Jon Mostad

          – composer



Kveikjande klåre. Dag og tid, Sjur Haga Bringeland, 16.01.2015 (Norwegian, about LWC 1076.)

Christiania mannskor: Klang, Den klassiske CD-bloggen, Trond Erikson, 22.10.2015 (Norwegian, about LWC 1076.)

Dansk Musik Tidsskrift, 4, 1996-97, s.139-140 by Jens Cornelius (Danish; about  ACD 4978,) English translation.

Filharmonisk hemmelighet, Dagens Næringsliv, 21st of July 1996 by Hugo Lauritz Jenssen (Norwegian, about ACD 4978,)

Så lenge lyset skinner... Vårt land, 3rd of July,1996 by Olav Egil Aune (Norwegian, about ACD 4978.)

Fanfare, volume 13, Issues 1-2, s. 62 by Joel Flegler 1989 (about the recording of Towards Balance on NCDB 4948):

“Jon Mostad (b 1942) contributes Towards Balance, for orchestra (1977-78), a splendid little piece that reminds me just a bit of a couple of John Adams’s things: The date precludes suspicions of borrowed inspirations. More a case of shared Zeitgeist."

Other texts about Jon Mostad’s music

Brian Dukeshier: A Musicological Journey through Psalm 96. Essay for the Master's Degree in choral conducting, Messiah College, Pennsylvania, USA, 2011. The section covering O Sing to the Lord is higlighted in yellow.

Matthew Berry, Director of Commotio, Oxford, UK, comment after having conducted The Lord is my Shepherd (2006) and O Sing to the Lord (2007):

"I was delighted to have the opportunity to conduct Jon Mostad's very fine Psalm settings, 'The Lord is my Shepherd' and 'Sing to the Lord'. The hockets in the latter reverberated beautifully in the generous acoustics of Merton College Chapel, Oxford. Both pieces were very well received by choir and audience alike".

Texts by Jon Mostad

Vekkelsen og det kirkelige embete i Norge 1842-ca.1860,

Contribution to Seminar for Nordic Church History Research, Båstad 26.-28.-aug. 1966. Universitetsforlagets trykningssentral, Oslo 1966.

Christopher Bruuns holdning til vekkelsen i "for frisindet Christendom", 1884-1886,

Tidsskrift for teologi og kirke, Oslo 1968. Separate prints of the article available from the author.

Aleatorisk kontrapunkt. Analyse av Witold Lutoslawski: Symfoni nr. 2, 1. sats: Hésitant med en oversikt over oppbygningen av storformen i hele verket. A part of his diploma work, NMH, Oslo, 1974. Ms.

“und Chopin ist auch dabei", et à propos til Bø-Rygg, Ballade nr. 3, Oslo 1982.

Med fanfarer og fyrverkeri – inntrykk fra Nätverk-festivalen i Göteborg, Ballade nr. 2, Oslo 1993

Etter postmodernismen, Parergon nr. 10: 81 manifester, Oslo 1999.

Olivier Messiaen – musikk, tid og evighet, Lære og liv, nr 4, Bergen 2008. (The linked text is a slightly revised version of the original periodical article.)

Comments on own works:

Were You There, When They Crucified My Lord? The Narrative of Jesus’ Suffering, Death, and Resurrection According to St. .Mark

The subtitle states that this work includes the resurrection story, and in that respect differs from the traditional passions.

The spiritual "Were You There, When They Crucified My Lord" serves as a ritornello, with each of the stanzas sung by the choir, following the course of the Gospel text.  By asking, ”Were You There..”, its text points to these events not just as something in the past. Making St. Mark story of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection present to the listener is also what the entire work aims at.

In addition to the spiritual, the narrative from St. Mark's Gospel is commented by other Bible passages: Col 2,14-15 (XI) as a conclusion to the part about the crucifixion and Phil. 2,6-11 (XIV) summing up the whole story.

The narrative text is spoken, not sung. The vocal soloists (Soprano, Tenor. and Bass) have their respective “parts” (Jesus, Pilate etc.), and the soprano soloist in addition alternates with the choir in singing the commenting Bible texts. When she repeats the phrase "triumphing over them on the cross" from Col. 2,15 (XI), the bass enters with the words he has sung as the centurion by the cross (in IX): "..this man was the son of God" as a counterpoint.

Another important task for the soprano is conveying the words of the angel in the tomb (XII), where she is joined gradually by the tenor, who elsewhere in the work represents Jesus. 

