Completing the Circle: Bengt Hambræus's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra


Chris Howard



Bengt Hambræus, born in Stockholm in 1928, is an artist who has been directly involved with almost all of the currents shaping music and thoughts about music in the second half of the twentieth century. From his experiences as a student in Uppsala, and Darmstadt and pioneering work in the electronic music studios in Cologne, Munich and Miilan to his work as the Head of Music Production for Swedish Radio, he has had his finger on the pulse of the global music scene for many years. Conversations with Hambræus are usually highlighted with stories of his many friends and colleagues around the world including Messiaen, Stravinsky, Stockhausen, Krenek, Dallipiccola, Nono, Berio, Kagel, and Cage - essential figures in the various avant garde waves 1 characterizing twentieth century music with whom Hambræus has studied or collaborated during the past forty years. Since1971, he has been a professor of composition, orchestration and fugue at McGill University in Montreal - a position from which he partially retired in the spring of 1995 thereafter dividing his time between duties as professor emeritus at McGill and "tenured" farmer on his farm in Apple Hill, Ontario.

Hambræus's concern for humanity and its spiritual condition has been the driving force behind his artistic output for many years. In a sense, his scores may be viewed as deeply felt artistic comments on significant world events or ideological conflicts without being either overly explicit or retrospectively anachronistic. In fact, the subtlety with which various agenda are conveyed in his music is a direct result of his ability to sort out surface details from human situations to find the timeless sources within the human psyche from which these situation are created - it is on this sub-structural level that Hambræus interfaces most effectively with his audience. In conversation with Hambræus in a Montreal restaurant in September of1993, when asked about his perception of current "new" music, his response was somewhat guarded, saying that he was "skeptical" and that, in his opinion, "music has lost its soul." That is, composers and their music have lost the ability to connect directly with some aspect of the listener's humanity. With several notable exceptions (he mentions the Estonian composers Arvo Pärt and Eduard Tubin, for example), his feeling was that many contemporary composers are capable of creating clever surfaces but fail to build bridges to their listeners upon which aesthetics and ideas may be communicated. This may be a result of naiveté, apathy or misdirection, but is most likely due to the musical residue left in the wake of modernism. In essence, modernism becomes only another option in the postmodernist world (an aesthetic which may itself be passé) - a world in which new art is often more fully understood when held up against a myriad of pre-existing aesthetics. 2

In this new creative world, artists have at their disposal various tools accumulated throughout the whole of music history. In a greatly simplified and abstract sense, this would include Form and its defining elements pitch and rhythm, each of which may be upheld or abandoned, dismantled and reassembled, merged and juxtaposed, even passed through various "filters": ethnic, cultural, historical, futuristic, mechanical, etc. Indeed, each of these elements may be presented in its negative manifestation (silence, for example), subjected to spontaneous or chance variables, or removed to some unconsidered plane to increase the listener's awareness of expanded time, microscopic events/sounds, or even the process of performance itself. As a result, new music need not sound recycled or imitative to communicate directly, but rather should contain certain identifiable parameters to serve as perceptual guideposts and aid in the clarification of intent. It is often only through comparison of newly discovered art-objects to our internal storeroom of art-gestalten that perception becomes meaningful. Even if no "match" is found, the ensuing perceptual conflict becomes part of the aesthetic experience, so long as the listener does not reject the premise.

Bengt Hambræus approaches his art with relentless commitment, forging "diverse influences into a highly personal style with clear aesthetic ideals, based on strongly held humanistic and religious beliefs." 3 The art that results from such commitment is at once balanced and spontaneous, passionate yet controlled - a collection of opposite forces in a struggle for perceptual dominance/connectivity. In this music, various techniques and ideas are combined to form an organic whole in which no one element is independent, but is rather informed or made meaningful only by its relationship to the other elements in the artistic corporation and further-more by its subordinate role shaped by some larger governing force (that is, form). In a recent discussion with Hambræus concerning this ancient aesthetic, he sketched a diagram based on Herrad's well-known allegorical picture (Figure 1). The diagram is meant to depict the inter-relationship of the seven free arts as guided by a governing force - philosophy. In essence, any one of the outer disciplines, taken in isolation, is insufficient to create complete understanding. Rather, it is the balanced interaction of the disciplines that leads to the formation of a unified and comprehensive whole. Although initially quite cryptic, Hambræus was in fact making an important statement concerning the creation, perception and analysis of art. As far as analysis is concerned, it corresponds to the psychological model in which so-called "bottom-up" analyses are constantly modulated or directed by "top-down" precepts. Using such a model, a meaningful core upon which a work is built would be defined by the balanced interaction of analytical tools and approaches directed by governing influences such as abstract formal units or, if available, information concerning the circumstances and aesthetics driving the actual process of composition: philosophia.

