Tradition and Innovation - tendencies in INGVAR LIDHOLM's music of the 70s and 80s

Published: 2001-06-12 by Stellan Sagvik

by Joakim Tillman (Previously published in Nutida Musik no 1, 1996)

Ingvar Lidholm is 75 in 1996. He has been a composer for six decades, but his output is not large. Up until 1960 he wrote, on average, one important work a year, though the playing time rarely exceeds 10 or 20 minutes. Since then he has only produced a few works per decade, one reason being that he has never wanted to repeat himself: every work has to say something new and be something unique. In addition, the compositions spend a long time maturing in his mind before he sets about committing them to paper.
      Another reason not to be overlooked is that Lidholm has never been a full-time composer. All the time, from the 1940s until his retirement, he had other jobs besides that of composer - playing the viola in the Royal Stockholm Opera Orchestra between 1943 and 1947, Municipal Director of Music in Örebro between 1947 and 1956, Head of Chamber Music at Swedish Radio between 1956 and 1965, Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music, Stockholm, between 1965 and 1975, and then back again to Swedish Radio.

      Over the years, Lidholm's aim of never repeating himself has led him to employ a very wide variety of styles and composition techniques. This article deals primarily with his works of the 70s and 80s, but since that music, and A Dream Play especially, is a synthesis of all that went before it, a brief enumeration of the different periods in his creativity will not be out of place:

      1940-48. Neo-Baroque linear polyphony, influenced by Nielsen, Sibelius, Stravinsky and Hindemith. 1949-53. Lidholm's visit to the Darmstadt summer course in 1949 is followed by a more expressive, total-chromatic and dissonant music. The main point of departure during these years, however, is not the Second Viennese School but, above all, Bartók. 1954-60. Twelve-tone technique. Lidholm began to use twelve-tone technique while studying with Mátyás Seiber in London in 1954. The use of the technique, however, does not in itself say anything about the style of the music, and there are considerable differences between the works from this period. With some simplification, however, one can distinguish between works of more moderate modernism, influenced by Schönberg, Berg, Dallapiccola, Stravinsky and Bartók (Quattro pezzi, Ritornell, Canto LXXXI, Riter) and those written in the style of integral serialism and influenced by Nono, Boulez and Stockhausen (Skaldens natt, Mutanza, Motus-colores).

      1960s. Textural music. Use of sound-block sonorities, micro-polyphony, clusters, new instrumental and vocal resources, music theatre (the piano cadenza in Poesis), collage technique (Holländarn).

      What, then, do the 70s and 80s mean for Lidholm's creativity? The literature often speaks of a return to tradition. How and to what extent is this the case? In order to pinpoint Lidholm?s music of the 70s and 80s, an appropriate beginning may be to view it in relation to a number of tendencies indicated as central to the music of the past few decades: new simplicity, use of quotations and allusions, a new tonality, a new expressiveness etc.

      New simplicity and audience contact
      The New Simplicity is often spoken of in connection with American minimalist music, and the expression Neue Einfachkeit has often been applied (in defiance of their protests) to the young German composers who made their débuts in the 70s, and there was already talk during the 60s of a new simplicity in Nordic music, above all in Denmark. In several interviews about A Dream Play, Lidholm says that he has aimed for great simplicity in this opera, the reason being that he wanted to really get through to his audience instead of writing an opera which no one understood. He is afraid, though, of the word "simplicity" leading to misunderstandings, to a failure to see the underlying artistic process in which he filtered his music until he had found a way of communicating with the audience.

      It would be wrong, though, to speak of a new simplicity in Lidholm's music. Already in the 60s he tried, in Nausikaa ensam (1963) and the television opera Holländarn (1967), to simplify the mode of musical expression and cater to the need of, respectively, amateur musicians and the rank and file of listeners for bel canto. But that interest is not new even in the 60s: it goes right back to Lidholm?s first compositions. From the very outset he has written music with a strong pedagogical slant and endeavoured to address a wider public. As the composer sees it, however, simplicity must have passed through the composite if it is not to be insipid. Nor has the ideal of simplicity involved any stylistic compromises. Even the pedagogical pieces often employ very advanced musical devices, such as twelve-tone technique and post-Webernian pointillism in Mutanza and A cappella-bok (both from 1959) and textural music in Nausikaa ensam.

