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Magnus Lindberg frequently uses live electronics, but the sound of the orchestra itself is the basic stuff of his most characteristic music. His style has broadened to include aspects of minimalism, free jazz, progressive rock, and East Asian music. He is closely associated with other Finnish musicians of his own generation, such as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kaija Saariaho.
Magnus Lindberg’s Joy is the third in a triptych of orchestral works from the late 1980s in which the Finnish composer took his musical language in new directions. In Kinetics Lindberg introduced aspects of “spectralism,” based on the acoustic phenomenon of the overtone series (the subtle harmonies present in what we perceive as a single tone). With Marea Lindberg mixed spectralist harmonies with chords derived from atonal “set theory” – formulated from permutations of the twelve-tone scale. Joy adds a third element: the manipulation of acoustic sound via an electronic sampler keyboard.
“Sounds were recorded destroying an old grand piano,” explains Lindberg. “…low bass strings tuned down one or even two octaves, percussive sounds when cutting or tearing strings, etc. All these sounds were transferred to the computer… where they were then transformed and treated. Many of the originally inharmonic sounds (non-pitch sounds) were forced to some pitch by means of filtering. Non-continuous sounds were made continuous or irregular sounds were forced to become regular. The fascination with all these treatments lays evidently in the capacity of forcing a different nature or behavior onto a sound or to enhance some hidden aspects of a complex sound.” These “treatments” allow the characteristically rich overtone spectrum of the grand piano, along with its percussive nature, to be amplified – literally and figuratively.
True to its title, Joy has a palpable sense of play throughout its six-part form. The opening section is a set of variations featuring several tempos in alternation. Section two employs the musical process of chaconne – a repeating chord progression that provides what writer Peter Szendy calls “pillars of perception.” The kaleidoscopic surface activity subsides over the course of a long accelerando to reveal a vivid cadenza for the sampler – played in a more languorous tempo libero. A pair of scherzo sections brings a sense of stasis, not in tempo or surface activity, but in harmonic steadiness. It’s a sequence Lindberg likens to a pearl necklace with simple, elegant repetition. A fifth section returns to the chaconne process, which unfolds within a haze of continuous variation. The violent sounds from the sampler return for the final coda section.
Joy was commissioned by the Ensemble InterContemporain, which premiered the work in Frankfurt, Germany, on December 9, 1990, under the direction of Arturo Tamayo.