Bent Lorentzen (b. 1935)

Bent Lorentzen is one of the outstanding figures in contemporary Danish music. His works are frequently performed at festivals at home and abroad, and he has established particularly close links with musical life in Poland and Germany. He has been honoured with several international prizes and was named Choral Composer of the Year in Denmark in 1989.

Lorentzen is anti-dogmatic by nature. This does not mean, however, that he adheres to the "aesthetic of the golden mean" as practised by his teachers, who have numbered Vagn Holmboe, Knud Jeppesen, and Jörgen Jersild among others. A glance at the more than one hundred numbers on his opus list - a list that is nothing if not heterogeneous in character - reveals an artistic temperament eager to accept inspiration from outside. Lorentzen's world of personal experience and recollection bears the mark of such impulses. An example of his receptivity to genres and idioms remote from our western notions of music is his discovery of Latin American music during a visit to Brazil in the late seventies. To fuse Latin rhythm, with all its immediacy and sensuality, with central European intellectual constructions may sound like an impossibility, but not so in Lorentzen's case: as the Oboe Concerto on this recording demonstrates, it is indeed possible to create a fruitful synthesis between widely disparate forms of musical expression. Behind all this lies a deep commitment to communication as an aesthetic principle.

Lorentzen does not write from a lookout-post high above the heads of his audience; on the contrary, his music is conceived in a concrete social context. Music for its own sake does not belong in this composer's way of thinking. His explicitly formulated wish is to climb down from the notorious ivory tower and exert influence on the emotions of the largest possible number of people, but to do so without resorting to mere populism. Sharing music with other people is a basic need that he has fulfilled by founding his Ebeltoft Festival for historical and contemporary music, which has already become an institution in Danish musical life. His hidden message seems to be that music, as a mirror of our existence in all its remarkable complexity, can only succeed in its mission when heard and experienced. Premeditation and improvisation, construction and expression, refined virtuosity and down-to-earth banality, rationality and suggestiveness - all of these things are elements in Bent Lorentzen's musical universe. For that very reason his music resists categorization into conventional slots such as complexity, simplicity, pluralism... He has flirted with various aesthetic trends or schools, but their stylistic impact has not deprived his music of its personality and individuality of expression.

Serial music was one of the points of departure for Lorentzen as a young composer. The international avantgarde quickly became a focus of creative interest; the modernistic slogans of the fifties, such as Boulez' "Il faut accepter la complexité" or Stockhausen's wish to create "nie gehörte Klänge" caused a major disturbance in the complacent Danish musical environment and were of decisive importance for Lorentzen's development. He was one of the first Danes to realize the potential and the challenge of strictly serial composition where pitch, dynamics, and sonority are organized in fixed rows or 'series'. Whereas Danish colleagues like Ib Nørholm, Henning Christiansen, and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen reacted to central European modernism by cultivating the 'new simplicity', Lorentzen open-mindedly accepted modernism and pioneered the serial approach to composition in his country. But it is important to stress that he did not do so in order to construct solutions to aesthetic and technical problems; for him the mathematics has never been an end in itself, only a means of achieving expressive effects such as psychological timing or a particular associative atmosphere.

In the sixties and seventies he was fascinated by electronic music - in fact he was one of its pioneers in Denmark - but decided like other blazers of new trails at that time (for example György Ligeti and Karlheinz Stockhausen) to abandon the cultivation of purely electronic composition. In Lorentzen's case the decision may perhaps be attributed to the limited audience for this type of composition and not least to the 'dry' sounds of early electronic music, with the limitations these imposed on the creation of music that was capable of suggesting images and associations. He preferred the human presence involved in live music to the all-too-final character of machine-made sounds, deprived as these are of the unpredictability of interpretation in performance. It is not surprising that Lorentzen felt attracted at one stage to the Polish 'poster music' of the sixties - the kind of thing we associate with names like Penderecki, Górecki, and Lutoslawski. The latter's so-called 'aleatoric' technique of composition is possibly the most important single influence on Lorentzen after serialism. Here too it is a question of placing the listener at centre stage; this is real music for a real audience, not merely sophisticated formal exercises for the benefit of a few experts. It is impossible for listeners to distance themselves from such music, for it deliberately sets out to provoke and stimulate the senses with its apparently impossible admixture of old and new, high and low styles - as for example in the 'comedy scene' in the most recently premiered opera, Fackeltanz, which demonstrates the solid instrumentational craftsmanship of the composer on one hand, and on the other hand his easy-going nature that redeems an embarrassingly vulgar libretto.

One of his colleagues has defined Lorentzen very precisely as a composer who goes to the limits of what is intellectually permissible; titles like Purgatorio, Graffiti, Auschwitz, Olof Palme and Comics say something about the range and diversity of his output. The human voice and the genre of the music drama are ideal media for the realization of a project like his, which is why the opus list is dominated by choral works, instrumental music for the theatre, and no less than ten operas to date. It would be a fair generalization about Lorentzen to say that as far as he is concerned anything goes, as long as it serves his strategic musical designs. Asked whether he agrees with Theodor W. Adorno's statement that music is perception, not beauty, he replies characteristically enough: "Isn't it both? A piece of music has to be sensed." This attitude has become more and more prominent in his work as time goes by: he sees the history of music as a reservoir of human experience and perception that can be used and re-used to tell us something we did not know about ourselves.

By Anders Beyer