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Orchestral and Chamber Music Works

Gunnar Berg

Orchestral and Chamber Music Works

Eyvind Rafn, Frode Stengaard, Erik Kaltoft, Manuela Wiesler, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Børge Wagner
Gunnar Berg ...
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Total runtime: 
4 min.

Gunnar Berg (1909-1989)

The Danish composer Gunnar Berg was born in Switzerland, where he spent his earlier childhood, a period dominated by serious illness and a number of changes of \environment. In 1921 he moved with his widowed mother to Copenhagen and it was not until he was fourteen that he was able to start piano lessons, during a period of convalescence in the country. In 1924 he returned to Switzerland, where he worked as an office-boy, moving again to Copenhagen in 1929, to remain there for some twenty years. In 1932 and 1935 he attended the Salzburg Festival and was the only student to attend Herbert von Karajan's classes in the Bruckner symphonies. In 1936 he started counterpoint lessons in Copenhagen with Knud Jeppesen, but his time at the Royal Danish Academy of Music was short. Gunnar Berg's compositional style in these years brought him much closer to a Central European aesthetic, with a power of expression foreign to Danish music of the period. Not until 1948, when Berg moved to Paris, did he find a sympathetic audience, including Arthur Honegger and the circle of Olivier Messiaen. In 1950 he composed the first Danish 12-tone composition and in 1952 he became the first Dane to visit the famous summer courses held at Darmstadt. From then onwards Gunnar Berg developed a personal serial style of composition, a technique he continued until his death in 1989. After extensive tours of Europe with his wife, the French pianist Beatrice Berg, he settled again in Denmark in 1958, writing there a considerable number of his more important works, such as the Gaffky's I-X and the Eclatements for piano, and the piano concertos Frise, Pour piano et orchestre and Uculang. After the death of his wife in 1976, Berg returned to Switzerland, where he was active until his death, attracting considerable critical attention and becoming an honorary member of the Schweizerischer TonkOnstlerverein.

Pastourelle for solo flute (1950)
In the 1970s the Hungarian-Danish flautist Andras Adorjan came to know some of Gunnar Berg's compositions for flute such as the Sonata for flute and clarinet (1942/51) and the Pastourelle for solo flute, which Berg had written in 1950 in Salzburg, where he was attending , at the invitation of Darius Milhaud, the Seminar in American Studies. Earlier in the same year he had written a 12-tone Suite for unaccompanied cello, but for the flute he rejected the limitations of the baroque suite form, preferring the flexibility of the impressionistic Pastourelle .

Cosmogonie for two pianos (1952-53)
In 1952 Gunnar Berg attended the annual summer meetings at Darmstadt. Here he heard the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, a confirmation of his own experience. The result was Cosmogonie for two pianos, a fully serial composition, in which the principles of serialism are applied to every aspect of the music, notes, rhythm and dynamics . The title chosen by the composer is an indication of the importance he attached to the composition, the creation and development of the world. The first part of Cosmogonie is a slow movement in 6/4, although the pulse of the music is not apparent, partly because of the precisely recorded arpeggios and accentuation on unaccented beats. The lack of dynamic continuity gives the impression of flickering , further emphasised by the frequent use of overtones , resulting fromtone-clusters in the lowest register, sustained by the pedal. The first performance of the first part of Cosmogonie was given in 1967 by the Czech pianists Vera and Vlastimil Lejsek. The second part of Cosmogonie is quick, in 4/4 time, with an insistent quaver motor impulse. The music is not completely serial in the orthodox sense, and this caused the composer to break off work on the movement, resuming only for the first complete performance by Frode Stengaard and Erik Kaltoft in 1986.

Aria for flute and orchestra (1980-81)
The meeting between Gunnar Berg and Andras Adorjan resulted in the flute concerto Aria, which was completed in 1981 in Switzerland and performed for the first time in 1984 on Danish Radio by Adorjan, with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Tamas Vetö. The title refers to the original meaning of the Italian word, \\air\\, rather than to any musical form. The character of the one-movement composition can be described as airy and is thus well suited to the solo instrument. In contrast an often insistent but brief repetition of the same note appears as an important structural element throughout the whole work. The instrumentation is generally transparent, with a flickering impression created by sharply differentiated rhythms and the frequent use of quarter-tones. There are very few occasions when the orchestra, with single wind and a percussion section dominated by the xylophone, joins together in a tutti. The solo flute part demands considerable virtuosity, with its widely differentiated rhythms and elaboration of sonorities closely associated with the two flutes of the orchestra. The composer clearly intended to extend the expressive range of the flute in this work, which was in 1988 recommended for the Nordisk Musikpris (Scandinavian Music Prize). 

Jens Rossel (1990)

Release date: 
February 1992
Cat. No.: 
DCCD 9007
Jewel Case
Track count: 


Recorded at the Danish Radio Concert Hall in 1990

Recording producers: Eyvind Rafn, DigiSound (1),
Claus Due (2-3) and Thomas Winther (4)
Executive producer: Hans Henrik Holm (4)
Sound engineers: Eyvind Rafn, DigiSound (1), Claus Due (2-3) and Ole Hviid Nielsen (4)

Cover picture: G. Munch Petersen: Spring Night"

This CD has been recorded in cooperation with Danmarks Radio"