The leading Danish contemporary composer, Hans Abrahamsen’s, compositional style was associated with the musical direction of simplicity in the early 1970’s, but his music has moved in several different directions in more recent years.

After 2000, he has developed new composition techniques inspired by Bach’s counterpoints, such as in the work of “Schnee” written in 2006-08.

The composer became familiar with Bach’s music by arranging various canons. He arranged them so that they would repeat again and again – as a kind of minimalist music. Hearing the music in this way, opened him to a brand new and inspiring world of time in motion.

Abrahamsen used inspiration from Bach as a model for two comprehensive canons, written for a instrumental combination rooted in symmetry. Canon 1a begins with violin – it whisper as it plays repeating notes over a low-key piano. The composer stated that the melody is almost like falling snow.  The idea behind the first cannon was to have a process that gradually  switch to two sets, so that the initial set became final and vice versa. Canon 1b is a variation, for all instruments; these two sets make up a pair. Abrahamsen eventually expanded the work to include 5 pairings.

The composer has stated that in the 1970s his music was much more pluralistic, while in Schnee, this pluralism disappears. In a sense, the music now reaches its core self. However, Abrahamsen borrows from music history in this instance as well: in canon pair 4, we hear Mozart’s bells from Schlittenfahrt, the last part of his “Three German Dances”. There are also many references to snow and winter in the work, which is also partly inspired by H. C. Andersen’s adventure “The Snow Queen”.

As the play progresses, it becomes more and more shortened. The five canon pairs are progressively shorter, and the last two movements last for only one minute. The composer’s idea was that time is moving faster towards the end and eventually the time runs out.

Christian Eggen, conductor

Hans Abrahamsen: Schnee (2006-2008)
Ten Canons for Nine Instruments