For instance, if a contemporary composer gives the title Sonata to a work, then the analysis of the music should be guided by such an obvious cue. Any meaningful analysis would then uncover, through a partnership of various analytical techniques, the relationship between the work at hand and the expectations created by the title.


Figure 1: Hambræus's Sketch attributed to Herrad (an allegorical picture of the seven free arts in a book by Herrad, an Abbess in the Landsberg Monastery, twelfth century.) The book he refers to is Hortus Deliciarum: Garden of Delights (Caratzas Bros., New Rochelle, New York, 1977).


The music of Bengt Hambræus, on the other hand, does not often reveal its secrets so succinctly. In the analysis of music that can be overwhelmingly complex on the surface, such an informed approach helps to place these surface details in a broader context, subordinating their role in the formation of a larger organism. The analysis should strive to condense passages as a means of revealing existing sub-structures which would then serve to confirm some single meaningful or essential structure. 4 Presumably, many of the smaller details of a work would reflect that essential structure, much as a single strand of DNA is coded with all of the information necessary to understand the complete physical makeup of a particular human being. This analysis of Hambræus's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra follows his own suggestions in this direction and will attempt to provide a meaningful explication of its source.

Hambræus is inclined to be complex. So he was on this occasion too but in moderation. Virtually all the melodic material on which the concerto was constructed was presented in a single piano chord at the outset. This led to a number of more or less intense sound blocks, to which the percussion held the audience enthralled with mystical rhythms of an ethnic character. It was more through dramatic power than formal construction that the concerto exerted its fascination, thus leading one to suspect that Hambræus has a humanistic pathos of some distinction in addition to his strongly intellectual approach. Earthy, energetic and beautiful in terms of sheer sound, the concerto glided away to an almost complete tonal close, a morendo free from time and space. 5

Analysis - Motivations

In the summer of 1990, a group of Mohawk Indians barricaded a road in Oka, Quebec (just west of Montreal) to protest the development of part of their traditional land into a golf course. What began as an essentially peaceful statement soon escalated into what is now referred to as the "Oka Crisis." Following an unsuccessful and ill-considered attempt by the authorities to storm the blockade, in which one police officer was killed, the Mohawks became even more convicted of their principle and settled in for several tense months filled with alternating confrontations and negotiations. During the course of the crisis, Native Independence movements gained strength within various Indian communities surrounding Montreal and beyond. The result was an unprecedented affirmation of Native unity which has had important ramifications for the whole of Canadian society since the "resolution" of the crisis. The first steps (however tentative) toward Native self-government and independence have finally been taken in Canada no less than five hundred years after Columbus set foot on North American soil.

Anyone living in the Montreal area became intimately familiar with the Oka Crisis through daily television reports and newspaper articles - inspiring passionate pro et contra debates in which some became sympathetic partners while others lashed out in anger. In his characteristic humanistic stance, Hambræus was moved by the conviction of the Mohawks and what he perceived as their strength of spiritual integrity as evidenced by their return to and emphasis upon ancient spiritual rituals. Central to many of the spiritual beliefs and rituals in Native Indian culture (and in many other world cultures, of course) is the drum - the ancient symbol of spiritual power. It is an instrument that has significance beyond the simple production of musical rhythm as it is believed to be capable of reflecting and influencing the rhythms of Nature itself. 6 The traditions and rituals surrounding the drum have ancient roots in the Native Indian culture and play a foundational role in contemporary society - a society in which American Indians feel that their identity has been overtaken and that their historical land claims have been overlooked. In this way, ancient rituals and the objects involved in them are a means of self-identification and provide a powerful link with a proud past.

