Vernalis Breakdown

Vernalis Breakdown (2019) for two guitars was commissioned by the Aros Guitar Duo with financial support from the Danish Arts Foundation and KODA.

When I retired as professor of electronic music in 2018 after having spent a lifetime studying, composing and teaching electronic and contemporary music, I decided to buy myself a five-string banjo as a retirement present. I had never actually played the banjo. There was a battered five-string banjo hanging on the wall in my childhood home, but no-one in my family knew how to play it. I guess taking up the banjo at the age of 65 was an attempt to reach back through the years to my childhood.

I decided to try to learn to play bluegrass banjo in the fast and furious style of the legendary Earl Scruggs, but just for fun and for my own amusement. Bluegrass banjo players are few and far between in Denmark, so I found an on-line course and off I went, finding great joy in being a total amateur, after working as a professional musician for so many years. Soon I was playing bluegrass and country music on a regular basis with my family and friends, and having a hell of a lot of fun.

About a year after I took up the five-string, Mikkel and Simon of the Aros Guitar Duo asked me to write a piece for them based on the melody known as In Vernalis Temporis (In Springtime), composed around 1500. In Denmark, this old melody is well-known and cherished.

When I started composing the piece, I simply couldn’t get all those bluegrass banjo licks out of my head. So I decided to succumb and incorporate bluegrass banjo licks into a classical guitar duet. In bluegrass, a breakdown is a part of a song in which various instruments have solo parts (breaks). This may take the form of all instruments playing the verse together, and then several or all instruments individually repeating the verse as solo parts. In Vernalis Breakdown, a cherished sixteenth century Danish melody meets the unrestrained, unceremonious world of American bluegrass.

Watch a performance of Vernalis Breakdown with the Aros Guitar Duo