Quarter-tone concerto wins the Nordic Prize

Quarter-tone concerto wins the Nordic Prize


norman lebrecht

October 28, 2020

Well, here’s a turn up for those of us who can hear microtones.

The Nordic Council Music Prize winner 2020 is the Finnish composer Sampo Haapamäki, 41, for his Quarter-tone Piano Concerto.

Can’t wait to hear it.

photo Mika Ranta


  • Mike Dobson says:

    Re: last week’s SD post of the Boulez lectures, Mr Haapamäki will not have to fear withering contempt from the PB fortress in Baden Baden. Microtones according to the late Emperor were the sign of an inferior, irrelevant mind. I for one would be interested to hear Haapamäki’s piece.

  • RW2013 says:

    Ives’ Three Quarter-tone Pieces for two pianos are also very special.

  • sam says:

    Of course, from the Asian perspective with its pentatonic scale, the western twelve-tone scale is already microtonal.

    • John Borstlap says:

      From the perspective of the submongolian Akanedu tribe, who know only the octave as an interval, ALL music outside its territory is microtonal and considered slightly decadent.

      • Peter San Diego says:

        Let’s not forget that in the Middle Ages, Europeans thought any interval aside from the octave and fifth was dissonant. It took time for thirds to be accepted as musical.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Indeed. And my PA still finds the third an irritating dissonant and therefore prefers the later Boulez where all tones are equalized and don’t rub the ear.

    • anon says:

      That betrays something of an ignorance both of actual Asian music and its wide variety. Listen to the different varieties of Indonesian gamelan or Indian classical music for just two examples of Asian music with what are, to ears acculturated to the equal-tempered chromatic scale, microtones.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The slight deviations from the ‘pure’ intervals in Eastern music (as perceived by Westerners), are meant as expressive decorations, and they work best in monotony so that they can be heard clearly. Mostly they are set against a stable background. Western microtonal works however, use a generalized microtonality and that’s why it sounds simply like instruments being out of tune, or some piece being heard while stone drunk.

        interestingly, at some places Bartok uses quartertones in his violin concerto, played by the soloist, and at such moments the orchestra refrains from complex textures and offers a stable background to make the microtones perceptable and expressive, as in Eastern music, or in the maqam of the Middle East. And they work, it is a beautiful effect.

        I don”t know enough of the Indonesian gamelan but I suspect some of the microtones we hear are mere random results of the production of the metal instruments, which have been categorized as systems by Western musicologists.

    • Mr. Knowitall says:

      It’s not just Asian pentatonics. Indian scales, and for that matter pre-Bach Western scales, rely non-uniform octave division. Quarter tones are just about the least useful division of octaves if you’re trying to true thirds and fifths but they do have their own charm for other compositional goals.

    • Ashu says:

      This, of course, is spectacularly untrue of Indian music. Asia is a big place, you know.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Well, here it is:


    The work demonstrates how good the idea of the equal temperament was. Your own temperament may suffer considerably after hearing this piece out.

    • Ceasar says:

      sounds like yesterday’s lunch.

    • Peter Owen says:

      I got as far as 6’30” before my soul threatened to depart permanently. I did sample randomly some later passages which actually sounded worse. And there’s 42 minutes of it – nightmare.

  • Kammersänger says:

    Untrained singers without the benefit of autotune have been the proponents of microtones in Western music for years.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Stravinsky said, about quartertones: ‘I doubt whether they are a useful medium, we hear unintended quartones in performance all the time.’

  • christopher storey says:

    I try to keep an open mind about music … but rubbish remains rubbish however open minded one is, and this concerto equals such travesties as Luigi Nono’s Due Espressione for its painful qualities. Like Peter Owen , I did try it continuously for a few minutes, and then made random selections, but the noise ( I shall not dignify it with the term music ) remained universally dreadful throughout