Music /  Opera /  Education 


FIGURA Ensemble are extremely proud and honoured to be among the nominees vying for the Nordic Council Music Prize 2017. To be nominated in such illustrious artistic company by the national members of the Adjudication Committee is a high distinction indeed and a hugely gratifying mark of recognition.
Heartfelt congratulations to FIGURA’s Ursula Andkjær Olsen on receiving the Danish Arts Foundation’s highly prestigious Award of Distinction.
DOWNFALL 26-30 September 2017


What else is our life than a series of preludes to disaster? Preludes to an unknown, looming disaster that may not even occur. Would it not be the biggest disaster if everything you believed in, everything you fought for turned out to be pure illusion? Would it not be an even bigger disaster if it was all pure illusion, and you did not know it? And would it not be bigger still, if it was all pure illusion, and you did not know it, but everybody else did? Of course, at least then you might be living in blissful ignorance…right up until the moment you found out that everyone was laughing at you, and that you were the main character in a book about how pathetic and ridiculous you were…

While I was working on the children’s music theatre piece Am I Not Don Quixote? together with FIGURA, I became more and more fascinated by the character of Don Quijote. He may be the most tragic antihero imaginable. I am happy that I am not him. I fear I might be like him. And yet at the same time I sympathise with him, and in some peculiar way wish I could be like him. For he is, I suppose, a good person. He wants so badly to be good. But he is only human.

I was inspired to set to music some of Cervantes’ fictitious tributes that appear in the introduction to his story: poems in which other fictitious, heroic knights salute Don Quijote for his passion, strength and courage, and praise the book about him. These four songs attempt to explore the poor knight’s feelings through music, from the restlessly tempestuous, by way of the thoughtfully introverted and the aggressively extroverted, toward at last a kind of reconciliation.

Peter Bruun
Translation from the Danish: Aileen Bramhall Itani

I had long intended to do a close reading of Gallow Songs with a view to exploiting them musically (for their title alone!), when the FIGURA Ensemble asked me to come up with a setting of Christian Morgenstern’s poems. When I had begun, I discovered that the Gallow Songs are not only grotesque, funny, and ironic, but really rather silly – like a German version of Danish writer Halfdan Rasmussen, but with a dark side. I also found that many of the poems activated my inner, buried, German “cultural inheritance”, and that several of the songs absolutely insisted on being resurrected with features of pre-existing, predominantly German, music.

For example, the scansion of the poem Galgenberg created irresistible associations with Mondestrunken, the first song of Arnold Schoenberg’s grotesque melodrama Pierrot Lunaire: “Den Wein den man mit Augen trinkt” –; thus the first verse of Galgenberg is mixed with elements of Schoenberg’s song, after which it charts its own course in a pre-twelve-tone tonal language from 1912.

In Bundeslied der Galgenbrüder, a Bach chorale turns up, sung with a Protestant consciousness of sin by the bass and accordion players: “O schauerliche Lebenswirrn, wir hängen hier am roten Zwirn!”

Die beiden Esel, about marriages of habit, is in a slightly more morbid style for Morgenstern. This is set with hints of Schumann’s Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen, itself to a text by another great German ironist, Heinrich Heine. I managed to put Schumann’s little modulating cadence through all 12 steps in the circle of fifths in the course of the song’s 45 seconds.

Not all the poems have ironic double-meanings: Bim, Bam, Bum, for example, is a touching little story of the unrequited love in the sound of a bell and Der Tanz, with its ridiculous portrait of a dancing “four-four time pig” on three pink legs, and her dance partner, the “upbeat-owl”, on the fourth (!), is like a bit out of an old Disney cartoon.

I selected these ten poems based on how much – and how! – they seemed to want to be set to music. Therefore, my compositional technique varied a great deal from song to song, from the “pink waltz” in Der Tanz, to overtone harmony in the bell sound of Bim, Bam, Bum, to flat-out thievery in the Mahler-pastiche Der Hecht.
I apologise in advance for any offense given!

Anders Brødsgaard

Over the last decade, I have fallen in love with the writings of the Danish poet Peter Laugesen (b. 1942) because of lines like these:

“Language fills all holes with noise.”
“It is beautiful. It is true. It is good. It moves freely.”
“Sooner or later it breaks through. I do not know what it is. Still not. Not yet.”
“A closed door is beautiful because it has a side one cannot see. An open door is beautiful because it is not there.”

All these lines are taken from his collection Frø og stængler (“Seeds and stems”). In some of his poems, Peter Laugesen seems to evoke abstract invisible spaces and forces. Something is growing. There is darkness. There is light. Nameless spaces expand and shrink. There are openings and walls. Speech, sounds, and melodies find their way into the poems. But although they are present, the spaces and forces are not explained.

It was very enticing to turn these poems into music, and I was inspired to use five poems from two collections: Frø og stængler (“Seeds and stems”) and De sagde hans hund havde lopper (“They said his dog had fleas”) for my song cycle Still Not / Not yet.

In this composition, I let the words refer simply to the music – they don’t tell stories, but simply describe what happens in the music at each moment. Thus text and music reflect each other and circle around each other. The song cycle is dedicated to FIGURA Ensemble and the Seattle Chamber Players.

Steingrímur Rohloff

order no.: NEOS 11401
EAN: 4260063114014
Release: March 2014
Price: 18.00 €
Buy the CD at NEOS

total time: 61:42

FIGURA Ensemble
Helene Gjerris, mezzo-soprano · Anna Klett, bass clarinet · Frans Hansen, percussion
Jesper Egelund, double bass · Frode Andersen, accordion [05–14]

Seattle Chamber Players
Paul Taub, flute · Mikhail Shmidt, violin
David Sabee, cello · Laura DeLuca, clarinet

Erik Jakobsson, conductor [01–04]
Casper Schreiber, conductor [15–19]

Review nmz Neue Musikzeitung
Das dänische Figura Ensemble hat eine ungewöhnliche Zusammensetzung: Mezzosopran, drei Instrumentalisten, ein Komponist, ein Dichter, ein Architekt. Auf erfrischende Weise abseits des Mainstreams bewegen sich auch seine Programme. Zusammen mit den vier Musikern der Seattle Chamber Players hat es nun Werke dreier hierzulande wenig bekannter nordischer Komponisten aufgenommen. Die "Preludes to Disaster" des Dänen Peter Bruun sind eine ebenso eigenwillige wie musikalisch eindrucksvolle Huldigung an Don Quijote. Sein Landsmann Anders Brødsgaard steuert mit "10 Galgenlieder" zehn scharf charakterisierte Miniaturen nach Morgenstern bei, und vom Deutsch-Isländer Steingrímur Rohloff stammen fünf dramatische Szenen nach Texten des dänischen Dichters Peter Laugesen. Helene Gjerris erweist sich als Mezzosopranistin von Format.

Max Nyffeler