Finn Savery (b. 1933)

Dualism, diversity and integration

Finn Savery is a multi-track musician and composer. Throughout his musical career he has been an actively performing jazz pianist and an actively writing composer of scores. He has an undogmatic attitude to musical styles and composes in a wide area ranging through the tonal tradition, European modernism, folk music, popular music, jazz and rock. He can cultivate a pure style or create clashes or fluid transitions between different forms of music, often by composing with the musical substance in several ways: "For me it's crucial that the works succeed as works, and in reality I don't care what styles people think appear in them. For me it's almost like composing in different keys - it all belongs together, it's all that you relate to, that you feel for; it forms part of your language, it belongs there". Savery composes in a continuum between simple melodies and complex construction, from tonality, pentatonic scales and modes to chromatic atonality; from classical time signatures and polyrhythms to swinging jazz rhythms, from a regular pulse to free-flowing progressions; from written scores to improvisation with varying degrees of freedom.

Finn Savery was born in 1933. As the son of the pianist and music teacher C.M. Savery he was stimulated at an early age by musical impressions from the active milieu around the Frederiksberg Folk Music High School. From 1953 to 1960 he studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen, trained as a pianist and took lessons in instrumentation and composition for some years. But it was other factors that became crucial to Savery's development as a composer: the meeting with Dizzy Gillespie's and Charlie Parker's bebop music, which gave him the impulse to form his own jazz band at the age of 15; the experience of the Duke Ellington orchestra in Copenhagen in 1950; Miles Davis' modal jazz from the end of the 50s; and the encounter with Pierre Boulez and serialism at the music course in Darmstadt in 1960.

Success and experiments
Savery brought jazz and European modernism together in the octet work Dualism (1961), which alternates between gently flowing passages with free use of twelve-tone rows and written jazz passages with strong accents and a rhythmic pulse in the bass and percussion. At first it was jazz and the popular music forms that brought Savery a breakthrough as a composer in the sixties. In 1961, as a commission, in the course of a few weeks, he wrote the music for Freedom - the Best Gold, Erik Knudsen's "vaudeville satire" on the consumer society, with modal jazz as its basis and elements from a wealth of other genres: cha-cha, rhythm and blues, national songs and hit songs - numbers with direct, impactful melodies, intense rhythms and precise harmonies and instrumentation.

The next year came the decisive breakthrough with the music for Ernst Bruun Olsen's Teenagerlove, which was premiered at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in October 1962 - a musical about the pop hero who rises up from the working class and learns to sell himself and his sex appeal in an alliance with the entertainment industry and capitalism. It was a committed contribution to the period's critical cultural debate on the influence of the mass media on the taste and cultural consumption of "the general public". Here Savery found his own personal and harmonically sophisticated jazz style, and he composed a string of catchy songs with musical portraits of the characters in the musical, a succession of revealing pop parodies and the folk-like China Song that builds up to the proposition that "people want their opium". Teenagerlove was a popular success, not least because the tunes were so precise in their parodies of pop styles that they themselves became hits. The show ran for four seasons at the Royal Theatre, and it was performed in all the Nordic countries and in Germany and Belgium. A production in New York had to be abandoned because the Broadway organizers demanded changes in the plot and attitude of the musical.

The collaboration with Ernst Bruun Olsen was followed up by the socially critical music theatre production Bal i den Borgerlige (Ball for the Bourgeosie) (1966) at Det ny Teater. This illustrated the dilemma of the working-class family caught between socialist solidarity and self-serving bourgeoisification with contrasting musical genres: modal jazz and sophisticated harmonies, bourgeois choral music, waltzes, liturgical singing and catchy dance tunes. The combination of tradition and modernism opened up new avenues for character-portraying songs.

