GÖRAN GAMSTORP - composer without a safety net

Published: 2001-10-01 by Stellan Sagvik

By Göran Persson (transl. Sven Borei) (Published in Nutida Musik no. 3, 1988/89)

It had become a common preconception that young composers arrive via the rock scene. The idea is that after a few years in more or less well-known rock bands, the musical circles expand once listening to Bartók, Stravinsky and Mahler, followed by Webern and Berg, provide impulses for their own composing. But there still exist other, more traditional entries, if that’s what one wants to call them.

When as a boy he chose the cello as his instrument, playing rock music wasn’t quite as natural for composer Göran Gamstorp. It is true that the Fläskkvartetten (Pork Quartet) has by now completed much acclaimed tours both in Sweden and abroad, a success that may come to inspire young cellists to broaden their horizons and come at composing from that direction. But the typical music school instruments still represent a musical conservatism, a situation which may actually derive from the fact that Swedish municipal music teachers as a group are unusually conservative. Many still not only see synthesizers as ‘cheat-machines’ as evidenced by articles in the Musikkultur journal between 1983 and 1987, but they think that any music written more recently than Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring is generally off the wall.

Still, even if Göran Gamstorp hasn’t moved into composition via rock, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and others are natural parts of his musical baggage through listening. It is an influence which a person born in 1957 has a hard time avoiding, be they a composer or not. Perhaps it is also typical for that generation of composers that includes Göran Gamstorp, that nothing obviates anything, that ‘high’ and ‘low’ experiences are preferentially mixed into a heady brew for the daring to partake of.

Göran Gamstorp grew up with György Ligeti and Igor Stravinsky. His father collected jazz records and with time even ‘classical’ ones, all of which mingled in the young boy’s consciousness with Bowie’s dancing apocalyptic music and Bruce Springsteen’s sensitive rock.

“I don’t want suggest that I haven’t been influenced. But what traces there are in my scores, can probably not be identified even with a magnifying glass as direct, fixed musical figures. It is a question of making contact. Music must reach an inner feeling, not distance itself or be placed on a pedestal in order to establish its inaccessibility. I almost want to trick the listener into coming with me to an unknown world, into becoming part of an illusion or another reality. Afterwards, the listener should be filled with a feeling of having participated in something extraordinary, something provocative,” says Göran Gamstorp.

In order to develop and formalise his musical skills, Göran attended KMI, the Municipal Music School in Stockholm which served as a gateway prior to establishment of arranging courses at the Royal College of Music in 1983. And having studied under Daniel Börtz and Lars-Erik Rosell, the step over to composition classes in 1986 was not a big one – composition under Sven-David Sandström and electronic music under Pär Lindgren.

When we now sit in Göran Gamstorp’s flat on Hälsingegatan in Stockholm listening to various works from his most recent production, I observe two main characteristics: a very prominent, lyrical-melodic presentation and very rapidly constructed dramatic attacks. A shining example of this is Barnet i skogen – Barn i stjärnljus (The Child in the Forest – Children in Star Light) dating from 1987 and written for the Stockholm Saxophone Quartet with Eva Pilat. Here I can trace a close relationship between word and note in an early, suddenly generated sortie, one which provides the ‘serpent’s bite’ with a clear musical construct via the saxophone acceleration that ends high and strong just behind a bar line. The children of the poem are given a simple structure, which in another rhythmical guise could serve as the core of a children’s song. In this piece, the composer prefers to keep the musical presentation together through step-wise movements or through steps plus leaps and bow-shaped, cambiata-like motifs. I ask him if there is support for the idea that there is something of a Palestrina fascination hidden here.

“No. Palestrina is not one of my inspirations. It is probably more true to say that here my melodic thinking is filtered through the text, even if the polyphonic language contains a linearity which easily lends a certain character.”

Both the Saxophone Quartet with a mezzo-soprano and the swinging, dramatic Jaguaren for five male voices are based on texts by Elmer Diktonius. But in the Jaguaren, which had its first performance at a Nutida Musik Concert in January presented by the Lamentabile Consort, the music can be said to move up to a transcendental plane in relation to the text. “The Diktonius poems fascinate me through their simple and expressive language and, to my thinking, their penetrating content,” is taken from Göran Gamstorp’s own comments on the piece.

Den glömda elden (The Forgotten Fire; 1986) is another piece filled with dramatic attacks, this one written for a single cello. I listen to the explosive work in a recording done at the Kulturhuset in Stockholm and, as in the saxophone quartet, the dynamic power here is also reflected against supple linear curvatures.

Göran Gamstorp’s concerto for clarinet and orchestra titled Meetings is in some way a knowledge manifesto. His point of departure was that the musical ideas and thoughts, the melodic and sonoral pictures which lived their abstract lives in the mental construct, that these should be expressed as exactly as possibly by a relatively large orchestral apparatus.

“Certain sections are more defined than others, but it’s really somewhat difficult to decide how it coincides with my original intentions, since I’ve only heard a recording of the piece. Naturally it would be fun to hear it ‘live’.”

Meetings opens with a symphonic gesture, a signal that can almost lead your thoughts to Beethoven’s Fifth or Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. It’s an aggressively rhythmic/melodic theme which returns several times but in different guises – sometimes in a twisted, rhythmic form or heavily marked and augmented as when it reaches the absolute high point of the concerto.

Still, the introductory motif isn’t only a thematic signal used for culmination purposes. It functions just as much as an impulse originator – the violence of the opening explosion draws out a tentative solo clarinet which in a lone, almost fearful majesty introduces a tentative thought which is yet another of the main concepts of the piece. The originally groping, seeking movement in the clarinet grows upwards towards a surface layer and solid ground. The tentative clarinet gains in certainty and when it reaches the ‘surface’ it finds freedom within reach – suddenly awake it can take off with an accumulated power that receives free play in the bow-shaped clarinet cascades which in their turn build into new, dramatic attacks.

In the solo voice, the composer has used the positive aspects of the instrument, such as the obviousness of the quarter-tone glissandos, its immense dynamic capacity and its extreme mobility. “The clarinet isn’t especially bound to a single genre and I have mixed styles which make its jazz-related improvisational character quite apparent.”

The last section of the piece is a musical meet. Fragments from the earlier parts of the work are brought together into a large, complex ‘meeting’ where its separate phases with the varied instrument combinations and emotional positions inherent in them meld into a musical unity, a type of intimate affect counterpoint. Göran Gamstorp states that the closing section of the piece also took the longest to compose.

However, his clarinet concerto Meetings isn’t only an ingenious tonal construct. It is just as much musical gesture and lyricism – feelings aimed directly at the listener through a personal music lacking a safety net.

The first performance of Göran Gamstorp’s Meetings, a concerto for clarinet and orchestra, will be on Thursday, April 27, [1989] at 20:45 on Musikradion (P2). The piece will be performed by the Radio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Jonas Dominique and with Dag Henriksson as soloist.


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