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Composer: Gunnar Berg

Instrument: Piano

Level: Advanced

Published: 2023

Price: €35.00

Item details

  • Description +
    • Gunnar Berg was, in a more concrete sense also, a unique figure in recent Danish music, right from the first decisive period of his professional life. Changeable childhood and youth years in Switzerland and Denmark did not leave much room for music. Furthermore, he had to admit that a career as a pianist was not possible, as he had started too late. Nevertheless, he threw himself into piano studies with Herman D. Koppel until 1943 and from 1944 with Elisabeth Jürgens - so energetically that after the liberation in 1945 he was able to perform several concerts around refugee camps in Denmark; a work such as Sept pièces brèves by Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) was on these programs.

      Berg's first compositions date from the mid-1930s and are characterised by a strongly extended harmonic, rhythmic irregularities and asymmetrical period formations. Both in attitude and in expression, Berg goes far beyond the usual neo-baroque and neo-classical style of the time, and in the early 1940s the urge for new orientation and experimentation really came through in his music.

      The piano suite Feldspar is Gunnar Berg's first compositional experiment, without, however, succeeding in realising what he intended, namely "the showdown with the traditional process of form. Sound processing became more important, and there are attempts to rhythmic liberation.”

      The titles of the suite's six movements are the names of stones from the mountain and rock type feldspar, which makes up about 60% of the earth's crust. Stone is nature, of course, but compared to, for example, animals and plants, which in a relatively short time go through growth and development from one stage to another, i.e. a movement from one state to another, the stone's transformation has taken place over billions of years, and its current state form is static. Some stones are used industrially for the production of e.g. glass, others for the manufacture of jewellery.

      Each of the movements is also dedicated to a person, which makes it obvious to consider the suite as a series of character studies, each movement having its own sonorous expression.

      1. Moonstone (Pierres lunaires) – dedicated to Ejnar Boesen, song inspector (1900-1983) - approx. 5 min
      2. Sunstone (Pierres solaires) – dedicated to Thea Bergsveinsson (1914-1992) - approx. 2:30 min
      3. Amazonit (Amazonith) – dedicated to Ellen Gilberg, Danish pianist (1914-2007) - approx. 5:30 min
      4. Granit (Granit) – dedicated to Ole Wivel, Danish writer (1921-2004) - approx. 2:30 min
      5. Labradorite (Labradorith) – dedicated to Georg Vásárhelyi, Hungarian born, Danish pianist (1915-2002) - approx. 3:30 min
      6. Gneiss (Gneiss) – dedicated to Boris Linderud, Danish pianist (1915-1995) - approx. 3:30 min

      The suite was begun in Vedbæk in 1942, and Berg worked on it for two years, until he himself premiered it at the DUT concert on 6 December 1944 in Hornung & Møllers Sal in Copenhagen.

      The manuscripts and sketches at the Gunnar Berg Archive at the Royal Danish Library indicate, that Berg continued to work on the suite after the premiere - also after he traveled to Paris in 1948, where the studies with Arthur Honegger and the meeting with the musical avant-garde otherwise seized his full attention. Only Pierres solaires he completed in 1952 for his wife Béatrice Berg (1921-1976), who also played Granit at her concerts; recordings of both of these movements with her are released on Danacord DACOCD 613-614.

      In 2010, the Swiss pianist and composer Jean-Jacques Dünki (www.dunki.ch), who had met Gunnar Berg in 1987 in Switzerland, was introduced to the suite and found it very interesting. Funded by the Augustinus Foundation, Dünki has reconstructed the entire suite and played it at several concerts. Berg's numerous corrections in the sketches are often very difficult to decipher and require a special empathy with the music, both in terms of composition and pianistic aspects. The sheet music edition represents Jean-Jacques Dünki's personal bid for a reconstruction his editorial comments on and justifications for the choices he has made from the handed down material are published at www.editionsvitzer.com. To illustrate Gunnar Berg's own work on the suite, the sheet music publication contains two versions of Pierres solaires, first the final version from 1952 and then - as an appendix - the version from 1943.