Alongside the theatre music, Finn Savery also pursued a modernist path - he was fascinated by Darmstadt modernism's combination of imagination and stringency. He was particularly enthusiastic about the expressive, music-making atmosphere of Pierre Boulez' music, studied his manifesto "Musikdenken heute" and spent several years on experiments with and explorations of the potential of serialism. "Back then in the sixties it was a heavy burden for many of us, at any rate for me, that it was set up as an either-or situation: either you were on track with sixties modernism and the Darmstadt line, or you were simply dead or hopelessly obsolete. So if, like me, you were on the one hand intensely involved in what merged into the Darmstadt line, and at the same time had the connection with jazz and folk music, then you ended up in a difficult dilemma, and that's where I was. At one point in the sixties I felt I was more or less in crisis."

Savery experimented with "third stream" - the fusion of composition music and twelve-tone jazz in Form-63 for jazz trio and chamber orchestra (1963), and he composed in a Boulez-inspired modernist style in Three episodes for piano (1966-72) and Episodes I and II (1966), sonorously subtle, floating, transparent music for flute, guitar, viola, marimba and vibraphone - the same ensemble as Boulez' Le marteau sans maître.

Jazz and folk music
In the 1970s Savery toned down the experimentation and turned more towards simple interval combinations and melodic contexts. He composed children's music, the jazz-coloured cantata Again and again (1971) for mixed choir and instruments, music for the TV Advent Calendar Fest i møllen (Party at the Mill) (1970) and for the TV version of Danish poet Klaus Rifbjerg's Amager Poems (1971). For the quintet De Nordiske Spillemænd he wrote the trilogy Ringlek, Psalm and Kringellek (1974-77) with close links to the melodies and variation forms of folk music, and Three Chinese Songs (1974), whose melodies and sound are close to the pentatonic, almost monophonic Chinese tradition. Pentatonic-sounding melodies also colour the string orchestra work Shunting in a Peaceful Morning (1977), associated with a childhood memory of the trains in Frederiksberg. In 1982 this work was expanded with a longish section for jazz ensemble for the ballet production Gry (Dawn) at the Royal Theatre.

As a jazz musician Savery exploited the new sound potential of the electric piano and synthesizer and recorded several LPs with his regular trio: Savery himself on keyboards, Mads Vinding on acoustic and electric bass and Bjarne Rostvold on drums. The LP New York Series (1975) was composed after a study trip to the USA, when Finn Savery familiarized himself with the sound world of the synthesizer. Each of the seven tunes is a unique formal progression with subtleties of instrumentation, individually shaped themes, precise shifts between characteristic rhythmic patterns and inspired improvisations. The titles evoke associations with the soundscape of New York - the fast-ticking The New York Night, the throbbing Pulse of Greenwich Village and the synthesizer that flies high in Lift off from World Trade Center.

The next LP from the trio, Waveform (1978), included three Savery compositions and several numbers by Airto Moreira and Milton Nascimento in Latin American rhythms. The title tune is a mobile sound sculpture of waves, rustling and vibrant sound sheets. Surplus for solo piano fantasizes in long festoons of notes that gradually pinpoint the melody and chords from the Surplus song that Savery wrote in 1973 for the Workers' Songbook with a text by Ernst Bruun Olsen. The LP Many Moments (1982) shows new rhythmic facets of the trio's playing.

As a piano soloist Savery performed A Flow into a Poem (1979) at poetry and music days at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, as well as Tracks (1981), a pentatonically coloured sequence that explores melodic patterns of a few notes.

X-tract (1975) is a multi-faceted jazz work written for the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra which incorporates in its structure pentatonic melody, atonalities, modal improvisations, synthesizer sounds and traditional big band figures. Improvisation within a given framework was further developed in Frame Work (1979) for seven jazz musicians and eleven classical musicians, a work typified by strong contrasts between electric and acoustic instruments. The TV programme "Jazz at the Art Museum", televised among Asger Jorn's pictures at the Silkeborg Museum of Art in 1987, portrays Savery's trio, now with Aage Tanggaard on drums.

Unity and diversity
Savery's ability to create musical diversity was manifested in a new way in Like in Everyday Life (1978) for six percussionists. This is much more than everyday music - it is a work in four movements with world music associations with several cultures. In a richly varied development pentatonic melodies, oriental timbres and gamelan-like music meet singing Caribbean oil drums, ticking sandpaper rhythms and the sliding pitches of the roto drums. Rhythmic drive alternates with articulated silence.

