Insight: Galaxy

Galaxy was composed as an attempt to challenge the ideologically entrenched thinking in contemporary music, the struggle between the speculatively technical and the spiritually sensual. I talked with Anders Brødsgaard about this landmark work.

Hi Anders, please tell our readers a bit about your background.

I was brought up in a small town in the country in the fifties and sixties. My father was in the agricultural business but he was full of enthusiasm on the cultural front and had a large collection of LP-records and books. Anything he mentioned at the dinner table as difficult to understand – James Joyce’s Ulysses or Mahler’s 8th symphony – aroused my curiosity and I immediately sought it out in his book shelves and tried to listen to it or read it when the rest of the house had gone to bed. And I was at an early stage at ease with musical news from abroad through German and Danish radio (at that time Danish radio still had programs about contemporary music).

I started late – at the age of fifteen – to play the piano, after having played guitar for some years. As things went bad in school I finally decided to practice hard on the piano and was finally permitted to the Carl Nielsen Academy in nearby Odense when I turned nineteen. I got Rosalind Bevan as my piano teacher there, which was good because she was very much into modern music and that was what I wanted to play. F.ex. I played George Crumb’s Five Pieces at one tests after two years of studying. By the way I had done a lot of preparation for that piano style as I tortured my own cheap grand piano by playing inside it on the strings and throwing different objects inside it.

How did you come up with the concept for “Galaxy”?

First I must say that at I studied the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen already during my piano studies and I also played some of his piano music in public (Klavierstück no.V, VII and IX) and I was deeply impressed by his way of musical thinking. Mantra for two pianos and especially Inori for orchestra were – and are – key works for me. The concept of Galaxy – the idea of a huge, melodic spiral movement in the orchestra was very much inspired by Inori with its focus on a single note for a very long time. But I also wanted Galaxy to be a comment on the issue of tonal versus atonal music. The spiral movement in the piece – a spiral defined as a circle in motion that never returns to it’s exact beginning – fluctuates between consonant, tonal, harmonic, static music and dissonant, atonal, expressive twelve tone music.

Through the whole piece runs a melody whose tones overlap so that the “bone structure” of the piece simply is a two part invention. The melody behaves in a way like the famous spiral model of a DNA-string.

You can hear many small spiral movements during the piece and the whole 43 minute Galaxy is actually one big spiral movement, rising and accelerating, and the piece stops just as it is going to turn backwards. So everything becomes faster and shorter so that you finally hear the basic twelve tone melody.

Anders Brødsgaard

Why did you choose to write a piece that was such a length with no breaks?

My goal was to make a structure where you first experience single isolated, long notes and gradually hear them as a melody when the melody gets faster repeating itself. This relativity of perception is of the greatest importance and inspiration for me: a tone is a rhythmic pulsation when you slow it down; a rhythmic figure can become a musical form etc. This keeps fascinating me. An example is my Pianoconcerto (Dacapo 8.226514) from 1995 which is one simple polyrhythmic structure lasting 22 minutes. I know this sounds nerdish but remember that these principles says nothing about how the music will sound in the end. It is a kind of basic structure that allows your imagination to go wild without losing focus and fall into old musical habits, like 4/4 meters and traditional chord changes.

How was this received by the players? It must have been quite tiring on the players.

The piece was first played by Odense Symphony Orchestra – in 1999 – and they also made this recording for Dacapo. It is an orchestra with a lot of young players and they have no problems at all playing contemporary music. I am especially grateful to the piano and percussion players who have the most difficult passages in the atonal sections.

Describe your creative process when writing the work.

I wrote the first 15 minutes of the piece in the beginning of the nineties in a three years period. Then I forgot about it because I had other interesting commissions. I started again when I got the opportunity to have it performed at the Music Harvest Festival in Odense in 1999. I wrote the remaining 30 minutes –which were already planned – in the summer of 1999.

And I had a shock when I heard it for the first time: I must admit that I had forgotten how it should sound. When I later heard the tape recording I thought I heard sounds that were not written in the score!

And that is the interesting thing about being a composer: Write something that you never will be completely sure of how sounds!

Anders Brødsgaard

What was the most challenging aspect of the work?

To fulfill the ambitious plan I have just described. And there are a LOT of notes in the score. I still have to make a proper score…

What has been your biggest influences as a composer?

If I start from the beginning: the Beatles, Santana, John McLaughlin, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa and of course Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Schönberg, Messiaen, Andriessen, Stockhausen, Per Nørgård and George Crumb. Later I learned to appreciate Stravinsky, John Cage, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich and many others. And my teacher in Aarhus, where I studied composition in the eighties, after my piano years, Karl Aage Rasmussen had a big impact on me with his intellect, musical ideas and, not least, his attitude.

What’s next for you?

I am writing a new piece for the Danish ensemble Figura whom I have worked with many times. They will play the piece on a small tour to Lithuania, Huddersfield New Music Festival, UK and in Copenhagen in the fall of 2011.

Then I am working on a con amore project with some friends in Copenhagen: a “Liederabend” on texts by the Danish experimental poet Klaus Høeck for baritone singer, electric guitar and myself on piano and electronics. Unfortunately this great poet is quite intranslateable but I have been so inspired by him that up to now I composed around 4 to 5 hours of music based on his texts!

And the final question I like to ask all our interviewees. For the all the up and coming composers out there, if you could share one tip, what would it be?

Don’t give up! Don’t let popular/commercial culture destroy your ideas! Remember that you started because you wanted to make a music that never existed before!

Galaxy can be purchased from Amazon and iTunes.

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