“To compose is to go in and find something in the music that I did not know was there to begin with. To investigate the music and find new things in the tonal material that surprises me and captivate me.”
These words by Hans Abrahamsen paint a picture of a composer with a firm link to tradition who is well aware of the musical environment around him. Although he has a dash of ‘music about music’ in his makeup, he is above all a profoundly independent creator who makes music exactly as he sees fit. In his early work, Abrahamsen aligned with the influential ‘New Simplicity’ movement, which aimed to establish an opposing force to complex central European modernism, particularly the ‘Darmstadt School’. From the late 1970s onwards, Abrahamsen began to employ an approach that was more subjective, described as “poetic” or “romantic”, and he adhered to this even after returning to composition after a hiatus that lasted for nearly all of the 1990s.
The chamber orchestra work Märchenbilder [Fairy-tale images] (1984) borrows its title from a late work by Schumann for piano and viola (1851), and in a sense Abrahamsen is here engaging in dialogue with Schumann by submitting his idiom to the same premise. The music brings together minimalist repetition, glittering richness and layered textures.
The work is in three movements, the last two being played without a break. Abrahamsen describes the work as dividing into six fairy-tale images, the first three being contained in the opening movement; in progressive expansion, the second movement features two and the last movement only one. The opening movement is fast and vivacious, with contrasting passages. The second begins with a slow, heavy tread (Andante alla marcia) that progresses into a brighter section characterised by repeated notes on brass and strings. The concluding movement is the most clearly minimalist of the three, with rapid movement and plenty of repetition, providing a lucid, liberating and fantasy-tinted conclusion to the work.