Ritualistic drumming used as an icon of primitive spiritual power can be found in many of Hambræus's compositions, particularly in the two German commissions, the concerto for organ and orchestra, Continuo -a Partire da Pachelbel (1976), and the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. 7 In the piano concerto, one is captivated by the constant presence of ethnically-derived rhythms in the percussion - particularly the congas, an oversized bass drum, and timpani - that function as a backbone for the entire work. Surrounding this backbone, Hambræus begins to construct a large, globally-inspired composition that reaches out and grabs hold of the listener with sound masses of varying density, increasingly complex layers of ostinati, colorful melodic material, and even fragments of tonality. The symmetrical tripartite form of the Concerto is the musical representation of the three stages of life. In speaking of the form of the work, Hambræus made reference to a medieval circular icon depicting the same man as a youth, in middle age and at the end of life with the corresponding inscriptions: I will reign, I reign, I did reign. The message of this icon may be applied to the Concerto in several ways:

1. The "momentum of power generated by a little cell" (BH) and the subsequent liquidation of that power;

2. The three parts of the form are cross-faded rather than strictly delineated and

share important motivic and textural ideas (morphological development of form vs. juxtaposition of isolated blocks); return of material from the first part at the end of the work;

3. The Concerto as a means of provoking thought rather than providing answers; reaching after the development of the work an "end which only opens onto a new landscape" (BH);

4. The role of the Concerto within the larger context of Hambrĉus's art, grouped specifically with the choral trilogy: Constellations (freedom) Symphonia Sacra in Tempore Passionis (1986, against judicial murder), Apocolypsis cum figuris secundum Dürer 1498 (1987, based on the 1498 set of religious woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer) but following a line of strong humanistic and theocentric beliefs present in his total output. In this sense, he considers it to be one of his most significant works.

Measures 1-14

A formal analysis of the first fourteen measures of the Concerto demonstrates how the large-scale tripartite symmetrical structure permeates down to the smaller elements of the work (see Figure 4). In the graph, approximate densities (determined by rhythmic, textural and timbral activity) are represented directly above the time-line. Below the time-line, these densities are summarized on two levels: local and long-range. The brackets along the top of the graph show the grouping of measures into phrase units while vertical lines show larger formal divisions.


An analysis of the densities shows a series of two or three measure modules articulated by similar sawtooth-type density shapes. On the larger scale, measures 1-10 combine into an augmented version of the same shape, while measures 11-14 recapitulate the shape of the first three measures.


In this quasi-ternary formal unit (a b a'),8 a and a' are comprised of assertive vertical statements of the hexachord {E,0,3,6,7,9}. The tam-tam functions as a "resonance amplifier" for the piano, while the chimes isolate single pitches from the hexachord (a: {3,9}; a': {0,E}). The first three measures form a symmetrical group consisting of a relatively dense center bounded by single chordal statements - an abstract pattern which is repeated in measures 11-13. After a measure of no activity (excepting resonance) which serves to extend measures 1-3, the first two measures are repeated in a slightly developed form. This results in an overall symmetrical shape for (a). The corresponding section (a') is an abbreviated version of (a) in which further development of the initial material is evident. Note in measure 11, for example, that the two subsets of the hexachords ({3,9} and {E,0,6,7}, presented in measure 1 in the left and right hands, respectively) are registrally displaced and then exchanged in comparison to their original positions. In fact, the original voicing does not appear until measure 14 (about which more will be said below). This displace and exchange development of the hexachord also forms the dense central portion of (a'). In spite of this development, (a') clearly functions as a symmetrical counterpart to (a). Some question arises, however, as to whether measure 14 should be included as part of (a') or as the beginning of a new formal unit. Arguments for its inclusion could be based on the perceived lack of division at measure 14 due to the constancy of pitch material and texture, the latter of which begins to change markedly one measure later. Also, the expectation of a fourth measure at this point in (a') may be based on the promissory extra measures 4 and 10. A more convincing explanation of this point in the music is as an elision in which the initial perception of measure 14 is that it is part of (a'). However, the return of the original voicing of the hexachord (at a lesser dynamic than what has directly preceded), and the initiation of a new ostinato pattern in the piano and the triplet in the chimes (movement away from preceding stasis) tend to confirm (if only in retrospect) that measure 14 is actually a new beginning. The increase in density from measure 14 to 15 also corresponds to the two-measure sawtooth pattern already established at this point in the music. In contrast to (a) and (a'), the b section is filled with quickly moving arpeggiations of the hexachord in the piano with punctuations placed in the winds, brass and percussion. Measure 9, with its similar textural relationship to measure 7, gives (b) a symmetrical design similar to that of the (a) sections.9 Further connection with the material of (a) is clarified through the use of an "extra" measure - measure 10 acts as an extension of the preceding three measure unit. Although the tripartite design of these opening measures is clearly confirmed by parameters of texture, density and motivic design, there are certain elements which suggest unification:

1. The structural pitch material (i.e., the principal hexachord {E,0,3,6,7,9}) does not change;

2. The tam-tam begins at the point of division between the two sections of (a) and continues in a similar manner throughout the

    entire section.

3. The pitch material in the chimes crosses formal boundaries in obvious ways:

        i) {3,9} in measure 6 is repeated as the next dyad in the tubular bells in #9; #9; measure 7;

        ii) framing pitches of (b) {0,E} as established in measure 8 are used in (a'); {0,E} prepared by voice-leading of measure 9.

4. The gestures in the timpani introduced in (b) continue in (a');

5. The dynamics remain essentially constant. Furthermore, the continual development of material in symmetrically corresponding sections suggests an aspect of linear growth.

Example 1: Hambræus, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, mm. 1-15 (next page).

© AB Nordiska Musikförlaget. Reprinted by permission.

Figure 2: Formal Analysis of mm. 1-14.

So even in the opening fourteen measures of the work, the temporal relationships and developmental precepts for the entire Concerto are established. Hambræus has presented the cycle/continuum paradox through the use of continuing variation to modify the recapitulation of material in corresponding sections of the symmetrical form. In addition, certain density-shapes, motives (textural/orchestrational and rhythmic), and pitch cells appear that will function throughout the remainder of the work:

1. the hexachord {E,0,3,6,7,9};

2. tam-tam used as a resonance amplifier for the piano;

3. the tubular bells isolate intervals in partnership with the piano, rhythmic correspondence with Tam-Tam;

4. the alternation of aggressive chordal punches with arpeggiations;

5. arpeggiations in the piano often develop from monophonic lines through various octave doublings to climax in non-octave doublings (for example, measures 7-9);

6. voice exchange within a single vertical sonority foreshadowed by piano in measures 11-14;

7. the pairing of passages of increasing density with sections of stasis or low density;

8. glissandi in low strings will develop through entire string section;

9. extreme dynamic changes (designed in the spirit of Klangfarbenmelodie) used to emphasize certain colors or pitch collections (for example, measure 8, orchestra);

10. the use of local symmetrical constructions (for example, formal units; measure 8, D flat.).