      Pierres solaires is the one of the six movements that calls for the most attention, because here Berg comes closest to the aforementioned showdown with tradition as far as musical form is concerned. The physical sunstone contains countless small metallic red points that sparkle when the light falls in a certain way. The music begins bright and crystalline and tries with just two notes to find a melody, but is rather brutally interrupted by a large and heavy 8-part chorale, which follows all the rules of chorale harmonization with countermovement in the voices: no parallel fifths or octaves here! The chorale is not allowed to ring out either, but is interrupted by flashes of light and fragments of the melody, and the music ends almost as it began, with crystalline, sparkling, pianissimo sounds of 3-4 notes.

  • Instrumentation +
    • Piano

  • About the composer +
    • In 2009, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gunnar Berg (1909-1989) sparked a rediscovery and reassessment of the Danish composer as one of the most important Danish representatives of musical modernism on the international scene. More than 50 performances and events were held in Denmark, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Ukraine, USA, China, France, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Berg’s music was played, discussed and written about to an extent never experienced by Berg, himself, in his lifetime. His drawings were also exhibited and his music was released both in print and on CD.

      Gunnar Berg was born in St. Gallen in Switzerland on 11 January 1909, the oldest of four siblings. From 1890 his Danish father Sigvard Berg worked on the railway construction in Switzerland, but he died of a heart attack in 1914, only 60 years old. Consequently Berg’s youth in Switzerland and in Denmark was difficult, marked as it was by illness and frequent moves, and without much contact with music. 
          In 1934 Berg graduated from a business school in Copenhagen, despite having been so  deeply affected by a 1931 performance of Wagner’s Tannhäuser at the Royal Theatre that he vowed to devote his life to music. In the summer of 1932 Berg bicycled from Copenhagen to Salzburg, and during the music festival he attended a course given by Austrian music critic Paul Stefan at the Mozarteum. The course opened doors for Berg; he attended rehearsals, concerts and other courses as well as experienced decisive first encounters with the music of composers such as Debussy, Schönberg and Stravinsky. Berg returned to Salzburg in 1935, where he was granted  access to rehearsals and concerts led by Arturo Toscanini and Bruno Walter, and where he attended the conductor course by Herbert von Karajan, with whom he had private meetings.

      Berg’s time in Salzburg was of landmark importance to his musical orientation, for thereafter he was positioned closer to the music culture of Europe rather than to one that embodied a Danish-Nordic aesthetic. His stays in Salzburg certainly contrasted with his studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen in 1936 where his idea of establishing a study group for new music was met with blank refusal from the conservatory. He left at the end of the year, but  continued to study piano with the pianist and composer Herman D. Koppel until 1943. From 1944 on Berg studied with Elizabeth Jürgens, an unusually gifted piano teacher of Swedish birth  who had lived in Copenhagen for decades.
          During the German occupation, Berg actively took part in the rescue of Danish Jews - transporting them to Sweden - and in the Danish resistance movement. After the liberation he  was involved in music teaching projects at numerous refugee camps in Denmark and gave concerts featuring his own compositions, classics, and new music including works by Stravinsky, Satie and Honegger.

