A Tribute to Leif Christensen, thirty years after.
Who was Leif Christensen? Leif Christensen (1950-1988) born in Arhus, Denmark, studied the theory and history of music at Arhus University (1972), followed by guitar studies at the Royal Academy of Music in Arhus. After graduating in 1977, he completed his studies with Konrad Ragossnig at the Basel Musikakademie, earning his Soloists Diploma in 1978. Returning to Arhus, he soon became a teacher at the music academy, first on a part time basis and later as a full time professor. He was a highly sought-after teacher.
From its beginning, Christensens musical career followed an unusual path. Early on, he decided against the normal concert life involving constant repetition of a mixed standard program presenting the same “highlight” pieces again and again.
To the public, Christensen was known more for his recordings than his concert appearances. He rarely engaged in long tours, playing only an occasional concert or two, many as duo concerts with his wife, Maria Kamrnerling (his duet partner seriously hurt in the same tragic automobile accident in Denmark). Together they developed into an exceptional pair, particularly devoting themselves to the 19th century duo repertoire.
Around this time he became friends with Karin Jiirgensen and Leif Rarnlev Svendsen of enterprising, brand-new Paula Records, wisely allocated both Leif and Maria pretty much of a free hand as to what they wanted to record.
They made three duo records: a Sor album (1981) and two Giuliani albums (1984 and 1986), displaying duo playing of the highest caliber.
You can find the Giuliani’s albums in this cd: Giuliani: VIRTUOSO OVERTURES.
Christensen wrote these notes in the booklet that accompains the cd: “Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829), one of the classical guitar’s innovators and greatest talents, created with his three guitar concertos, his numerous solo and chamber music works and his more than 200 songs a repertoire that in addition to its wide distribution in the 19th century represents a milestone in the history of the instrument. The fact that he also was one ofthe 19th century’s most ingenious arrangers of guitar music is often an unnoticed but none less important aspect of the picture of Giuliani.
The present recording, make up the first complete recordings of Mauro Giuliani’s virtuoso overture arrangements for two guitars.”
In 2000 Paula Records made a beautiful of 4 cds, completely dedicated to Christensen’s music. Four cds, the first one dedicated to Fernando Sor and his Etudes op.6 and op. 29, then the second one, his sensational record debut; the 1981 recording of music by Giulio Regondi (1822-72) performed on a guitar from the composers own period.
The third cd is dedicated to Vasilii Stepanovich Sarenko: Works for 7-string guitar. And then what I consider as his personal masterpiece: the first complete ediction of Hans Werner Henze’s Royal Winter Music.
Erik Stenstadvold wrote in the booklet that accompains the 4 cds’ box, dedicated to this great guitar player: “Christensen possesed a character which was a chief asset; the symbiosis of a curious and critical research spirit, a cultured, thorough and uncompromising musician, and a gifted instrumentalist. As a researcher, he immerged himself in the material, considering it seriously, in its own terms, and as a musician and an instrumentalist, he brought this material to life. He also combined a strong conviction with a modest personality; no photo or biographical data appeared on his record jackets. To him, the music, not the player, was thc essential ingredient. This attitude characterized his playing as well. His ideal was not the subjective musician for whom music is a medium which exists primarily for his own need for expression; it was the objective musician whose goal is to give life to the music through its own inherent, immanent structure.
Unfortunatelly Leif Christensens brief career spanned just ten years. As a recording artist, Christensen developed his distinctive musicians approach by becoming totally absorbed in one composer at a time, immersing himself in the material to understand it completely, and finally documenting his results, on record.
His dedication has produced a series of unique records, many of them containing unknown and neglected guitar music. His total repertoire was large and balanced. In addition to his interest in 19th century music, Christensen was particularly devoted to contemporary music. Significantly, he was the first guitarist to record both Royal Winter I and II Sonatas by Hans Werner Henze, in 1983.”
The last cd is his recording made in 1987 of Llobet and Tarrega’s music. This record, maybe the last recording made by Christensen, shows once again his complete dedication to the composers and his high skill level.
I would like to finished this article quoting what George Warren wrote: “Ordinarily the guitarist follows Segovia’s exarnple, and aims at developing a highly specific musical personality through whose network of idiosyncracies every piece he learns is filtered. When Segovia played Bach, when he played Albéniz, what you wound up with was a ‘Segovia performance’, internally consistent, instantly recognisable as the work of the same man each time. You saw Bach or Albéniz through Segovia’s eyes and ears, and that was that. You did not go to him to hear Bach, you went to him to hear Segovia, and this was true regardless of your views on Bach.
This is, of course, a perfectly valid approach, as attested by Segovia’s own magically successful career.
It’s not the only one. The story has it that when Leif Christensen was studying with Konrad Ragossnig in Austria, he asked his teacher how one went about putting together a career. Ragossnig, as I understand it, told him that one masters a certain broadly based, representative repertoire, polishes it, and then goes about playing it again and again for different audiences.
Leif immediately recognised this as a life he wanted no part of at all. He was a man in whom a new idea was beginning to take shape , and he was strong-minded and stubborn as such a man must be , and he rejected not only the potpourri programme , with all it implied in the way of the homogenisation of the repertoire to suit the demands of the concert platform, but the louring life as well.”