Edvard Hagerup Bull
Épilogue : Hommage à la mémoire d'un Monde Perdu : In commemoration to the deed of infamy 13th of August 1961, Berlin (Le mur de Berlin) : Version pour quatuor à cordes, op. 26 B (1961)
(b. June 10th 1922, Bergen, d. March 15th 2012, Oslo)
First performance: Bergen, April 29th 2012: Ricardo Odriozola, Mara Haugen Smiukse (violins), Sebastian Lowe (viola), Lala Murshudli (cello)
Edvard Hagerup Bull obtained an organist diploma in Oslo in 1947 after studies with Arild Sandvold. He also studied piano with Erling Westher and Reimar Riefling and composition with Bjarne Brustad and Ludvig Irgens Jensen. His father, Sverre Hagerup Bull, was a respected music critic as well as the editor and one of the main authors of the Norwegian music encyclopaedia “Musikkens Verden”. Edvard Hagerup Bull had an impeccable ancestry for a Norwegian composer: his paternal grandfather was a cousin of Edvard Grieg, while Ole Bull was the grandfather’s uncle. The same grandfather was several times finance and justice minister under the Christian Mikkelsen government, the first Norwegian government after Norway became independent from Sweden in 1905. Between 1948 and 1953 Edvard Hagerup Bull studied composition at the Paris Conservatoire with Darius Milhaud and Jean Rivier and musical analysis with Olivier Messiaen. Later on he spent two years in Berlin (1959 – 1961), where he studied composition with Boris Blacher and analysis with Josef Rufer. Back in Norway he was ready to establish himself as a working composer. This was not to be, however. He encountered a great deal of indifference, even downright hostility towards his music in his own country. The latter was epitomised by the overwhelming flood of negative reviews his Second Symphony received after its premiere in Oslo in 1963. After a long crisis, and with a young family to take care of, he decided to move to France, but not before his beloved master Milhaud had reassured him that he was indeed on the right track and that the Second Symphony was an outstanding work that did not deserve the bad reviews it had received. Indeed Milhaud considered Hagerup Bull to be one of his most brilliant pupils and described him as “a musician with a solid technique and a very winning, commanding and highly imaginative personality." Milhaud's original words were:
“Je […] certifie que le compositeur norvegien Edvard Hagerup Bull […] est un musicien d’une technique solide et d’une personnalité vraiment très attachante, vigoreuse et pleine de fantaisie” (17 oct. 1963)
While he lived in Paris, Hagerup Bull received commissions from Radio France (Sinfonia Humana op. 37, Air Solennel op. 42 and Posthumes op 47) and from several outstanding French ensembles, such as Quatour Instrumentale de Paris, Ensemble Moderne de Paris and Trio Ravel. He was also the first Norwegian composer to receive commissions from the French Cultural Ministry. The resulting works were his 5th Symphony (Sinfonia in Memoriam op. 41), and the Concerto pour flûte et orchestre de chambre op 33.
Hagerup Bull returned to Norway in 1987. His 80th year (2002) was, in Norway, marked by the world première performance of his Sinfonia Espressiva (Symphony nr. 3 – written in 1964!) by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra under David Porcelijn, as well as by a concert of his chamber music given under the auspices of the Bergen Chamber Music Society.
On August 13th 2006, to mark the 45th anniversary of the Berlin Wall, Hagerup Bull's Épilogue op. 26 for string orchestra (the only known piece of music written in protest against the Berlin wall) was performed at Checkpoint Charlie by the Deutsches Kammerorchester Berlin conducted by Jon Bara Johansen with the composer in attendance. He presented the original score of the work to the Mauermuseum. This was to be his last public appearance.
Due to blindness Hagerup Bull was unable to compose during the last eleven years of his life. After a period of illness he died in Oslo in March 2012, three months short of his 90th birthday.
Edvard Hagerup Bull is one of the great Scandinavian composers from the 20th Century, with an instantly recognizable and original voice. More than half of his production is still unpublished and only a fraction of his music has been recorded professionally. Performances of his music are, likewise, infrequent.
Épilogue op. 26 B
In August 1961 Edvard Hagerup Bull found himself in Berlin, having recently finished two years of studies with Boris Blacher. The political decision to split Berlin in two with a wall changed the daily lives of untold numbers of people overnight. Contact between friends and relatives from the Eastern and Western parts of the city became impossible. This situation, heralded by the sudden appearance of barbed wire across the entire city, made a profound impression on Hagerup Bull, to the extent that he felt prompted to compose a work in protest against this, as he put it, “deed of infamy”. Hagerup Bull was, throughout his live, keenly affected by international political upheavals, writing several works in
response to acts of political and social injustice. Épilogue fits into this tendency. The original version
of the work was scored for string orchestra. Hagerup Bull soon made a version of the work for string
quartet. This would become the first of his two string quartets.
