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.

About my Composition Azonal for Viola and Ensemble (2015-16)

Photo: Riitta-Liisa Ristiluoma

At least as much as of Oscar Bianchi’s music, I got this time from Max Savikangas’s premiered Azonal (non-zonal), completed this year.

The piece in fifteen minutes is like a viola concerto written for quite a large ensemble, but without percussion. Nevertheless, the music is rhythmic, energetic and exciting and for a while it feels like this is the first piece by Savikangas that I liked…

Here Savikangas seems to have found a balance between the tousled, rugged, Lachenmann-like crunch and more conventional elements; the elegiac middle section seems surprisingly like it was from the shelf of some composers in the Sallinen Rautavaara-Englund axis.

Uusinta Ensemble’s musicians played mostly enthusiastically under Joszef Hars’s baton, while Savikangas’s own solo performance was in a class by itself.

Wilhelm Kvist, Hufvudsatdsbladet 9.2.2016

My composition Azonal for viola and 12-member ensemble (2015-16) was premiered in the Klang Concert Series in 8th of April 2016 at the Helsinki Music Centre, Sonore Hall by Uusinta Ensemble , conducted by József Hárs and me as the Viola soloist.

The title Azonal (without zones) refers to the type of musical form of the piece; transitions between different musical materials occur without clear boundaries or cuts between them.

The solo part utilizes extended playing techniques and sounds resulting, such as circular bowing, whisked whistle, glissando repetition and rumble, which the 12-member ensemble reflects – not as effects added afterward, but as an integral part of musical expression.

By the end of the piece there is a solo cadenza, which can be also performed as a separate solo viola piece under the title Azonal Advice (which is actually an anagram with the letters in the words Viola Cadenza).

I composed this piece already in 2009 with the intention that it would be later integrated into as a cadenza of a concertante work for viola and ensemble. The cadenza is not fully written out, but utilizes the Directed Modular-Transformative Improvisation Technique developed by me. Including improvisation means, I hope, that each performance will be somewhat different, which might help the piece to stay fresh and interesting over several performances.

Azonal brings the Viola into the spotlight in a new way, as a vital and potent solo instrument of its own right. I dare to claim that the solo part is absolutely idiomatically written for the Viola – it is not at all as difficult to play as it may sound! I also hoped that Azonal would give the listeners a novel, imaginative, energizising and positive musical experience. And indeed, the premiere was welcomed very warmly and enthusiastically by the audience and it also received a positive review in the Finnish press.

The second performance of Azonal took place in 1st of April 2017 at the Annual General Meeting event of the Finnish Viola Society at the Sigyn Hall of the Turku Conservatory, Finland, with a student orchestra, conducted by accordionist Mikko Luoma and me again as the Viola soloist. The second performance went also very well and was cheered enthusiastically by peer violists in the audience.

Photo: Atte Kilpeläinen

Because many told me after these two performances that Azonal might be my best composition so far, I’m hoping that some other viola soloist would take her/his courage in both hands and try it out – You might be surprised!

Recording, score, solo part etc.
Order the performance materials.
(Hold your phone horizontally and scroll down)