The choir is involved in 10 of the 14 movements. It represents collectives (the chief priests, the teachers of the Law, the multitude etc.), and is also trusted with the translation of the Aramaic cry at the cross (“Eloi, Eloi ...”) 

The orchestra has not merely the role of accompanying the choir and the soloists, but is on the contrary an independent voice which at times also plays alone.  

The first 10 movements present Mark's account of the passion story, with the 11th movement as a summing up with a focus on Jesus' death as a victory over the powers of evil. The music in these movements is based on a mode of nine tones within an octave, which gives room for both diatonic and chromatic melody, and a harmonic focus on minor seventh chords and tritone. Within this mode it is also possible to build successions of three whole note steps, like the 8th, 9th, and 10th harmonic. In combination with other tones of the mode, these are used to approach a harmonic spectrum for the orchestral part in most of the passages with words of Jesus sung by the tenor soloist.

The 12th movement, which is also the longest one (approx. 11 minutes), is a turning point. Twice, the orchestra builds up large clusters by transpositions of a major second motif. The second time, after we have heard about the "trembling and bewildered" women fleeing from the tomb, the cluster is broken down to a bright, shimmering sound field forming a harmonic spectrum, with the trumpets repeating the motif of the angel's message, "he is risen.” The higher notes in the spectrum are soon filled in by the soundtrack played back through loudspeakers behind the audience (the choir, soloists and orchestra are in front), and the choir sings the last stanza of "Were You There.." in unison and later in four or more parts until they repeat the "He is risen" motif from the angel.

In XIII the commission of the resurrected Jesus to his disciples and his promise of the signs that will follow those who believe are sung by the tenor. As this takes place during a meal, the orchestral opening borrows material from the Passover meal section in movement II.

Movement. XIV with Phil. 2,6-11 as a text is performed by the choir and orchestra. In the last words ("…every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father”), the choir is joined by the soprano and bass soloists, before a short instrumental epilogue closes the entire work.

When choosing between a Norwegian or an English translation of the biblical texts, I thought of the example of the New Testament writers. Many of them did not have Greek as their mother tongue, but still chose to write in the world language of their times, in that way underlining the universal relevance of their message, and facilitating its spread.


Musical Icons, for guitar

After having heard the eminent guitarist Ole Martin-Huser Olsen play my old work: ”Two Church Pictures”, I considered writing something else for the guitar.

At that time, Ole Martin asked me to write a work for him, preferably with a link to some Christian theme. That was exactly what I had in mind. It ended up in  ”Musical Icons”, five short meditations on Biblical texts.  

The first movement refers to the description of God in Psalm 50,3: ”a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages.” Musically this is depicted in strong broken chords and rapid passages.

No. 2 is linked to the words of John the Baptist about Jesus: ”Look, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. The mood of the music for the most part reflects the serenity of the one who keeps silent while ”led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Is. 53,7), but at the climax there is also dramatic tension, reflecting the Lamb of God’s suffering and death at the cross.

The story from Mark 5,2-15 about the demon-possessed man from the tombs is the background for the third movement. Its quasi-improvisatory chords and passages in fast tempo and strong dynamics reflect the man’s wild, uncontrolled behaviour as well as Jesus’ command that the evil spirits should leave him and flee into a herd of pigs, who then run into the nearby lake.

The music calms down towards the end, as does the man in the Gospel’s story after having met Jesus. A short melody phrase here is a citation from my work ”Were You There, When They Crucified My Lord” (Mvmnt. IX) where it is sung to the text: ”This man was the Son of God:”

4: A short 8-note phrase grows both in density of texture, dynamics and speed. Even the original intervals of the 8-note motif are expanded. This is a musical parallel to Jesus’ parable about the kingdom of God, which is like the tiny mustard seed that grows to a big tree where birds can build their nests.

”Our Father” is the title of the last movement. I also refer to the parable of the prodigal son, which makes clear what kind of a father Jesus means when he teaches his disciples to address God in that way. In most of the movement, high repeated notes are extended downwards into sound fields consisting of parts of a harmonic spectrum. To make possible to include the 11th and 13th harmonic, the guitar’s 2nd string in this movement is tuned down by three quarters of a tone.

As the work is described above, it was fulfilled in the spring of 2020. Later, however, I thought that there was a need for another movement after "The Mustard Seed". The new movement, "The Wind of the Holy Spirit", was composed early in the autumn of 2021, and became the new fifth movement, with "Our Father "as the sixth.

Broken chords, rapid passages and forceful chords, sometimes played as tremolos, characterise this movement, sometimes reminiscent of some of the earlier movements of the cycle.
This is intended to reflect Jesus' words to Nicodemus "The wind blows wherever it pleases...So it is with everyone born by the Spirit" (John 3,8) and the account of the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.


