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Arne NORDHEIM (b.1931)
Draumkvedet (The Dream Ballad) (1994)
Text adaptation by Ola E. Bø and Halldis Moren Vesaas
Olav Åsteson - Njål Sparbo, (bass-baritone)
Kvinna/Urkvinna - Unni Løvlid, (vocal)
St Peter, Priest, St Jakob - Carl Høgset, (counter-tenor)
Engel - Rasmus Høgset, (counter-tenor)
Guds Heilage Moder Torunn - Østrem Ossum, (mezzo)
Engel - Frank Havrøy, (baritone)
Jesus, Lucifer - Sigve Bøe, (tenor)
Ein gut - Benjamin Isaksen, (boy soprano)
Jesus - Sigmund Sæverud (spoken)
Engel - Paul Ottar Haga (spoken)
Åshild Breie Nyhus (Hardanger fiddle)
Mats Claesson. Electroacoustic material (NoTam)
Grex Vocalis
Norwegian Radio Orchestra/Ingar Bergby
rec. NRK Store Studio, Oslo, 21 February 2002-2 March 2002. DDD
SIMAX PSC1169 [40:00 + 41:00]

(The Dream Ballad) was originally commissioned as the musical and cultural presentation for the Winter Olympics held in Lillehammer in 1994. As such it needed to embody an accepted Norwegian 'national treasure'.
Its historical origins are interesting, and are reminiscent of the way that the Kalevala took on a deep meaning for the Finns at roughly the same time that the various parts of Draumkvedet were being welded into a literary whole by Professor Moltke Moe of Oslo University in the 1890s. Both countries were beginning to reassert their national individuality - Norway was part of a national union with Sweden until 1905 - and each looked to the traditions of the past to assert identity.
Draumkvedet was originally discovered in Telemark in the 1840s, sung by the folk singer Maren Ramskind. At that point only thirty stanzas were known, and these were later added to as more were found that seemed to belong to the same poem. There are disputes about its exact origins, but the outcomes were a formalisation of the poem at the end of the 19th century and its use as a starting place and inspiration for artists and musicians. In various forms it has also been set by Sparre Olsen, Klaus Egge and most recently the Telemark-born composer Eivind Groven.
The story tells of a young man who falls asleep on Christmas Eve, goes on a long journey and only reawakens at Epiphany, when he enters a church and tells the congregation his story. Parallels have been drawn between this and other visionary tales or poems of the early mediaeval period - from the English tradition I suppose that the 10th century Old English poem The Dream of the Rood will be the most familiar. It is interesting that the story incorporates a mixture of the Christian and the Norse pagan religions indicating perhaps that its actual date is from around the same time that the Icelander Snorri Sturluson (1178-1241) was writing down the Eddas.
Olav Åsteson's mystical vision takes him on a pilgrimage in which he sees the battle between good and evil, the angels, God's Holy Mother and visions of the world of the dead.
Arne Nordheim's score is compelling, and although to begin with it is impossible not to be strongly (and distractingly) reminded of other composers, it soon becomes absorbing. Nordheim is well known for his resistance to overly folkloristic composition, but in this piece he has blended (and transformed) folk traditions with orchestral and electronic music. By using such a wide range of instruments and different ways of singing, Nordheim has been able to provide a sense of timelessness which is well-suited to this material.

The text seems to be the result of a huge period of national and cultural transition, and by utilising everything from the willow flute and Hardanger fiddle to electronically produced music, and by mixing classically trained singers with those from the folk tradition, Nordheim illuminates the poem, making it dramatic and meaningful to a modern audience. This is a difficult task which can easily go wrong, but Nordheim - despite my problems with finding echoes of Vaughan Williams early on in the piece - gets it right, managing to incorporate musical forms from many traditions and many different times.
Perhaps one of the most interesting passages is the opening Påkalling (Summoning); in which the 'Urkvinna' (Primeval Woman) sung by Unni Løvlid, sings with an amazing power reminiscent of both the 'yoiking' of Finnish folk tradition, or perhaps of the open-throated excitement of Le Mystere des Voix Bulgare.
The choral passages are also engrossing and very beautiful - especially during the closing scene, Draumar Manga, (Many Dreams) when the ethereal sound of the voices places Olav Åsteson's whole journey within the timeless landscape of dreaming. Once again the mixture of folk tradition and classical writing is developed in such a way that one form grows out of the other without any sense that the work is anything like a 'cross-over' piece.
The musicians, singers and actors involved are of a uniform strength and commitment and the result is a recording which is well worth hearing, and which has an unusual richness and depth. If you know something of the musical traditions of Scandinavia you will find a lot here which is familiar, but if not this is an excellent disc with which to start exploring.
Lynette Kenny
Article about Draumkvedet

Nordheim website


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