Hans Abrahamsen

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Abrahamsen taking a bow with Simon Rattle and Barbara Hannigan after a performance of let me tell you by the London Symphony Orchestra in January 2019

Hans Abrahamsen (born 23 December 1952) is a Danish composer.


Born in Copenhagen, Abrahamsen first got to know music through playing the French horn at school. He went on to study music theory at the Royal Danish Academy of Music.[1] His music is inspired by his mentors Per Nørgård and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, who were two of his composition teachers, and in the 1980s he became close both personally and stylistically (partly through another period of study) to György Ligeti.

Abrahamsen is considered to have been part of a trend called the "New Simplicity", which arose in the mid-1960s as a reaction against the complexity and perceived aridity of the Central European avant-garde.[2][3] Abrahamsen’s first works conformed to the tenets of this movement, particularly the circle around the Darmstadt School. For Abrahamsen this meant adopting an almost naive simplicity of expression, as in his orchestral piece Skum ("Foam", 1970). His style soon altered and developed, at first through a personal dialogue with Romanticism (audible in works such as the orchestral Nacht und Trompeten -"Night and Trumpets", 1981)), and later—after a hiatus of around a decade in which he composed little and released nothing—into something entirely personal, combining a modernist stringency and economy into a larger individual musical universe.[1] Notable works since his return to composition include a piano concerto written for his wife Anne-Marie Abildskov, and the extended chamber work Schnee ("Snow"), where the paring-down of material appears to reach a new extreme. Schnee has also received attention for its construction from both arch-shaped and straight-line processes that unfold over the work's duration, and for innovative details such as its inline, composed retuning intervals[4].

Abrahamsen's let me tell you, a song cycle for soprano and orchestra based on the novella of the same name by Paul Griffiths, was premiered on 20 December 2013 by the Berlin Philharmonic, with soprano soloist Barbara Hannigan (to whom the work is dedicated), conducted by Andris Nelsons.[5] Franz Welser-Möst led the Cleveland Orchestra in the U.S. premiere in January 2016.[6] Abrahamsen won the $100,000 2016 Grawemeyer Award for this work.[7]

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra gave the British premiere of the song cycle in 2014.[8] The same year CBSO co-commissioned from Abrahamsen a concerto for piano left hand. Left, Alone received its world premiere in Cologne in January 2016, performed by pianist Alexandre Tharaud, for whom the concerto was composed. Four months later, Tharaud gave the British premiere for the CBSO, conducted by Ilan Volkov.[9][10] Abrahamsen has written that being "born with a right hand that is not fully functional" has given him "a close relationship with the works written for the left hand by Ravel and others."[11]

His first opera, Snedronningen [nl] (The Snow Queen), based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, is due to be premiered at the Danish Opera House in autumn 2019.[12]

Selected works[edit]

  • Rundt Og Imellem (1971, 76), for brass quintet
  • String Quartet No. 1, 10 Preludes (1973, version for 4 cellos 2017[13], reworked as 10 Sinfonias for orchestra 2010[14])
  • Symphony (1974) for orchestra
  • Winternacht (1976–78), for ensemble
  • Walden [nl] (1978/1995), for wind quintet
  • String Quartet No. 2 (1981)
  • Nacht und Trompeten [nl] (1981), for chamber orchestra
  • Märchenbilder (1984), for ensemble
  • Lied in Fall (1987), for cello and 13 instruments
  • Hymne for cello or viola solo (1990)
  • Ten Studies (1983/1998) for solo piano
  • Piano Concerto (1999/2000)
  • Schnee (2006–08), for large ensemble
  • String Quartet No. 3 (2008)
  • Double Concerto (2011), for violin, piano and strings
  • String Quartet No. 4 (2012)
  • let me tell you (2013), for soprano and orchestra; written for Barbara Hannigan
  • Left, alone (2015), for piano left-hand and orchestra
  • The Snow Queen (2019), opera


  1. ^ a b Anders Beyer, "Abrahamsen, Hans", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001).
  2. ^ Michelsen, Thomas (2008). "Hans Abrahamsen". Chester Music Ltd. Novello & Company Ltd. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  3. ^ anon (2010). "Hans Abrahamsen". Dacapo Records. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  4. ^ Schell, Michael (22 October 2018). "Abrahamsen's Schnee at Seattle Symphony". Sequenza 21. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  5. ^ Krekeler, Elmar (30 December 2013). "Dirigent Andris Nelsons, ein Genie in Flammen". Die Welt (in German). Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  6. ^ Lewis, Zachary (15 January 2016). "Cleveland Orchestra rallies around thrilling matchup of Shostakovich and Abrahamsen". cleveland.com. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  7. ^ Huizenga, Tom (25 November 2015). "Hans Abrahamsen Wins The Grawemeyer Award For Music". NPR. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  8. ^ "CBSO/Nelsons, Symphony Hall, Birmingham. Review by Andrew Clements, 19 June 2014". theguardian.com. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  9. ^ "CBSO event listing, Abrahamsen & Mahler, 28 April 2016". cbso.co.uk. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  10. ^ "CBSO/Volkov, Symphony Hall, Birmingham. Review by Andrew Clements, 1 May 2016". theguardian.com. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  11. ^ "Programme note, Hans Abrahamsen, 2015". musicsalesclassical.com. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  12. ^ "Léonie Sonning Prize 2019 Hans Abrahamsen". sonningmusic.org. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  13. ^ "Hans Abrahamsen 10 Preludes, version for cello quartet (2017)". musicsalesclassical.com. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  14. ^ "Hans Abrahamsen (1952) Ten Sinfonias (2010) pour orchestre". ircam. Retrieved 15 January 2019.

Further reading[edit]

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