String Quartet no. 3.

This work closes the trilogy of string quartets that was completed during the decade 2009 to 2019.

A peculiarity of this quartet is that the spatial dimension becomes a part of the composition in some of the movements by placing one or more of the instruments elsewhere in the hall than up front.

In the opening, the violins enter from behind the audience, playing a repeated short phrase. The first movement is the introduction to the Quartet, and two short sections of this movement sound almost like a chorale. Hence the title: "Introduction and Chorale". Towards the end, the 1st violin moves to the back of the hall, preparing for its part in the 2nd movement, "Lamento". 

In much of this movement, the 1st violin acts as a soloist from behind, in part as a counterpart to the 2nd violin in front. 

The harmonic basis of the 2nd movement is a mode of nine notes within an octave, which was also used in the first eleven movements of "Were You There, When They Crucified My Lord?"

There is also melodic material borrowed from that work: A line that, at the culmination, is played in octaves by the violins in the front and back. This melody is introduced in a shorter form earlier, and the opening of it is spun out into a longer solo melody in the first violin, imitated in vl. 2.

Soon two shorter fragments of it with their characteristic rhythms are repeatedly intertwined in each other by the 1st and 2nd violin (back and front) with chords and accompaniment figures in viola and cello, until the 2nd violin version is broken down in a downward glissando, only retaining the basic rhythmic pattern. After the culmination, some of the material from earlier in the movement recurs in inverted form, and that version again played backwards, moving into a calm close.

In the third movement, there are two distinct groupe within the quartet: 1st violin-cello and 2nd violin-viola. As the title "Back and Forth" expresses, attacks, glissandi and arpeggios are thrown back and forth, sometimes approaching a dialogue.

All the players are "United" in front in the 4th movement. It also unites elements from earlier movements with new material. It opens with ethereal sounds obtained by all instruments playing behind the bridge. Soon we hear drone chords reminniscent of the ones in the 1st movement of the String Quartet No. 2. These chords and others are then repeated rhythmically in shorter note values until they dissolve in melodic lines.

Both in the middle section and towards the end, the drone chords reappear, sometimes building harmonic spectra, making use of the two non-tempered notes (7th and 11th harmonic) of the 14-note mode spread over 2 1/2 octaves. (All the movements, except no. 2, use variants of this mode.) 

The oblique pulses from the 1st movement appear in a section of the last half of the movement, this time speeded up in a vigorous dance-like manner. The chorale style is also reintroduced, as well as reminders of the arpeggios from the 3rd movement.

In the "Epilogue", the ensemble is again split up, with the viola and cello behind the audience. It starts with a single note changing in colour as it passes between all the four instruments with different playing techniques, then it is built up into chords rotating in the room, sometimes with successive attacks on the notes of the chord. For a greater part of the movement, these chords are part of a harmonic spectrum, which becomes very evident towards the close of the movement and the entire Quartet.


String Quartet no. 2.

Two contrasting ancient Greek words were in my mind as I planned this string quartet: Stasis and ekstasis. Both are roots of modern words: Static and ecstasy/ecstatic.

Ekstasis  does not only denote ecstatic, uncontrolled behaviour, it can also be used about a kind of positive excitement, like when the Greek text of the New Testament Gospels reports that people got “ekstaseis” (plural of “ekstasis”) when they witnessed Jesus’ miraculous healings.

This work has both static and more ecstatic aspects. Long held drone chords, mostly on open strings, are the most striking element in the first movement. At the point where boredom sets in, or maybe after, something happens, a short arabesque or a glissando in one or more parts, or a change in the static chord. In a few sections all or most of the ensemble takes part in more movement, also in stronger dynamic nuances than the soft drone sections.

The second movement sets out in a more “ecstatic” mood, with fast marcato bowing and strong dynamics in all the instruments. There is a calming down, however, in the middle section and towards the end. The melodies of the middle section are extracted from characteristic points in the opening figurations. Some of the longer melodic lines from this section are later intertwined in the short marcato figures that otherwise characterize the opening, giving this part a hybrid function of development and recapitulation. Even hints at the drone chords from the first movement turn up shortly before the close. 


String Quartet No.1: Three Introductions and an Essay:

The three Introductions focus on different ways of forming music; in the first one, the emphasis is particularly on attacks, both as single notes and chords; in the second there is harmony and melody based on the harmonic series,

which necessarily implies microtonal deviations from the tempered scale; the third focuses on polyphonic interplay of musical lines.