Unity in diversity is characteristic of Kiming (1980), a milestone in Savery's oeuvre, written for the jazz trio and the five strings of De Nordiske Spillemænd. The title is the Old Norse word for horizon, and the work spans the musical compass of Savery's spiritual landscape in a synthesis where a fundamental musical substance is deciphered in innumerable ways - transformed and shifted, shaken up and redistributed in a multitude of instrumentations and stylistic levels. An old Swedish polska dance forms the basis of the work, both in the details and in the overall formal progression - it is heard right at the end. For the same octet ensemble - piano, bass, drums, an extra bass and string quartet - Savery composed Oktet-88 and Interplay (1991), where the sound worlds of jazz and the strings are fused in balanced totalities. A later work for octet is Zig Zag Variations II (1999).

The octet works were performed by Finn Savery's Trio, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass and the Kontra Quartet. The collaboration with the Kontra Quartet had begun with String Quartet no. 2 (1983), where the delicately moving polyphonic interplay of the strings has a romantic, expressive sound, and continues with String Quartet no. 3 (1990), which has a rawer sound and accentuated rock-like rhythms. The raw rock feeling also comes through in two of the three pieces for solo cello written for Morten Zeuthen, Rum, Rock Vignette and Play (1989), which are virtuoso "showpieces" of sound effects, rhythm and movement. Synergie (1991) for guitar quartet is also coloured by abrupt, skewed rhythmic accents. Romantic expressiveness and the pleasure of music-making can be heard again in Concerto for marimba, harp and strings (1996).

Three important aspects of Savery's music - the emotional, the improvised and the pulsating - are summed up in Aspects and Reflections - Three persistent movements (1986) for flute and guitar. In the first movement, mobile-like note patterns are gathered into waves of emotional intensity; in the second a flowing current of notes takes on ever-new aspects of movement and expression; and in the third movement musical interaction over a recurrent pulse develops into a suspenseful dialogue between the instruments. The characteristic movement names mean "with a strong inner glow", "spontaneous but deliberate" and "with robust drive".

Openings and integration
Savery added yet another dimension to his creative activity with the "radiophonic musical work" Today and Tonight (1994) based on a poem by Søren Ulrik Thomsen - a work commissioned for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation's programme DR P2musik and DIEM, the Danish Institute for Electro-acoustic Music. In the course of the work the poem slowly emerges from a setting of music and real-world sounds, just a few words at a time. Soft and hard-edged synthesizer sounds provide atmosphere and pitch in synthetic imitations of jazz ensembles and exotic instruments, and simple recordings of footsteps, traffic noise, clock and banging windows create illusions of sudden openings to unexpected spaces. In this half-hour work Savery, with an assured sense of timing, contrast and repetition, gives us an interpretation of the poem that is both objective and suggestive, relaxed and stimulating, matter-of-fact and imaginative.

With Trio for clarinet, cello and piano (1999) Savery attains a new synthesis of the emotional expression of "Classical-Romantic" music with the energetic drive of rock and jazz. In a no-man's land between tonality and atonality, gestural suppleness and insistent pulsing, the three instruments express themselves in a dramatic yet balanced interaction where the music moves through a rich tapestry of idioms from the sombre, disquieting and painful to the questing, singing and inward. Rhythmic energy and buoyancy combine with melodic sensitivity and expressive sonority. Savery's dualistic insight is condensed in dynamic integration.

By Erik Christensen

The quotes from Finn Savery are from the portrait interview "Talløse varianter mellem det enkle og det komplicerede" (Innumerable variations between the simple and the complicated), with Erik Christensen, in Dansk Musik Tidsskrift 1980/81 no. 1, pp. 15-24.

A later article on the composer is Bertel Krarup: "Dualisme - Finn Savery i omrids" (Dualism - Finn Savery outlined), in Dansk Musik Tidsskrift 1995/96 no. 4, pp. 122-26.


Solo(s) + Symphony orchestra