Large Scale Form

Observations Concerning the Total Form

Figure 3 shows the sectionalization of the entire concerto into smaller units resulting in a three part cyclical form (A B A') with a coda included in the final section. Although a detailed phrase-by-phrase analysis is not given (and perhaps is not particularly meaningful), certain formal tendencies can be observed. The analysis of measures 1-14 above showed that sections of the music have the character of what Hambræus calls "vortices": the texture progresses in forward-moving waves of accumulating density which subside and re-form. Ultimately, the smaller waves combine to form larger vortices. Sections of the concerto characterized by this sort of vortex texture are labeled in figure 5. Note that these vortex sections are usually paired with a shorter section of less dense activity. This is evident in each of the three large sections of (A) as well as in the coda. On the largest scale, the generally less-dense A' section up to the coda seems to fulfill a similar role as a counterbalance to the relentless accumulation of density present from the opening of the work. (The opening of the B section has a similar role in partnership with A, but this relationship is subordinate to the drive toward the climactic end of B.) In terms of the overall design of the work, the accumulation and dissipation of texture mirrors that of measures 1-14: the tension inherent in the vortices of A ultimately lead to the greater climax at the end of B. The majority of A' is spent dissipating the former climax, and the coda summarizes the overall shape of the work with the accumulation of tension to measure 402, followed immediately by a drop in density to close the work. The bottom part of figure 5 shows the active pitch material defined as two separate collections: a hexachord {0,3,6,7,9,E} and a septachord {1,2,4,5,7,8,T}, henceforth referred to as H and S respectively. Aside from a degree of textural/motivic dif-ferentiation, the most significant delineating factor between A and B is the shift from H to S as independent collections. (The overlap from measures 164-67 will be discussed below.) In the climax of the work, however, H is reintroduced and interacts with S, eventually resulting in a virtuostic cluster passage (measures 253-56) before the recapitulation of A material in measure 266. S is maintained until 351 and interacts freely with H in the formation of the melodic material and triadic harmonizations found in this section. From measure 351 to the end of the work, H is the only collection used.

Figure 3: Large Scale Form

The introduction and interaction of these pitch collections reflects the governing philosophy of the entire work. As separate entities (note that S is formed from the complement to H: {1,2,4,5,8,T} plus the common tone G), they are presented in-dependently as if representing opposing and incompatible forces. The brief overlap in measures 164-67 may be parsed into independent H and S material if the flutes are heard as an echo of the previous "primeval calls" (BH) in the brass.10 The confrontation between these two opposing forces is embodied in the juxtaposition of the collections in measures 245-66. Initially, pitch material from the individual collections is alternated in blocks as characterized by the piano in measures 245-52 (Example 2). As the section progresses, the conflict escalates as the collections are jammed closer together until their ultimate merger in the clusters of measures 253-56. Following this (measures 256-64), the piano plays exclusively S material to close the B section accompanied by the alternation of H and S blocks in the orchestra. In this entire overlapping section (measures 245-66), the collections are forced together while maintaining their individual nature either as a result of orchestrational or contrapuntal delineation or due to their presentation as alternating blocks.

Example 2: Segmentation of mm. 245-52, piano

© AB Nordiska Musikförlaget. Reprinted by permission.

In A', the simultaneous presentation of the two collections is transformed into something quite different from the struggle of B. Beginning in measure 273, the collections are brought together to form the basis for a melody which continues through to measure 356.11 The resultant thirteen-note ordered collection <3,9,E,0,6 ,7,T,4,8,7,1,5,2> does not intermix the collections however, and can be divided into H <3,9,E,0,6,7> and S <T,4,8,7,1,5,2> respectively. The reconciliation of the collections, however, is manifested in their co-operation to form triadic harmonizations of the melody which begin in measure 287 (see Examples 3 and 3a). (The roots of the triadic harmonizations also follow (albeit somewhat more loosely) the order of T 0 and RT 0 as shown by the Arabic numerals above the chords in Example 3. Missing ordinals are often filled in by the melody.) Although the relationship between A and A' is maintained through the use of A-based material (especially in measures 266-78, measures 358-404, and in the piano gestures in general), the developmental focus of the recapitulation is the reconciliation of material (H and S) that had previously been presented either independently or in marked conflict. A basic phrase analysis of the melody in measures 280-356 shows the combination of row forms into larger phrase units. Typically, T 0 and RT 0 are paired together to form a symmetrical group. The RT 0 statement in measures 316-19 is isolated from the preceding groups and functions as the climax of the section. The next RT 0 statement (measures 319-37) is a slightly augmented version of measures 309-10, after which another T 0 /RT 0 pair brings the section to a close (see Figure 3). At the largest level, it may be possible to view this section in three parts, the outer parts of which are related to one another and partially symmetrical around the isolated b section.

