20th-century Norwegian music has not yet received the attention paid to that of Sweden or Finland, but shares the general development and characteristics of the musics of those countries. Norway saw a nationalist resurgence and a renewal of interest in her folk heritage in the 19th century, reflected in music in the virtuoso violin transcriptions of Ole Bull (1810-1880) and in the symphonies and orchestral music of Johan Svendsen (1840-1911). At the turn of the century Norwegian music was dominated by the best known of all Norwegian composers, Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), a kind of Mendelssohn of his day (and equally loved in England). Although best known for the beautiful Piano Concerto (1869) and the colourful suites from incidental music to Ibsen's Peer Gynt (1875), his genius lay in smaller forms, particularly his almost Impressionistic later piano music and his songs, which use folk-like original melodies.
The main figure after the death of Grieg was Christian Sinding (1856-1941). His music, influenced by Wagner, was once popular, but has fallen into relative neglect, in part because of his pro-Nazi sympathies. His piano music travelled widely, especially Frühlingsrauschen op.32 No.3 (Rustle of Spring, 1887), and his heroic late-Romantic symphonies and orchestral works were heard on both sides of the Atlantic. Few of the composers of the next generation left any mark, but Harald Saeverud (1897-1992) continued the Romantic tradition, notably in a series of nine rugged symphonies, influenced by Sibelius. A number of composers persevered with a nationalistic idiom, notably Eivind Groven (1901-1977) and Geirr Tveitt (1908-1981), who produced five colourful suites with the title Hundrad Folktonar frå Hardanger as well as concertos and such emotive tone poems as Nykken (Water Sprite). Knut Nystedt (born 1915) is best known for his choral works, and uses both Biblical and Norwegian folk sources. His one-movement String Quartet No.4 (1966) is highly regarded.
One Norwegian composer initiated a more experimental style in the 1920s and 1930s. The reclusive Fartein Valen (1887-1952) was one of the first composers outside Schoenberg's circle to adopt atonal harmonies (in 1924), and then a personal use of tone-rows, though the descriptive influence of the sea and the Norwegian landscape is rarely absent from his works. His music was little known until after the Second World War, when he became recognized as a pioneer of contemporary music in Norway. Klaus Egge (1906-1979) eventually evolved a forceful idiom, founded on counterpoint, that managed to span both elements of Norwegian nationalism and the modernism of 12-tone techniques. Finn Mortensen (1922-1983), after early works with neo-classical elements (including the neo-baroque Wind Quintet, 1951), was the first Norwegian composer after Valen to embrace 12-tone technique, later using more experimental techniques such as the elements of choice and improvisation in the Sonata for Two Pianos (1964). Bjørn Fongaard (1919-1980) developed a micro-tonal idiom, influenced by the Czech Hába. But the finest Norwegian composer since Grieg is Arne Nordheim (born 1931), who has used electronics extensively, both in purely electronic pieces in which he has bridged the structural and stylistic gaps between conventional music and the electronic medium, and in works for conventional instruments with tape.
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born 19th July 1906 at Gransherad
died 7th March 1979 at Oslo
The music of Klaus Egge stands between the early atonalism of Valen and the more internationally cosmopolitan younger Norwegian composers. After a period of Norwegian nationalism, he developed an idiom drawing on 12-tone technique in a free manner which usually has suggestions of a more traditional base, and which creates a polyphonic counterpoint of lean textures, the focus on the linear flow. He combined this with elements drawn from the Norwegian folk tradition, especially in the rhythms and in the use of old modes and tetrachords that constantly change in support of the melodic line, scale, or row chosen.
