The music of Icelandic composer, Anna Thorvaldsdottir (b. 1977), has been described as “an ecosystem of sounds, where materials continuously grow in and out of each other, often inspired in an important way by nature and its many qualities…”
Primal sound structures form the building blocks of Thorvaldsdottir’s evocative tone poem, Metacosmos, composed in 2017 and premiered the following year by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the New York Philharmonic. Unfolding in a single movement, the music evokes a rugged, majestic, gradually shifting Nordic landscape, as seen through a cinematic lens. We sense the enduring power of nature, with its combination of terror, brutality and awe-inspiring beauty. The sonic kaleidoscope of Metacosmos is set in motion by a single F in the cloudy, shivering depths of the orchestra. Following a ritualistic dance, a glowing B major chord forms the climax of the piece. A lamenting melody wanders through a desolate landscape before the final bars evaporate into the ether.
In her program note, the composer writes,
Metacosmos is constructed around the natural balance between beauty and chaos – how elements can come together in (seemingly) utter chaos to create a unified, structured whole. The idea and inspiration behind the piece, which is connected as much to the human experience as to the universe, is the speculative metaphor of falling into a black hole – the unknown – with endless constellations and layers of opposing forces connecting and communicating with each other, expanding and contracting, projecting a struggle for power as the different sources pull on you and you realize that you are being drawn into a force that is beyond your control.
As with my music generally, the inspiration behind Metacosmos is not something I am trying to describe through the piece – to me, the qualities of the music are first and foremost musical. When I am inspired by a particular element or quality, it is because I perceive it as musically interesting, and the qualities I tend to be inspired by are often structural, like proportion and flow, as well as relationships of balance between details within a larger structure, and how to move in perspective between the two — the details and the unity of the whole.
- Thorvaldsdottir: Metacosmos, Daniel Bjarnason, Iceland Symphony Orchestra Amazon