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Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Magnus Granberg - the intensity of haunting stillness

By Stef Gijssels

If any musician deserves an award for the quality of his album titles, there is no doubt Magnus Granberg would be among the nominees: 

  • "Would Fall From The Sky, Would Wither And Die" (2015)
  • "How Deep Is The Ocean, How High Is The Sky?" (2015)
  • "Ist Gefallen In Den Schnee & Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long" (2017)
  • "Es Schwindelt Mir, Es Brennt Mein Eingeweide" (2018)
  • "Nun, Es Wird Nicht Weit Mehr Gehen" (2019)
  • "Als Alle Vögel Sangen Mein Sehnen Und Verlangen" ‎(2019)
  • "Come Down To Earth Where Sorrow Dwelleth" (2020)
  • "Let Pass My Weary Guiltless Ghost" ‎(2020)
All titles express the same sense of quiet desolation and meditative wonder, often short phrases from poems, folk songs or religious texts. The German word "Sehnsucht" describes the music well. At the same time it expresses longing and suffering, a craving for a better world, a realisation of an existential weakness or gap. 

The title "Es Schwindelt Mir, Es Brennt Mein Eingeweide" actually comes from the poem "Nur Wer die Sehnsucht kennt" from Goethe's "Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre".

Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
Weiß, was ich leide!
Allein und abgetrennt
Von aller Freude,
Seh ich ans Firmament
Nach jener Seite.

Ach! der mich liebt und kennt,
Ist in der Weite.
Es schwindelt mir, es brennt
Mein Eingeweide.
Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
Weiß, was ich leide!

Only those who know longing
Know what sorrows me!
Alone and separated
From all joy,
I look into the sky
To the yonder side.

Ah! the one who loves and knows me
Is in the distance.
It dizzies me, it burns
my guts.
Only those who know longing
Know how I suffer!

Magnus Granberg - Night Will Fade And Fall Apart (Thanatosis, 2022) 

On "Night Will Fade And Fall Apart", Granberg composed a piece commissioned by the label and especially for the Tya Ensemble, consisting of Josefin Runsteen on violin, My Hellgren on cello, Finn Loxbo on guitar, Anna Christensson on piano, John Eriksson on vibraphone and percussion, and Ryan Packard on percussion. If you are not familiar with Granberg's compositions, you will be surprised by the fragile quality of the music, even if performed by a sextet. 

The music has a deep sense of poetry and melancholy ... a fragile world leading to fragile feelings, quiet contemplation, and visceral sensitivity. In the liner notes, David Sylvian describes the music as "music for the twilight, the final rays, as our impaired vision of the solidity of things and their accompanying certainties, fall away.” The music is calm, slow, precise, and moves forward with caution and meticulous. 

The album consists of two CDs. The first one performs the composition for full ensemble for a little less than 44 minutes. The second CD breaks the ensemble down to one or two instruments: percussion, violin, cello, guitar, and the last piece is for piano and vibraphone. If you listen to all this in one go, the effect is even more stunning, as if the world has actually fallen to pieces and the individual instrumentalists find themselves alone and isolated in the same world they were contemplating before as a team. 

Magnus Granberg explains the process behind the composition: "The piece takes as its points of departure a tiny handful of songs from two very different times and places: "Tres gentil cuer" and "En l’amoureux vergier" by the French, late medieval composer Solage as well as "My Foolish Heart", a popular song (and subsequent jazz standard) from the late 1940s by Victor Young and Ned Washington from whose lyrics the piece also borrows its title, albeit in a slightly modified manner. The rhythmic materials of the piece are all extracted from the songs of Solage and treated in different ways, whereas the harmonic materials are loosely derived from "My Foolish Heart"."

Even if we are at a very far distance from free jazz and free improv musically, I think this music will be appreciated by its fans too. It's the perfect antidote to our rushed way of life, a long artistic moment to enjoy and savour. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Magnus Granberg - How Lonely Sits the City (Another Timbre, 2022) & How Lonely Sits The City (Meenna, 2022)

For this album, the title was taken from the Book of Lamentations in the Bible:

"How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave." 

... even if the reference is also to the world of today, as is testified by the album artwork by Magnus Gramén. Granberg wrote this composition in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic for a quartet, which was recorded in October 2020 by the ensemble consisting of Eva Lindal on violin, Leo Svensson Sander on cello, Stina Hellberg Agback on harp, and Magnus Granberg himself on prepared piano. 

Granberg then expanded the composition for his Skogen ensemble, with Anna and Eva Lindal on violin, Stina Hellberg Agback on harp, Magnus Granberg on prepared piano, John Eriksson on vibraphone, glockenspiel and whistling, Henrik Olsson on objects, friction, piezo, and Erik Carlsson percussion. The septet was recorded in June 2021.

Granberg's music has its own quality and vision: carefully crafted, a piece of musical lace, at the same time complex and light, spacious and intimate, bright and intense. In his minimalistic vision, every note, every sound is worth gold, so why waste it, why use it carelessly if you can create effects with just a few sounds that adorn an existential silence? 

It is interesting to compare both versions, with the piano a little more prominent on the quartet version, and the two parts of the septet performance versus only one single composition by the quartet. 

Regardless, the result is stunning as usual, full of paradoxes, calm and terrifying, quiet and intense, sad and bright. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp: here for the quartet, here for the septet version.