• Niels Marthinsen
  • Syndfloden over Norderney (2008)
    (The Deluge at Norderney)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)
  • 9 min

Programme Note

A gothic tale for seven wind players and percussion

Written for the Århus Sinfonietta

The Deluge at Norderney (2008) for seven wind players and percussion is the fifth of a series of seven compositions named after Karen Blixen's collection of short stories Seven Gothic Tales.

My musical gothic tales are written for very different ensembles - The Supper at Helsinore is a saxophone quartet, The Old Chevalier is for bass trombone and piano, The Monkey is a chamber orchestra work, The Poet is a piano trio - but they all share musical material in a criss-cross of contextual references reminiscent of Blixen's narrative complexity: Themes and motivs from one piece appear in others in new and surprising shapes and combinations.

Karen Blixen's The Deluge at Norderney is the tale of a flood of near Biblical proportions on the Atlantic coast of Holstein in 1835. Four aristocratic vacationers, marooned in a hayloft by the rising waters, spend a night telling stories that reveal their true identities. Each of the characters has a tale that bespeaks misplaced identity; it is the power of the story that helps them discover who they really are.

Jonathan Mersk's inset tale 'Timon of Assens' is about a youth frustrated in his social ambitions. The young woman Calypso realizes her true nature: By studying an erotic painting reflected beside herself, she comes to understand the power and pleasure of being a woman. The older woman Miss Malin has sinned by living primarily within her own imagination. Excessive moral idealism has prevented her from partaking in the true joys of life. The Cardinal tells the inset tale 'The Wine of the Tetrarch' which explains how the robber Barabbas met his fate, going free so that Christ might be crucified. Finally the Cardinal removes a bandage from his face to reveal that he is really a murderer: the actor Kasparson in disguise. He has played many and varying roles, and this is his answer to the problems of identity: "I have lived long enough, by now," he says, "to have learned, when the devil grins at me, to grin back." The characters are doomed by the rising waters, but they do not lose their sense of humor.

The Deluge at Norderney isn't 'about' anything. The music is inspired by the artistic content of Blixen's short story - its emotionalism, dramatic construction, atmosphere, period and setting - but unfolds in time and musical space in ways that are completely independent of the story's narrative progression... except one might say that the instruments really do manage to tell each their own story before they all drown in the deluge.