Figure 3: Basic Phrase Analysis of measures 280-354

Example 3: H+S as a 13-note row.

Example 3a: Segmentation of primary melodic material, mm. 280 - 356.

Beginning in measure 351, the remaining pitches from RT 0 <7,6,0,E,9,3> (=H) are presented vertically in the strings and colored by various doublings elsewhere in the orchestra (note the outer pitch classes 3 and 7, reflective of the opening chord of the concerto). These pitches are exclusively maintained to the end of the work, effectively returning the work to the point from which it began.


Details of Formal Units

a) The A Section

Some aspects of each of the formal units should be discussed to further clarify the overall formal plan. The small letters a b a' in figure 5 suggest a possible subordinate formal delineation within A, one that competes with the more prominent pairing of regions of high and low densities. In such a design, measures 136-63 might essentially be viewed as an extension of measures 91-136 due to the lack of significant differentiation between the two adjacent sections. In the a b a' design of A, b functions as a lower-density contrasting middle to a and a', a design that is the inverse of the tripartite design of measures 1-14 shown in the analysis above. The first tonal implications in the work appear with the emphasis on B as a tonic for measures 74-91. It is possible (although less obvious) to extend B as the tonic for the entire section from measures 74-135, as it moves in and out of the perceptual foreground. The appearance of B as a clear tonic has some significant ramifications realized as the work progresses:

1. The extraction of triadic elements from the collections is used as a feature throughout section B (for example, measure 170: E-d-c#; measure 172-4: c#-d-E-c#-E-d, etc.) and in the harmonization of the melody in A'.

2. The pitch B would make the S-collection an octatonic scale, a possibility that is realized in measures 267-68, the beginning of the recapitulation.

3. The persistence of B as the highest pitch in the prominent string voicings of H at the end of the work before the coda (measures 348-80).Another feature of A is the predominance of ostinato patterns, most persistently in the congas and timpani.

Consider, for example, measures 38-67 during which the interplay between the congas and timpani consists of areas of ostinato overlap or phasing (measures 49-52) as well as areas of oblique rhythmic activity in which one instrument repeats a pattern while the other plays non-cyclical but complementary rhythms (measures 38-40, 54-57). Overlapping ostinato patterns also form the structural basis for measures 96-104. In measures 96-98, the lengths of the various ostinato blocks are independently modified and their contents altered in subtle ways so as to create a phasing of perceived repetitive units coupled with a forward-moving line of development (see example 4).12 In the midst of these ostinato blocks, the piano is given non-cyclical material that explores various permutations of the hexachord - the continuum/cycle paradox appears again.

Also within the A section, there are some noteworthy tripartite structures at the phrase level. First, the significant section from 121-36 may be broken into three parts: a (121-30) b (130-34) and a' (134-36). The outer sections here show a strong similarity to the outer sections of measures 1-14. The central section, how-ever, does not mirror the corresponding center of the earlier phrase unit, but rather serves as a further liquidation of measures 121-30. As well, the entire phrase could be considered as a means of tracing the development from the opening chordal articulations to the ornamented melodic writing of B.

Another three-part phrase forms the end (the final vortex) of A: measures 136-52: (136-40; 140-49; 149-52). One has a sense that new material should appear following the second part of the phrase, but Hambræus gives one last, abbreviated push to the end of the first large section of the work. Superimposed on this final part of the phrase, a series of <0,3> "calls" begins. In many of Hambræus's works, simple motivic "calls" are used as signals - signals of change, warning, introduction.13 Here, they serve to introduce the central section of the work (B).

Example 4: Ostenati in measures 96-98, piano omitted.

© AB Nordiska Musikförlaget. Reprinted by permission.


The B Section

As the flutes echo the <0,3> calls, the harp introduces the new collection, S (measure164). The music that follows is melodically designed in strong contrast to the chordal punctuations and arpeggiated figurations of the music up to this point. Throughout the B section, passages of highly ornamented melodic writing persist, although they are gradually intermingled with A-like chordal passage work as the climax approaches. The style of melodic writing (at times reminiscent of Messiaen, although Hambræus denied any conscious connection) is influenced by a broad range of world musics, most notably East Indian and Oriental. In general, the melodic pitches are inflected with multiple grace notes and trills coupled with heterophonic development elsewhere in the orchestra (for example, measure 174). Also, it is a feature of the melody to explore small cells (esp. {0,1,3}) and gradually add pitches to the outer boundaries to expand the collection (see example 5). All of these characteristics are also features of the melodic writing found in A'.

