Nordheim: concrete and electric
The cycle of songs entitled Evening Land (1957) for soprano and chamber orchestra constituted Nordheim`s breakthrough. The work is based on four poems by the Swedish Nobel prize-winner Pär Lagerkvist, and the tonal language is very near free-tonal. The music underprints the text simply and with studied elegance. The cycle is in four movements, the last two songs being presented as one. Evening Land is dedicated to the memory of the composer`s father. The present version is for a chamber orchestra with 22 strings, whereas the original has five solo strings.
It falls into three parts, and the overriding idea is a gradual interdisplacement in time of brief motifs to create ever-new constellations. The whole composition is characterized by a modicum of elements and long, continually changing tone surfaces.
The sound material in Solitaire (1968) is essentially concrete, and it is the human voice which dominates. We hear the voice in different positions and having many functions along the way. The singular tone quality of the voice and the rhythmical intensity provide both the elementary motifs for the composition and, in addtition, controls many of the musical processes through which the remainder of the material must pass.
Time, timbre and space are the key words in Arne Nordheim`s Colorazione (1968/1982), a work for Hammond organ, percussion group, filters and ring modulators. The piece is a ”live electronic” work, and electronics enable the primary aim of the work to be realized: the musicians playing together with themselves in the past, in which the past is brought into the plane of the present, filtered and modulated.
The basis of Colorazione is conventional musical material composed for a large electronic organ and percussion group. As the work unfolds, the sound of the instrument is continuously sent into an electronic processing unit, from which it is transmitted in filtered and modulated form by speakers surrounding the audience 15 seconds later. This provides a number of possibilities for modifying the music as regards time, timbre and space. Nordheim elaborates these concepts as follows:
Time because there is a meeting between the present moment and the music played 15 seconds before. Timbre due to the transformation, colouring and metamorphosis of the dislocated sounds. Space due to the wide dispersion of the sound: that which is performed on the plane of the present moment, plus the coloured results of the instrumental sounds which have been modulated, filtered and then transmitted by the speakers into the room.