Alone at night – I am not afraid of the thought. Alone at night – what a chance! Everything is calm, and my mind can focus on a single thought without any distraction. Curiously, a few pieces of music allow me to focus even better. They induce a kind of trance that takes me further away from the physical world and helps me propel myself into the world of abstract thinking. Frédéric Chopin’s “Nocturnes” for example. Keith Jarrett’s Cologne Concert and his album “Melody at Night”.
Music and astrophysics
Two years ago I discovered Per Norgard’s Viola Sonata “The Secret Melody”, a piece of a singular beauty and equally suited to detach my mind from the physical world. The piece, written in 1992, is part of set called “Book for Nobuko”, and I will leave it to the Danish composer, born in 1932, to explain his work himself: “The title is borrowed from a book by Trinh Xuan Thuan, the Vietnamese astrophysicist. Of the mysterious and inexplicable order of the universe he writes: Nature sends us the notes of a music formed by a melody that will remain secret forever.”
“The five movements of the sonata circumscribe a hidden melody”, says Norgard, “a clear melodic shape appears often enough, but it soon reveals itself as being part of another, superior melody – and so on. In this labyrinthine way the three middle movements, framed by a short prologue and epilogue, unfold different moods (roaming, singing, playing) in an eternal hide-and-seek of the melody (melodies).”
The project “Viola Space”
The “Book for Nobuko” takes its name from its dedicatee, the Japanese violist Nobuko Imai, born in 1843. She has recorded “The Secret Melody” along with other pieces in the context of the project “Viola Space”, beginning in 1992 at the Casals Hall in Tokyo and continuing for ten years. A fabulous project with many fascinating viola works from 20th century composers. Norgard’s piece has also been arranged for the violin and I encourage you to check out the recording by Christina Astrand.
Norgard studied music at the Royal Academy of Denmark and later with the French composer and pianist Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Since the end of the 60s, Norgard explored the possibilities of “infinity series”, a concept he described in his work “The Hierarchical Music” and that “The Guardian” summed up in its Guide to Contemporary Classical Music: Infinity series are “a mathematical principle that leads to the generation of an always-changing sequence of notes. This isn’t a version of Schönberg’s serialism – far from it, since, the infinity row creates the possibility of resonantly tonal centres across a large-scale work: this is not ‘atonal’ music.”
Abstract thinking, huh? It becomes much easier to understand if you just listen to the music. You have tried György Ligeti, you may as well give Norgard a chance!
© Charles Thibo