Bedford, David - Fridiof Kenning

Bedford, David - Fridiof Kennings

Year of composition: 1980

Scored for:

for saxophone quartet and tambourine

Instrumentation details:

1st soprano saxophone in Bb (+alto sax(Eb))

2nd soprano saxophone in Bb (+alto sax(Eb))

3rd soprano saxophone in Bb (+alto sax(Eb)



4th soprano saxophone in Bb (+alto sax(Eb)





Commissioned by the Myrha Saxophone Quartet with the assistance of funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain.

Publisher: Universal Edition

Duration: 10 minutes

Fridiof Kennings is an energetic minimalist work with a pulsating tambourine holding the saxophones together as they frantically switch from one instrument to the next. The sound of the piece is in a similar vein to Nyman, though somewhat darker and stranger. The swiss cheese dissonance of Nono with whom David Bedford studied is quite evident. It has that tension but also a strangeness, sometimes a little like Britten's harmony does.

In the late composer's own words:

“This piece was written in 1980 to a commission from the Myrha Saxophone Quartet (John Harle’s group). It is based on a section from Fridiof’s Saga, one of a trilogy of young peoples’ opera using Icelandic mythology that I wrote for Gordonstoun School in the late 1970s. A kenning is an expression used in the Icelandic Eddas to denote a poetic periphrasis – part of Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda is a telling of various stories in order to explain some of the more obscure kennings. It’s clear, for example, why ‘Odin’s wrath’ means thunder, but to learn why ‘Kvasir’s blood’ means poetry requires a little more explanation. It is rather as if one were to use the expression ‘Achilles heel’ to someone ignorant of Greek mythology, with the consequent necessity of telling the story which gives rise to the expression.

In musical terms, I have taken the term kenning to mean amplification, fuller explanation or development, more complete exposition. The original material was a very simple C major tune whose main interest was rhythmic. There are four bars grouped as follows: 12312312/123123/12312312/121212. As a reference against which the treatment to which this rhythm is subjected can be heard, a tambourine maintains a constant quarver beat. Each player develops the basic rhythmic cell in his own way, often in cross-rhythms with the others. Sometimes they all play the rhythm together, then gradually get out of phase.

At the end, the entire range is presented by having all the players start on soprano saxophones, then gradually, one at a time, change to alto, then tenor, then baritone, so that the piece ends on the lowest possible notes.

David Bedford