Magnar Åm - Oktett - in nude (1977)
(b. Trondheim, 9 April 1952)
Magnar Åm (pronounced “Ohm”) was born in Trondheim.
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
Oktett - in nude is typical of Åm’s earlier period, which includes works such as farvel grenser (farewell borders) for piano, Dance for guitar, harpsichord and harp and Study on a Norwegian Hymn for string orchestra. In this work the composer seems, as he once put it, to be attempting to embrace the world, only to find that his arms are not long enough. The music is severe and uncompromising. An example of this attitude would be the long, downward solo glissandos in the double bass, akin to the yawn of an ugly troll, ending on a ponderous tutti chord. Most of the work proceeds at very high volume, seemingly representing a noisy world hostile towards the plight of the individual. Tender beauty finds its expression in short sections, but pain,
endured with dignity, is the order of the day and molto tenuto the predominant articulation. Sounds that join the prevailing texture quickly entering from silence (dal niente) - as voices from the Universal choir constantly trying to tune in to Earth's clamour - are a trademark of the work and also characteristic of that period in Åm's production. The final stretch has the two violins playing fortissimo in strict unison (a very gritty effect), hanging on for dear life on top of an unsympathetic background. The piece ends with a long, lonely high note in the cello. A very powerful and effective work that communicates directly with the listener on purely musical terms, eschewing (in contrast to many works by Åm) any kind of accompanying text.
Oktett - in nude was commissioned by the Bergen Chamber Music Society and received its first performance on November 2nd 1977 by the Musikkselskabet Harmoniens Octet in Bergen, Norway.
The work can be heard on the CD Norwegian Signatures (ACD4984), performed by the BIT20 ensemble conducted by Ingar Bergby, with this writer on first violin.
Ricardo Odriozola 29. January 2020
REMARKS from the composer
Articulation: Throughout the piece play non legato with maximal tenuto. Slurs are given where legato is wanted.
Dynamics: A note in parenthesis indicates a "creep in" on the tone, starting from nothing, coming into importance when the parenthesis is over.
(Observe: There are also given small notes in parentheses on trills, only to show which notes to trill
with, of course).
Dynamics: When no crescendo, diminuendo or other alteration is given, play always sempre.
Duration: Approximately 10 minutes.
* * * * * * * * *
REMARK from the editor
In this edition a dynamic in parenthesis has been added to the final measure of the violins and double bass in order to remind the players what "sempre" refers to.
“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