Leif Segerstam : conductor, composer


Most people have heard of “Beethoven’s 5th” but they may not know that he wrote nine symphonies.  Far fewer will know how many symphonies Mozart (41) or Haydn (104) wrote.  But at one point in music history the symphony was the basic genre-form for orchestra.

The symphony prospered in the 18th century and was still a vibrant form throughout the 19th with some of the greatest examples being written by Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner and Johannes Brahms.  But with the breakdown in the tonal language most of the forms which were based on the tonal system also fell by the wayside.  Some composers, Pierre Boulez for example, felt that new forms should be dictated by the music’s structure, which is how serialism began.  For Boulez, to take an old form, like the symphony, which had developed out of the tonal system and to fill it with atonal music was meaningless.  But despite these attempts to write the symphony’s obituary, composers from the 20th and 21st century continued writing symphonies.

You may be wondering what does all this have to do with Leif Segerstam, known primarily as a Finnish conductor.  But he is also a composer.

As a composer, he is known especially for his numerous symphonies, which are 285 as of 2014.  Most of his symphonies are written with the principles of ~20 minute works, that are in one movement, and are performed without conductors. This is partially inspired by Sibelius’7th symphony. Of these, over a hundred have been performed.

He developed a personal approach to aleatory composition through a style called “free pulsation” in which musical events interact flexibly in time, and this composition method is persistent throughout his œuvre, most notably in his “Orchestral Diary Sheets”. This method was first used in his 5th String Quartet, the “Lemming Quartet”

Here’s a clip of No. 253, subtitled Crazyly alone at Christmas, but in the family of universes of sounds.

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