Emil Bernhardt: Contemporary communication (part two)

Part two of the interview with Intro composer Emil Bernhardt

Emil Bernhardt 2007 - 7 (Foto: Stian Andersen)

Does this mean that you believe that music is and should be inscribed with meaning, i.e. something to understand intellectually?

-Certainly, and that is an important stance: music does mean. I started out as a musician but switched to composition because I enjoyed talking about the music and exploring the aspect of conceptual meaning. As a composer my main concern has been to try and juxtapose musical imagination with theory. Composing is not primarily about being inspired and then creating something semi-consciously. It is just as much a way of thinking; it is a conceptual language just as much as a sort of non-intellectual thing that is supposed to make you just feel.

So are you a theoretician that creates or a creator that theorizes?

-I don’t know. My foundation is music, but I enjoy the aspect of pure theory and I want to continue to work with the interplay between emotion and reflection. During my studies in Germany I was inspired by this very un-Norwegian notion that music can be subjected to concrete intellectual analysis; disclosing historical, political and ideological characters. In Norway the prevalent notion is still that music is beyond any intellectual scrutiny. The whole idea of music being a mode of reflection is not accepted, or at least not appreciated. And this makes it all the more interesting, and challenging of course.

With your ideas about communication in mind, and your desire to combine and juxtapose the entities of music and conceptual reflection I have to ask: Did it have to be music? And do you ever feel that you might have had easier days by choosing pure theory, or conversely, a more romantic musical ideal?

-Well it was always music for me, so that is really impossible to answer. But personally I think there are qualities to music that I don’t find elsewhere. However, it is no secret that contemporary music is a very difficult field because it does not really have a proper place in the general cultural / intellectual discourse. There is an originality-complex innate in contemporary music; it thinks it has to reinvent and be original at all times. As contemporary composers we have no other strings to play on, so to speak, and thus there is a lot of trying and failing and contemporary music becomes difficult because it always demands of itself that it be novel. Failure is part of the destiny of new music, but so is breakthrough, since it has taken upon it to always challenge the traditional and established artistic parameters.
So I think it is a difficult sphere to work within, but at the same time I feel very privileged indeed to be able to work and live the way I do, composing and also writing quite a lot, taking part in the discourse in that way too.

And this balance is something you intend to keep up; you’re not going to retire to some mountain cabin just to compose?

-Well, right now I feel like concentrating on fewer things and try to get more clarity about both theoretical matters and my music. However, I think that we are very privileged in Norway; as contemporary composers we are so much better off that in most other countries, and that means that we also have to take part in the infrastructure and processes that surround the actual music.

In what way has the Intro programme been helpful in this respect?

-The guarantee of two commissioned pieces and the promise of long-term backing and promotion were important back when I was awarded the sponsorship, and I am happy with the way things have unfolded. In general it has made it easier for me to commit myself fully and get an increased sense of overview, which is very valuable and necessary when looking ahead.

(part one)

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