Magnus Lindberg: Gran Duo

Magnus Lindberg (b. 1958)
Gran Duo

Duration: 20'
Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes
KSO performed: 2013

Perhaps it is something to do with northern climates, but Finnish music seems to chime well with British audiences.  Sibelius found some of the most enthusiastic reception of his music in the UK, and Magnus Lindberg, the leading composer of the current generation of Finnish composers, has also found his music become a regular staple of British concert life.  The Gran Duo is a direct product of this; it was commissioned for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Simon Rattle, who gave its first performance in London in 2000.

Lindberg happily describes himself as both a Romantic and a Modernist, without seeing any contradiction between the two.  His music may be highly expressive, but there is nothing nostalgic about it, and its warmth is tempered by rigorous construction.  “I don’t ask people to understand music in any technical sense because I don’t understand music in the same sense that you understand a set phrase in a language. Music is much more complex and the semantics are not really about comprehension. What makes this serious music different from commercial music is that its function is not the same as dance music or music you have on in the background. The only thing you should ask is to sit down and concentrate on it – if you don’t listen to it, it is merely a disturbance. It is the same as listening to a Beethoven symphony. You cannot listen to a Beethoven symphony in the background. It is a drama and you have to take it as it comes.”

The Gran Duo is a dialogue between wind and brass, or at least begins that way.  Lindberg has said that he wanted the work to sound “like an orchestra where the strings didn’t arrive on time.”  Its instrumentation (which also dispenses with the percussion section) recalls Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments, while its title alludes to an even earlier large scale work for winds: Mozart’s Gran Partita. At first the wind and brass are distinct: the wind tend to play higher and are led on by the brass, who are lower and more assertive.  These roles conform to stereotypical notions of the masculine and feminine that permeate 19th century music.  However, as the music progresses, the two groups increasingly fragment into smaller groups and soloists, and these roles become less distinct and blur into one another.  

The Gran Duo is nominally split into five sections, but these grow out of each other organically so that the impression is of a seamless whole.  There is a precedent for this sort of approach to composition, and Lindberg acknowledges his forbear at the end with a brief allusion to Sibelius’s Tapiola.

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