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Abrahamsen, Hans

(b Copenhagen, 23 Dec 1952). Danish composer. He first studied


the horn and was later trained in music theory at the Royal Danish
Academy of Music. He also undertook private studies in composition
from Nrgrd and Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, among others.
Abrahamsen was active for a period in the Gruppen for Alternativ
Musik, a forum for musicians who wished to perform new music in
alternative forms; the group also aimed to develop socially and
politically committed music, and Abrahamsen was thus able to
cultivate his interest in political issues expressed through music. (His
first symphony was originally entitled Anti-EEC-Sats(Anti-EEC
Movement); it became Symphony in C after the composer came to
the realization that music cannot be against.) In 1982 Abrahamsen
became a teacher of instrumentation at the Royal Danish Academy
of Music. He has also been artistic director of the Esbjerg Ensemble
since 1988.
The composers first works adhered to the style of the Danish new
simplicity movement of the mid-1960s. For Abrahamsen and other
composers such as Gudmundsen-Holmgren, Christiansen and Ole
Buck, this stylistic attitude, which marked a break with serial music,
was a Danish response to the complexity emanating from central
Europe, particularly the circle around the Darmstadt School. In
Abrahamsen this aesthetic anchorage came to mean an almost
naive simplicity in musical expression, as exemplified in his
orchestral piece Skum (Foam, 1970). During the 1970s and 80s he
developed an entirely personal style, in which a modernist stringency
and economy are incorporated into an individual musical universe.
The mature Abrahamsen emerged as early as in the first string
quartet, Ten Preludes (1973), which combines an assured sense of
structure with clarity of expression. With later works such as the
orchestral Stratifications (19735) and Nacht und Trompeten (1981),
the ensemble works Winternacht (1976
8), Mrchenbilder (1984), Lied in Fall (1987) and the wind
quintet Walden (1978), the composer developed a multi-layered
texture, both stylistically and emotionally.

Abrahamsens music possesses a particular epic quality. He likes to


tell stories, to create musical images for the listener. But these are
not in the shape of clear forms and figures: his works never reveal
their innermost secrets, and the composer rarely presents the
listener with unambiguous solutions. It is as if works talk to each
other, new works borrowing material and structure from old. The epic
element in Abrahamsens music is countered by its strict structure.
Some of his music is arranged according to serial principles, using
numerical systems and closely calculated structures (Lied in
Fall, Mrchenbilder, Winternacht, the 22 Piano Studies and the
pieces for horn trio). As Abrahamsen has written: My imagination
works well within a fixed structure. The more stringent it is, the
more freedom I have to go down into detail. Form and freedom:
perhaps much of my music has been an attempt to bring the two
worlds together. His compositions are relatively small in number,
and mainly instrumental. Often of short duration, his pieces are
nevertheless highly concentrated in expression, balancing dramatic
gestures and structural finesse.
WORKS
Orch: Skum [Foam], 1970; Sym. in C, 1972; Sym., 1974; Stratifications, 19735;
Winternacht, large chbr ens, 19768; Nacht und Trompeten, 1981; Mrchenbilder,
large chbr ens, 1984; Lied in Fall, large chbr ens, 1987
Chbr: Fantasistykker efter Hans-Jrgen Nielsen, fl, hn, pf, vc, 1969, rev. 1976; Rundt
og imellem [Round and in-between], hn, 2 tpt, trbn, tuba, 1971; Landskaber
[Landscapes], Wind Qnt no.1, 1972; Nocturner, fl, pf, 1972; Flowersongs, 3 fl, 1973;
Glansbilleder [Scraps], vc, pf, 1973; 10 Praeludier, Str Qt no.1, 1973; Walden, Wind
Qnt no.2, 1978, arr. ob, 2 cl, a sax, bn, 1995; Str Qt no.2, 1981; 6 stykker, vn, hn, pf,
1984; 2 snedanse [2 Snow Dances], rec qt, 1985, arr. fl, cl, vn, vc; Storm og stille
med hymne og capriccio bagateller, vn, va, vc, 1994
Solo inst: Oktober, pf (left hand), 1969; Gush, a sax, 1974, rev. 1979; Canzone,
accdn, 19778; 22 studier, pf, 198498; Storm og stille, vc, 1988; Hymne, vc/va,
1990; Capriccio bagateller, vn, 1990
Vocal: Efterr [Autumn] (J. Paulsen), T/S, fl, gui, vc, 1972, rev. 1977;
Danmarkssange (Abrahamsen), S, fl, cl, perc, pf, va, 1974; Universe Birds (I. Holk),
10 or 5 S, 1973; Aria (I. Christensen), S, fl, perc, hp, vc, 1979; 2 Grundtvig-motetter,
mixed chorus, 19834; Efterrslied [Autumn Song] (R.M. Rilke, trans. T. Bjrnvig), S,
hpd/pf, cl, vn, vc, 1992
Arrs., incl. M. Ravel: Le tombeau de Couperin, wind qnt, 1989; C. Nielsen: 3 Pf
Pieces, op.59, 10 insts, 1990
Principal publisher: Hansen

BIBLIOGRAPHY
S. Pade: Hans Abrahamsen: 2. strygekvartet, en analyse, DMt,
lvi/3 (19812), 1348
E. Kullberg: Konstruktion, intuition og betydning i Hans
Abrahamsens musik, DMt, lx/6 (19856), 25867
S. Wikshland: Tradisjonsloshet som siste skrik? [Lack of
tradition as the latest fashion?], Studia musicologica norvegica,
xiv (1988), 5388
S. Kleiberg: Hans Abrahamsens musikk, poetisk billedkraft i
musikalsk form, ibid., 89114
ANDERS BEYER