Like Reacquainting Yourself With an Old Friend

Besides finally getting the chance to start working on some brand new compositions, I have also gone back to a couple of my older works to gently edit, or in some cases, rework them more comprehensively.

Perhaps most exciting are the new pieces I’m working on. To be fair, one of those ostensibly new pieces is an extended re-arrangement of an older piece, but I believe it will be sufficiently different to qualify as new (or at the very least, new enough). This new-enough composition is a version of my violin duo piece Trinidad for saxophone quartet and considering the marked difference between the two different ensembles I do think this new version will feel like its own thing when it is finished.

Foremost among the entirely new compositions I am working on are a number of settings of poems by Tomas Tranströmer. Thus far, I have set two of his poems to music. The first one was The Tree and the Sky, which I made into a dramatic Lied. A year or so later, an acquaintance of mine encouraged me to take a closer look at Romanesque Arches, and just like before the poem spoke to me immediately. Since then I have kept on returning to my anthology of Tranströmer’s works, reading and re-reading and slowly but surely plumbing their poetic depths.

After realising that my accordionist friend Jerry is also a big fan of Tranströmer, we both agreed that I should set some of his poems for voice and accordion. I have selected a number of Tranströmer’s haiku poems from the 2004 collection The Great Enigma for a short song cycle. In that collection, Tranströmer has organised the haikus in eleven suites, where each suite almost tells a little story. The poems are rich with meaning and are often quite suggestive as Tranströmer’s main inspirations for these poems were travelling, death and dreams. Here is the final poem from the third suite, translated by Robin Fulton Macpherson:

Death stoops over me.
I'm a problem in chess. He
has the solution.

Another new composition which has been gestating in my head for the longest time is a piece for treble choir and bronze lur, a type of ancient natural horn. Several years ago now, I was introduced to a former colleague of my father’s in the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra: a brilliant trombonist, who is also one of Sweden’s few dedicated lur players. He gave me a lovely and inspiring presentation and demonstration of the instrument and has been patiently waiting for me to write new pieces for him and his lur ever since. I look forward to finally delivering the goods, so to speak, later this year.

Which of my older pieces am I going to rework, then, and why? The simple answer to the latter part of the question is that I am migrating the scores from Sibelius to Dorico and am taking the opportunity to make any revisions that stick out to me. At the same time, I don’t want or need to change too much as I am still quite happy with the pieces as they are. Mostly, I am simply editing the notation slightly for added clarity and consistency based on new things I have learned since originally composing the piece.

In some cases, like my Lacrimosa for violoncello and organ, while most changes are quite small, I will also include editorial suggestions from my good friend Per, the organist who premiered the piece with his cellist girlfriend Ronja. Looking this piece over has been in the back of my head for several years now, and it feels good to finally take the time to do it. Also, some slurs and other markings seem a bit odd in hindsight, so correcting those is also nice.

One fairly old piece that I am still quite proud of is The Ebb and Flow of Time for string orchestra which I composed ten years ago, way back when I still lived in Piteå. Going back to it now, I have slightly expanded a middle section that took the music down to only a solo quartet which I always felt like I rushed out of. I pictured working it into a several minutes long quartet section, but ultimately only added another minute or so to its original two-something minutes. Turned out it didn’t need to be much greater in scope, just connected better to the rest of the piece. Also, I added some new string divisi for some extra details and effects. The piece itself starts out moody and minimalist but reveals bombastic, contemporary film score influences in its latter half. Would make an excellent opener in a concert programme (hint, hint).

Another older composition that I have long wanted to return to is Cloudburst for orchestra and double choir. It was commissioned by Musik Västernorrland for a grand concert in Härnösand with professional, amateur and student musicians from the region playing together. All things considered, the performance turned out fantastic despite common concerns such as not enough time for rehearsals, as well as a much wider skill range in the amateurs and students than I had anticipated. I would like to both expand the composition slightly, as I feel the ideas did not get enough room to fully develop, rework the instrumental and the vocal parts and, additionally, add Swedish lyrics. Last year, I wrote an original text inspired by the beautiful original poem, Storm Ending by Jean Toomer.

Also, there is my Christmas Oratorio