      Quotations and allusions
      The use of quotations and allusions is often singled out as one of the main ingredients of the "post-modern" music of the 70s and 80s, and it also occurs in Lidholm's music from these decades. Greetings from an old world (1976) makes use of Heinrich Isaac's song Innsbruck ich muß dich laßen, Kontakion (1978) uses an old Russian Orthodox hymn, and in the final version of Skaldens natt (1981) Lidholm has added two interludes entitled Songes, alluding to songs by the Swedish poet Almqvist. The final scene of A Dream Play is based on the two final sections of Kontakion - the ones featuring the hymn - resulting in a two-stage quotation. A Dream Play is in fact a synthesis of everything of Lidholm's that has gone before it. But this is a matter of using stylistic traits from his own output: quotations from other music are uncommon. There are also two minor works namely Fantasia sopra Laudi (1977) and Amicizia (1980), for solo cello and solo clarinet respectively, in which we find him harking back to music of hi
      s own. The first of these two pieces, as the title suggests, is based on the choral piece Laudi, written in 1947, and in the second we find the Nielsen-like tone occurring in several of Lidholm's works in the early 1940s. In both these cases the retrospection is connected with the compositions being birthday tributes to, respectively, Hilding Rosenberg (Lidholm's composition teacher) and Ingmar Bengtsson (friend of his youth).

      How are the quotations used and what is their function in Lidholm's music? To gain some idea of this, we can take a closer look at the final sections of Greetings from an old world and Kontakion, the works in which composition by quotation plays its most important role.

      Both works were commissioned, and the choice of quotations is at least partly connected with this. Greetings from an old world was written for the Clarion Music Society of New York, celebrating the bicentenary of the USA in 1976. Concerning his use of Isaac's melody, Lidholm says that he makes the words of the song "symbolise what is accommodated in the terms emigration and immigration, the migration from New World to the Old":

      "Innsbruck ich muß dich laßen, ich fahr dahin mein Straßen. Im fremde Lande dahin. Mein Freund ist mir genommen da ich nit weis bekommen wo ich in Elend bin."

      But the piece also expresses the composer's sense of being very much a part of tradition, manifested not only in the use of Isaac's song but also in the use of traditional models of a gestural, virtuoso or melodic character.

      Kontakion was commissioned by the Stockholm Concert Hall Foundation for the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra's tour of the Soviet Union in 1979. But use of the old Russian Orthodox hymn is also connected with the genuine interest in the Orthodox tradition which Lidholm acquired as a result of his travels in Greece during the 70s. Lidholm stresses that, of course, he is not an Orthodox believer, but that Orthodoxy has been a source of inspiration, colouring and supplementing his old self. This has also left clear imprints, not only in Kontakion but also in A Dream Play, in which the composer has introduced an Orthodox element.

      There is no irony or parody intended, then, with Lidholm?s quotations, and in the concluding sections the quotations are not distorted or transformed, they occur in their respective original forms - the Innsbruck melody actually in Isaac's own four-part harmonisation. In both works, though, segments of the quotation material occur in earlier parts, especially in Greetings, though not to such an extent that the quotations can called the parent material from which everything else in the compositions derives.
      Thus they are alien elements in relation to the rest of the style.

      What, then, is the musical context of the quotations in the final sections of these works? In Greetings from an old world, the Isaac song is surrounded by three other elements: A descending field of sound on high-pitched strings (harmonics). An expressive chromatic melody which begins on a solo cello (and is a continuation of the solo cadenza for this instrument preceding the concluding section), but the mass of sound gradually expands until finally it is sustained by the cellos, violas and woodwinds. Dissonant harmonies (but also triads, towards the end) and figures on the piano.

      The whole section is constructed like one great crescendo and all the different strata open out into a concluding unison C. Thus the final section presents a great mixture of styles, and the American musicologist Bruce Edward Brolsma finds the whole thing reminiscent of Ives.

