About this work
The reflection at work in Per Nørgård's chamber orchestra piece Voyage into the Golden Screen (1969) isn't authored but anonymous, a product of nature, the rainbow. Reflection gathers an actual physical momentum; echo becomes the bouncing and doubling of light through air and water; at the same time, one understands another meaning of reflection as a move inward as meditation. This image shift may help define Nørgård's distinctive place among the European avant-garde composers of his generation. Indeed, his distinctive characteristics include his roots in the Nordic tradition of his native Denmark, his obsession with the inherent patterns of nature, and his unique hybrid of logic and metaphysics. As Nørgård himself explained: "I stand with one foot in Western rationalism and one in Eastern mysticism, but even so I feel a stranger to both. I am, so to speak, some third point." Voyage into the Golden Screen plays with these polarities. In simple terms, it posits an "Eastern" first movement and a "Western" second movement. Predictably, Nørgård's gift lies in his effort to find a "third point," to not only reconcile the opposites together, but in so doing, to reveal the reflecting dance between their surfaces. The score's first movement presents the simplest of materials: two chords, each an echo of the other and both built on the natural overtone series, a series of pitches that eventually build the triad. In fact, the two chords are almost identical, save for Nørgård's "retuning" of the second, up a quarter-tone from the original G natural, which explains the actual sounding-out of reflection. What is perhaps most remarkable about this movement is Nørgård's treatment of time: not as a linear progression but as an architecture; what takes up time is not the process of construction, but rather the process of witnessing something which has already been constructed -- this second process being reminiscent of the time one uses to circle a cathedral or a cataract, all the while sensing the lateness of one's arrival at an
ancient place. Likewise, the initial movement of Voyage into the Golden Screen reveals only what is already there, or has already happened: two chords whose full density and timbre only gradually come into view and focus, only to retreat again. The shorter second movement inverses this image of a vertically linear time into a horizon, skein unraveled into thread. Specifically, the thread is Nørgård's now famous "infinity series," a progressive chain of pitches that, theoretically, can sustain itself forever in perpetual transformation. Yet this opposite revision of the first movement is ultimately revealed to be only a change of perspective on the same circular model, for the "infinity series" reflects itself infinitely as well. (The series literally repeats exponentially: 1:4:8:16, ad infinitum.) Nørgård pulls these reflections out of the music so that while the flutes play the fastest version of the series, the strings play the same series at 1/32nd the speed. What results is a paradoxical unfolding of time as a circle in Nørgård's rainbow and its reflection, or perhaps the great circles of the transparent Beauvais clock.