Come hear Talea perform Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee at the Bang on a Can Marathon on June 16th. More info here.
Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee is a wonder. How to say how? It is a sequence of aural images of snow, in some cases onomatopoeic (the swish of brushing off a wooden deck, the soft ease-crunch of steps through a fresh snowfall) but more often poetic, suggesting crystalline whiteness, cold light, gentle falling. It is a set of ten canons, ten systematic processes in which the same ideas are floating in slow spirals seen in mirrors. It is a study in melancholy (and joy). It is a succession of five pairs of movements, where the second in each pair repeats the first, as if the first had been music on glass and could now be overlaid on something else. It is simultaneously time standing still, splitting, revolving and accelerating away – standing still because we are held under the spell of a basic melody throughout, splitting because layers will move at different speeds, revolving because the same ideas are constantly being refracted and reformed as layers knock against one another, and accelerating away because the movements get shorter and shorter, from nine minutes down to one for a total length of just under an hour.
At the start, a tune picks itself out right at the top of the piano as one of the string instruments keeps repeating a superhigh harmonic, almost pitchless, creating gasps of intensity, fire in ice. This is the pristine sound world, new and unforgettable, established at once. The tune is repeated and then overlapped, in the first intimation of the kind of interference pattern of past and present that is one of the most remarkable features of the work. On a larger scale, the entire first movement (for piano quartet, sounding as no piano quartet ever did) is embedded in the second (for the full ensemble, adding a second piano, percussion and three woodwinds), and on the largest, perhaps all the movements are doubles of one another. Fine relationships hover, in this snow-blinding beauty.