His earlier works were influenced by folk music in their rhythms and harmonies; the Piano Sonata No.1 `Draumkvede-Sonate' (Dream Vision, 1934) uses modal material drawn from the chants of a early 14th-century folk ballad of the same title. The String Quartet No.1 (1933, revised 1963) is a funeral tribute to the poet Hans Reynolds and includes an Inuit lament in the third movement. A set of three piano fantasies (1939) took as their starting point the rhythmic structure of Norwegian folk-dances. Fantasi i halling (Fantasy in Halling Rhythm) is a kind of neo-Bach with Nordic overtones, and the Fantasi i slåtter (Fantasy in Slåtter Rhythm) adds to this unusual combination the lilt of a dance. During the 1940s Egge developed a technique of strict thematic development and complex counterpoint that gives his music an element of sinuous astringency. This period included the epic Symphony No.1 `Lagnadstonar' (The Sounds of Destiny, 1942), and the Piano Concerto No.2 (1944) for piano and strings, built in the form of seven variations on an old Norwegian tune `Sunfair and the Dragon King', with a closing fugue. The one movement Symphony No.2 `Sinfonia Giocosa' (1947) has echoes of Bartók and Stravinsky, and rhythms again drawn from Norwegian folk-music. The Violin Concerto (1952), well regarded in Norway, is a subdued work, with rhapsodic and angular solo lines, and a feeling of restraint or distance that limits its appeal, though the slow movement has a hazy beauty. In the Symphony No.3 `Louisville' (1957), again in one movement, Egge refined his orchestral clarity, and by the Symphony No.4 `Sinfonia sopra B.A.C.H. - E.G.G.E.' (1967) he had turned to 12-tone technique: the symphony uses the letters of the title as the first eight notes of the 12-note row. Perhaps the most interesting of these later works is the Piano Sonata No.2 `Sonata patetica' (1955). This sinuous, writhing sonata, with its clear linear textures and few moments of vertical repose, sometimes aggressive emotions and contrasts, angular melodic lines and jerky rhythmic effects, exemplifies Egge's craftsmanship, while having a wistful appeal of its own.
Egge was music critic of the journal Tonekunst from 1935 to 1938. He sometimes signed his scores with the musical notation of e-g-g-e.
- 5 symphonies (No.1 Lagnadstonar, No.2 Sinfonia giocosa, No.3 Louisville, No.4 Sinfonia sopra B.A.C.H. - E.G.G.E., No.5 Sinfonia dolce quasi passacaglia)
- cello concerto, 3 piano concertos
- violin sonata; piano trio; string quartet; wind quintet; other chamber music
- 2 piano sonatas, (No.1 Draumkvede, No.2 Sonata patetica); 3 Fantasies for piano
- Elskhugskvaede (Love Song) for voice and strings; song-cycle Draumar i stjernesno (Star-Snow Dreams) 3 songs for soprano and orch.; Fjell-Norig (Mountainous Norway) for voice and orch.; Noregsonger (Norway Song) for chorus
- ballet Fanitullen (Devil's Dance)
Piano Sonata No.2 Sonata patetica (1955)
Piano Concerto No.2 (1944)
born 20th June 1931 at Larvik
Arne Nordheim is among the most interesting of his generation of Scandinavian composers, on the one hand firmly within the tradition of northern music, particularly in the atmospheric sonorities of larger-scale works, and on the other an individualistic experimenter. He has owed little to the contemporary avant-garde (though closest to his Polish contemporaries), but rather sought to extend his range in new contexts. Chief among these has been the use of electronics, both in purely electronic pieces and in works with tape or electronics. His understanding of how electronic works could maintain contact with the more traditional developments of instrumental music, while at the same time informing more conventional modes, is perhaps the most developed of any composer working in this field.
His output can be divided into two main areas, besides his considerable number of scores for films: larger scale works, both for orchestra (with or without voice or electronics) and purely electronic, and works for individual instruments or small groups. The latter are on the whole less interesting and more ephemeral, sometimes influenced by jazz or popular music, sometimes infused with a sense of humour (the exploratory doodlings of Dinosaurus 1971, for accordion and tape, or The Hunting of the Snark, 1975, for trombone), and only occasionally with weightier material (Clamavi, 1980, for solo cello).
