Embraced with anxiety and love
A talk with the composer in connection with the new orchestral music album INFINITY CHIMES by Flint Juventino Beppe.
By Oddbjørn Fiskefjell
This digital album is in many ways the sequel to the album About my Grandfather (2002) and it contains two orchestral works: my first piano concerto, which is partly based on themes from Op.1, and a symphonic poem written in 1997. I am very partial to both of these musical forms; I cannot say I prefer one to the other.
With the exception from the last track, Heart, the material on Infinity Chimes has never before been released, so I am very pleased that this album is finally becoming a reality. I have done my best in post-production to digitally re-master and preserve the atmosphere that was captured on tape those two hectic days in the studio. Much effort has gone into optimising the sound quality in 24 bit 48 kHz, and I am satisfied with the result. On a personal note, I have to say that Ari Rasilainen's conducting is of reference quality. The first desks of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, featuring Tom Ottar Andreassen (flute), Trygve Aarvik (oboe) and Rigmor Heistø Strand (horn), to mention a few, are of very high quality and contribute greatly to the album´s atmosphere. In «Theh Goldest» Op.27 a solid horn section is vital for the performance. Also, my good friend Wolfgang Plagge, to whom the «Piano Concerto No.1» Op.24 is dedicated, delivers a brilliant and very vibrant performance throughout the concerto. I was fortunate enough to supervise the recordings myself, which was a valuable and unforgettable experience.
The title Infinity Chimes is slightly ambiguous: what does it mean?
I have always enjoyed the concept of infinity, even though it seems impossible to grasp it completely. It is closely intertwined with life and death – and to me, music is a part of both life and death. Infinity has a celestial dimension as well, and I am very fascinated by the universe. Maybe the title refers to something that you can hear forever, or something that will continue to chime infinitely even if you cannot hear it?
You mention that Infinity Chimes is the sequel to About my Grandfather (2002). Wouldn't it be more correct to call it the forerunner, since it was in fact recorded a few years before, in 1998?
Well, the recording, which is in fact a radio studio recording, was indeed made in 1998, and all the time the intention was that any release of this material should be after the release of About my Grandfather. It resembles what The Beatles did when they released Let It Be as their final album, even if most of the tracks had been recorded before the release of their second last album Abbey Road.
«Piano Concerto No.1» Op.24, which bears the alternative title 'Anxiety', has three movements, all of which mention fear in different contexts. Can you elaborate a little?
As always, the titles of my works only provide clues for the listener – and this is no exception. Fear and anxiety are crippling conditions, but they can be overcome. The complete piano concerto was conceived and written out during three very intense and painful days in the Easter of 1995. I was caught in a cycle of overwhelming anxiety. I felt compelled to complete the whole work without pausing, and that is what I did. I believe that the three movements mirror different stages of anxiety: the struggle, the unpredictable intensity and finally the victory when one's fear eventually loses its power. What is a little mysterious perhaps is that the final fear comes as the middle movement, and the concerto ends full of anxiety, as if this anxiety has powerful recurring traits just when you thought you were rid of it. Unfortunately, I think this is a part of anxiety´s nature – lurking in the shadows through a whole life span. I cannot remember much of these three days, but I know that writing this concerto helped me cope with my anxiety at the time.
Would you say that anxiety has shaped you in any way?
I think so. At least I now have a relatively clarified relationship to it. For many years, I struggled with severe anxiety on a daily basis. I was on medication to reduce the symptoms, and I consumed a lot of alcohol to try and escape from this overpowering situation. However, I always knew that anxiety would catch up on me; it was just waiting for the right moment, so to speak. Nevertheless, what I found most helpful to ease my nerves was to surround myself with music. I also had a few close friends who I could talk to, and who I knew wouldn't abandon me. However, I don't necessarily see anxiety as something negative. It is more a symptom of something else, like a fever of the mind, especially if you are very open to impressions, and wear your nerves on your sleeve, like I do. If you struggle a lot in life, and there are things that your brain cannot process, pressure builds up inside of you. In turn, the mind shuts down, and you are drenched in something you cannot control. It is extremely heavy when it happens, but it always passes. I still have bouts of anxiety today. As a matter of fact, each time I wake up from having slept deeply, I have anxiety. I think it is because I'm inherently vulnerable due to my Asperger's syndrome, and I see each day as a new start. I'm sort of "new-born" every time I wake up, and I have to get used to every impression all over again.
