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Magnar Åm - lydar i løynd – 7 små dikt for piano (1970) / farvel grenser (1980)
Dates of first performances unknown
Magnar Åm (pronounced “Ohm”) was born in Trondheim. (b. april 9th 1952)
His interest in music revealed itself from early childhood and he began to write small pieces around the age of eleven. He did this in order to make sense of his inner struggles. It was then that he discovered (in his own words) “what a helpful friend music can be”. He describes the process as “going around with an emotional knot and yet making something out of it that sounded beautiful and that others appreciated – a process of metamorphosis”. The piano (his instrument of choice) became “a very close friend”. All the above citations, as well as much of the information under these lines, come from an interview with the composer I conducted on December 7th 2013 in connection with the writing of my book “Opus Perseverat”, Musikproduktion Höflich 2017.
As a 16 year old Åm travelled to Bergen in order to attend high school and get a musical education. He attended the U. Pihl School where he received encouragement from Kjell Leikvoll (1924 - 2019). Simultaneously Åm studied organ with Thorleif Aamodt (1909 - 2003). These organ studies culminated in a debut concert and the acquisition of an organist and cantor diploma in 1971. He also found time to take composition lessons with Ketil Hvoslef (b. 1939), conducting lessons with Magnar Mangersnes (b. 1938) and jazz lessons with the pianist Eivin Sannes (1937 - 2019). With Trygve Fischer (1918 – 1980) he learned score reading, using the old clefs.
Keil Hvoslef was the first person who gave Åm serious feed-back on matters of composition in a contemporary language. The singular most important contribution from Hvoslef, as Åm recalls, was the search for freshness in every note, a principle by which Åm (and, indeed, Hvoslef) lives to this day.
In the obligatory conservatoire study of traditional harmony Åm found a strong sense of the importance of maintaining a singing quality in every voice. He also realized the vital importance of the distance between the voices: how different two voices sound when they are close to one another in the high register versus the low register: the higher the register, the more consonant dissonances become. These realizations would serve him well in his later work as a consummate choir conductor and composer of choral music.
In return for free room and board Åm worked two hours every evening as a pianist at the restaurant of the Terminus Hotel. Given Åm’s inquisitive nature, he used this experience also as a learning process. He closely monitored the effect his music was having on the restaurant guests and adjusted his playing accordingly.
In 1971 Åm travelled to Stockholm to continue his composition studies with Ingvar Lidholm (1921 – 2017).
After his Stockholm stint, Åm moved to Volda, in the region of Sunnmøre, where he has lived and worked ever since (except for one year, in the early eighties, spent in Bømlo where he met and mentored the young Kenneth Sivertsen, 1961 - 2006). Åm soon became involved with the direction of several children and amateur choirs with which he was happy to experiment.
Magnar Åm’s production is vast and it includes two operas, music for orchestra, several concertos or concertante works, chamber music, music for solo instruments, multimedia and electronic works and a great deal of choral music, with or without instrumental accompaniment.
Åm considers that, particularly in music, the personal and the professional go hand in hand. He sees the creative in music as an allegory for the creative in life: each moment must be accepted as a gift. For him music is an intuitive exercise that can be useful in interpersonal as well as inter-musical relationships. Music, he says, presents a possible future that is for everyone’s best. Although artists often reflect, in their work, that which is wrong with the world, Åm feels it is important to offer hope through art.
“Time and space structured as music is a formidable tool for one who seeks to make conscious his deepest essence and meaning, whether one creates, performs, or listens. But the pleasure of allowing things to become habit is a tempting veil and a hindrance for all searching, also here. This is why I undertake the task of delving into odd ways of mediating music quite frequently – partly to awaken, partly to develop new rituals that can better strengthen the deeper functions of music” http://www.listento.no/mic.nsf/doc/art2002100715014263789883
“In my music I try to appeal to all aspects of listening, including perception of direction. The music must therefore not only respond to the question of what the sound is and when it occurs, but also the question of where it comes from. Sound is like a heavenly body moving through time and space. Concert halls, however, are constructed to concentrate sound in front of the listener […] Nonetheless I often write for a three-dimensional space, placing sound both above and below the audience […] Through my work with electro-acoustic installations I am aware that the spatial element contains a potential for powerful experiences which cannot be realized by a single surface of sound. The difference would be like seeing a character step out of a cinema screen and become a physical body. The music changes from being a phenomenon that appeals primarily to the mind and imagination to something that evokes a physical experience to a much greater degree”
Sleeve notes to SONaR – 2L 51 SABD
lydar i løynd – 7 små dikt for piano (sounds in secret – 7 small poems for piano) is among Magnar Åm’s earliest mature compositions. If he used opus numbers for his compositions this would be his opus 1. Åm was 18 years old at the time he composed it. He tells the story of the work’s creation
lydar i løynd came to the world while I was at high school (the music department of U. Pihl’s school). I was, simultaneously, taking my organist and choir director’s education at the Bergen Music Conservatoire. In exchange for playing background music for two hours every evening for their restaurant diners, Hotel Terminus allowed me to stay in their staff floor.
