About my Viola Compositions 1994–2016

Max Savikangas performing in 2005. Photo: Heikki Tuuli

Max Savikangas could be entitled as the Jimi Hendrix of the Viola, but he is also much more…Savikangas folds out his thought and perception processes into sounds.

Song of the Blissful, Death at Work and Extraterrestrial develop further the playing techniques of the Viola. Physicality and instrumentality are in focus…it’s not about small dabbling, but bold affects carrying musical ideas…

Savikangas brings the Viola in the middle of the stage and stops the Viola jokes once and for all.

Jukka Isopuro, Helsingin Sanomat 21.2.2004
Max Savikangas performing in 2019. Photo: Tuula Ahvenvaara

The nucleus of my composing is the heard sound. I have constantly aimed at widening the expression scale of my own instrument viola, and consequently of other instruments as well.

Max Savikangas

List of my 13 viola compositions so far

  • Song of the Blissful for viola solo 1994 (9 min.) 
  • Danza for viola and harp 1995/1997 (12 min.) 
  • Death at Work for viola solo 1997 (8 min.) 
  • Viola Splash for multitrack violas and reciters 1997 (9 min.) Text: artist Teemu Mäki 
  • L’Anus Solaire for duck call and 4 violas with reciting 1999 (10 min.) Text: Georges Bataille 
  • Extraterrestrial for viola solo 2001 (8 min.) 
  • Kranker Matthäus for flute and viola 2006 (9 min.) 
  • Disparitions for viola and live-electronics 2007 (15 min.) 
  • Nordic Lights and Shadows for six violas 2008 (6 min.) 
  • Azonal Advice for viola solo 2009 (5 min.) 
  • Flora Viola for multitrack violas and live-electronics 2011 (2,5 min.), soundtrack for animated video Flora by artist Pirjetta Brander
  • Kepler 22-b for viola and piano 2012 (14 min.)
  • Azonal for viola and ensemble 2016 (15 min.)

Please feel free to listen to my 13 viola compositions and read the scores.

For me the new playing techniques and timbres thus produced (e.g. Sul tasto ‘pan’, Bend-buzz-pizzicato, Circular bowing, Whisked whistle, Glissando repetition or Mirror pizzicato) are not the final goal, but a necessary method to achieve my own musical expression. The hoots, wails, hisses, gushes, whispers, crackles and buzzes are by no means effects or seasonings added afterwards into the music; they are an organic part of my expression.

Improvisation has a special meaning to me as a performing musician. When I’m allowed the improvisational freedom as a player – and the responsibility which follows it – it certainly heightens my musical experience (and hopefully the listeners’ as well) and gives a possibility for such music to be invented which might be impossible to achieve by notational means.

In addition, the starting point for my notated instrumental compositions might often be improvising. I enjoy improvising on the viola, and as usually happens, some spontaneous ideas survive and begin to live their own lives in my mind. Some of these ideas may end up as starting points of my written compositions. Larger musical forms are often derived from those interesting sound events – taken that they have been interesting and strong enough to stay in the focus of my imagination. The nucleus of my composing is therefore the heard sound, perhaps in opposition to some more abstract ideas on paper or in a computer.

This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have a great interest in music which is notated very carefully to the smallest detail. Would it be, then, possible to find connections and interactive links between improvised and written down music? Wormholes? For me, absolutely! One connection can be found in timbral thinking: the interchange and tension between contrasting timbres can propel the music along, on equal terms with the other more traditional devices such as melody, harmony and rhythm (timbre should here be understood broadly as an umbrella term for all the components of a sound event).

More coming up!

Watch below me premiering my piece Azonal Advice in 2009 in Helsinki.

Watch below a short animated film Flora (2012) by artist Pirjetta Brander for which I have composed the soundtrack with multitrack violas and FX pedals.