Gwendolyn Sommereyns was born on 24 November 1982 in Leuven. As a youngster she took lessons in solfège, ensemble singing, harmony, accompaniment and piano at the Municipal Music Academy of Sint-Pieters-Woluwe. She began to compose at a very young age, writing works for piano when she was 12 and being recognised as a composer by Sabam at 14. Two years later she was a prizewinner in the KBC Aquarius Composition Project for Young People with the work Sémira for piano solo, and again 2 years later for Oh, fruscio del bel canneto for soprano and piano. In 2000 Sommereyns began her studies at the Lemmens Institute, from which she graduated cum laude in 2005 as Meester in de Muziek for composition. In the meantime she participated in a composition course with Wim Hendrickx in Neerpelt (2001), earned a diploma in piano and won prizes in the Muzizoek Composition Competition for her works Endeavour for string quartet (2003) and Avalon for mixed choir (2004). Still early in her career, she has already won a number of other prizes, including the Piet Vermeulen Second Prize and the Special Prize for the best composition for harp or piano in the 2003 ISME Composition Competition for her composition Cascade. Her work was also honoured with the 2003 Provincial Prize for Music Composition for Band Music (Flemish Brabant), where she won the encouragement prize for Phoenix. In addition she won first prize in the mixed voices category at the 2005 Euprint National Choir Composition Competition in collaboration with Capella di Voce, with her work Poor Corydon. She has made a number of choral arrangements for the European Music Festival for Youth in Neerpelt and composed Myst, the compulsory work for the Axion Classics competition sponsored by Dexia Bank (2004).
Although each of her compositions has its own structure and background, Gwendolyn Sommereyns’ musical works are typically lyrical, fluent and speaking. Each work is given an appropriate title that expresses the feeling and image she associates with it, and which she hopes to communicate to the performer. Some titles are literally the translation of what the work seeks to portray, such as Cascade, in which the music depicts the movement of water, from droplets to a full flow. Poor Corydon takes the title of a text by Shakespeare. Here Sommereyns attempts to follow the text both in terms of grammar and meaning, as it depicts a spurned shepherd who goes through various psychological phases. Other compositions create a more general mood; these include From the garden of the Gwragedd Annwn, which is based on an elf myth. In Avalon, the composer takes as her point of departure the syllables of the word Avalon, basing the whole composition on them. This is an example of the important place held by language in her work, a tendency that is especially clear in the composition Sinong Tao Kaya, on an anonymous 19th-century Philippino poem, in which the composer derives Leitmotifs such as “I”, “you”, “question”, “cosmos” and “hope” from the text. As in other works, Sommereyns here respects the structure of the poem’s verses. A tonal sub-structure is never completely absent in her works: she never writes purely atonally. Petra Eterna is modal, in Stone dance she plays with whole tones and half tones, and in Poor Corydon there is an interplay between parallel fourths and fifths. She composes within a broad spectrum encompassing tonality, (neo-)modality and very extended tonality. ABA patterns are often found, with compositions ending as they began, albeit in a varied form. For instance, Stone dance begins with a dialogue between the violin and the double bass, then evolves from this rhythmic conversation into a tense atmosphere recalling the tango. This is followed by a return to a varied version of the opening. Here the two instruments grow towards one another until they fuse completely in the final unison. Poor Corydon is also based on this structure, with a conclusion that repeats the opening but with some altered notes and with an interchange of parts.
Sommereyns pays close attention to the motivic relationships between the different themes. In Traces we are presented with a number of musical elements, developed each in turn and sometimes simultaneously over the course of the various movements. In Phoenix, Sommereyns makes use of the two themes, whereby the second theme, which represents the rebirth of the phoenix, is distilled from the opening motif. She finally combines the two themes to create something of a “happy end”, as the myth suggests. Endeavour, a work in the style of Phoenix, was first written for string quartet and later transcribed for string orchestra. Both works have the feel of music for the credit of a film/television series, and Endeavour is indeed dedicated to John Taw, better known as Inspector Morse from the television series. The title refers to the first name of this character, “Endeavour”, with its meaning of “striving for something and never giving up”. The composition accordingly has a beat that indeed never stops. Another characteristic of Sommereyns’ music is the care taken for the transition between the different sections of a work. A new theme will not suddenly arise but is always carefully prepared.
Gwendolyn Sommereyns is never dictated to by the limitations of notation. She does not compose directly on the computer or at the piano, but on paper, in order to be able to work as freely as possible. She employs rubato-rhythms and graphic notation. Fleuves d’arbres, for instance, is written partly without bar lines, as the clarinet, in the first movement, lays down a continuous motivic carpet. In From the garden of the Gwragedd Arnwn as well, bar lines were seen to be superfluous: here the score and the performance are meant to be spontaneous, and metrical considerations would interfere with this spontaneity. Cascade ends without a double bar line, since the composition ends in nothingness. In addition to its many dynamic and technical markings Poor Corydon includes staging instructions.
List of works
Solo instruments: Sémira for piano (1998); Variation on Theme by A. Diabelli for piano (2003); Petra Eterna for harp (2003); Cascade for harp (2003); Myst for harp (2004); From the garden of the Gwragedd Annwn for flute (2004); Mani for piano (2004)
Chamber music: Oh, fruscio del bel canneto for soprano and piano (1999); Endeavour (John Thaw in memoriam) for string quartet (2002); Fleuves d’Arbes for oboe and clarinet in A of Bes (2003); Stone Dance for violin and double bass (2003); Notturno from Mikrokosmos IV, B. Bartók arr. for oboe, bassoon and harp (2003); Sinong Tao Kaya for soprano and percussion (2004); Even a small breath…or blown up dust from earth…becomes an echo to eternity for violin, violoncello and piano (2005)
Ensemble: Traces for flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, viola and violoncello (2005)
String orchestra: Endeavour (John Thaw in memoriam) (2002, transcription of the equally named string quartet)
Wind band works: Phoenix (2003)
Choir: Avalon for mixed choir (2003); Uti var hage, arr. Swedish folk song for soprano, alto and baritone (2004); Uti var hage, arr. Swedish folk song for soprano and alto (two versions) (2004); Poor Corydon for mixed choir (2005)
Music theatre: Elegie voor Kayano (based on poetry Marcel Pira) for spoken voice, soprano, clarinet in Bes, basset horn and percussion (2005)
– Natuurfenomenen: laureatenconcert 2de Emanon Compositieprijs, in Oorgetuige, 2007.
– Cascade (Sarah Verrue), UIT DE SCHADUW, ISME Vlaanderen, 88447-2, 2003
– Poor Corydon (Capella di Voce, Kurt Bikkembergs), DE NIEUWE OOGST, Euprint- Sono bvba, Cd Sono E 105, 2005
texts by Marijke Bobbaers
Last update: 2006