• Per Nørgård
  • Symfoni nr. 4 (1981)
    (Symphony no. 4)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)

Hommage á Adolf Wölfli. Commissioned by Norddeutscher Rundfunk.

  • 23 min

Programme Note

SYMPHONY NO. 4 (1981) – INDISCHER ROOSEN-GAARTEN UND CHINESISCHER HEXENSEE Nach einer Idee von Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930) und ihm zugeeignet

This symphony in two movements entitles “Indischer Roosen-Gaarten und Chineesischer Hexensee” was inspired by Adolf Wölfli’s works - consisting of 20.000 pages of prose, poetry and pictures -. An English translation of the title would read: “Symphony no. 4 - Indian Rose Garden and Chinese Witch See; after an idea by Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930) and dedicated to him.”

Wölfli was from 1895 (31 years old) until his death in 1930 confined to the mental hospital at Waldau near Bern, Switzerland. Although he had no technical knowledge of music he considered himself to be a great composer, and his paintings were almost always covered with long festoons of six-lined (!) music staffs. In 1912 Wölfli ordered paints and paper for a planned ´Musikbüchlein´, which was to be published in 1920 under the title “Indischer Roosen-Gaarten und Chineesischer Hexensee”. (Wölfi uses his characteristic illustrative phonetic spellings with double vowels). The work was never completed, and I took it upon myself to realize Wölfli’s idea according to his vision but, of course, within my own preconditions.

The double and suggestive title is typical of Wölfli´s polarized conception of the world, which shifts between idyll and catastrophe. This polarization is of almost Chinese nature, in that no idyll exists without catastrophic disturbances, just as there is a black “spot” in the white “fish”, and vice versa, in the famous Yin/Yang symbol.

One might explain this idea with a quote by the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun: “A prisoner on his tumbrel is wheeled to the scaffold. A nail chafes at his behind; he moves over and feels more comfortable.”

The 4th symphony was composed in 1981 as a commission from Norddeutscher Rundfunk, who premiered the work the same year conducted by Cristobal Halffter; the first Danish performance took place in January 1982 with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Schønwandt and the work has since then been performed by orchestra like The Scottish National Orchestra, The BBC Symphony Orchestra, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra (also on CD) and the Royal Danish Orchestra.

Per Nørgård (1985)


Movement I
Movement II


Score preview