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Light

The original idea for Light appeared when I was planning a series of concerts in different lighthouses along the Norwegian coast. Evoking the image of a lighthouse, there are pulsating elements in this work that establish a sense of light and recognition − short melodic phrases sometimes suddenly appear in unison, like the beams of light. The sound of harmonics shines through a diffused and misty atmosphere, and the untraditional playing techniques found and underline the temperament of the waves and of the wind. In Light, I borrowed a little ink from a score of Salvatore Sciarrino, to paint my picture of the sea and to blend the sounds of past and present. To let the double bass make colourful harmonic alterations in the (new) mix with the violin, to let the shadings meet and create interweaved, living figures in moments of virtuosity, to let them bounce together on the strings and on the body. As in Scodanibbio’s duo for violin and double bass Jardins d’Hamilcar, where the traditional rhetorical dualism between the instruments has been obliterated and replaced with a singularity of sound and technique, I sought a homogeneous expression of sounds, which is made possible through the novel flageolet techniques. But previously “unheard” sounds can also in themselves be alienating and thus create imaginary cracks in the perception of the uniform sounds. The work is technically demanding, but with a fleeting and subdued expression.

Novel techniques of the double bass are found in rhythmical, percussive figures, where I mix techniques of col-legno, left and right-hand pizzicati and hammer-on, arco tenuto bowings and jeté on the body of the instrument. Already in the opening of the piece, the bow is placed on the body in a position under the strings. An sweeping tenuto bowing plays together with left-hand pizzicatos, on harmonics and as hammer-on/pull-off pizzicato, as illustrated in example 1. The col-legno on the strings (harmonic or ordinary tone) is played by hitting the strings string IV and I from the underneath. In this way, combinations with playing on the body and on the strings are made possible. Chords are also being utilized by placing the left-hand in positions where a fingered bass-tone on string IV, being hit col-legno from the underneath, is played with a left-hand flageolet pizzicato on string I. The right-hand is moved to its normal position for playing of the octave flageolet pizzicatos in the yellow box, and thereafter returned to the position beneath the strings.

Ex. 1. Light, page 1, with markings

The violin follows the double bass in a harmonic, chordal play, which is either split up in broken chords or in repeated double stops of two harmonics. The harmonic material in the violin is derived from chords used by Salvatore Sciarrino in the second movement of his Sei Capricci for solo violin (see example 5). New harmonies emerge when mixed with the double bass. On the last line of example 1, encircled in the brown box, we see a suggestion of a rhythmical and harmonic interplay, which is later in the piece progressively unfolded in a nearly minimalist manner, to remind of the imaginary puls of the waves and the wind. An example of this section is shown in example 2. Here, the double bass performs polyrhythmic figures with the techniques explained in example 1: Combinations of arco battuto and jeté on the body of the instrument, with chords of left-hand flageolet pizzicato and col-legno battuto from underneath the string. Harmonics on string I are also being played with col-legno buttuto and col-legno jeté together with hammer-on pizzicato on the lower strings, as seen towards the end of the example.

Ex. 2. Light, page 8

From 1990 until 1994 Scodanibbio composed a cycle of duets for every combination of what he calls the real string quartet; violin, viola, cello and double bass. In the first of these duets, Jardins d´Hamilcar (1990) for violin and double bass, he creates long unison passages for the two instruments using the interchange between ordinary tones and flageolets. In example 12, the line of the double bass is mirrored by the violin in a passage that almost provokes a schizophrenic reaction by the rapid changes of harmonics and ordinary tones. This allegory is also noticed by Enzo Restagno who writes in his text for the CD of the Six Duos that “…the stretching of the registers, thanks to the use of harmonics, ends with the attribution of a double personality to the single instrument”.

Ex. 3. Jardins d´Hamilcar, page 2, line 4

The six pieces manifest the compositional, technical and poetic ideas of Scodanibbio, through six distinctly different works in which memories, meditations and fantasies are mixed together in the meeting between the two instruments/personalities. The immediate sonic impressions are contrasted by the works poetic and literary influences. The Jardins d´Hamilcar reveals in its title a reference to the opening words of the novel Salammbô (1862) by the French writer Gustave Flaubert: C'était à Mégara, faubourg de Carthage, dans les jardins d'Hamilcar... "It was at Megara, a suburb of Carthage, in the gardens of Hamilcar, that the soldiers whom he had commanded in Sicily were holding a great feast to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Eryx. The master was absent, their numbers were large, and accordingly they ate and drank in perfect freedom."

Jardins d´Hamilcar encompasses the novel techniques and the new virtuosity in equal relation between the double bass and the violin, and the piece prevails an unprecedented technical tour de force. In particular, the homogeneous expression of sounds and the unison passages was transmitted into the soundscape of Light, although the fleeting and subdued expression, which I seeked, limits, or suppress, the extreme virtuosity which is so prominent in Jardins d´Hamilcar. In Light, simpler and shorter melodic phrases suddenly appear in unison, like beams of light through the mist:

Ex. 4. Light, detail of unison passage, page 7, line 5

The violin is played mostly on the lower strings in the low positions, but combined with the harmonics, one also reach the high, transparent, and fragile sounds of the instrument. The origins of the shimmering flageolet quotations, from Salvatore Sciarrino’s Sei Capricci, are encircled in example 5. Compared to example 6, one can see the similarity from Sciarrino’s original and my own re-interpretation, or rather re-setting, of the music. The extracted material is simply organized in a new succession, and coloured by the presence of the double bass.

Ex. 5. N.2 from Sei Capricci, page 1 with markings

Ex. 6. Light, page 4, line 1 and 2 with markings

My notation of the arco tremolo and jeté is derived from the notation of Sciarrino and Scodanibbio. The signs differ from the traditional consensus in that the jeté is notated with the usual sign of the tremolo, and the new tremolo sign is an ornamentation of the old notation:

Ex. 7. Light, page 3 line 5

In a sudden shift of character, emerging from the undulating reharmonisation of the quotations of Sciarrino, a lively, homogeneously virtuosic soundscape appears on page 4 of Light. The instruments awake to play games with each other, of active imitation and following, from calm common whispers to a gust scenario of catching one’s wind. The techniques of flageolet arpeggios and arco jeté make ground for the section, which is technically very challenging, as one must make the most out of the consonant and dissonant double-stops. Again, it is the timbral exchange between consonance and dissonance that is the supporting idea behind this section of the piece. The first lines of the section are shown in examples 8a and 8b:

Ex. 8a. Light, page 4, line 5

Ex. 8b. Light, page 5, line 1-3