Norway’s foremost contemporary composer is awarded the Edvard prize in the category for contemporary music. ”For his ability to surprise us all anew,” wrote the jury, continuing: “When we thought were finally able to predict his next move, he baffles us with unheard and unthought-of juxtapositions between well known sentiments and rupture. He proves again and once and for all that the realm of his musicality transcends all familiar ground.
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Nordheim received the award for his piece Fono, written for trombone and orchestra. -A piece that brings to bear “elements from late romanticism in fusion with strictly modernistic traits, and expounds its music with a distinctly Nordic, and most of all personal, voice.”
2006 is the year of Nordheim’s seventy-fifth birthday, and the reward constitutes a fitting topping-off of the wide-ranging and prolonged celebrations. His ability to still at this age write truly contemporary music -music that prevails in terms of audacity and profound originality- is evidence of a unique artistic mind. -A mind still unhampered by the patterns that so often seem to determine, and pre-destine thinking. Nordheim has from the start represented autonomy and points of reference and orientation that seem to transcend and even subvert existing paradigms. Often associated with incomprehensible and weird music among the general public, he is most definitely and artist who concerns himself with the furthest reaches of the human condition, and the utmost questions. In a recent interview in connection with his 75th birthday he reveals some of his reflections and sources of inspiration. And, as the reporter concedes, “With a keen intellect and a unique ability to be extremely precise and concise about elusive and complex matters.”
“My spiritual initiation to music and composition was Mahler. At the time that was not “comme il faut” at all, but to me it was apparent that his was a voice that had been on the “other” side and collected information. It was more than music, a confession and an unearthing of something transcendental.”
Nordheim’s affinity with the delimitations of reality is a recurring trait. And perhaps it is due to his always returning to this twilight that he has such a unique ability to create a-temporal expressions, fuse time-specific traits, and effortlessly embrace and merge extremities such as modern electronic technology with the oldest and profoundest archetypes of our culture. One such is the Norwegian epos Draumkvedet, (The Dream song), which he reissued in his own musical vision for the 1994 Olympics. The poem concerns the chasm of the night, the realm of dreams and of death, the dark abyss that must be bridged. And Nordheim makes use of many different conceptions of this dark and undulation sea; the substratum on which reality helplessly floats, the realm to which dreams take us and from which art speaks:
“I am interested in depictions of hell, which I conceive as chaos. Fear is predominant, and I find fear a powerful source as it manifests in texts such as Draumkvedet and e.g. Divina Comedia. Very often I start with a text, “what is hidden herein?” “What melodies may be unveiled, and which should remain buried?”
But the transcendental, that which is beyond factuality and liberated from time, does not only represent fear, chaos and hell for Nordheim. He returns again and again to his favourite poem by the Swedish poet Pär Lagerquist, and quotes: My longing is not mine. It is old as the stars. “This longing is the essence of humanity,” says Nordheim, “yet it is not ours. There is a longing inherent then in the nothingness, and that shifts its character, away from darkness and fear towards something else.”
There is no question that Nordheim represents the ruminative side of art, and his own reflections on his ideas, work and career sheds some light on how age-old philosophical and religious considerations can come to expression in contemporary art. And, as he has demonstrated yet again, in his inspired mind such sources yield the most unpredictable, astounding and original music.