We humans likely have very few fundamentally different stories to tell, in form as well as content. On those grounds, I’d like to pose that cultures emerge, express themselves, and leave traces, in a horde of details. One might even claim that something as great and diffuse as the sense of nationhood spring from these same details within a distinct culture.
Nations is an attempt to compose a Norwegian piece of music, with Norwegian details expressed within the juxtaposing frames of Nature and Culture. Nature, signified by details drawn from Norwegian folk music (the Hardanger fiddle slått), is here, oddly enough, represented in the sections with electronics. The sections without electronics represent Culture, with even rhythms and progressions over time, often in technically demanding, and therefore obviously studied, passages.
The electronics sections utilize elements characteristic of folk culture: unevenness, or ‘knobbliness’ (knortethet) as termed by composer Lasse Thoresen; intimations of heterophony (textural variations of the same melodic line); varied repetitions; and, accentuation of an underlying harmonic spectrum. Here, this accentuation is realized through electronic modulation. Such musings on harmony are “characteristic of Norwegian folk music”, according to the Norwegian master composer Knut Nystedt in a letter to yours truly, then a keen 13-year-old apprentice per letter correspondence.
The work was composed for Ingfrid Breie Nyhus, in June and July 2014, and premiered by her in September the same year in Jakob Church at Ultima – Oslo Contemporary Music Festival.
– Asbjørn Schaathun
Asbjørn Schaathun (b 1961)
Asbjørn Schaathun was educated at the Norwegian Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music in London. Further studies led him to IRCAM, the Institute for musical/acoustical research and coordination in Paris. His stay at IRCAM culminated, in 1992, in the commission ‘Double Portrait’ for violin, ensemble and electronics. Schaathun has been a pioneer in computer-aided composition in his native country of Norway. Besides his work as a composer, he has also written several articles on other composers and their music. Furthermore, he is the founder of the Norwegian Academy of Music’s Contemporary Ensemble and its professional successor the Oslo Sinfonietta. Asbjørn Schaathun has received several prizes for his work. Among others, he received the the Gaudeamus Foundation’s Louis Vuitton Prize for the bass-clarinet concerto, ‘Actions, Interpolations and Analyses’ in 1991. In 1992 he was awarded the Norwegian assosiation of Critic’s Prize and the same year he also received Bang & Olufsen’s Music Prize. In 2008 he was awarded the Lindeman Prize, Norway’s largest music prize, for “his tremendous work within Norwegian music.” Schaathun has also been heavily involved in music politics in Norway and Scandinavia. Apart from numerous smaller positions, he held the chair of the Norwegian Composer’s Society in the period 2006-12 as well as the chair of The Nordic Composer’s Council from 2010-12. From 2013 he is professor in composition at the Norwegian State Academy of Music.