Niels Viggo Bentzon

Solo Piano Improvisations
Av-Art / AACD1004

Niels Viggo Bentzon / piano, prepared piano

This is a strange proposition indeed. 26 pieces lasting around 40 seconds each, followed by three at around 15 minutes each. That’s odd enough, but there’s more. Bentzon works in a tonal sound-world of extremely simple, but often slightly surprising harmonies; gentle dissonances creep in, but nothing like you might expect from a composer who premiered in 1939 and worked in a university throughout the heyday of Modernism. What you get here is very subtle statements of themes, most of which might just as well have come from Brahms, except that they go nowhere, hanging in the air like unaffected sketches which never develop into paintings.

That is, the first 26 tracks do this. The extended pieces — he calls them “symphonic variations”, with a little justification — are less interesting, if less hard to understand, too. The first and third of these are marred by absolutely terrible preparations, turning a resonant grand piano into a buzzing, plastick mess which seriously grates on the ears and seems not to affect Bentzon’s playing one iota. That playing is reasonably intelligent, but really it’s the sound of a university professor doodling at the keyboard. His technique is sure enough, if rudimentary compared with other improvising pianists, but his overall grasp on the longer pieces is slight. The middle movement, which leaves the piano au naturel, is more successful because Bentzon manages to hang onto an idea and develop it rather than moving from one motif, through variations, to another, to another, and another.

If he had recorded sixty or seventy pieces lasting under a minute, this would be a disk of rather outrageous novelty, and a peculiarly listenable one at that. Perhaps those “symphonic variations” are there to add classical legitimacy to the project, perhaps they’re just another side of Bentzon’s musical personality. Either way, this is a very long way from the avant gaarde, and it’s hard to see just who is going to enjoy it. Certainly not the improvised music camp, who have plenty of top-notch pianists to choose from already, any of whom would send Bentzon scurrying from the stage. And not, probably, the classical community, which either has altogether more ascerbic tastes or prefers is composers long dead. Richard Cochrane


Niels Viggo Bentzon | Photo: Marianne Grondahl

Niels Viggo Bentzon / 1919 – 2000. Niels Viggo Bentzon was a whirlwind in post-war Danish music, constantly creating and exploring every musical genre, and with an output that over the years simply grew and grew. Bentzon has passed his opus number 650.

Of this gigantic number of works, 22 are symphonies. As a self-taught composer Bentzon broke with the dominant, mild Danish Modernism of the day and plunged into far more uninhibited music. With great expressive power, he blasted his way to a renewal of Danish Modernism. At an early stage he was influenced by Hindemith, and later also by Schönberg, but it was with an organic “metamorphosis technique” that he made his great impact around 1950. In the 1960s Bentzon also threw himself into trail-blazing experiments with jazz, pop and happenings (with a great innate talent for humour).

Since then his music has been strongly characterized by improvisation and eclecticism. It must be said in fact that very few people have a good general idea of Niels Viggo Bentzon’s huge artistic output. For obvious reasons, an oeuvre as large as Bentzon’s will be somewhat patchy, but even this aspect of Bentzon’s art looks like a deliberate provocation.

Bentzon was also an active music debater, an original pianist, has published poems and novels, and worked in the visual arts. source