– Music is something truly mysterious

My old pedagogue Nadia Boulanger once said: “The geniouses were great musicians. Without knowing it. But posterity knows that they also touched the mysterious”. This is how I regard the non-material in our existence, says Kvandal on the occasion of his 70th Anniversary.

Johan Kvandal, one of our most frequently performed contemporary composers, highly respected music critic in Aftenposten for years, record producer, lecturer, church organist, member of the TONO board and part of the Norwegian Arts Council’s board of musicians, new dad… has written more than 60 works. One of them is ‘Antagonia’, meaning contradictions that belong together. An understandable choice of title.

30 years ago, a relatively young composer came back to Oslo after several years in Paris. – Two years passed until I was able to compose anything. All the impressions needed time to sink in. Luckily, I understood it in the same intuitive way I earlier realized the need to break up from many things in and around me. Isn’t is like that with all of us, that in certain periods we need to meet kind of good and evil spirits of the past? Kvandal is wondering.

– I have been in opposition

During the experimental and increasingly radical post-war years, Johan Kvandal was characterized by some as an old-fashioned composer.

– It is rather like I have always been an oppositional, says the 64-year-old quitely. These days he experiences having his works performed in Norway and abroad. Several commisions for new works must wait in line.

– It was of course not easy to be accepted by my father’s, David Monrad Johansen’s contemporaries, who stood for alot of things I had to make some kind of rebellion against. And my contemporaries were mostly modernists, to whom I had personal bonds. But I did not have a close artistic bond to any of these groups.

Kvandal has been inspired by widely different sources at different times.

– I have always held on to the tonal music, because it always has been a goal to be clear. I have never found it difficult to compose within the classical forms. No, what am I saying – now I talk just like a modernist, turning to non-instrumental effects in his eagerness to create ‘different sound’. Some call this innovative, radicalism. It might have been in so Schönberg’s time. Well, back to these basic principles I think must apply. I do not, for example, find the sonata form limiting, but simply as en enormous field of energy, which I as a composer can activate. But I have been wondering alot about what really happens. The longer I live, the more mysterious the music appears to me. Something absolutely amazing happens when the music of ‘the great’ is performed, the non-physical in us is inspired into movement.

The mysterious in music

During the conversation he continuously mentions his fear of grandiose words and expressions.

– But can we evade the notion of spirit in order to grasp what hides behind the measureable? A composer’s true inspiration can be transferred to ever new listeners in the future. An amazing process! My old pedagogue Nadia Boulanger once said: ‘The geniouses were great musicians. Without knowing it. But posterity knows that they also touched the mysterious’. This is how I regard the non-material in our existence.

By Ingar Sletten Kolloen. Excerpts from interview with Johan Kvandal in Aftenposten 23th February 1984. Included in Anniversary Tribute to Johan Kvandal on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

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