      In the concluding part of Kontakion the stylistic span is not so wide. The hymn is played by a trumpet off stage and stands against two alternating blocks, the first of which is a high, dissonant chord on the strings while the second consists of diatonic but gently dissonant chords from the woodwinds and strings and a rising sequence of fourths from the horns. The alternations between the two blocks are marked by a low note on the harp, cellos and double basses which is also played, with a retarding rhythm, on the marimba.

      Talk of new tonality in connection with the music of the past few decades often means the composers using triads or other chords made up of thirds. These, then, are building bricks from the chordal vocabulary of tonality, but the grammar and syntax connected with them in western art music between 1600 and 1900 rarely occur.

      Lidholm finally abandoned tonality when he began applying twelve-tone technique in 1954. But the music of the preceding years already presents quite a free treatment of tonality, reminiscent of Bartók's way of working with central tones round which the music moves quite freely. Lidholm does not return to tonality in the 70s and 80s, but he sometimes uses central tones in a way which resembles his works from the beginning of the 50s.

      Chords made up of thirds have never played a very important part in Lidholm's music either, even in his Neo-Baroque compositions of the 40s, in which we encounter quite a dissonant polyphony. Of Lidholm's twelve-tone works, Canto LXXXI, in which the series has tonal implications, is the only one containing any considerable number of chords made up of thirds. Triads are then completely absent from the works of the early 60s.

      The beautiful triads which end "...a riveder le stelle" have come to rank as a typical instance of the style of Lidholm's music in the 70s veering round to a more traditional direction. It is wrong, though, to regard the use of triads as an essential factor in Lidholm?s orientation towards tradition. For one thing, the triad already returns in Holländarn. And secondly, triads are relatively uncommon, even in the music of the 70s.

      But how does Lidholm employ the few triads that do occur? The conclusion of ...a riveder le stelle is based on a shift between two chords three whole tones apart, A major and E flat major, and thus having no functional harmonic connection with each other. Meanwhile the soprano soloist sings vocalises, the melody of which is based, not on the scale of E flat but on C major, with a few accidentals (F sharp, C sharp and B flat). The harmony, then, is at one and the same time traditional and modern, in a manner both personal and interesting.

      Greetings from an old world (except for the quotation at the end), Perserna and Kontakion have only occasional chords made up of thirds, again without any functional harmonic connection between them. In Kontakion, for example, the tranquil section (bars 53-62) following the first great culminations begins with two parallel minor triads with an augmented seventh. Above these chords we find an expressive melodic structure, the notes of which, just as in ...a riveder le stelle, are quite free in relation to the chords.

      In A Dream Play, on the other hand, triad harmonies occur copiously in a way that has no counterpart in Lidholm?s production since the early 1940s. Most often these are pure minor triads linked by glissandi or parallel movements. Minor triads linked by glissandi already occur in Holländarn, which actually starts off in this way, and there is also a textual parallel between the two Strindberg operas in connection with this harmonic phenomenon. The Dutchman's first words are "I have sailed my seven years". When the glissando minor chords first crop up in A Dream Play, the officer sings "Seven years I've been here!" Lidholm himself has the following to say concerning what, with some reservations, may be termed the leitmotivistic function of the chords:

      "Sitting with Bo Wallner not so long ago, I played a little to him and all of a sudden he said, 'Uh-huh, there goes Strindberg!' You see here, the A minor chord where the Officer has his pathetic Victoria. And there is something in what Bo said, I have similar combinations of sound in Holländarn. So there are sounds which return as allusions and as different dream symbols."

      One example of the use of parallel triads is to be found in the first scene of Act II (rehearsal figure 9). This time there are minor triads in chained sequences of four bars. The chords descend chromatically in each group of two bars, after which, every time, they are moved up by one fourth before descending again chromatically into the next group of two bars. In this example one can also observe the quite free treatment of dissonance in the cello melody, at the same time as the music on the celesta is based on combinations of augmented fourths and perfect fourths, a constellation of intervals which is central to a great deal of both the melody and the harmony of this work.

