20 January 2017

Helena Tulve - L'ombre derriere toi

After an unexpected hiatus, I am back. After a few days of soul searching, it suddenly came to me. I realised I have not written about probably one of my favourite Estonians to grace this earth. Helena Tulve.

Helena Tulve (1972*) is an Estonian composer from Tartu whose music is a glorious music and rich flowing melodies and sumptuous palettes of colour. In her student days she studied with Alo Poldmae before going to the Estonian Academy of Music where she studied with the equally brilliant Erkki-Sven Tuur. After her studies in Tallinn, she studied in Paris under the guidance of Jacques Charpentier, and it was in France where her music was able to get that extra zest that sets her apart from her contemporaries. Being in Paris in the very early 1990s would have meant she was able to consume the vast collections of delights from composers like Kaija Saariaho, Gerard Grisey, and Marco Stroppa to name a few. This combined with the recently reinstated independance of Estonia would have left in the a brand new world that she could craft to her design.

Her music is quite far reaching having written for a vast array of settings including a rather hypnotising opera. All of her works have a particular zing of Helena Tulve, now this is by no ways suggesting the works sound identical, but more that you are always aware of when you are listening to a piece by Helena Tulve. Just like in the way Schoenberg is always Schoenberg or Brahms is always sounding like Brahms, Helena is Helena; and in a century where composers are sounding increasingly similar, composers like Helena give us a wonderful jolt of interest.

Often her works build on her understanding of spectral music as well as her knowledge of gregorian chant. The resulting 'mash-up' is just magical, a right up my street, as the music gives the sensation of being extremely familiar as well as out of this world. Almost like the spiritual powers of the chant are starting to jump out of the musicians and into our ears.

Now admittedly it was almost impossible to choose just one work of Helena's to demonstrate, as I simply love everything she writes, and pretty much everything is in itself its own masterpiece. I decided to focus on L'ombre derrier toi (2011), mostly because of its use of instruments. It is a work for three viol da gambes and sting orchestra, heavy handedly showing the clash of old and new. The result is this magnificently rolling melody which grows into a glorious sculpture of sound. What makes it all the more magnificent, is the gesture in the viols. The fleeting ornamentations are almost perfectly in tune with the ornamentation that viol players would use when playing consort music, so intuitively, and almost literally, it has dragged ancient music to today and made it into a exquisite piece for the ears. The gradual built of colour, is not rushed, nor is it slow, pacing almost seems perfect and the momentum that is built is just elegant. The sculptured mass of sound never builds into something noisy, merely it gains the sensation of trying to transcend itself, by becoming so rich and full it endeavoured to transcend the page.

I could spend days talking about how wonderful the music of Helena Tulve is, so I will stop taking up everyone's time and simply end with a wonderful quote from her:
'Of utmost importance to me is the extending of musical boundaries. By this I mean the extension of timbral, formal and stylistic borders as well as the opening-up of music’s geographical boundaries. The latter has greatly advanced the former.'

Its always nice when a composer sums up their music in a neat practical manner, instead of leaving 'critics' like myself to spout paragraphs about how great they are. Anyway, until next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment