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Magnar Heimdal - Four Solo Violin Pieces
(b. June 7th 1973, Tønsberg)
In G (1999 rev. 2012)
Arjun’s Arrow (2013)
Withering Frost (2016-2018)
First public performance of all four works: Midgard Vikingsenter, Borre
October 4th 2020,
Magnar Heimdal received his higher music education at the Grieg Academy in Bergen, obtaining degrees in violin, pedagogy and composition.
He mainly works as a violin teacher and orchestra leader at the municipal culture school in Horten. When time allows, he writes music. In recent years he has organized several concerts with his own compositions. He likes to experiment with combining texts – both his own and other people's – with the music, and often uses them instead of conventional work introductions. In his music school work he has scripted and arranged music for two performances, one based on Monteverdi's “L'Orfeo” and one about the local coastal culture. He is currently (2023) planning to make a children's version of “The Magic Flute”. In his spare time he plays in the local amateur symphony orchestra. He also enjoys wildlife, beer and growing tomatoes, and is concerned about the disregard of people and politicians for science, logic and long term thinking, and the all too visible egocentric behaviour of humans.
The composer writes:
My music has been under development but I have gradually landed on a style and philosophy that I can try to describe. My most important sources of inspiration, besides the classics up to our time are Indian music, African music, European minimalism (mostly Michael Nyman and Louis Andriessen) and Norwegian folk music. I make no qualitative distinctions between genres and am more interested in what they have in common that in what makes them different from one another. If one looks at all the music on Earth and through history as a whole, a lot of it goes in quadruple or triple time signatures and a diatonic (but not necessarily tempered) seven-note scale. There are, of course, variations of this. Twelve-tone and Serialism are artificial deviations that have little to do with the music of the rest of the world. All the same, a lot of fine and exciting music has been written using these techniques.
Making sounds that are outside of the purpose for which instruments are made is interesting and can expand sonic possibilities. This must, however, not become a straitjacket for composers. It is not new, either. Such experimentation has taken place in different ways for as long as instruments have existed.
Tonality in my music is based on different scales, primarily the seven Church modes. In addition we have the overtone scale with – if based on C – F sharp and B flat. And the most common of the Eastern scales, which is harmonic minor with different starting notes. In Indian music one makes scales by creating combinations of low and high scale degrees with the Ionian scale as a starting point. The first and fifth degrees are stable, while the others can be raised of lowered by a half step. In that way one achieves many different combinations. They can also be different going up and going down, and one can skip over certain notes. It is also possible to have occasional “borrowed” or “wrong” notes in all modes. Through these and other inspirations I work with different modes and scales as a basis for my compositions.
When working with harmony in my music I have defined three levels if simultaneity: consonance (fifth, octave, fourth, unison), resonance (third, sixth), soft dissonance (major second, minor seventh, tritone) and sharp dissonance (minor second, major seventh, minor ninth).
To define the dissonance of chords with more than two notes, I use the concept of “pitch class sets”, which means to analyze all the intervals in a chord. As an example: a major triad consists of a major third, a minor third and a fifth. So does a minor triad, so I reckon them as equally consonant. A traditional pentatonic chord (e.g. C D E G A) will also have the major second, and therefore be a bit more dissonant. A minor chord with a high sixth (e.g. Cm6) will also have the tritone, and therefore be even more dissonant. And so forth up two chromatic cluster chords which will be the most dissonant (in an equal tempered tuning).
Another way to work with harmony is the overtone series. Even if this cannot be exactly produced in an equal tempered intonation, chords that approximate this will sound more pleasing to the ear than chords that disregard the overtone series. Knowledge about the overtone series gives a tool to produce the harmonies I want, to fit with the musical expression I am after.
Instead of using harmony in the traditional way, with major and minor chords, dominant, sub-dominant etc, I construct my harmonies based on different values of dissonance that can be created inside the mode I use in each particular piece. The melodic line is the main driving force of the music, and the other musical elements usually support the melody's musical intentions.
Rhythm in my music is based on folk music, polyrhythmic combinations, syncopation, searching for a groove... Free rhythm (senza misura) is also possible, as in the opening section of Indian Ragas – alaap. Apart from free rhythm, all time signatures can be derived from the numbers 2 and 3.