His earliest works were influenced by Bartók, notably in three works for string quartet (Essay, 1954, Epigram, 1955, and the String Quartet, 1956), but with the song-cycle Aftonland (Evening Country, 1957) for soprano and string quintet, harp, celesta and percussion (also chamber orchestra version) he started to develop his individual style. Based on verses by Pår Lagerqvist, the song-cycle explores delicate colours, mood becoming more important than melodic line, in a freely atonal harmonic idiom. His next major work, Canzona (1961) for orchestra, was heavily atmospheric, built on themes articulated by individual instruments and then merged into the orchestral texture. With Epitaffio (1963, revised 1978; the epitaph is for the flautist Alf Andersen, 1928-1962) for orchestra and tape Nordheim established his mature idiom. The work moves in great sonorous blocks of different atmospheric colour and tone, overlapping and swelling, with long held chords or notes, the tinkling of percussion, mostly on metal instruments, the netherworld of deep sonorities, and towards the end the disembodied, ghostly voices of the tape intoning three words from one of the most perfect of all 20th-century miniature poems, Salvatore Quasimodo's Ed è subito sera. The atmospheric effect of these vocal sounds could only be produced by electronic means, and they are completely merged into the orchestral texture, and sometimes opposed by orchestral events. The genius of the work, and the chief characteristic that marks Nordheim out as a major composer, is the extraordinary surety of movement and space, that owes little to traditional methods. The points at which the blocks of tone and colour alter into new events or give way to different instrumental colours have a slow pace that seems to be founded mainly on a certainty of instinct, a process that has little to do with rhythm (for rhythmic events may occupy only the space of one of the blocks), and has more in common with the underlying pacing of some Eastern musics (such as Indian rāgs) or the more recent Minimalism, or, to use a Nordic analogy, the pacing of swells and waves on the ocean. This sense of pace was brought to complete fruition in one of the finest, if not the finest, of all electronic compositions, Solitaire (1968). It is built in an arch, opening with broad electronic sonorities centred around a chord of A major that swells in a huge crescendo, like a Nordic version of the opening of Das Rheingold, offset by high tinkling ideas. This is completed by deep, gong-like sonorities, joined by distant distorted voices reciting from Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal, stopped by aural echoes of rain and thunder, and then replaced by quiet strands of electronic solitudes that are the apex of the arch. The process is then reversed, only with variations on the electronic colours, until the crescendo is repeated to close the work. No-one has yet devised such a satisfying and concise musical structure for an electronic piece, not only in the general arch form, but in the use of colour themes, whereby the electronic tinkling sounds that pervade the work undergo metamorphoses while retaining enough of their original sound to remain recognizable. Again, the sense of pace is deeply satisfying, the length perfect, and yet none of the colours and atmospheric effect could have been achieved by conventional instruments. This seminal electronic work, whose influence might be far greater were it better known, should be heard by all with an interest in modern music, and its haunting atmosphere should find a ready response in those who are not.
A completely different atmosphere is conjured up in the electronic Warszawa (Warsaw, 1968), a response to Nordheim's stay in that city. It creates an aural city soundscape that evokes mood and history as well as place, as if we were moving from street to street, each with its own aural signature, from massed crowds to machinery, from individual voices to dripping gutters, many with their own tales of horror and fear, some of beauty, but all haunted by the past and the tension of contemporary Poland. Less effective, but still of interest, is Pace (Peace, 1970), transforming (out of all recognition) the sound of three voices reading the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and turning into delicate bell-like sounds. The Declaration formed the basis of another work, Forbindelser (Connections, 1975), which linked 300 performers in five cities through broadcast media. Lux et tenebrae (Light and Shadows, 1970), is drawn from the tapes for Poly Poly: Music for Osaka 1970, commissioned for the Osaka World's Fair, which combined six cassette tapes each with different sounds, from pure electronic sounds to everyday household noises to more obviously musical ones, arranged so that the interaction of the tapes would never produce a repeat during the six months of the exhibition (the total theoretical length before repeat is 102 years).
