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Rolf Wallin

Publisher: Chester Music

Whirld (2018)
Commissioned by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. First performed by Alina Ibragimova, violin, and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner at the BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London, on 21st August 2018.
Chester Music Ltd
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
25 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Rolf Wallin Whirld (2018)
i. Nigredo -
ii. Albedo -
iii. Citrinitas -
iv. Rubedo

The world is a whirl, and every whirl is a world, we have been told for thousands of years by ecstatic mystics. And in the last century, our sober scientists have confirmed that it is a fact.

In this violin concerto I have returned to the puzzling and mystifying ‘whirld’ of fractal mathematics, where the straight rules of numbers open up into the realm of swirling clouds, meandering rivers and mesmerising bird flocks. When these so-called chaotic mathematical patterns are projected onto music, strange melodies come to life; like plants, like animals that move in fascinating, unpredictable ways. The dry numbers give birth to surprisingly emotional melodies – yearning, serene, strident, jubilant.

In the process of making a violin concerto out of these melodies I have felt like the old alchemists, who brought the chaotic massa confuse through a process of dissolving and coagulating, evaporating and solidifying, in order to bring forth the magical Philosophers' Stone, to make precious metals, to heal illnesses, or to make life out of dead matter. And more important for many of them, as a process of personal spiritual healing and transcendence.

Sir Isaac Newton, father of modern science, was – surprisingly - one of these magician-scientists who studied alchemy with utmost seriousness. Another of them was Johann Conrad Barchusen, who in his beautifully illustrated Elementa Chemiae depicts the alchemical process as a dove flying up and down in the fuming laboratory retort, meddling not only with the four elements, the sun, moon and planets, but also with a lion, a dragon and a self-eating snake. Our soloist is like this bird, flying through the four vessels of Nigredo (blackening), Albedo (whitening), Citrinitas (yellowing) and Rubedo (reddening). These four movements are played without interruption, only separated by narrow channels centring around a single pitch.

Programme note © 2018 Rolf Wallin

★★★★ The 25-minute score speaks for itself with absorbing beauty. ... The four movements are connected by narrow channels of sound that hold the listener in suspense, and even what sounds like being a dazzlingly rumbustious finale eventually settles wistfully.
John Allison, The Daily Telegraph,23/08/2018
★★★★ Virtuosity and substance: The four linked movements come with their own extra-musical trappings; fractal geometry was used to create the melodic lines that thread through the often dense textures, while alchemical imagery and the associated colours provide the titles of the movements. But even without such associations, the music makes complete, involving sense: its intensely demanding writing for the solo violin – likened by Wallin to an alchemist’s dove “flying up and down in the fuming laboratory retort” – is overlaid on orchestral writing that threatens but never overwhelms it.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,23/08/2018
★★★★ Wallin’s music had only previously been played in chamber-music Proms, not at the Royal Albert Hall. His Whirld (as in “world” and “whirl”) is effectively a violin concerto, which draws inspiration from mystical texts and quantum physics. Wallin’s description of the piece talks about projecting fractal mathematics on to music and the philosopher’s stone. The way all this comes out in performance is as a succession of contrasting elements — clouds of strings, a bubbling sphere of woodwinds, a distant azure of harmonics, none of them lasting long. Alina Ibragimova was the engaging violinist who acted as guide through these alternative worlds. Whirld does not outstay its welcome, mainly because Wallin is skilful at the art of transition, drawing the listener on from one ambience to the next.
Richard Fairman, Financial Times,22/08/2018
★★★★ The title of the latter, Whirld, refers to the swirling recursive patterns of fractal mathematics, patterns that explain cloud formations, flocks of birds and other natural phenomena. ... Wallin’s processes are not, for all their hyperactivity, mindlessly minimalist. Indeed, there’s also an element of ecstatic mysticism, with references to the four vessels of blackening, whitening, yellowing and reddening. ... the colourful scoring was an additional virtue of this intriguing work.
Barry Millington, The Evening Standard,22/08/2018
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