      Berg’s first works date from the mid-1930s; Zehn japanische Holzschnitte (Ten Japanese  Woodcuts) for voice and piano from 1938 is considered his first major work, and the three sonatas - for flute and clarinet (1942), for violin (1945) and for piano (1945-47) - with which  Berg in the 1940s finally left classical formal structures behind, are significant contributions to this genre within the neoclassical style.
          In January 1945 the autodidact composer debuted in Copenhagen, but Berg won no  recognition for his music so he began to prepare to go abroad, and in autumn 1948 he went to  Paris in order to study with Arthur Honegger at École normale. Berg quickly gained access to the  circle around Olivier Messiaen and thus became part of the international modernist environment  in post-war Europe. In 1950, at the invitation of Darius Milhaud, he attended the Salzburg  Seminar in American Studies, and in 1952 he married the French pianist Béatrice Duffour. They  spent their honeymoon at the International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt, where  Berg’s meeting with Karlheinz Stockhausen served to confirm the validity and contemporaneity  of Berg’s own musical experiments. The couple made a number of concert tours around Europe  featuring music of the leading composers of the time. In 1957 and 1958, funded by the French  Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they toured Germany and Scandinavia, and then settled in Denmark.  For a number of years thereafter the Berg couple embarked on a unique project with residences,  lectures and concerts at the Danish Folk High Schools. In 1965 they established their first own  home in the old school in Lindved, a very small village located between Horsens and Juelsminde  in Jutland. There they created an unusual cultural venue where the people of the region were  often invited to memorable concerts with contemporary and classical music. Béatrice Berg died  1976, and in 1979 Gunnar Berg returned to Europe and finally settled in Switzerland, where he  experienced a significant surge of interest in his music. Gunnar Berg died in Bern, Switzerland,  on 28 August 1989, and he and Béatrice Berg are both buried at the Rårup churchyard, close to  their home in Lindved.

      The 10-year stay in Paris proved crucial to Berg, and from 1950 he uncompromisingly, yet in his  very own fashion, remained faithful to the complex expressive mode of musical modernism within the theoretical and aesthetic framework of serialism, and, it should be noted, without  turning dogmatic.

      Only very rarely did Gunnar Berg add analytical or explanatory comments to his music: “My works must stand on their own feet, and they must answer for themselves,” he asserted. However, among his posthumous papers there is a wealth of slips of paper with columns of figures and letters, note names, volumes and durations, which provide us some insight into his composition workshop. They also confirm the limited number of analyses of Gunnar Berg’s works that have attempted to map out his working method. Berg’s point of departure was Olivier Messiaen’s division of the twelve chromatic notes of the tempered scale into groups, the so-called “modes with restricted transpositions,” but expanded to apply to all the parameters of the music. The result is a meticulously calculated structuring of durations, pitches, volumes and  instrumentation, which was a major theme in Darmstadt in 1952. Berg described his method as  “static”, and he spoke of ground rules where, by means of techniques such as mirroring, reversal  and transposition, he established a basic body of material to be ordered in his own, personal way. 

      Gunnar Berg came too late to his study of piano to attain a professional career as a pianist.  However, his experiences at the piano decisively influenced his compositional thinking as reflected in his piano compositions – from the numerous small educational pieces to the four virtuoso concertos for piano and symphony orchestra: Essai acoustique (1954), Pour piano et  orchestra (1959), Frise (1961) and Uculang (1967). The two major works for solo piano - Eclatements (1954-88) and Gaffky’s (1958-59) - both large compositions, are among the most  important contributions to Danish piano literature in the second half of the twentieth century.
          This is also the case with his contributions to Danish guitar literature after his meeting  with Maria Kämmerling in 1976 which resulted in Fresque I-IV (1978), Hyperion (1978) for guitar, soprano and 9 instruments, Melos (1979) for solo guitar and Ar-Goat (1984) for guitar-duo.

  • Credits +
    • Reconstruction of Gunnar Berg's manuscripts: Jean-Jacques Dünki
      Foreword (Danish): Jens Rossel
      Translation to English: Svend Ravnkilde
      Gunnar Berg: drawing by an unknown Lithuanian refugee in Denmark, 8 Dec. 1945.
      Front cover graphics and layout: Jens Rossel
      Editing and engraving: CPH Engraving
      Proofreading: Jean-Jacques Dünki and Jens Rossel
      Funded by Augustinus Foundation and KODA Kultur
      Published in cooperation with Working Group Gunnar Berg
      Durations: 5+3+6+3+4+4 = 23 minutes
      Copyright © Edition Svitzer