The Essay moulds all these varieties of texture together on a larger canvas, and becomes freer and maybe more emotional than the shorter introductions


You Have Searched Me, LORD (Psalm 139, 1-18; 23-24) for mixed choir SSAATTBB and cello.

The text of Psalm 139 is a very strong affirmation of God’s presence and knowledge, even if one flees to the most remote places (part II of the music.)

He even sees and is the ultimate creator of the unborn child (e.g., ”Your eyes saw my unformed body”, v, 16, in part III of the music.)

In the last verses of the text, the statement of the opening: ”You have searched me, LORD, and you know me”, is turned into a prayer: ”Search me. LORD…”

At an early stage, I imagined this work as a kind of a concerto for cello and choir. Instead, it has rather become a choral work with an obbligato cello part. In the opening, though, the cello has the lead, with the choir just filling in some of the harmonics of the cello’s open C string. The cello also has a short solo in the second section.   

The musical setting is in four sections. The first section has a slow tempo and after its calm ending, the second section comes as a dramatic contrast, with repeated cello attacks introducing the choir singing about the futile attempt to flee from God’s presence.

In the third section, ”whispering”  passages in the cello as well as actual whisper by the choir underline the psalmist’s wondering and awe at God knowing him  ”in my mother’s womb.”

The fourth section varies much of the material from the first, ending in a solo quartet in the choir on the word ”everlasting”, accompanied in the cello part by  a long pedal note on a low G and its fifth harmonic, which at last fades away.


Two Miniatures for organ

These short pieces are in fact studies. A title like "Études" would, however, be misleading, since it would bring associations to virtuoso playing technique. These pieces are, on the contrary, not very difficult to play; they are rather studies in organ sound.

No. 1, "Sesquialtera", is a study in our perception of a combination of two or more harmonics (here the 3rd and the 5th in the sesquialtera stop played alone) as a peculiar timbre in high registers, but as a chord in medium or lower registers. In addition, this stop is combined with different stops representing lower harmonics. A short central section of the piece employs the sesquialtera stop in the more traditional way, as a component of the overall timbre of a solo melody against the background of chords in softer dynamics and sound colour. 

No. 2 "Reeds" is a study in the sonorities of reed stops, sometimes in combinations that make them function as an attack or gradually increasing / decreasing colouring of the more neutral sound of a flute stop.


His Face was Like the Sun for concert band:

The title is from the Book of Revelation in the Bible. In Rev. 1, 12b-16, John sees seven lampstands, and among them someone "like a son of man,"

I first thought of including a reading of the entire text of Rev. 1,12b-16 in the piece, but finally dropped it. Still, the piece is an attempt at giving resonance to the brilliance and beauty described in the text. There is also room for episodes of a more meditative character, in the form of static sound fields and a chorale-like section. The most direct hint to the text is that seven transitions between sections in the music are marked by strong blows on a deep tam-tam. (cfr. "seven lampstands")

The chorale section becomes an axis which the piece revolves around. Afterwards, much of what happens, is a development of ideas from the first part. This includes even fragments from the "chorale", like in the first part. One of these fragments is a quotation from a mass for choir and organ that I wrote shortly before this work. In the mass, the text of this quotation is: "Born by the virgin Mary." Even if the quotation was as much motivated by musical considerations, it also points beyond the music: He who reveals himself in heavenly brilliance, is the same that was born into this world as a little human being.


Two Psalms no.1: O Sing to the Lord  for mixed choir SSAATTBB a capella:

The text of Psalm 96 shouts out "a new song" of praise to the Lord. Once when I heard it read, I "heard" moving chords and melodies passing between the parts with each part singing one syllable of the text. That became a germinal idea for the composition.

In the completed song there are also longer melodic lines with coherent text in one or more parts. The sound is mostly bright, with a harmony close to parts of the harmonic series.


Two Psalms no.2: The Lord is my Shepherd for mixed choir SSAATTBB a capella:

Once I was improvising over tonal chords on the piano with soft dynamics, but saturated sound. Although playing the piano, I was thinking in terms of choral sonorities. The rhythm of my improvisation was exactly that of the words, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”.

This opening was further developed to no. 2 in ”Two Psalms”, where the rhythmic treatment of the text is in focus, as well as matching the musical expression to the contents of the text. 

The song has proved to become my most frequently performed single composition; after its premiere in 2000 in Helsinki, Finland, together with No.1 of Two Psalms, it has been sung numerous times by choirs in several European countries, Japan, and the USA.