Wölfli's influence

Morgenthaler's book about Wölfli quickly became well-known in intellectual circles. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about Wölfli to his friend, Lou Andreas-Salomé:

    I will be sending you post-haste a book which has occupied me greatly in this past week, almost to the exclusion of everything else (...). Wölfli's case can help us understand the source of artistic productivity (...). Read, read...

During his lifetime, Wölfli was visited by artists who were fascinated by him and bought his works. He was rediscovered in the 1930s by André Breton and again in the 1940s by Jean Dubuffet. Moreover, he collected works by other artists who were mentally ill, a collection which can be seen today in a special museum in Lausanne. The major part of Wölfi's works are collected in the Adolf-Wölfli-Stiftung at the Bern Art Gallery, where research is being carried out on his oeuvre. Exhibitions are planned, the immense collection of drawings is being catalogued, and the texts are being transcribed and published.

Nørgård and Wölfli

Nørgård encountered Wölfli's work at an exhibition entitled Outsiders at the Louisiana art gallery in 1979. After the Third Symphony (1975), Nørgård's works became more marked by conflict and polarity - think, for example, of the two movements of Seadrift: Being together and Torn apart, the two poles of which - harmony and conflict - are already expressed in the titles, and in which Nørgård did not use the infinity series.

In his work, Wölfli gave a kind of answer to the question that was bothering Nørgård at that period: how to establish a connec tion between harmony and chaos, two mutually exclusive extremes? In Wölfli's writings, harmony - in the form of the merry journey, for example - is shattered by the sudden incursion of chaos, the fall. True, it is quickly re-established again, but in such a way that one never knows when chaos will next erupt.

The yin-yang symbol expresses this polarity: chaos cannot exist without harmony, harmony cannot exist without chaos. This idea is presented in Nørgård's Fourth Symphony. At the end of the second movement there is an example of 'the fall' in the form of an endlessly drawn-out violon glissando dropping inexorably downwards towards the ground. It ends with a resounding crash, but into the ensuing stillness - death - intrudes the song of a bird, though only for a moment. At this point the symphony ends: hope follows catastrophe, after all.

Wölfli's texts form the basis of several of Nørgård's choral works, and in his opera, Det guddommelige Tivoli (The Divine Circus), scenes from Wölfli's real and imaginary life are set to music - a tribute from the composer 'to a brother'.

Wölfli's person is a symbol of polarity and of the absurd - elements which also have their place in Nørgård's music