attention are Karl Aage Rasmussen (b. 1947), Poul Ruders (b. 1948), Bent Sørensen (b. 1958), and Hans Abrahamsen (b. 1952), whose music I will discuss here.

Beginning his professional career in the 1970s on the tail end of the Danish “new simplicity” movement—a response to the complexities inherent in the Darmstadt School throughout central Europe, and not to be confused with the German new simplicity (Neue Einfachheit) nor the Tintinnabu lation style found in Arvo Pärt or John Tavener—Abrahamsen can be perceived, in retrospect, as being somewhat naïve, in that the older generation’s influence—that of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Henning Christiansen, and Ib Nørholm—is a bit obvious, particularly in his orchestral music. However, Abrahamsen’s intimate style and rigorous forms, which are obvious features of his recent [End Page 190] music, are also noticeable during his early career in pieces such as Herbst for tenor, flute, cello, and guitar (1972), Flowersongs for three flutes (1973), and Universe Birds for female chorus (1973). Throughout the 1970s Abrahamsen continued to develop in distinctive ways. During the late 1970s and 1980s, Abrahamsen enjoyed many successes, professionally, at home and abroad, as well as musically with the imagery and narrative he was able to convey in works such as Winternacht for chamber orchestra (1976–78), Walden for wind quintet (1978), the orchestral pieces Nacht und Trompeten (1981) and Märchenbilder (1984), and Lied in Fall for cello and ensemble (1987). Abrahamsen has never been a prolific composer, and during the late 1980s he became even less so, coming eventually to a stop in 1991. Between 1991 and 1999 Abrahamsen composed only one new work (Herbstlied for soprano and ensemble, 1992), and instead devoted time to reorchestrating works of...


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