Abrahamsen: Winternacht

Program Note

Hans Abrahamsen (b.1952)
Winternacht (Winter Night) (1978)

In a piece like Winternacht, it is again about the seasons. But here actually, the first movement is winter, and then it goes backwards to autumn, and then to summer, and the last movement is spring. So coming from the first movement, it is actually going forwards from winter to spring, and that is always important for me, that somehow it seems that we go backwards, but actually we go forwards. It represents feelings of cold, warm, movement, growing, decaying; all kinds of things that, for me, is in my music, and has been there since I started writing.

—Hans Abrahamsen, from the interview “Composing Myself," January 22, 2018

Born in Copenhagen, Abrahamsen first got to know music through playing the French horn at school. He went on to study music theory at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. His music is inspired by his mentors Per Nørgård and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, who were two of his composition teachers, and in the 1980s he became close both personally and stylistically (partly through another period of study) to György Ligeti.

Abrahamsen is considered to have been part of a trend called the "New Simplicity," which arose in the mid-1960s as a reaction against the complexity and perceived aridity of the Central European avant-garde. Abrahamsen’s first works conformed to the tenets of this movement, particularly the circle around the Darmstadt School. For Abrahamsen, this meant adopting an almost naïve simplicity of expression, as in his orchestral piece Skum (Foam, 1970). His style soon altered and developed, at first through a personal dialogue with Romanticism (audible in works such as the orchestral Nacht und Trompeten - Night and Trumpets, 1981), and later—after a hiatus of around a decade in which he composed little and released nothing—into something entirely personal, combining a modernist stringency and economy into a larger individual musical universe.

Notable works since his return to composition include a piano concerto written for his wife Anne-Marie Abildskov, and the extended chamber work Schnee (Snow), where the paring-down of material appears to reach a new extreme. Schnee has also received attention for its construction from both arch-shaped and straight-line processes that unfold over the work's duration, and for innovative details such as its inline, composed retuning intervals.

His first opera, Snedronningen (The Snow Queen), based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, is due to be premiered at the Danish Opera House in autumn 2019.