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Session 4-6
SMT-SEM LECTURE-RECITAL
Translating Norwegian (1901-2000)
Appropriations of Folk Music From and By Norwegians

David Loberg Code (Western Michigan University), Organizer
Deborah Stein (New England Conservatory of Music), Chair

 

This lecture-recital presents three points (from the beginning, middle, and close of our century) illustrating differing ideologies and methods in which traditional Norwegian folk music has been appropriated and translated by Norwegians themselves to be incorporated into other musical styles (such as classical art music, jazz, and world music). More specifically we focus on the music of a single folk district, Telemark, as it has been interpreted varyingly by Edvard Grieg, Eivind Groven, and the Chateau Neuf Spelemannslag. The presenters include scholars from the fields of ethnomusicology, musicology, and music theory; along with performers with diverse backgrounds in classical, jazz, and folk music.

 

Polishing the Jagged Rocks: Edvard Grieg's Slåttar, Op. 72

Arvid Vollsnes (Universitetet i Oslo) with
Silvia Roederer (Western Michigan University), piano
Karin Loberg Code (Kalamazoo, MI), hardingfele

In 1901 Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) began work on what has been considered by some his most original and exemplary contribution to the Norwegian national style - his Slåttar (Norwegian Peasant Dances), op. 72 for solo piano. The suite is an arrangement of hardingfele (harding fiddle) tunes from Telemark which have been part of an aural tradition transmitted from fiddler to fiddler for many generations. This project was not initiated by Grieg, but rather resulted from the persistent efforts of Knut Dahle, a hardingfele player, who wrote to Grieg over a span of ten years to enlist the aid of "the land's greatest musician" in transcribing and preserving these folk melodies. From both written and musical evidence, it appears, however, that Grieg, a foreign-educated city-dweller, actually had very little direct knowledge of or contact with the indigenous folk music of his country. Norwegian national composers seemed to regard folk music, not as something to preserve, but as raw materials, as bits of rock. As Grieg's contemporary Rikard Nordrak writes: "Nationality in music . . . means building a house out of all these bits of rock and living in it."
In the case of his Slåttar, Grieg's stated object in arranging the music for the piano was "to raise these works of the [peasant] people to an artistic level." Grieg never heard Dahle play, basing his composition instead on written transcriptions made by his friend, Johan Halvorsen, a classically-trained violinist. Although considered by Grieg to be written down "in a manner reliable even for research-work," the transcriptions represent a rather crude translation of the idiomatic pitch systems, rhythms, ornamentation, and metric structure of the folk into a Western art music style. The performance portion of this presentation includes several movements from Grieg's suite heard side-by-side with the same tunes performed on the hardingfele in the traditional folk style.

 

Quest for the Pure Voice: Eivind Groven's Renstemt Organ

David Loberg Code (Western Michigan University) with
Silvia Roederer (Western Michigan University), keyboard
Øyonn Groven Myhren (Valdres, Norway), voice and seljfløyte

The Norwegian composer and ethnomusicologist Eivind Groven (1901-1977) spent much of his career striving to bridge the gap between his native folk music and Western classical music. In contrast to Grieg, Groven was born and raised within the strong folk tradition of Telemark and was widely respected for his research in this area. His first instruments were the indigenous hardingfele and seljefløyte (willow flute), both of which utilize non-tempered tuning systems. It was his belief that Norwegian folk music was based upon intervals of the harmonic series, a hypothesis he presents in his "Naturskalaen" (1927). Upon his first encounter with the piano as an adult, the music he heard sounded so different from the folk music with which he grew up that he found it rather harsh to his ear and considered 12-tone equal temperament to be out-of-tune.
It was as a result of this clash of cultures that Groven resolved to construct a keyboard capable of playing in pure tuning, or just intonation, first experimenting with the piano, and later succeeding with a 36-tone organ which can automatically adjust the tuning dynamically during performance. Groven's organ uses a standard keyboard manual to which each individual key can be connected to one of three possible pipes each tuned to a slightly different frequency. Of the organ's two modes of operation--fixed and dynamic tuning-the former was intended primarily for playing arrangements of traditional Norwegian folk music and the latter for Western tonal art music. It was his intention that the keyboard should adapt itself as much as possible to the intonation of the performers, not the other way around. With various scales, Groven tried to approximate the tunings employed in folk songs and by indigenous Norwegian folk instruments such as the hardingfele and seljefløyte.
The performance includes some of Groven's folk and classical compositions featuring a newly constructed 36-tone piano system modeled after Groven's organ.

 

New Traditionalism: The Chateau Neuf Spelemannslag and World Music

Tellef Kvifte (Universitet i Oslo) and members of the
Chateau Neuf Spelemannslag

Formed in 1994 at the University of Oslo, the Chateau Neuf Spelemannslag (CNS) is representative of a new kind of Norwegian folk music which incorporates influences of classical, jazz, rock, and world music. The music of the CNS is firmly rooted in Norwegian traditions, and the performers have studied with several well-known and respected folk musicians and dancers. After learning the melodies by ear, the members of the CNS develop the arrangements collectively. The non-conventional orchestration gives the band its unique sound; along with the singers and traditional instruments like the fiddle, hardingfele, accordion, and a Norwegian type of recorder, one hears saxophone, clarinet, oboe, electric bass, guitar, piano, and percussion. The term spelemannslag refers to a local or regional fiddle club, a longstanding tradition the CNS not only descends from, but redefines. Today most spelemannslags are constituent members of the Langdlaget for Spelemen, a 75-year-old national organization dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of Norwegian folk music and dance. The acceptance of the CNS as an official registered spelemannslag was somewhat controversial, due to both their music and the make-up of the ensemble. The fact that CNS is a spelemannslag, and not simply a band, means that they are part of Norwegian folk culture, not external to it, and perhaps more importantly, that Norwegian folk music is not a static body of preserved works, but rather is a living, evolving tradition.
The performance portion of this part presents music by the CNS, highlighting folk music from the Telemark tradition.

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