Music

Symphony No. 3

Per Nørgård (1932-)

By Finn Gravesen, writer and editor, 2006

Reality has always most to tell 

Per Noergaard has a preference for expressing himself in a transparent, forthright fashion - in words as well as music. Perhaps this is because he is an inquisitive person constantly discovering new truths and gaining new experience. The German poet Reiner Maria Rilke’s sonnet “Sing, my soul, of the gardens thou knowest not ...” (“Singe die Gaerten, mein Herz, die du nicht kennst ...”) rounds off Noergaard’s Symphony with this very point - as its motto - as it were. 

A totally conscious expansion of consciousness 

- is the term Noergaard uses to describe the process through which he takes his listeners. It begins here with deep harmonies called forth to form the first of the work’s two movements - “Outer Movement” (“Ydre bevaegelse”).

The tonal material slowly gathers shape, and it becomes apparent that the sound space of the symphony is identical to nature’s own harmonies - the series of overtones. After this point, the tones fall in cascades with the deep wind instruments proclaiming the entire overtone spectrum. It is here that the grammar of the work’s entire rhythmic dimension is revealed. The second movement, dubbed “Inner Interplay” (“Indre Samspil”), starts off from the opposite direction - from above. Like the northern lights, the tones here are cast down from the highest point to create melodies, which the large choir then takes over. Via two old medieval chants, the movement reaches the choral finale “Sing of the gardens”. 

Soli Deo Gloria 

“All honour to God alone” Noergaard writes at the end of the symphony. This third symphony of his is a sort of breathing space in which the composer takes stock of things. His search for cosmic harmony has induced in him a way of composing in which everything in the music derives from the so- called “infinity series” - a musical technique which corresponds to the composer’s experience of an all-embracing cosmic truth.

Per Nørgård's infinity series in spiral form prepared by the composer himself. ©Edition Wilhelm Hansen, København.
Per Nørgård. Photo: Lars Skaaning
Score Music

Did you know?

Source: Pernoergaard.dk

Per Nørgård is the inventor of the concept of the infinity series, which in mathematics circles goes under the name A004718. And in whole other matter: Along with the big brother Bent, who wrote the lyrics, the only 11-year-old Per made small drawn minimusicals that were built for the family. Of course the music, which was in the best Disney style, he composed himself.

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Music, 2006

This work is already on its way to becoming – rather unusually – a ‘contemporary classic’. This is due to the fact that the symphony brings together a nod to general classical-romantic listeners’ prerequisites and Per Nørgård’s personal interpretation of some of contemporary music’s most significant attributes: serialism and multiple rhythms.
When the work was first performed, some believed that in a way, it could not fit in; it was too good to be true, too beautiful in relation to the modern world. These doubts later quietened as later music moved in a similar direction, proving Per Nørgård to indeed be ahead of his time. 

Whilst modern music has often turned away from specific keys, Per Nørgård maintains them in a new way in his work, with polarities between major and minor, a yin-yang movement in constant melodic and exotic interaction. The symphony is simultaneously a summary of Per Nørgård’s work with all the new musical techniques of the 1960s and an architectural work of Mahler-esque proportions. As the first movement begins, deep tones are brought forth, shaping the entire movement. In the second movement, the tones come from the opposite direction, from above, forming melodies and subsequently bringing the large choir to the fore. It’s as if the symphony is a kind of creation story – of the world in the first movement, and people in the second. Or perhaps the entire symphony is an expression of the genesis of one single individual.

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