Abrahamsen’s music contains multiple musical layers that exist at the same time, like ancient cities buried in the same ground, accumulating one on top of the other for thousands of years. In other words, when you first listen to the piece, it sounds like a complete mess. It takes several listenings to peel back each layer and discover what’s underneath. The beauty is that you hear something new each time. In the fast, middle part of the movement, I could hear dream fragments of Shostakovich’s 1st Piano Concerto, some Rachmaninoff, and the opening of Mahler’s 5th Symphony, all played in a distorted way, one on top of the next.
The first movement starts in chaos, spinning molecules in space that look for order. This short movement lasts less than two minutes and holds the essence of the whole piece. In order to deal with the chaotic world that we live in, we constantly look for order. To that end, we invented calendars and planners. We follow our dreams and desires, and we’re also influenced by societal pressures, as well as expectations that the people in our life have for us. We make a plan for our lives, but most often, life has something else in mind. Douglas Adams said, “I never get to where I want to be, but I always get to where I need to be.” Abrahamsen’s short Piano Concerto is like that. It searches for meaning in the turmoil of blackness. It ignites processes and sends ideas out into the world. In the beginning of the fourth movement, the piano plays an ornate passage, which is beautifully taken over by the clarinets and the rest of the orchestra. Once these ideas are out there, they develop and take on a life of their own. In the end, the Concerto reaches a sense of acceptance and peace of mind.
To listen to Hans Abrahamsen's Piano Concerto, click here