• Per Nørgård
  • Canon (1971)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)
  • org
  • 25 min

Programme Note

programme note - short:

Simple and rhythmically flexible melodic motives are run through and repeated in seven cycles, through a series of three-part canonic workings-out. Each cycle unfolds in 8 stages, which move rhytmically from periodic pulse rhythms (2-4-8-16), to the total golden section (2-3-5-8-13 etc.), and back again, by another route.

CANON was composed in 1971 and is dedicated to Jesper Jørgen Jensen. The duration is ca 22'.

Per Nørgård

programme note - longer:

My three large organ works were composed at regular intervals: Partita concertante in 1958, Canon in 1971 and Trepartita in 1988. They are all very different but do express the characteristics of each period.

The melody and harmony of the Partita concertante is typical of my ‘Nordic’ music of the fifties (whereas the rhythm has a baroque character and its overgrown polyphony points towards the crisis about 1960, indicating the breakthrough of Modernism).

Canon is already beyond the intense experiments of the 1960s and is practically based upon a classical synthesis of ‘valid criteria’ which I had then achieved and which were displayed in my Symphony no. 3 from 1975 as a climax. In Canon a systematical ‘celebration’ of timeless organizations of tone and rhythm is carried through in 7 cycles, each divided in 8 phases.

Trepartita is situated at quite a different place yet it may have some resemblance to the two earlier works, for instance the ‘overgrown’ counterpoint in Partita concertante and as to the use of the melodically technique called ‘infinity-row’ which I had found in 1960 and which imbued Canon from its beginning to its end.

Canon was written to Jesper Jørgen Jensen in 1970-71, on request by him, and had its first performance 25th of May 1972 in the Cathedral of Århus (Denmark), after a nearly Promethean preparatory labour for the realization of the extremely complex work. The ´poly-metrical´ display (another word for stratification with different simultaneous tempo-relations) is the ‘Alpha and Omega’ of Canon: Its 7 ‘cycles’ are subdivided into ‘phases’ (at least 8, often more) and each ‘cycle’ describes, almost ritually, a 3-part counterpoint, in 3 simultaneous, different tempos moving from absolute periodical pulse towards the proportions of the ‘golden section’ and back (yet by another way) to periodical rhythm. The ‘golden section’ refers to the mutual proportions of three lengths (in this case: durations): the shortest section has the same proportion to the middle section, as the middle has the longest, and consequently the two shorter ones are together the same length as the longest, for instance in the approximate numerical proportion: 2-3-5-8-13 et cetera (the so-called Fibonacci series).

Pythagoras already proved that the numbers can only be approximate and this very fact called for the necessity of two prints of Canon: one ‘golden’ notation with self-invented symbols of the ‘golden’ relations opposite the ‘periodical’ - (angles opposite curves and the like) - and one edition in a traditional ‘metrical’ notation which, as already indicated, can only be an approach.

All this almost abstract universe of tones and rhythms, with notes from my, also half abstract, “infinity row” (or “infinity series”, a principle that I found in 1959) was apt to drive both organist Jensen and composer Nørgård into despair, as far as the realization was concerned! Historically there are certain parallels - (sans comparison) - to Bach’s ‘Kunst der Fuge’ and ‘Musikalisches Opfer’ - and I will always be most grateful to Jesper Jørgen Jensen posthumously - for his great effort, which was hardly rewarding in the first place.

The duration of Canon is around 22 minutes.

Per Nørgård (1991)

Note: The introduction (from “My three large…” to “…to its end”) may be used or not, ad libitum.