      Another interesting example of Lidholm?s use of triads in A Dream Play is the polytonal chords associated with the officer. Two parallel minor triads on the trombones are juxtaposed with three parallel major ones on the horns.

      The triad harmony of A Dream Play, then, as in the previous works, is not functional. But there is one exception: the pastiche-like waltz which comes as incidental music in Act I, Scene 3 and Act II, Scene 5 (Fagervik).

      The chords built up of thirds, then, are only a small component of the harmony in Lidholm's works during the 70s and 80s. Where the rest of the tonal material is concerned, the big change of direction comes, not in the music of the latest decades but with his abandonment of twelve-tone technique at the beginning of the 60s. In Nausikaa ensam and Poesis he wanted "to get away from the strongly chromatic idea of melody and harmony which often goes together with the use of serial techniques." Lidholm himself mentions several of the new ways of constructing harmonies: piling up of fourths, interweaving three diminished seventh chords, combining two whole-tone scales, augmented fourths piled on top of each other, clusters of different kinds (chromatic, diatonic, whole-tone, quarter-tone) and irregularly constructed chords in which the composer has made allowance for considerations of playing technique so as to make the most of the sounding potential of the instruments.

      Most of these types of harmonies also occur in Lidholm's music of the 70s and 80s, but the cluster in this music takes on a new function. It is no longer a neutral patch of sound. Instead a tension develops between triad and cluster, or between diatonic and chromatic clusters, with the cluster appearing as a dissonance in need of resolution. Clusters, in this way, become a factor of expression; cf. below.

      It is not only in the use of clusters that one finds a continuing use of modern devices in Lidholm's music during the 70s. In both Greetings from an old world and Kontakion the composer employs rows in his organisation of the pitch material. In the first mentioned work he uses a 26-tone row (Ex. 5), presented for the first time in bars 55-63, where it forms the basis of the canon on the strings. An inversion of this row then comes, variously transposed, at a large number of points in the composition. There are also melodies based on parts of the row. The row in Kontakion is shorter, comprising six notes. It is first presented in bar 2 and then forms the basis of a great deal of the melody, above all in bars 25-78. There is a clear example of its use in bars 36-38, where the downward movement is based on sequences of the row and the ascending lines (a micro-polyphonic canon which begins in the preceding bar) on sequences of its inversion. In both sequence chains, the last tone in one serial segment is also
      the first of the next.

      Return to melody
      A reversion to a more thematic/melodic way of writing can be found in many composers during the 70s and 80s, e.g. Penderecki and Ligeti, to mention two of the leading sound composers of the 60s. Lidholm already believed at the beginning of the 70s that, following the sound composition of the 60s, he would eventually return to a more polyphonic and melodic way of writing.

      The works, and A Dream Play especially, show that his prediction was right, but once again the whole thing has to be viewed against the background of Lidholm's earlier development. In his works of the 1940s, the centre of attention is entirely occupied by the melodic and the polyphonic. We may note that music reviewers often remarked on and commended his melodic bent. In the Bartók-inspired works from the beginning of the 50s one observes a growth of interest in sound, continuing with the twelve-tone works. In some of the latter - Lidholm himself mentions Ritornell and Riter - there is a synthesis between the melodic and colouristic elements, whereas the sound is completely at the centre of things in Motus-colores, where the melody is broken up into small pointillist particles.

      This exploration of sound continues in the textural music of the 60s, in which the melody is an anonymous component of the noise sounds and the micro-polyphony of the sound-block sonorities. But whereas sonoristic/textural music is refined in Poesis, in Nausikaa ensam and Holländarn it is combined with a reversion to melodic writing in the vocal parts. At the same time Lidholm continues in his works of the 70s to make use of sound-block sonorities, often constructed as micro-polyphonic canons.

