Rhythmic balance and plasticity in Anders Eliasson’s music

By Mats Larsson Gothe

Anders Eliasson was a master at making rhythm work in conjunction and collaboration with the melodic intervals in his music. The way he was able to charge the music with energy had to do with the way he worked with either the stressed or the unstressed beats of the musical bar (measure). Something, I’m pretty sure, he learned in his studies of Palestrina’s vocal polyphony (while studying with Valdemar Söderholm and earlier Uno Sandén).

The choice to either use the stressed part of the bar (in 4/4 time: beats 1 or 3) or to ”camouflage” the beat by tying it over to an unstressed part (in 4/4 time: beats 2 or 4) requires exquisite musical instinct – in short: great musicality. Anders Eliasson possessed this.

In addition to this, he used the different musical parts in a way that always allowed them to work together in the best possible rhythmic way. They always complement each other in this respect. You get the feeling that the highly skilled chess player Anders Eliasson is at work, weighing each musical “move” based on where the best musical energy can emerge in the rhythmic interplay of the parts.

In order to illustrate this by example, I shall use his string trio, ”Ahnungen” (2012/2013). It was the last work he completed.

At the time, I had been given the honourable task of transferring Anders Eliasson’s handwritten score to a computerised transcription of the music. This gave me a unique opportunity to closely follow the compositional process.

I start from the first printout I made of the string trio and then compare it with the final result. In doing so, I can pinpoint elements that – based on what I said above – reveal the composer’s intention to enhance the rhythmic energy of the music.

The first handwritten manuscript I received from Anders Eliasson was fully scored with almost everything in place, dynamics and articulation, up to bar 214. After that it was primarily the pitches that were written down, with a basic rhythmic layout. It is from this point that I can study his working process. As I mentioned in the introduction, my impression was that he wanted to find the optimum rhythmic shape for his material in order to give the music the best possible energy and flow.

A first example is bar 227 (in the bar notes I use the final score, GE 12262, published in 2013 by Gehrmans Musikförlag AB).

In the first version I received, the beat looked like this:

Anders made one addition that charges the phrase with greater energy:

Note also that what are the violin’s fourths in the first version are allowed to be performed by the cello in the final version. Such switches between parts can give the impression that it is the voice leading itself that is important, not always the colour of the instrument, which brings to mind J.S.Bach’s ”Kunst der Fuge”, where the design of the parts itself is the work of art.

My next example is taken from bar 276. In the first version it looked like this:

In characteristic “Anders Eliasson fashion”, he spiced up the rhythm in the following way in the final version:

What is becoming increasingly clear is that the rhythmic “building blocks” Eliasson works with are eighths – either in pairs of two and two, straight even eighths, or as three, in the form of triplets. These can then be combined in different ways, in their pure form or superimposed on each other in different combinations.

An illuminating example in its pure form is bar 265, which in the violin part consists of an eighth-note triplet followed by two straight eighth-notes. Interestingly, the first version consists of only fourths. It is as if Eliasson first lays out the harmony and then shapes the rhythm and melody according to what can almost be called the rhythmic primal cell of the work, eighth notes in triplet form or as even, straight ones.

Bar 265 – first version and its final form:

© Mats Larsson Gothe, September 2022