In the same period Nordheim produced two major works without electronics. The expressive Eco (1968) for soprano, chorus, children's chorus and an orchestra without strings again sets Quasimodo, here two darker poems laden with images of sorrow and death observed as if by witnesses, opening with atmospheric shards and a pain-laden chorus. Greening (1973) for orchestra opens with an orchestral scream or siren that returns later in the work, and juxtaposes quieter sections, with the strings heavily divided for dense textures, with passages where the orchestral textures flare up, layering the overall sounds. Tinkling bells are prominent, the ebb and flow has at one point an almost Mahlerian expressiveness, and the closing passages seem influenced by Nordheim's experience with electronic sounds.
With Dorian (1975) for tenor and orchestra, Nordheim started to incorporate more obviously melodic lines into his idiom, not only in the vocal but also in some of the instrumental writing, within a general atmosphere of long vocal lines against a twittering orchestra or harp glissandi. The work is based on a poem by Ezra Pound, redolent of the imagery of the northern landscape and the theme of transience, and the setting has echoes of Britten. In the ballet Stormen (The Tempest, 1979), for soloists, chorus, orchestra and tape, based on Shakespeare, much of the vocal writing is for wordless voice or voices. The integration of the different layers of sound sources is magically atmospheric, often centred on a single note to which are added layers of colour and timbre for dream-like effects. Sometimes single voices, both vocal and instrumental, emerge and soar, and Nordheim conjures up both images - the storm, Ariel in the rigging - and, through the colours of the forces, the various characters, in one of his most beguiling works. In Wirklicher Wald (Real Forest, 1983) for soprano, chorus, cello and orchestra, drawing on Rilke and the Book of Job, the cello emerges as a counter to the soloist and chorus. Aurora (1984) for soloists, crotales and tape, or soloists, chorus, two percussionists and tape, has been well described by the composer as a `self-generated sunrise', setting Psalm 139 (in Latin and Hebrew) and Dante. It moves from constant motion, with multi-layered fragments and ritualistic elements (chants and bells) to calmer layers with heavy electronic modification of voices, a meditative and effective work requiring virtuoso performers. During the 1980s Nordheim continued to develop this combination of increased lyricism and expressiveness in a number of vocal works, including Music to Two Fragments to Music by Shelley (1986) for chorus, and in orchestral works with solo instruments, such as Boomerang (1984) for oboe and orchestra.
Nordheim's works for smaller voices rarely answer his requirements for the play of sonorities and rich multiple sounds, but in them he has often tried out interesting concepts. Signals (1967) for accordion, electric guitar and percussion is a kind of musical game in which the instruments build variations on each other's playing. Colorazione (1968) for Hammond organ, percussion, and electronics was one of the earliest pieces in which live instruments were modified electronically, with a small delay, to produce an interplay of live and electronic sounds created in real time, as opposed to pre-recorded.
Nordheim's atmospheric idiom suggests the art of story-telling, as if each work has some unstated drama propelling the music. In part this is created by the interplay of sonorities and blocks, and by the favourite contrasts of deep colours and high tinkling sounds. But it is also impelled by Nordheim's distinctive pacing, which has more in common with the long poem than conventional music. When he uses words, the emotions and the tone behind the words are often as important as the words themselves (which in the earlier works are anyway transformed out of recognition). The underlying themes of these unstated dramas are the transience of life and protest at some of its horrors, but also a stark beauty and the emotional symbolism of nature. These emotive suggestions in the abstract works are often confirmed by Nordheim's choice of text in vocal works; but they are also the themes of Old Norse poetry and saga, and Nordheim emerges as a musical heir to such a tradition, within the medium of his own, ostensibly abstract, art.
- Spur for accordion and orch.; Tenebrae for cello and orch; Boomerang for oboe and orch.