The difference between before and now is that I have learned that the anxiety will withdraw when I acknowledge what is going on. Anxiety will eat you up if you let it, but if you understand the nature of your own fear, it will gradually subside and let go. The three sub-titles of «Piano Concerto No.1» Op.24, 'Fear Struggler', 'Final Fear' and 'A Chased Fear', say it all, really.
The other work on the album is «Theh Goldest» Op.27. Who or what is «Theh Goldest»?
Some listeners will perhaps remember that Op.27 was originally titled «Randi» Op.27. Randi is the name of a woman who has a very special place in my heart. I chose to alter the title because I wanted to make it more communicative. In one of my blog posts I explain why I invent new words when I find that existing words fail to reach the level of nuance I'm looking for. "Theh" is, simply put, an amplified version of "the". "Theh" signifies the one and only. "Goldest" is the most golden someone or something. So, the title refers to the most golden treasure, which is a more precise and personal rendering of how I feel about this person.
How would you describe each of the movements in this work?
This symphonic poem has five movements, and each movement has a very concrete and descriptive title connected to different characteristics of the woman in question. The movements are individual expressions of what I feel inside, or how I react to love – from the heart. There is nothing intellectual about it. The music is quite massive and intense at times, but often warm.
All of the feelings that are displayed in this work are of course very personal, and it has one specific muse, but, since I believe these feelings also have a universal nature, they might be recognised by others, too.
The movement «Neck» is not necessarily just a part of the body in itself, but it can be the innocence and vulnerability I see when looking at the nape of the neck of a person I care deeply about. My mind immediately starts to wander and I see so much more than meets the eye: I can get a whole life story out of looking at a neck: this person's life from before birth and into infinity.
«Scent» not only describes a scent for the nose, but it also portrays the atmospheric trail the loved one leaves behind, that lingers in the air after she has left the room. «Mark» might refer to a little mole on a person's hand, a small, inscrutable wonder in itself.
«Infinity» is the limitlessness of love, both in strength and in time. Since love is such an abstract force, many questions arise: was love always there, latent, ready to come out and embrace? Can love truly have an end? The final movement «Heart» is not about the heart as such, it is more a declaration from the heart. All in all, deep heartfelt love might be seen as the thread running through «Theh Goldest» Op.27.
What is it like to release two works that are so personal – that is, with fairly revealing themes of anxiety and love?
Anxiety and love are innately honest conditions. Why should I hide that? Both anxiety and love are intense and somewhat brutal, and they both took me by complete surprise. They will take you on a rollercoaster of feelings and thoughts, but I would never have chosen to live without either of them. Generally, I can say that the music that comes out of my experiences is never planned. One moment the symphonic poem is non-existing, the next moment it is suddenly there. My compositions are not intentional, so to speak – I do not sit down with nothing in my head with the intention of writing music. The music comes to me uninvited. That is perhaps why I feel close to the works in one way, because it is always personal, and yet the works are alien to me, since I cannot grasp from where the music arises or why it happens. I just watch the notes materialise, and finally I write them down. It is both painful and intense to experience this, but perhaps this is what it's like to have a creative and sensitive soul? I feel like I am both the composer of the music, and at the same time I am a manager and a producer, and also part of the audience.
Do you have anything else you would like to say about Infinity Chimes?
Yes. I hope the music may mean something for others. The profound honesty of love and anxiety is powerful, and it concerns so many.