In May 1981, Magnus Lindberg graduated from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. His composition professor there had been Paavo Heininen, who strongly supported his students' explorations of modernist trends from elsewhere in Europe and from North America. Still, when Lindberg took himself off to Rome for the summer, he experienced a sense of liberation in being free to compose as he wished, with no one looking over his shoulder. Linea D'Ombra, originally scored for flute, saxophone, guitar, and percussion (the saxophone was later replaced by clarinet), was written for the Finnish ensemble Cluster. The title comes from a fragment of Italian poetry by Walter Valeri.
This is virtuosic music, yet, at the same time, exploratory in character. The busy guitar and percussion are brittle in sonority and the winds flit about, dancing over fast flurries and extended sonorities. The music truly has no bottom end and neither does it have any tonal anchors. For much of the piece, the four instruments sound as if they are independent, each nervously jumping from one outburst or fluttery passage to another. But, interspersed throughout are emphatic gestures, articulating points of conjunction and drama. As a whole, Linea D'Ombra seems to peter out, to run out of steam. The piece ends with odd, percussive vocalizing, the instruments being left behind. These interjections coalesce into a fragmented quotation from Valeri: "Sorride, sospira, sospenti la morte, iura che un melo si freddo da fiori sta sera" (Laugh, sigh, keep death away, for the cold apple tree will bloom tonight).