Example 5: measures 172-177, flute and oboe.

The A' Section

As discussed above, the main function of the A' section is to reconcile material from A and B. The initial perception of this section as a recapitulation is confirmed by the fact that the opening measures of A' (266-79) bear a strong resemblance to the opening of the work, presented here in condensed form: 266-73 = 1-14; 273-79 = 14-ca. 23. It is significant, however, that the first chord of the recapitulation contains the pitch class T in place of 9 due to the combination of H and S. Because the assertion of the original chord {0,3,6,7,9,E} at the opening of the work reinforces the listener's familiarity and creates certain expectations of constancy, this subtle change is immediately noticeable as an important modification. The original voicing of the chord appears inconspicuously at the end of measure 269 once the beginning of the recapitulation has been established. Measures 273-79 prepare the extended melodic section that follows (280-356) and was discussed above.

Following the arrival on H at measure 352, there is a gradual increase of tension up to measure 379 that has a significant enough amount of flare and drive to function as a potential ending for the piece. This is not the case, however, as the coda is used as a final return to the opening material with H in the piano in its original voicing (382). The flourish that brings the final peak of activity (measures 377-79) is reminiscent of both the climax at the end of A (149-51) and the main climax of the work (250-52). The last two measures of the concerto give the impression of an afterthought, or the beginning of a new cycle, not nearly long enough to serve as an antithetical counterpart to the preceding material. The piece simply seems to stop as if interrupted and the circle is completed. 14

Let the sense of hearing be excited, and from the lightest breath to the wildest din, from the simplest sound to the highest harmony, from the most vehement and impassioned cry to the gentlest word of reason, still it is Nature that speaks and manifests her presence, her power, her pervading life and the vastness of her relations.

- Goethe 15



This paper has presented some initial views of Hambræus's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra and attempted to suggest some possible points of entry for meaningful analysis. Perhaps the most significant procedure uncovered by the analysis is the means by which Hambræus represents conflict - the introduction of isolated pitch collections which, in the course of development, are thrust together in blocks and gradually reconciled to produce a passage of extended melody and its harmonization. It is also clear that certain density patterns presented from the opening of the work persist at both local and hierarchical levels to assist in the perception of formal divisions. Astonishingly, the premiere of this work (with Ortwin Stürmer, piano) was presented after only three rehearsals (all of which Hambræus attended): one for the orchestra alone, one for the conductor and pianist together, and the dress rehearsal in which all performers were combined. Following that dress rehearsal, the orchestra members broke into spontaneous applause - an action which is rare, especially when "new" music is involved. Hambræus remembered the words of a section violinist who said that she felt "like a nerve in a living organism," reaffirming through her very emotional response his compositional intent. He had achieved a path of direct communication and connected at a primal level with the human psyche. When analyzing the construction of this work, one is struck with the interlocking layers of symmetry and the paced balance of a form whose nature filters down through to the smallest elements. Bengt Hambræus, who writes directly to score to produce a singular good copy of his works, has become so comfortable with his musical language that he can directly express the ideas that drive him to create. It is in the translation of that language that analysis can begin to discover his soul.



Brandel, Rose. The Music of Central Africa. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1961.

Cogan, Robert. New Images of Musical Sound. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

_________________ "Time and Rhythm: Dimensions and Activity" Sonic Design: The Nature of Sound and Music. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976.

Hamren, Kjell-Åke, ed. Fazer Music News 7 (Autumn, 1993).

Kramer, Jonathan D. Studies of Time and Music. Music Theory Spectrum 7 (1985): 72-106.

May, Elizabeth, ed. Musics of Many Cultures. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1980.



