Das Gespräch fand im Februar 2008 im Rahmen des Festivals Stockholm New Music statt. Gegenstand des Gesprächs ist Morthensons drittes Streichquartett Epilogos.

Interview & Abschrift: Björn Gottstein

The piece is called Epilogos. My question would be Epilogos to what?

Two things. Epilogos to my work as a composer which I think is almost finished by now. And Epilogos because it commemorates the death of my wife two years ago. She died at the age of 49 of cancer. So it has a double meaning. Also Epilogos in a more symbolic sense. I have always been very pessimistic about the development of modern music. And I have written several pieces in that direction, pieces that I have called meta music, music about music. Different genres, for example opera music, orchestra music, virtuoso music, and military music and so on. And I think for me one of the big abstractions of modern music is the really pessimistic and decadent outlook. I mean, I think always this is the last possible way of composing, nothing more is possible and so on and so on. I mean it is not a creative way of art. It is very manneristic, very decadent nowadays, above all instrumental music. I mean electronic music, computer music, that is a totally different area with lots of prospects for the future. But for me, instruments are like an echo of something already past and belonging to another period in art history. But I like this feature of instrumental music. And it goes well with my rather pessimistic way of looking at life. So that is why the title Epilogos really concentrated and expresses a lot of my feelings about life and music.

That is a very rough judgement. I find it hard to imagine writing a piece like this, a very strong piece, a very long piece, a really richly developed material, from this perspective, believing that it is coming to a point that music life has reached a certain mannerism, it is almost hard to understand.

I think I share this aesthetic with Helmut Lachenmann. I think Helmut also is a very, very pessimistic composer, and that he gets his creativity from this point of view, this way of looking at music. I remember when I started as a composer, I was about 20 years old, around 1960, the arena was totally different. It was a very optimistic time. With new developments and orchestra techniques and electronic music and so on. So I have lived through this era of now fourty years of modernist, so to speak, killing itself all the time with very, very good compositions. But I think the most convincing composition for me is this very mature and, as I said, very pessimistic outlook on music. That coincides better with my thinking about art at all. And I think modernism should not always be something optimistic and engineer-like, but it also has this shadow-like aspect. Of course, I don't mean that music is coming to an end or something like that. I just mean some composers, not all composers, not the young ones, but some rather perhaps old composers, they get some kind of creativity out of this way of looking at music. Of course, they are looking at themselves.

Magnus Haglund writes about "existential music". This is a term of yours. The way he describes it I could almost translate it as being "absolute music", confined to itself, not related to the world. Would you agree?

No, I would not agree. I have worked with three major aspects of music in my life. First of all, what I call non-figurative music, about which I also wrote the book with the preface by Heinz-Klaus Metzger. And then I worked with what I called meta music, music about music. And this last stage I work with what I call existentialist music. And that is a music without any specific meaning. Without any specific goal. And without any specific technique or will to get to something, some result of any kind. It is just like life, I think. You walk around and look at things and you wonder what they are and what their meaning is, and you don't always find out. And so this music without any specific direction, it doesn't strive to something, it's just in itself, rather Proust-like.