Páll Ragnar PÁLSSON: “Hermitage” for solo violin (2020)

(Commissioned by violinist Patrick T.S. Yim)



(Written by the composer)

“While I was working on this short piece for solo violin the world was going through a pandemic, affecting the life and health of countless many people – as I write these words there are eight point seven million confirmed cases and over four hundred and sixty thousand dead. During this time, me, my wife and son mostly spent our time at our home and tried to get on with our routine in spite of the situation. Although it was forced then at the same time, I couldn’t help experiencing the sense of solitude we were forced into more like in a comforting way rather than isolated. So, by taking a step away from our daily routine I felt in a way more spiritually connected to the world that before, as contradictory as it may sound.

Hermitage is a place where a hermit or even a group of people live in seclusion from the world, usually in relation to their spiritual or religious beliefs. Obviously, there is also a museum bearing the same name in St. Petersburg, Russia, which me and my wife visited some years ago. The Hermitage there is loaded with artworks creating a culturally extremely saturated environment that suffocates and inspires at the same time. I perceive this piece as exactly that, a space where we can leave our usual life behind just for these few minutes and have a moment with ourselves. This solitude, though, has no meaning without all the fruitful and inspiring connections to the present and the past, inside and outside, near and far.”


Páll Ragnar Pálsson was born in 1977 in Reykjavík, Iceland. For most of his youth he played the guitar in a rock band called Maus. When Maus quit in 2004, he found his musical identity through electronic music studies that led into classical composition. Páll obtained an undergraduate degree in composition at Iceland Academy of Arts in 2007. He continued his studies at master’s level at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre under the guidance of Helena Tulve and graduated with a PhD in composition in 2014.

Estonia, being the cultural crossing point it is, has provided Páll with a lifetime amount of inspiration. There, East-European spirituality meets Western composition techniques in an atmosphere of high creativity and heavy undercurrents of politically tense past. Páll’s compositions can be described as organic linear tranformations with a spiritual undertone.

A sense of continuity through never-stopping transformations distinctive to Páll’s music was partly derived from his doctoral research on Icelandic heritage, guided by Estonian musicologist Urve Lippus. In Páll’s compositions her term linear thinking in music has obtained a new meaning and creates a strong parallel to East-European art music.

Páll’s compositions are usually derived from his reflections on non-musical things and often become abstract projections of these thoughts: existential wonderings, religion in the modern world and the ever changing flow of nature. He seeks inspiration from movements in nature and draws parallels to similar processes within human psyche. Páll constructs his works like a constant flow of tensions building up and releasing with short episodes of clarity – an obvious analogy with geological forces.

Despite the u-turn Páll took as a musician after Maus became inactive, his sense for sound refined in countless studio hours and perceiving music rather in masses of noise than melodic-harmonic patterns, rather in physical and instinctive than intellectual and analytical manner has a strong impact on his art. Nostalgia, Páll’s first compser album, is a slow-cooked materialization of all those impulses.