1 In comments in response to a term paper by Melissa Freedman, Hambræus says of the label "avant-garde": "We should not forget that the real term avant garde originally came from military vocabulary. The avant garde is the troop who is the furthest in the front and then returns to the main force. That's why what has once been hot news later becomes old news and you need a new avant garde who will explore something else and report it back. That is why what was considered avant garde in the fifties is now passé because it already belongs to the establishment. There is a new avant garde born every generation."

2 At this point, Hambræus recalled the diametrically opposed approaches in the Cologne and Milan electronic music studios in the 1950s as epitomized in their slogans at that time: Cologne's Measure/Control/Check the UV meter versus Milan's Sentire (=feel and/or listen). He argued that it is only through the balanced application of both approaches that one will ultimately be successful.

3 Jan Ling, liner notes for A portrait of Bengt Hambræus Vol. 1, (MAP CD 9131)

4 The parallel with Chomskian linguistic models is particularly useful. Many musical structures (formal phrase units, cadential progressions, long range key progressions, prolongations) may be simplified using such models that condense the surface elements into an essential structure.

5 Góteborgs Posten, April 30, 1993, trans. Andrew Bentley and Jeremy Parsons.

6 The power of the drum as a symbol in World music cultures could form the basis of an extended research project. Consider these words from an Argentinean copla: La cajita que yo tengo [The cajita (drum) that I have / tiene boca y sabe hablar; / Has a mouth and knows how to talk; / si tuviera también ojos If it also had eyes me accompañara a llorar. It would accompany me to cry.] Quoted from Joaquin Piñeros Corpas and translated by Dale A. Olsen in "Folk Music of South America - A Musical Mosaic" in Musics of Many Cultures, ed. Elizabeth May (The University of California Press, Berkeley, 1980), 391.

7 In retrospect, Hambræus felt that it was important that these two commissions included the use of ritual percussion as a symbol of spiritual power. It was during the creation of the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra that the cold-war political structures began to dissolve in Eastern Europe, signaled initially by the dismantling of the Berlin wall. Other works of note that also use extensive ritual drumming are Nocturnals (commissioned in 1989 by the Swedish Broadcasting Company), Three Dances for Accordion and Percussion (1986) and Night Music for Guitar and Percussion (1987).

8 When lower case letters are used, they apply only to the structure at hand. Unless specifically stated, no connection between the various lower-level tripartite forms is implied by the frequent use of a b a' in this paper.

9 Note, however, how the gestural similarities between (and similar rhythmic densities of ) measures 8 and 9 conflict with this perception of symmetry and would tend to suggest an alternate symmetrical design of a binary nature (7+8) and (9+10).

10 In rehearsal for the premiere, the first chair flautist remarked to Hambræus that the players were playing as loudly as possible in this section but were unable to produce a clear pitch. The resultant predominance of air noise versus pitch was the intention of the passage, Hambræus explained, as a means of effecting an echo of the previous section.

11 The refraction of the primary melodic line that results from the heterophonic development surrounding it tends to obscure its temporal boundaries, much as a soft filter blurs the edges of a photograph.

12 The developmental modification of ostinato patterns is a feature of many "primitive" musics. Consider the drum patterns of this ceremonial dance from the Belgian Congo in which the basic pattern labeled "x," undergoes continual transformations. Transcription published in Journal of the American Musicological Society, 7/61 (1954) xx):

13 Hambræus recalls his field work in the mountains of Sweden collecting calls used by the isolated settlers of the region to communicate over long distances. Excellent examples of such calls are included as the infererd and uttered on the contemporary recording Rosensfole featuring folk singer Agnes Buen Garnas and saxophonist Jan Garbarek.

14 Note the significant presence of the pitch G as a pedal in the violins and basses in the final two measures. Because this is the only pitch shared by H and S, it would seem that Hambræus has made one last attempt to reconcile the collections by reducing them to their common element.

15 Goethe, preface to The Theory of Colour, 1810. Quoted in Cogan, Robert, New Images of Musical Sound (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1984), ix.


ex tempore
as published in Vol. VIII/2, Summer 1997
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created April 2000