Henning Kraggerud/Arctic Philharmonic - Equinox (Simax)
"I am supposed to write about this spring equinox," the man said. "I want to try to relate a small sample from each of the time zones, and thus include all of the hours of the day and all of the 24 musical keys as well."
And that's how the story begins. It's a fantasy, and the basis of a new recording titled, Equinox. It's the brainchild of Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud. "Well, it started off with a wish that I wanted to compose 24 pieces in all the different keys," Henning explains. "I was always envious of the piano players who have great collections by Chopin and lots of Bach pieces. So this is how it started, but then I thought I wanted to build on that, so I ordered a book from Amazon about the meanings of the keys. Its author, Rita Steblin, who has collected everything from the 1600s to the 1800s which composers and philosophers have thought about the different keys' properties.
"So I went with this book up to an author I knew vaguely from touring with him, Jostein Gaarder," Henning continues. "Some listeners might know him because he wrote Sophie's World about 20 years ago, a novel about philosophy. I got [Jostein] intrigued about the idea also. So he wrote 24 small texts about the travel around the 24 time zones of the world in 24 hours. And this started it off, and then I composed 24 pieces to each of his texts. And actually, again, in C major, there are actually 25. So C major comes twice."
Henning Kraggerud is known for his versatility as a violinist and violist, and as a composer who performs many of his own works in concert. This past summer he played one a piece from his new recording at the BBC Proms. "And as an encore, I played the Postlude No. 10 because I've arranged it for solo violin and in the old days, that was one of the worst keys, B-flat minor," he says. "What the theoreticians and philosophers said about that it's a key suitable for preparation of suicide. And at that point in our travel around the world, we are in Kyoto in Japan. When I composed this it's like I tried to avoid the key of B-flat minor. It starts in B-flat minor and I try to modulate away from it, but it's not possible, I get drawn back to B minor and it indeed it ends again in B-flat minor. And B-flat minor is probably one of the worst keys and it should be used very, very carefully they said in the old days."
During his research, Henning discovered that more than 400 years ago, the idea that each musical key had certain properties was almost like astrology. "And even a composer like Beethoven was very much into this way of thinking," Henning says. "He would say, it's a crime for a singer to sing an aria by Mozart in a different key because her voice could not do it in the right key because that transforms the meaning completely. So they discussed putting certain different properties into the keys."
Henning says author Jostein Gaarder took this concept a step further. "But then he actually wrote the story about the man who comes to London to have a diagnosis for a serious disease," Henning recounts. "But before he can get that, he goes to Greenwich to the Museum of Time … and there he has a magical experience of traveling around the world. And that's the setting of the whole piece, which is scored for violin and orchestra but I have a few of them arranged as solo violin versions as well."
There are four concertos, each one representing a different time of day. The sparkling Postlude Number 9, which appears in the "Evening" Concerto in E flat, sounds very cinematic. "The text here is very amusing because at that time we are traveling eastwards from Greenwich, and after nine hours we are in China," Henning says. "And actually, the main character meets God himself, who is writing an autobiography because he's not happy with an unauthorized biography which was written some time ago, so he's trying to settle some matters, and there he's writing. So that's the setting there, it takes place in China. You can hear some pentatonic notes and there is a certain solemn feeling to the theme."
You'll experience many moods as you drift through these 24 Postludes in all keys for violin and chamber orchestra by Henning Kraggerud who explores the cycle of life, through the circle of fifths.