Monday Notes

Esbjorn Svensson, From Gagarin’s Point Of View

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[Monday Notes no. 150] From Gagarin’s Point Of View is a piece written in 1999 by Swedish pianist Esbjorn Svensson. The piece is dedicated to the Russian astronaut Jurij Gagarin, the first man to travel into outer space.

Jazz is urban music, related to men and their earthly affairs, their troubles and loves. An astronomically inspired jazz piece is a rarity, and in fact it is played by a Swedish pianist, geographically far away from the jazz clubs of New York.

The piece seeks to recreate with music Jurij Gagarin’s view of cosmic space, and it does so using very specific musical devices. In particular, the piece employs two modal scales, it uses very wide intervals and many empty spaces, i.e. long rests.

Already in the introduction of From Gagarin’s Point Of View, the double bass plays a repeated D Bb C D figure, which clearly states an eolian mode. We note in fact the pedal of D, together with the alteration Bb.

From Gagarin's Point Of View - Esbjorn Svensson
The intro of “From Gagarin’s Point Of View”

The theme is sparse, with wide octave intervals, and is based on notes confirming the D minor Eolian mode. After repeating the same four-measure phrase twice, the trio plays for another four measures on a C pedal (minute 1’05”), with a trill on the notes C Db that suggests a C Phrygian mode.

From Gagarin's Point Of View - Esbjorn Svensson SPARTITO
The lead sheet of “From Gagarin’s Point Of View”

The trio plays low notes and leaves a very suggestive empty space. Esbjorn Svensson’s improvisation is also very sparse, often based on wide intervals. At minute 2’38”, the pianist plays some extremely dissonant chords that seem to express Jurij Gagarin’s surprise in front of cosmic space.

The trio shows a great interplay, especially in their ability to play in a very rarefied way. The musicians wait for each other, and are not afraid of emptiness. Not even Jurij Gagarin had to be, if he had the courage to be launched into space before anyone else.

I am fascinated by the music and also by the boyish, jaunty appearance of the young Esbjorn Svensson who also bears a certain physical resemblance to the Russian astronaut Gagarin.

Esbjorn Svensson died tragically in a diving accident, five years after this recording. His search for a different point of view came to an abrupt end in the abysses of the sea, which are no less dangerous and mysterious than outer space.

Until next Monday!

Download the lead sheet of From Gagarin’s Point Of View – Esbjorn Svensson

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