Gunnar Berg website:
The Swiss-born Danish
composer Gunnar Berg made more progress
in Paris than he did in Copenhagen.
He became and remained a disciple of
the avant-garde but with impressionist
leanings. His music is however more
Schoenberg than Debussy - much more.
He moved to Paris in
1948 after studying with Herman
Koppel (1938-42). In the French capital
his maîtres were Honegger and
Messiaen. He met and married the pianist
Béatrice Duffour (the pianist
in these recordings), a pupil of Yves
Nat, in 1951. They married the next
year and settled at Neuilly sur Mer.
He became a respected interpreter of
Bartók, Schoenberg, Jolivet,
Klebe, Messiaen, Englert, Stockhausen
and Boulez. Berg died in Switzerland
This valuable Danacord
series presents the music of a confident
and totally unrepentant advocate of
music that is terse, speaks through
fragmentation, in which dissonant gestural
material predominates but with fleeting
moments of allusive tremulous impressionism.
The music does not seem so much angry
as oppressively atmospheric - rather
cool perhaps and sometimes sinister
as in Gaffky 8. It is a stranger to
melodic outline, to clearly defined
pulse or to obvious connective tissue.
The Ten Gaffkys are
so-called because the composer was told
that the progress of the music recalled
the development of microbal cultures.
Gaffky was a biologist who established
a classification system for microbes.
The pieces date from 1958-59 interrupting
his writing of the thirteen Eclatements
After 86 minutes of
Gaffkys each running between 5:35 and
12:27 the Fantasy seem almost
a salon piece .... almost! Its essence
is well captured by its original title
of Chaconne with a slightly dissonant
theme carried by majestic chords and
eleven variants. The piece ends peacefully.
softens dissonance with a modicum of
busy Bachian flightiness and a weave
of ragtime sidling through the pages.
In 1943 Berg wrote
a six movement suite called Felspar.
We get two of the movements. The complete
sequence is Moonstone, Sunstone,
Amazonite, Granite, Labradorite,
Gneiss. I would have liked to
have heard the others. These take us
back to the world of the Gaffkys. No
prisoners are taken.
The three movement
1947 Sonata was dedicated to
his teacher Elisabeth Jürgens.
The piece was premiered on French radio
by Béatrice Duffour. It is not
quite as fundamentalist as the Gaffkys
and Felspar pieces but dissonance
remains the order of the day. Interest
is added by popular dance rhythms leering
out at the listener in allusion and
through direct statement. There are
also gentler emotions at play: the suggestion
of Iberian evenings in the middle movement.
The notes by Mogen Andersen pick up
on references to Gershwin in the finale
but miss out on its merciless Bartókian
The commentary by Jens
Rossel, Erik Kaltoft and Mogens Andersen
assure us that the notes are distributed
according to serial technique but are
not treated as twelve tone rows. Berg’s
approach is the very antithesis of that
of his contemporary Vagn Holmboe whose
writings condemned Berg's commitment
to a path that Holmboe said had already
been discredited by Nielsen.
The music is captured
here in excellent beefy mono analogue
sound from the composer's own reel-to-reel
It's a positively catholic
world into which this set and its predecessor
(Berg Vol. 1 Danacord DACOCD 611-612)
have been issued. Listeners can now
hear music from this doyen of ivory
tower sollipsism alongside tonal-melodic
music which during the period 1940-1975
was sneeringly swept into temporary
oblivion. You can make up your own mind
but if you warm to the piano music of
Boulez and Barraqué look no further.