Honesty is central to my philosophy of music and life. I have no time for snobbery or the pretence of making oneself appear deeper or more special than one actually is. It is unnecessary. Saying what one actually means and thinks is more than interesting enough. I think it is nice when music is unapologetically happy, sad, angry, ugly or beautiful. I don't believe in obscuring what one wishes to say in order to make it more interesting or ambiguous. I also believe that complexity in music has nothing to do with quality. If the music requires complexity in order to express itself, then so be it. If, on the other hand, I find that can express the same in a simpler way, I prefer to do so. Neither is it a desirable goal to make the music as hard as possible to play, unless it motivates the musicians.
I have long missed humour and fun in concerts of contemporary music. They tend to become very serious and solemn. Life is not like that, and art does not need to be that way either. The audience needs primarily to be uplifted. Often happy and merry music is considered less serious that sad music. It is just as serious! And its message is as important. As Piet Hein wrote “Taking fun as simply fun and earnestness in earnest shows how thoroughly thou neither of the two discernest.” (Den som kun tar spøg for spøg og alvor kun alvorligt, han og hun har faktisk fattet begge dele dårligt).
Regarding overused clichés and quotations, I think there is nothing wrong with them as long as they carry a message. In music, as in life, one should use that which has proven itself to work. It is not necessary for everyone to reinvent the wheel. I like composers who have defined themselves in a style, write accordingly and are inspired by other composers in a similar style. But I like all kinds of composers.
Lastly, I think one should stop using “contemporary music” as a designation of a style. It is preferable, I think, to use terms such as “minimalism”, “sound art”, “atonal music”, “noise music” etc. because they say a great deal more about the essence of the music.
Heimdal has carved a very personal musical path, as the above list of influences clearly suggests. Over the years he seems to have been searching for an ever greater simplicity. His scores have gradually become denuded of markings and articulations. This is, in part, to allow musicians their own point of view on the music. It also puts focus on the quality of the writing: the music should, ideally, “play itself”, with minimal interference from the players, provided correct intonation, rhythm, tempo sense, appropriate sound and good taste.
The four pieces in this edition – which are only a portion of Heimdal's entire output for violin – are a good introduction to his musical world. They are all very characteristic and utterly different from one another.
Slåtte Suite, sounds like authentic Norwegian Folk music without actually borrowing from any existing melody. “Slått” is the Norwegian term for “dance”, or rather a piece of music meant for dance. The rhythm and bearing of the three “slåtter” are easily recognizable. However, as with his forebear and exemplar J.S. Bach, Heimdal is not content with creating mere pastiche based on the popular dances: he combines sections of recognizable Folk-like character with sequences of free invention. The result is an invigorating musical concoction that is pleasing to the listener while appealing to our sense of adventure.
In G is, arguably, the most ambitious piece of the collection. Given the way it was conceived, its rhapsodic, seemingly improvised character is very fitting. The main melodic material, marked “Andante sognante” pervades the opening section, where the continuous glissandi typical of Classical Indian music are a predominant aspect of the phrasing. The next section – “Allegro in Marcia” – enters at a low dynamic level. This and the unstable rhythms it incorporates, give this section a somewhat tentative character. The “sognante” material returns on measure 86, this time reaching up to the high register of the instrument and introducing left hand pizzicati. The “in marcia” music returns, more assuredly, on m. 126, leading to the main climax of the work, on mm. 60-71 (“Maestoso rubato”). Finally, a brief sequence of rising and falling figures leads to the serene coda, with its distant, wispy harmonics.
Arjun’s Arrow is a piece of great outward simplicity that masks an intense inner drama. A clearly descriptive composition, it builds up tension before finally collecting itself into profound calm, in the manner of a master archer or martial artist.
Withering Frost is another descriptive piece. Unlike Arjun’s Arrow, however, it does not tell a story. Instead, it channels a powerfully enchanting experience of Nature. Although very distinct sections can be discerned, the piece does not aim at a sense of traditional form. It is rather the musical unfolding of an impression or a moment in time. Thus, the juxtaposition of tremolos, flurries of quick notes, unpredictable pizzicati and long tones seems to be an attempt to lay out a timeless sensation into sequential time. Fittingly, the piece is notated without bar lines and it gives the sense of a disciplined stream of consciousness, free from any noticeable pulse.
About this edition
The asterisks (*) to be found on Slåtte Suite and In G indicate spots in the compositions where the composer feels it would be appropriate to turn or slide the page in a performance where the printed music is used.
The pieces appear in chronological order and each adopts a different layout.
The compositions are not thought as a series and may be performed individually. However, for the sake of the unity in this edition, the page numbering has been kept in running order from 1 to 27.
Ricardo Odriozola, June 22nd 2023
German preface not available ....
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