The Volcano Symphony

Music for Baroque Orchestra


Reijseger wrote this music inspired by the imagery of volcano footage. The opportunity arose, in the form of film budget, for Reijseger to write for baroque orchestra and record. After the recording session, circumstances changed. The music did not become a film score.

There is irony to this story. The enormous volcanic eruption shown in the footage is the same eruption that prevented Reijseger from performing a solo cello concert in Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2014. For days, the Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland released enormous clouds of volcanic ashes, blocking the sky between Europe and the USA. All flights were cancelled.

Previous liner notes on the Volcano Symphony contain a lot of ‘poetic licence’ by the then producer. To set the record straight, Reijseger’s preferred title for this album was Volcanic Poem and more importantly, the music has nothing to do with the Hawaiian goddess Pele, the earth-eating woman, who is associated with volcanic violence.

The Volcano Symphony is a musical poem about the magical volcanic landscape of Iceland – majestic yet alienating, with hot liquid rock building up pressure underneath the surface.

Reijseger choose to compose for baroque instruments, due to the sound of gut strings and the irregularities of baroque wind instruments that blend differently, creating variety.

These compositions are not intended as baroque music. The score merely makes use of baroque instruments and the baroque style of playing. Reijseger reckoned that the rough edges of baroque orchestra, the rhythmical precision and non-vibrato way of playing would match the imagery.

As a teenager, Reijseger played basso continuo baroque ensembles. He’s familiar with the idiom, the baroque bowing techniques and the non-vibrato style. From his teacher, cellist Anner Bijlsma, he learned that the use of vibrato should be a choice, not a constant. From the early 1970’s, Bijlsma was one of the key figures in the reinvention of authentic ways of interpreting and performing baroque music, together with harpsichord and organ player Gustav Leonhardt and recorder player Frans Brüggen.

The volcanic poem builds up in intensity. A calm and serene introduction develops into dynamic movements with multiple layers. The flow of lava, gigantic explosions and clouds of ashes, raging fire, unstoppable forces of nature and destruction – Reijseger scores to an unpredictable and capricious Mother Earth.

Part I – Calm and slow movement with hidden tension. Green covers past volcanic activities, as the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates widen and divide Iceland in two.

In Part IV the attentive listener will recognise the opening part of Reijseger’s concert for 5-string cello, also released on the album Double Live. Reijseger felt it would resonate well with the imagery of nature. Forma Antiqva proved to be a great match for this composition.

Part V refers to images, stories and imaginary dances of the Viking Age.

In part VI of the Volcano Symphony, Reijseger uses tone material of Antonio Vivaldi’s Magnificat (RV 610). He writes a middle part that doesn’t refer to Vivaldi anymore – in fact, rather the opposite. Towards the end, the music morphs into the 14 opening bars of Vivaldi’s original composition.

For this re-issue, Spring Music remastered Volcano Symphony Part XI the way it was originally intended. Reijseger had a plan for the finale. He wanted to add the thunder run of the Bristol Old Vic, a wonderful invention dating back to 1766, which was intended for theatre. It is a wooden construction built above the ceiling in the attic of the Bristol theatre hall. Three big wooden balls are rolled down a long, wooden sleeve, creating an ongoing sound of thunder.

A live production of the Volcano Symphony in the Bristol Old Vic would be a great scenario to fully experience the live sound of the baroque orchestra, the volcanic images on big screen and the thunder run in its full glory.

The Spanish baroque orchestra Forma Antiqva, conducted by Aarón Zapico and enriched by the voice of Eugenia Boix, accepted the challenge of exploring this contemporary music score.

Aarón Zapico (born in Asturias, Spain, in 1978) is one of the leading musicians in the field of historical interpretation, performing frequently as harpsichordist, organist and conductor.

In 1999 Zapico founded the Baroque music ensemble Forma Antiqva, to which he devotes most of his time and energy. In just a few years, his ensemble has become one of the protagonists of the historical interpretation of early music.

Reijseger: “It was a sheer joy to work with these exceptional musicians. They showed great dedication and awesome spirit, not to mention an excellent control of their instruments. After the first rehearsal day, we had had to unwind and share our excitation. We had tapas and wine till after midnight and to my surprise, everyone showed up at nine o’clock sharp the next morning! At diner time, soprano Eugenia Boix sat aside me and said: “So it was you, who wrote all of those melodies, that do not leave my head!”