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Forever Challenging

Symphonies by
Leif Kayser -
heard by

'... his ingenious inventiveness continues to impress.'

Leif Kayser: Symphonies Vol 2. Aalborg Symphony Orchestra. Matthias Aeschbacher.. © 2008 DaCapo Records

Kayser may have been a more widely known name in twentieth century musical history had he not made a critical decision at the age of twenty-three to abandon a musical career, well founded as a student at the Royal Danish Academy, to journey to Rome and train for the priesthood. He returned to Denmark in 1949 and took up a post as priest at the Catholic Cathedral of St Ansgar in Copenhagen. He continued to compose, completing a third Symphony begun whilst in Rome, and devoting much time to religious works (a Christmas Oratorio and Te Deum, both for chorus and large orchestra) as well as a great many organ works. However, in 1964 he requested a release from his vows, began teaching at the Academy and eventually married. His standards as a teacher were high, and he applied similar scrutiny to his continuing compositional work and the many keyboard arrangements he made of major Danish symphonic works. His style recalls Nielsen in many ways, and his ingenious inventiveness continues to impress.

Symphony No 1 was written around 1938 when he was nineteen, and shows extraordinary technical mastery, both in its formal symphonic organisation (it is a concentrated single movement work of about sixteen minutes) and in its resourceful and challenging orchestration -- not least in a colourfully vivacious 'scherzo' section.

Listen -- Leif Kayser: Symphony No 1
(track 1, 10:27-11:56) © 2008 Dacapo Records

Symphony No 4 seems to reverse the youthful optimism of the 1st by moving into a more introverted and searching mode. It is a work by a composer keenly aware that the time of its first performance (1966) is a period of radical musical changes, and -- like Nielsen earlier -- he is unsure of his possibly outmoded place in those adventurous times. Modernism created expectations in the world of contemporary arts and music that were opposed to his own ideals. The third movement of the 4th Symphony has something monumental about it like a cathedral, meditative, expansive and bold,

Listen -- Leif Kayser: Lento (Symphony No 4)
(track 4, 16:49-17:57) © 2008 Dacapo Records

but there is still a hint of vigorous demands being made in the scherzo.

Listen -- Leif Kayser: Molto vivace (Symphony No 4)
(track 3, 4:56-6:01) © 2008 Dacapo Records

Kayser continued to work up to his death in 2001, forever challenging, never allowing himself (or his students) an easy way out. An anecdote is worth quoting: a visitor who came to play Kayser's four-hand arrangement of The Rite of Spring felt unable to meet the demands. 'Cissy!' said Kayser.

Copyright © 8 October 2009 Patric Standford,
Wakefield UK





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