• Per Nørgård
  • Trepartita (1988)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)
  • org
  • 17 min
    • 16th June 2022, Helligåndskirken, Copenhagen, Denmark
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Programme Note

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.

The titles of the three movements in Trepartita:

1. Requiem steps descending
2. Polyhymnia
3. Requiem steps ascending

When Jens E. Christensen in 1987 invited me to write a new large organ work, I was already mentally in the midst of the composition of my Symphony no. 5 (premiered in 1990) - so my reaction was at first reluctant if not rather deprecatory.

However not completely, as my experience as a composer had taught me that unexpected impulses may appear, when the intensity of the initiator corresponds with the relevance to the main enterprise (in this case the symphony). The dense web of tone motives in the symphony, of almost fractional nature (that is: with stratification directed towards infinity - again!) challenged me to dive specifically into the secrets of the universe of ‘3’. It is hardly by coincidence that great religious and philosophical systems all over the world are attached to the number 3. Besides the intimate relation of the ‘golden section’ to ‘trinity’ (as already described) it is an ignored fact, that the triple rhythm (i. e. in the waltz) is based on the highest number that cannot be spontaneously subdivided into smaller groups! (After 3 comes 4 =2 plus 2; and 5 = 2 plus 3 or 3 plus 2, etc.) This may be regarded as commonplace, but not for a composer like me that has adopted the statement of the English biologist Whyte from a scientific context, to be my motto: “The most obvious facts will often be the most fertile fields for investigation.” The peculiar, streaming coherence originating from this non-subdivisible trinity imbues the whole Trepartita; in all 3 movements there are 3 voices streaming in triple meter, related in such a way that their tempos mutually have a ‘golden’ proportion: 3 - 5 - 8. The radical changes of tempo in the 1st and 3rd movement occur respectively by means of constant decrease and increase of tempo (ritardando and accelerando) without the basic ‘golden’ relation being changed by the inevitable diffusion and condensatjoii When the tempo decreases - and there would be ‘too much’ space between the notes - new notes are ‘born’, so that the tempo: ‘3’ that would otherwise become too slow, returns as the quickest (multiplied by 4 = ‘12’).

In the same way when the tempo increases – and the notes would be ´too close´ to each other, so that the music becomes as impossible to play as to understand, too compressed – only a quarter of the notes remains in the fastest stratum (´8´), so that this fast part now becomes the slowest. Thus in spite of constant change of tempo in the outer movements, a constant proportion of durations is maintained, because new notes always ´appear´ and ´disappear´ behind the time-horizon.

Movement 1: (ritardando): 3-5-8 > 5-8-12-> 8-12-20 etc.
Movement 3: (accelerando): (3-5-8) = 12-20-32-> 8-12-20 ->5-8-12 etc.

For me the technical and emotional dimensions merge into each other that it would, at any rate in me, that it would be rather artificial only to express myself ´generally´. Most people know the idea of acceleration, for instance; they also know about numeral proportions and different rhythms in their lives, etc. In short: technical/emotional and professional/general are artificial discriminations. There is an intimate connection between the mentioned rhythmical details and the expression of the piece.

The first movement, “Requiem steps descending” is characterized by the decreasing tempo – like steps down to the river of death; on the contrary the increasing tempo imbues the 3rd movement, “Requiem Steps Ascending” – like Jacob´s ladder to heaven, the liberation of the soul from the mortal yoke…

The middle movement, “Polyhymnia”, with its stable tempo is ´the centre between earth and heaven´, where 3 voices are constantly interwoven and thus creating new melodies - ´many hymns´- which like “Maya´s Veil of Illusion” suggests that the worldly crawling and creeping is only a ´fractional´ display of some basic, eternal factors…

In my three large organ works, Partita concertante (1958), Canon (1970-71) and Trepartita (1987-88) there is a common, spiritual attitude towards time and movement: Time is not one river, but many simultaneous movements - or perhaps like one single multidimensional moment?

”Trepartita” was composed 1987-88 and was premiered by Jens E. Christensen i Vor Frelsers Kirke i København on the 17th of November 1988.

Per Nørgård (1991)

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