Sunday 10 June 2012

Immortal Bach

This morning I heard a piece of music on Radio 3 that stopped me in my tracks. It was called Immortal Bach, by the Norwegian composer (of whom I must admit I had never heard) Knut Nystedt. A 'deconstruction' of the chorale Komm, Susser Tod (Come, Sweet Death), it begins with a choir singing the three-phrase chorale as written, a cappella. Then what happens, as far as I can make it out, is that the choir divides into three parts, each singing a slowed-down rendition of the chorale, each at a different tempo, the parts only coming together on the final chord of each of the three phrases. This creates the most extraordinary sonorities and dissonances. 'It tears the air apart' said the woman who introduced it on Radio 3 - which is a good way of putting it. It also sets the air shimmering and seething with glorious strange sounds. It think the effect is very beautiful. Judge for yourself, with this filmed performance (marred by poor sound and coughing) or this fine recording.

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