This 2012 article by Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen originally appeared in Danish on the website of the Danish new music organization SNYK. With the permission of the author, I present here a translation into English for the benefit of Nørgård fans worldwide, especially as the work will gain new attention with the release of its world premiere recording on the Dacapo label.
In his 1965 work Lexicon of Musical Invective, an anthology of critical assaults on composers which cites ‘biased, unfair, ill-tempered, and singularly unprophetic judgements,’ Nicolas Slonimsky makes the following comparison of new music to foreign languages:
The Phenomenon of Non-acceptance of the Unfamiliar is revealed in every instance when custom clashes with an alien mode of living or a heterodoxal mode of thinking. The Polish language is unpronounceable to non-Slavs; words in Czech and Bulgarian, containing nothing but written consonants, are monsters to the eye. …
To listeners steeped in traditional music, modern works are meaningless, as alien languages are to a poor linguist. No wonder that music critics often borrow linguistic similes to express their recoiling horror of the modernists. The Chinese language, as the ultimate of incomprehensibility, serves the critics particularly well for such comparisons.
After reading this I do wonder if people passionate about linguistic diversity and tackling foreign languages are more likely to enjoy modernist repertoire or non-Western musical traditions.