Épilogue stands as one of Hagerup Bull’s most powerful and gripping creations. In a sense, it represents the antithesis to his most popular work Ad Usum Amicorum op. 20, written four years earlier. Whereas Ad Usum… is full of bonhomie and charm, Épilogue is downright confrontational. It
presents itself in full armour, offering an unfriendly façade that conceals a deep humanity within. For,
although this is a very serious work, Hagerup Bull cannot help displaying his inherently playful approach to music, particularly in the second movement. There are also moments of poignant tenderness. All of this, however, takes place against a rather dismal and desperate backdrop.
The first movement begins in an atmosphere of apparent calm: the static harmonies support a melody made mostly of wide intervals. This introduction ends with what will become a recurring theme throughout the moment: ten notes played forwards and immediately in retrograde form (3 measures before rehearsal no. 1, including the upbeat) Soon (reh. no. 1) a march sets in: the same melody is played, now in a strictly rhythmical manner. The open fifth F#/B natural that provides the harmony will also be a recurring element; its implacable stiffness will act as a reminder of the bleak situation that the music represents. The pace of the music decreases by degrees, finally settling on a relatively sedate tempo at reh. no. 7. That section falls into a reverie, as if retreating into contemplation in the private sphere, looking outside from the inside. The music of the introduction reappears as a pleasant memory, before returning to grim reality at reh. no. 10. The final seven measures are an exact recapitulation of music heard in the introduction. Hagerup Bull uses this “bookend” formal procedure in all three movements of the work.
The second movement begins and ends in a blaze of activity. The bulk of the movement, which can be viewed as a scherzo of sorts, is taken by a dance. One senses that its playfulness is somewhat forced, as there seems to be little to justify any carefree expression of joy. It is a futile “dance of life” in the Munchian sense. There are moments of nearly unbearable tension, such as the held chord at measure 44 or measure 105 with its brusque change of tempo and repeated notes in the cello. The former creates the sensation of an emotional cramp, while the latter seems to be the breaking point that occurs as culmination of a passage of increasing intensity. The frequent use of silence is very telling, almost creating more tension than the segments filled with sound. This is particularly apparent in measures 48-53, 76-79 and 85. That which is not being played creates an eerie feeling of discomfort. The third movement must be considered the heart of the entire work. It is here that the seriousness of the situation comes into focus without the possibility of pretence or escape. Hagerup Bull’s widow Anna once mentioned to this writer that the Bartók pizzicatos at the beginning and closing of the movement are supposed to represent barbed wire. The music is permeated by inconsolable despondency. The harmonic motion is slow. The central section of the movement, between reh. nos.
20 and 24 is one of the most riveting passages in late Twentieth Century music. The composer marks it both tranquillo (probably referring to the chords in repeated half notes) and espressivo (likely in regard of the slowly unfolding impassioned melody). The uneasy coexistence of these two contradicting expressions creates an extraordinary energy that grows inexorably, reinforced by the insistent return of an implacable three-note motif (see second violin on measure 41, with the two upbeats and grace note). Unable to cope with the tension the music briefly attempts to break into dance mode in measure 58 only to splinter into fragments from reh. no. 25. A postlude of sorts occurs after a short pregnant pause (reh. no. 26), returning to the sadness of the beginning and ultimately landing back on grim reality with the hostile Bartók pizzicatos that opened the movement. The long siren-like chord at the end disappears into silence, providing a masterful conclusion to the work but no solace for the listener.
Although the version for string orchestra has been performed many times, the present one for string quartet has been performed only once so far. This premiere performance took place, as stated above, in Bergen, Norway on April 29th 2012, little over a month after the composer’s death. It can be watched on YouTube:
Remarks about the edition
A close examination of the score suggests that Hagerup Bull made the string quartet arrangement of Épilogue in a relatively short time. The main task, it seems, was finding a way to accommodate the bass part into a four-voice texture. Along the way a few (very few) articulations, accidentals and clef
changes were forgotten. In three places unplayable double stops are given -
In the second movement, measure 70, the manuscript has:
The low G# in the second violin has here been given to the cello as an A flat
In the third movement, at rehearsal no. 21 the manuscript has:
The low G in the first violin has here been given to the cello
Later, in measure 64, the manuscript gives
Here the second violin and viola parts have been rearrange
The measure before rehearsal no. 8 in the first movement poses the biggest problem:
Regrettably there was no other choice here but to forgo the important C in the viola part
One could have taken the low C up one octave and assign it to the first violin, but in my opinion that would have changed the overall sound drastically. It is, however, an option and performers are welcomed to try it.
Two measures earlier (2 mm. before reh. no. 8), the unplayable low G (together with the C above it) in the second violin’s second beat has been given to the viola. The C remains in the second violin.
In measure 86 missing articulations have been added in brackets to the first two notes of the viola to correspond with the first violin and the identical spot in measure 77.
Regarding the tempos in the first movement it is obvious that it is impossible to play all the music between reh. nos. 1 and 7 at the given tempo quarter note = 132-144. I mentioned this to the composer in 2001, in connection with the preparation for a performance of the string orchestra version of the piece. Hagerup Bull agreed and said that the, although he remembered having come to the same conclusion, the gradual decrease in tempo did not make it to the published score. These additional tempo markings have been added in brackets at reh. nos. 3 and 5.
Ricardo Odriozola 19.04 2020 (in tempora virales)