Hans Abrahamsen (1952)

Ten Sinfonias (2010)

for orchestra

  • General information
    • Composition date: 2010
    • Duration: 20 mn
    • Publisher: Wilhelm Hansen, Copenhague
    • Commission: Iceland Symphony Orchestra et DR UnderholdningsOrkestret, Danemark
Detailed formation
  • 3 oboes (also English horn), 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings

Premiere information

Program note

Over the years I have found a way of working where I again and again return to my previous works and sketches to see if there are hidden opportunities and ways as I did not see then or for that matter, could develop into new works.

A work which I often return to is my String Quartet No. 1 subtitled 10 Preludes from the spring 1973. This piece is in many ways a key work from my early period. It consists of ten short pieces — or maybe beginnings written in a new simplistic (or minimalistic) and poly-stylistical style.

It has for many years been in my mind to make an orchestral version of this string quartet, but how it could be done in an artistic new way was not clear for me until the summer 2010.

Chopin's first prelude begins in C-major, like Bach's first prelude from WK vol. 1. This is an identification and establishment of the starting tonality. In my 10 Preludes by contrast the C major is first reached in the 10th prelude after a rather turbulent non-tonal start in the first prelude.

This tonal structure showed the way into an orchestration with and orchestra which is poly-stylistical in having horns, trumpets like old periodical natural instruments in C (horns too in E-flat), where the brass are limited to play only the partials. The timpani too are like an old instrument playing only Tonic and Dominant in C-major. The other instruments are modern, but the overall orchestration is like a baroque orchestra where there are only oboes and bassoons as woodwinds.

After reaching this concept of orchestration all became clear for the re-thinking of the 10 Preludes, because the direction towards C-major reflects how the instruments can participate in the music. As a dogma, I do not add any new parts to the string quartet and the string section, except the double basses, are the same parts as in the string quartet. The woodwinds are more or less doublings and the horns, trumpets and timpani are joining the music as much as they can within their limitations until the last movement where the music reaches the instruments’ tonality so to speak.

I feel myself in family with composers who again and again re-work their pieces from one version to another – say Ravel or Stravinsky. The latter re-thought in 1962, the small simple piano pieces Les Cinq Doigts from 1921 for a small orchestra titled Eight Instrumental Miniatures. This is just one example. One could go on to mention how Stravinsky transforms and re-thinks his own to say noting about works of other composers.

I call this version of the 10 Preludes Ten Sinfonias for orchestra, using the sinfonia in the term from the baroque as an instrumental prelude.

Ten Sinfonias is a co-commission by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and DR UnderholdningsOrkestret in Danmark.

Hans Abrahamsen, 2012. Source : Wilhelm Hansen.