- Canzona, Floating, Greening, Monolith and Polygon for orch.; Epitaffio for orch. and tape; Nachruf and Rendez-vous
- Colorazione for Hammond organ and percussion electronically modified; Dinosaurus for accordion and electronic sounds; The Hunting of the Snark for solo trombone; Partita for viola, harpsichord and percussion; Partita fur Paul for solo violin; Partita II for electric guitar; Response I-IV for percussion, organ and tape; Signals for accordion, electric guitar and percussion
- string quartet; Epigram and Essay for string quartet
- Listen for piano
- Aftonland for soprano and chamber ensemble; Ariadne for 2 sopranos, orch. and tape; Aurora for soloists, crotales and tape, or soloists, chorus, 2 percussionists and tape; Doria for tenor and orch.; Eco for soprano, chorus, children's chorus and orch.; Johannesgangaren for women's chorus, Hardanger fiddle, emulatorm, 3 trumpets, glockenspiel and percussion; La mia canzone for soprano, piano and percussion; Music to Two Fragments to Music by Shelley for chorus; To One Singing for tenor and harp; Tre voci for soprano and chamber ensemble; Wirklicher Wald for soprano, chorus, cello and orch.
- electronic Evolution, For Karin Boye, Lux et tenebrae, Morgenraga, Ohm, Pace, Solitaire and Warszawa
- ballets Favolas, Katharsis and Stormen (The Tempest)
- many film scores including One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Aurora (1984) for soloists, instruments and tape or soloists, chorus, percussion and tape
Clamavi (1980) for cello
Eco (1968) for soprano, chorus, children's chorus and orchestra
Epitaffio (1963) for orchestra and tape
Greening (1973) for orchestra
electronic Solitaire (1968)
electronic Warzawa (1968)
SAEVERUD Harald Sigurd Johan
born 17th April 1897 at Bergen
died 27th March 1992 at Bergen
Harald Saeverud (not to be confused with his son Ketil Saeverud, born 1939) continued the Norwegian Romantic tradition, notably in a series of nine rugged nine symphonies that reflect the Norwegian landscape, mostly driven by polyphony and often using repetitive phrases that build in power to huge climaxes, sometimes under the spell of Sibelius.
His earliest works were influenced by Brahms, but his Symphony No.2 (1923, revised 1924) and the Symphony No.3 (1926) introduced a more dissonant idiom, with harmonies verging on the atonal and with strong rhythmic momentum. However, in the 1930s he returned to an extension of tonal harmony, in such works as the Symphony No.4 (1937) and the Cantata Ostinato (1943), which uses old Norwegian church modes. The events of the Second World War, and the Nazi occupation of Norway, affected Saeverud deeply, and resulted in a number of powerful and concise works. The one-movement Symphony No.5 `Resistance' (1941) and the Symphony No.6 `Sinfonia Doloroso' (1942) are both in single taut movements; the latter reflects his sorrow, and, in the movement towards an heroic climax, continued resistance. The final war-time symphony, Symphony No.7 `Salmesymfonin' (Psalm Symphony, 1945), celebrates the end of the war and those who suffered during it, in a one-movement form in five sections drawing on the Norwegian church tradition. By the Symphony No.9 (1966) Saeverud had relaxed the repetitive motifs in favour of more fragmentation and more angular melodic lines and leaner orchestration; the finale uses Norwegian folk dances. His best known works are probably the two Peer Gynt Suites taken from incidental music (1947) to Ibsen's play, full of sharp-edged wit and without the Romantic lushness of Grieg's more celebrated score. Of his piano music, the Rondo Amoroso, the seventh of the Lette Stykker for Klavier (Easy Pieces for Piano, 1939), is a delicate, nostalgic miniature, also orchestrated for oboe, bassoon and strings. The five books of Slåtter og Stev fra `Siljustöl' (Dances and Country Tunes from Siljustöl, 1943; the title refers to the composer's home) for piano draw on Norwegian folk tunes. Of these, the scherzo Kjempeviseslåtten (Ballad of Revolt, op.22 No.5) has achieved independent life in orchestral form, with a new introduction.
