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Mäntyjärvi’s Four Shakespeare songs (1984) remain among his most popular works in an output fairly evenly divided between the sacred and the secular. He has commented that ‘the choir is the instrument that I know from the inside … My harmonic language is mainly very sonorous, not tonal but largely consonance-driven. I do use effects and other contemporary means if required for the text or atmosphere at hand. I used to avoid simple solutions but am less self-conscious about that nowadays. A musical idea does not need to be complex to be effective.’
Although counterpoint is by no means absent from Mäntyjärvi’s music, the informing instinct and technique are sometimes those of the orchestrator, who creates diversity of colour by judicious octave or sub-octave doublings to reinforce upper or inner lines, and whose ear is attuned to the variations in shading created by subtly differentiated vertical spacings within a given chord. When Mäntyjärvi describes his music as ‘not tonal but largely consonance-driven’, he acknowledges the technique of treating individual notes within a common chord as pivot points, facilitating elliptical changes of direction. ‘Added-note’ harmony, whereby common chords are spiced by fleeting incidental dissonances, is judged shrewdly and deployed relatively sparingly, never becoming subject to a law of diminishing returns.
from notes by Francis Pott © 2020