Erik Bergman

You might call Erik Bergman a maxi-minimalist. He is interested in the sound and the power of words, in the expressive potential of the human voice (not only the singing voice), of simple intervals and instrumental timbre, texture and density. He concentrates on these aspects of music, and makes it easy for the listener to concentrate on them, by deliberately simplifying his melodic material (he makes much use of ostinato and of monody placed in high relief) and his rhythmic resources (there is often a strong pulse to his music; you can tap your feet to it). He gives no impression of voluntary poverty; of a shrewd economy, rather, designed to emphasize the complex richness of apparently simple musical events.

The wide variety of vocal resources called for by his Faglarna (''The birds'') ranges from speech and the 'percussive' use of consonants to dense choral clusters and interweaving glissandos, but they are never used merely for effect or for virtuosity's sake. They evoke quite vividly the boundless space and tangible darkness through which the birds fly, the turbulence of thousands of wings beating, the irresistible yearning for the light of dawn; but that light and the radiant horizon it reveals can be dazzlingly suggested by the barest of means: a single note on the glockenspiel, cutting through the tangle of wings and voices like a spotlight. Nox deals with similar images: dark but shining masses of choral tone and a poised, cantabile solo line weaving a sleep spell; a formal pattern of vocal and instrumental duets that gradually fuse, creating a striking metaphor for a night of love that passes timelessly from dusk to dawn; an evocation of primitive ritual dance as an image of the ritual of matrimony. Bim Bam Bum is gravely droll, a sequence of settings of rather-more-than-nonsense poems by Christian Morgenstern: a susurration of insect-noises and ululations for the unfortunate insectophobe who seems to attract gnats and earwigs; an almost note-less setting of a wordless poem (breaths, murmurs, clicks and twangs—and in counterpoint, what's more). The Hathor Suite takes restriction of material almost to the point of parsimony, perhaps, but even here Bergman's acute ear (and his deep knowledge of what voices will do—he was for many years famous as a choral conductor) can make surprisingly effective capital from such seemingly basic devices as a slow rise from an awkward to a comfortable vocal register or the discreet embellishment of a simple ostinato with shadings of colour and texture.

Bergman has, so to speak, been all the way to total serialism and back again. He has absorbed all that he needs of the most advanced musical techniques (and of the most 'primitive': his studies of early music and of Asian musics have audibly influenced him) and he judiciously selects from the resources available to a composer of the present day, but his music is in no sense 'post-modern' or a rejection of his century. One can readily understand why he is so greatly respected even by those of his younger compatriots (he was born in Finland in 1911) whose music does not resemble his in the slightest.


Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1962 The Birds (Fåglarna) 4.0 stars LP
für stimmen (...missa Est) Comments:
Matti Lehtinen - Baryton
Seppo Asikainen - Percussion
Kauko Kuosma - Celeste
Finnish Radio Choir
Akademiska Sangforeningen cond. Harald Andersen