- 9 symphonies (No.5 Resistance, No.6 Sinfonia Dolorosa, No.8 Minnesota
- bassoon concerto, oboe concerto; 2 piano concertos; violin concerto
- Canto Ostinato, Divertimento No.1, Entrata Regale, Feste Campestre, Fifty Small Variations, Gjetlevisevariasjoner, Gladreslåtten, Haakonshallen, Kjempeviseslåtten, Lucretia Suite, Marcia Solonne, Overtura Appassionata, Peer Gynt (2 suites), Rondo Amoroso, Siljustöl March, and Vade Mors for orch.
- Romanza for violin and piano;
- piano sonata; Countryside Festival, Five Capricci, Six Small Piano Pieces, Six Sonatinas (No.5 Quasi una fantasia) and Slåtter og Stev fra `Siljustøl' (5 vols.) for piano
- Sja soli pa anaripigg for chorus
- ballet Bluebeard's Nightmare
Symphony No.6 Sinfonia Dolorosa (1942)
Symphony No.7 Salmesymfonin (1945)
Symphony No.9 (1966)
Peer Gynt Suites Nos. 1 and 2 (1950) for orchestra
Rondo Amoroso (Lette Stykker for Klavier No.7, 1939) for piano
born 25th August 1887 at Stavanger
died 14th December 1952 at Haugesund
Fartein Valen belongs to that group of composers who pursued innovations largely in isolation, little recognized for much of their lives, and about whom exaggerated claims are inclined to be made. His output is small - 44 opus numbers (and three further incomplete works) - and his personal idiom dates from 1924, when he adopted an atonal harmonic language in the Piano Trio. He then developed an interesting combination of atonality, with polyphonic use of tone-rows, and an emotional cast heavily influenced by his love for the Norwegian fjord landscape and the sea that is Romantic in origin, as well as by a deep spirituality and religious sensibility. Overall, his idiom is lyrical, often sparse or austere, usually concise, and uninfluenced by Norwegian folk-music.
The core of Valen's output are nine short tone-poems for orchestra, of which the best known is La cimetière marin (The Graveyard by the Sea, 1934), inspired by a poem by Paul Valéry and memories of a Norwegian cholera cemetery; the desolation of the cemetery is contrasted with the surging ocean. La Isla de las Calmas (The Silent Island, 1934) was inspired by seeing a flock of white doves returning to an island, and has a religious motivation in the contrast of hope and emotions of longing engendered by the sea. The Symphony No.1 (1937, first heard 1956) used material from an atonal piano sonata, while the Symphony No.2 (1941-1944) and the Symphony No.3 (1944-1946) are both cast with two long movements followed by two shorter ones. The former was partly inspired by the composer hearing cries of wounded in a bombed ship, while the latter is the most lucid of the four. All are scored for a small orchestra, used most sparely in the Symphony No.4 (1947-1949).
Two concertos occupy an important place in Valen's output. The Violin Concerto (1947) is a compressed, single movement work, inspired by the death of a child and ending with chorale. His last major work was the brittle and acerbic Piano Concerto (1952), using a chamber orchestra and cast in three concise, linked movements suggesting one overall span. It has echoes of Prokofiev at his most severe, so dry and introverted as to limit its appeal, but with an insidiousness that makes it of interest.
Valen was director of the Norwegian music collection at Oslo University from 1927 to 1939.
- 4 symphonies
- piano concerto; violin concerto
- An die Hoffnung, Cantico di Ringraziamento, La cimetière marin, La Isla de las Calmas, Nenia, Ode to Solitude, Pastorale, Sonetto di Michelangelo,
- violin sonata; piano trio; 2 string quartets; Serenade for wind quintet;
- 2 piano sonatas; Four Piano Pieces, Legende and Variations and other works for piano
- Pastorale for organ
- Ave Maria, Die Dunkle Nacht der Seele, Zwei Chinesische Gèdichte for soprano and orchestra and other songs, including sets based on Goethe and Mörike; choral motets
La cimetière marin (1934) for orchestra
La Isla de las Calmas (1934)
Piano Concerto (1952)
Symphony No.3 (1944-1946)
Die Dunkle Nacht der Seele (1939) for soprano and orchestra
Violin Concerto (1947)