It goes without saying that my days were filled with activity. Thus my inner urge to compose had to find its outlet, for the most part, at night. They had a lovely grand piano at Terminus Hall. I often sat there and wrote music at the time when everyone was quiet. Alas, soon complaints came from hotel guests who were trying to sleep. The hotel’s manager called me in and asked me to stop playing in the after-hours, which I promised to do. However, I couldn’t help myself. In all secrecy and with the softest possible sound levels I continued my night-time work. Therefore the piece earned the title ‘sounds in secret’.
These delightful seven early miniatures contain many of the traits that would characterize Åm’s mature output. The gently rising and falling polyphony of the first piece points to the masterful choral writer Åm later became. The music remains engaging through the variety of the texture, which as soon embraces two-part writing as it expands to five parts, with three and four voices also sounding simultaneously along the way.
The second, grazioso movement is written as a freely unfolding arabesque only interrupted by four measures of quietly contemplative music.
The third piece, marked ridicolosamente, can, with its frolicking dotted rhythms and tonally ambiguous accompaniment, suggest the influence of Harald Sæverud, with whose piano music Åm must surely have been familiar.
The fourth miniature can, possibly, be heard as Åm’s answer to Chopin’s raindrop prelude. A searching melody, often complemented by a second voice, is held in check by the gently insisting repeated notes of the left hand.
The fifth movement is a two-part invention played at a brisk tempo. Åm does his best to make any tonal centre remain elusive, much in keeping with his search of a weightless free-tonal language, much inspired by the music of his beloved Fartein Valen.
Åm the polyphonist gives over to Åm the melodist in the sixth movement, where a single line sedately rises and falls, mostly in great arching sweeps, with two shorter phrases in the middle that seem to respectively look back to what came before and provide the impetus for the final, long descending line.
The seventh and final small sound poem returns to the playfulness found in the second and third ones. Designated as a “light march” (‘marcia leggera’ would have been the correct Italian name – we have to assume that the 18 year-old composer had not yet mastered his Italian at that stage), it is full of mischievous offbeats, some of the dotted figures we saw in the third movement and a lively alternation between triple and duple rhythms. It is a fitting conclusion to this early example of Magnar Åm’s unique compositional project.
Åm premiered the piece at Hotel Terminus in a chamber music concert held a short time after the completion of the work.
Ten years after his secretive night adventures with lydar i løynd, NRK – the Norwegian Broadcasting Company – commissioned Åm to write a piano piece. The result was the brief but highly intense farvel grenser. Åm remembers that the work was
…dedicated to, and written in close collaboration with the pianist Jan Hovden. He had a particularly large Petrof grand piano model at his home. The instrument had some extra keys in the bass register, going down to sub-contra F, that is, a major third below the usual sub-contra A limit. Getting to write for an instrument with such a “limitless” depth was a gift to my maturing as a human being. At that time I had become awake to the sense that being an individual also means that one is linked with all individuals in the world: the pain of others is also my pain; the love of others also lives inside me. It is akin to experiencing that borders do not exist between us. I felt that, in order to convey this experience so that those who heard the piece could also get an inner glint of it, the expression needed to be of maximum intensity, while also embracing the inwardly loving.
Hovden gave the first performance of this piece at a new music festival in Bergen. The date and time are, unfortunately, not available.
The work is characteristic of Åm’s output from that period, in which he was keenly concerned with the abolition of boundaries or limits, trying to, as he once put it “embrace the whole world, but my arms were not long enough”. There is a definite probing quality to the music, as if it is straining to reach the unreachable. Yet, as Åm states, there is also an obvious, and equally intense intent to look inwardly. This is felt in the brief, quieter episodes. The relation between the individual and the urge to reach out to the collective infinite is poignantly expressed in the sequence beginning in the middle of the third system of page 20: an unassuming melody played pianissimo is gradually repeated at increasingly higher pitch, growing in intensity, eventually reaching a triple forte in the second system of page 21. Having reached the highest achievable dynamic, the music again retreats into the inner realm, led by the same arpeggio that ponderously introduced itself at the beginning of the work, now played half a step higher and at a low dynamic.
farvel grenser is a work that imprints itself in the listener’s emotional centre. One may not remember the individual notes but one is left with a clear impression of the music’s impetuous spirit.
We are happy to present this edition of Magnar Åm’s hitherto unpublished piano works in celebration of his 70th birthday.
Ricardo Odriozola – 26. March 2022
No German preface available ...
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