Some might define Terje Rypdal's 'Lux Aeterna' as a piece of church music, in which a sole vocal part goes to a classical soprano, but the jazzman and composer wouldn't see his own remarkable contemporary work that way. Rypdal whips up such a storm in the second movement of his piece that it came back to mind after Thursday's little adventure with Marianne, which she announced to be one for the family annals.
Raised up by Rypdal's reach
"We'll never forget this," she said. Indeed we shan't, for it was about 'how I nearly "drowned" the Kid'. "We'll be telling it to my grandchildren -- oops, I mean yours."
A storm Terje Rypdal remembers and would one day put into music came when he was a small boy. I first heard and saw him as a young Norwegian guitar player at an unforgettable modern jazz concert in London in the 1970s, where he was accompanied by his trumpet-playing buddy Palle Mikkelborg and drummer Jon Christensen. The bass player would have been Sveinung Hovensjø, I guess from records I have made at the time on the ECM label.
The music was electrifying, other worldly and so dreamily superb that I've kept an ear on Rypdal's career ever since. When I saw he had written a 'Lux Aeterna', I was surprised but bought it without a second thought. Then I left it unheard until one night a few weeks ago when I felt its moment in my life had come. I needed something sublime and serene to lift me out of myself, like that concert had, and wanted to listen to a work Rypdal had composed with explicitly spiritual significance when I was in a lonely and frightened mood.
It turned out to be a triple concerto, written to celebrate a new organ in a church in Molde, a town nestling up against Norwegian mountains that also hosts a jazz festival. Intensely spiritual it is, while Rypdal acknowledges a debt of influence to Ligeti's 'Lux Aeterna' (the music by the Hungarian composer Stanley Kubrick used in '2001'), which you can hear in one or two passages.
"For some reason now forgotten I wanted to teach my parents a lesson. I was 9 or 10 years old. I found a track used by sheep -- very steep -- and climbed the mountain fast. Once on top for a while I felt a very special connection to the mountain (and still do). At first I felt quite brave, but then a forceful wind started to scare me. And this feeling I've tried to capture in the second movement -- you can hear when the wind is coming. I call it 'Fjelldåpen' (baptized by the mountains). I fled down the track and once down at the farm found out that nobody had missed me. Nor would they believe that I had been up there so quickly."
The moments Rypdal describes in that extract from his sleeve note are very skilfully done, his own story told in part with his eerie guitar. The frightening aspect of the second movement of a work in five parts is scary since nature can often be that way, as well as uplifting.
The fourth movement is the Toccata, in which the magnificence in reach and range of the organ is displayed in a recording made live in the church six years ago with Iver Kleive at his instrument. Mikkelborg and his trumpet take the third concertante part. Åshild Stubø Gundersen has a beautiful soprano voice, which comes in during the last movement, and the Bergen Chamber Ensemble is conducted by Kjell Seim.
The music is full of an inspiration Rypdal must find in vast natural spaces and the elements, yet it is immensely human in the tone qualities of the instruments. This 'Lux Aeterna' makes great demands on each of the soloists and their musical skills. Yet there is something modest in the way it's constructed, so the work as a whole does exactly what the composer wants in celebrating the organ, while none of the stellar performances outshines the others. Rypdal made his guitar part a restrained one, though it can soar. Mikkelborg is a superb trumpet player who seems to breathe and sing light itself.
I was not in good shape the first time I heard this music, but I felt much better afterwards. Since then, I have come to love it for the combination of awe, warmth and humility. Rypdal didn't write of any specific religious faith, but said "the idea/symbol of eternal light fits the uplifting aspect of a belief of any sort". If by music, when we are afraid, we can be taken into our souls to be drawn out of them, that is a wonderful achievement.
I imagine the mountains around Molde must sometimes be a place of great radiance.
*Revised, August 7.
Our boating tale moved to another page on October 25.
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