Erik Norby: The Rainbow Snake – Orchestral Songs and Symphonic Works

This Dacapo CD contains three works by Danish composer Erik Norby (1936-2007). The Rainbow Snake (1975) is a symphonic poem inspired by an Amerindian legend that describes the origin of the rainbow. Rilke-Lieder (1985) for mezzo-soprano and orchestra is a setting of three songs based upon poems by the Austrian-Czech Symbolist poet Rainer Maria Rilke that comment on the nature of love. The final work, Edvard Munch Triology (1979), is subtitled (A Requiem) Symphonic transformation for orchestra and mixed choir after three of Edvard Munch’s prints; it is dually a musical interpretation of Munch’s prints and of the Catholic Requiem Mass.

Although Erik Norby had experimented with the twelve-tone technique, by the time the works on this CD were written, he had been moving in a completely different direction. While this music is not atonal, Norby’s harmonic strategy – one that is highly chromatic, makes use of tone clusters, and only rarely uses identifiable chords and harmony – generally obscures tonal centers. But at the same time, you can hear the harmonic movement and tone center shifts. Adding to this sense of tonal ambiguity are Norby’s dense textures, a melodic motion that is commonly in steps or half steps, and the usually dark, sometimes anguished atmosphere of his music.

At the same time, all of this music is colored by a post-romantic sound, with influences of Schoenberg, Berg and even Mahler being apparent. There are other traditional aspects to be found also. Norby uses conventional forms (The Rainbow Snake is in every regard a tone-poem) and familiar methods of orchestration, which are brilliant and powerful. All three works employ large orchestral forces with expanded brass, wind and percussion sections, enhanced further by many instruments of color including alto flute, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, vibraphone, harp and a broad range of percussion instruments.

I was initially drawn to feature this title on E.A. for the symphonic poem The Rainbow Snake. With a masterful and extraordinarily random quality to its rhythms and harmonies, a powerful, generative nature is created. In these performances, conductor (and esteemed composer) Bo Holten leads the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra with mezzo-soprano Hanne Fischer, Coro Misto and Aarhus University Choir. I encourage you to listen to our sample track; this is definitely one for the adventurer.

Album Overview

The Danish composer Erik Norby (1936-2007) had a delicate Late Romantic colour in his music and a highly sophisticated feeling for the many possibilities of the symphony orchestra. This CD features his spectacular breakthrough work The Rainbow Snake from 1975 as well as his Edvard Munch Trilogy and the Rilke-Lieder for mezzo-soprano and orchestra in new recordings by the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, mezzo-soprano Hanne Fischer and conductor Bo Holten.


Composer: Erik Norby

The colourful and the narrative are two qualities that inevitably spring to mind when one listens to the music of Erik Norby (b. 1936). While the composer’s imagination was fired in his earlier years by musical modernism – this was in the 1960s – he quickly abandoned it again. Since then he has composed music of a fundamentally Romantic character.

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Conductor: Bo Holten

Bo Holten was born in 1948 and in his native Denmark he is equally known as a conductor and composer. He has an international reputation as a leading specialist in early music, especially with regard to vocal polyphony. In 1991 he was appointed Guest Conductor of the BBC Singers, London, with whom he has worked on a regular basis every year.

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Mezzo-Soprano: Hanne Fischer

Hanne Fischer graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Music in 1993. She was assigned to the opera in Kiel between 1993 -97 and she made her debut at the Glyndebourne Festival, where she sang La Clemenza di Tito in 1995, and Isolier in Le Comte Ory of Rossini in 1997 & 1998.

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Choir: Coro Misto

Coro Misto is a chamber choir of singers in the environment at the Royal Academy of Music, Aalborg University and the rest of the music scene in Aalborg. The choir has been in existence since 1991. In that period it through concerts and radio recordings, marked in the North Jutland music scene as a chamber of a high standard.

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Symphony: Aalborg Symphony Orchestra

Aalborg Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1943 by the fiery soul, Jens Schrøder, who was principal conductor until 1979. Today the orchestra has 65 musicians and gives close to 200 concerts a year – not just in Aalborg but in all other municipalities in the North Jutlandic Region. The orchestra also tours the rest of Denmark and as well as other countries.

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Choir: Aarhus University Choir


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