      New expressiveness
      During the 70s there occurred a change of paradigm, the substitution of an expressive ideal for the structural ideals of the 50s and 60s. This change of direction occurs, not least, among the young West German composers making their début in the 70s, e.g. Wolfgang Rihm and Manfred Trojahn. Music, in their opinion, must be expressive and appeal to the listeners' emotions. There is also strong expressiveness in Lidholm?s works of the 70s, above all Perserna and Kontakion. Perserna, based on the drama by Æschylus, is about the pain and grief of a nation discovering that its sons have been slaughtered. Kontakion is an instrumental requiem, the commencement of which many commentators have described as an outburst of pain and fury.

      But here again, Lidholm has not changed. Strength of expression is something he has been aiming for right from the beginning of his career as a composer. In the 1940s he stood as the romantic of the Monday Group, but his works from that period are also distinguished by a more neusachlich spirit. Then, from the end of the 40s onwards, when Lidholm moved closer to Bartók, one reason was that he felt Bartók to have taken expressiveness much further than his previous model, Stravinsky. This development led at first to a crisis in Lidholm's creativity, because he did not have the technical means of realising expressiveness: the result was an expressiveness at the expense of the formally crafted. Twelve-tone technique was the technical aid to composition which made possible the bid for maximum expressiveness which then continued to leave its mark on most of Lidholm's compositions, even after he had abandoned twelve-tone technique.

      Typical of the 70s and 80s is the return to traditional genres (symphony, concerto, sonata) and types of forms, the aim being a formal structure which, through recognisable and audible processes, addresses the listeners' immediate powers of comprehension.

      Traditional genres and types of forms have never been all that important to Lidholm, and after the sonata form in the first movement of Music for Strings (1952, initially entitled String quartet) and the second movement of his Concertino (1954) they have been wholly abcent. Instead his output from the mid-1950s onwards has been dominated by two types of composition: the piece in one movement for orchestra or the same for choir. The same goes for his works of the 70s. The opera A Dream Play is his first composition in a traditional genre. (Holländarn, with its experimental dramaturgy focusing specifically on the medium of television, can hardly be included in the traditional operatic genre).

      But Lidholm has never abandoned the traditional principles of form in a broader sense. In an article about Ritornell, written in 1957, he writes of organic growth, use of contrasts as a form-creating factor, dramatic development, crescendi, culminations, recurrent sections and elements.

      Apart from these general principles of form, there are a number of typical features about Lidholm's treatment of form that have been with him all the way from the beginning. One of the most important of these is what he himself calls dramatic form, in which the music consists of development curves whose parts can be given such names as introduction, crescendo, climax, turning point and catastrophe. This dramatic form, according to Lidholm, is one reason for his pieces not being very long: "Perhaps I am not a real symphonic composer but more of a music dramatist, even in my orchestral works. It has always been a matter of expressing feelings in dramatic situations.? Another is the ritornello technique, i.e. constructing the music with recurring elements, which themselves can be anything from gestural details to large sections. A third common trait is that the music consists of different blocks alternating with each other in a manner reminiscent of cutting technique in film-making. This technique is als
      o to be found in Stravinsky's treatment of form, where, just as with Lidholm, it is present whatever style the composer is using. As regards the works of the 70s and 80s, this technique is above all found in A Dream Play.

      Lidholm, then, in his music of the 70s and 80s, ties in with the dominant tendencies of these decades which can be summed up in the words "harking back to tradition". Certain of these "post-modern" traits, however, have always been present in his music, at the same time as he has retained several of the modernist traits from his twelve-tone and sonoristic/textural music periods, e.g. the use of series, clusters, sound-block sonorities and micro-polyphony. The mixture of traditional and innovative features has characterised Lidholm's music from the very outset of his career as a composer. He has always stressed the importance of tradition as a source of strength and a precondition of truly innovative creativity. On the other hand he rejects repetitions of what is conventionally historical. A living musical tradition, according to Lidholm, has three components: repetition, variation and innovation. Or, as he put it during the 40s in the discussions of the Monday Group, when someone questioned the point o
      f travelling by horse and carriage when there were flying machines: "I want to be free to choose, I want to go by horse and trap when it suits me and by aeroplane when it suits me. New things are conquests added to what you had before."


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