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Anders Nordentoft

Born: 1957

Nationality: Danish

Publisher: Edition Wilhelm Hansen

Photo © Lars Skaaning

"A world of ancient gods rises up in all its power and glory, and some of its many characters are united in and speak through the main protagonist. He is both an independent modern individual and a representative of something eternally human."

This is how Anders Nordentoft introduces his text about the opera On this Planet (2002) for singing voice and sinfonietta. And there is a lot at stake in this work. It is as if the strands are gathered from all that the composer has written earlier: the beautifully lyrical, the brutal, the elegant compositional technique and the raw inspiration from an imaginary kind of rock music. The work goes right to the borderline where one experiences emotions and weeps, and where one takes something of this home. 

This directness of expression, which is based on laborious compositional work, is characteristic of Anders Nordentoft’s music. His breakthrough came with the orchestral work Entgegen (1985). Anders Nordentoft’s starting-point was energetic, direct music with a rhythmic appeal. The artist’s breadth of aesthetic vision brought him freedom in dealing with the musical material. He has no desire to fix on any pre-determined forms and figures - he rather allows himself to be carried forward by the direct intuition that dictates the musical motion. 

One senses that for Nordentoft the moment of creativity is a physical state rather than the drawing-up a musical account book that has to be balanced. It is music that has not been written with a stopwatch and ruler. The process is toilsome. The notes do not come by themselves; they have to be worked out of chaotic material. His creative process is best described as a whirling chaos at the beginning, which through confusion, hard work and error moves gradually and in fits and starts towards a resolution and clear structure. 

Nordentoft’s ambition, or perhaps rather his vision, is to involve the listener in his thinking in a new way. He refuses to describe the aesthetic point of attack in words that would be unable to capture the creative impulse anyway. There is always something ‘other’ at work. What this ‘other’ is we best sense as a kind of sensual presence in the encounter with the work of art, in which one should preferably reflect oneself in order to recognize aspects of one’s own world of emotions and feelings. This can be heard for example in the cello concerto Light Imprissoned (1996), Distant Nightship(1996) for orchestra, and the ensemble work Hymn (1996). In these works the composer had moved towards a musical language that no longer works on the basis of polar entities. The works mark a different kind of emphasis in musical expression, compared with earlier works like Born (1986) for orchestra, Entgegen (1985) for chamber orchestra, Moment (1989) for clarinet quartet, The Nervous Saurian (1990) for clarinet trio, and Cathedral (1986) for solo cello. 

The work of setting texts by Sylvia Plath (in The Shadow of this Lip... for soprano, violin and piano from 1988-90) encouraged Nordentoft to try writing more melodiously. This gradually led to a more lyrical tone with more of a tendency to seek out delicate sense impressions and shifting processes. The composer wants to emancipate what is simultaneously ordinary and unique, for behind the simple musical formulations one hears layers of refined shading effects and sophisticated contrasts. 

Already in Nordentoft’s early work this ‘indeterminacy’ or will to ambiguity is an artistic hallmark. As soon as something is established as form, the composer hesitates to make its further development manifest. For Nordentoft music is not always only what it claims to be. Is it the foreground we hear or is it in reality the background? The meaning-bearing layer is not necessarily what we hear at first. The idea of a single meaning is put into perspective and the composer can compose an undercurrent of ambiguities.
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