»Music has to do with emotions!«

A portrait of Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg

»If a composer can’t say he has done something that no-one else did before him, then he can’t claim to have done anything at all.« This quotation stems not from Magnus Lindberg himself, but from his teacher, the important Finnish composer Paavo Heininen. But it had great influence on Lindberg, who followed his mentor’s advice and modelled his own composition aesthetics on it.

»Only extremes are interesting«

Born in Helsinki in 1958, Lindberg was only 15 when he enrolled at that city’s Sibelius Academy to study the piano. But he later focused his attention entirely on composing, and in this discipline it wasn’t long before he was pursuing his own maxim that »only extremes are interesting«.

And it was a truly extreme composition that brought him his breakthrough in 1985. His work »Kraft« astonished audiences and critics alike with a gigantic orchestra, live electronics and pieces of scrap metal used as percussion instruments.

Magnus Lindberg / Andreas Grünkorn
Magnus Lindberg / Andreas Grünkorn © NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra

Magnus Lindberg rehearsing »Kraft« with the NDR Ebphiharmonie Orchestra in the Elbphilharmonie (September 2019).

»Lindberg is one-man living proof that the orchestra is not dead.«

Sir Simon Rattle

Tried out everything

As if he felt obliged to prove his mettle, in the early years of his career Lindberg tried out everything that the music of his time had to offer: post-serial constructivism, aleatory technique, free forms and computer-based composition, to name but a few. He also took inspiration from Japanese drum music and German punk rock à la Einstürzende Neubauten. A child of our time, in other words.

Today, Lindberg belongs to the spearhead of a generation of Finnish composers, alongside his fellow Finns Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kaija Saariaho, that enjoys great success internationally as well as at home. British newspaper The Guardian described his sound as »defining the 21st century«, while residencies with the New York Philharmonic and the London Philharmonic Orchestra helped him achieve public prominence. And Sir Simon Rattle goes so far as to call Lindberg »one-man living proof that the orchestra is not dead«.

Magnus Lindberg
Magnus Lindberg © Saara Vuorjoki / FIMIC

»Felling trees in the middle of the score«

But Lindberg has a command of other, quieter sounds with which he creates the most wonderful melodies: melodies with which he has managed to garner the acclaim of both contemporary music specialists and the general concertgoing public. To achieve this, he plunders the entirety of music history; his compositions are full of vitality, with some passages of such lyrical beauty that they have even been described as »hyper-romantic«. His more recent works in particular move in this direction. Is he mellowing with age? Not at all! – He said in one interview: »I am still an avant-gardist. But that doesn’t mean that I have trees being felled in the middle of the score or stuff like that. It’s not just about reading out a manifesto. Music has to do with emotions. It’s an experience!«

Text: Simon Chlosta, last updated: 26 Feb 2021
Translation: Clive Williams

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