ClassicsOnline Home » Violin Music - OLSEN, C.G.S. / ATTERBERG, K. / STENHAMMAR, W. / BULL, O.B. / HALVORSEN, J. / SIBELIUS, J. (Nordic Violin Favourites) (Kraggerud)
There was a particularly rich vein of Nordic writing for the violin between the years 1910 and 1930. In this recital Henning Kraggerud, an exemplary stylist lauded for his Sibelius and Sinding concerto disc, Naxos 8.557266 (CD) and 6.110056 (SACD) (‘Kraggerud’s performance is superb throughout’ – Classics Today.com), explores this memorable repertoire. It ranges from Halvorsen’s folk-flecked Norwegian Dance to Stenhammar’s passionate Sentimental Romances. Late romanticism floods Sinding’s Abendstimmung whilst Sibelius’s Six Humoresques remain a masterpiece of the genre. The earlier works of Ole Bull illustrate the brilliance and panache of ‘The Nordic Paganini’.
Nordic Violin Favourites
Apart from the works by Ole Bull, all the pieces on this disc were composed during the period 1910–1930
Carl Gustav Sparre Olsen (1903–84): Six Old Village Songs from Lom
Carl Gustav Sparre Olsen worked as a violinist in Bergen and Oslo before, in 1936, receiving a state cultural scholarship which enabled him to concentrate on composition. The works for which he is best-known are primarily songs and choral pieces. In some of his music one can discern stylistic attributes from impressionism and neo-classicism but, despite international trends, Olsen’s music retained an essentially lyrical and national romantic disposition. Seks gamle bygdeviser frå Lom (Six Old Village Songs from Lom) was originally a piano work, Op 2, from 1929, and was inspired by Olsen’s encounter with the poet Olav Aukrust and the poem Himmelvarden. That was what made him understand ‘where he belonged’—in other words that he wanted to be, and was to be, a national romantic.
Kurt Atterberg (1887–1974): Suite No 3
Kurt Atterberg worked as a conductor and music critic and, as an administrator, played a central rôle in the development of Swedish music in the early twentieth century. He was also a successful composer, who wrote a large number of works in almost every genre. The musical material for Suite No 3 (1917), here presented for the first time in a version for two violins and orchestra, originates in the incidental music that Atterberg composed for the mystery play Soeur Béatrice by Maurice Maeterlinck. The play is about a nun’s struggle between worldly and spiritual love. The individual movements thus have a programmatic basis, but it is not necessary to know the content of the play in order to appreciate that this is ultra-romantic and, consequently, intense music.
Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871–1927): Two Sentimental Romances, Op 28
Wilhelm Stenhammar was a virtuoso Swedish pianist and chamber musician who conducted the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra for many years. He became Sweden’s most eminent composer of the early twentieth century, writing music in a classical-romantic style. His Two Sentimental Romances for violin and orchestra were written during the summer months of 1910, and take their place in a Nordic tradition of which Johan Svendsen’s Romance is the most popular representative. The Andantino is in the warm key of A major, and is dominated by poignant, lyrical moods. The Allegro patetico, in the darker and more passionate key of F minor, is wholly different in character. The formal sections are longer, which contributes to the depiction of more powerful, more passionate emotions. The word ‘sentimental’ can be interpreted in numerous ways. It is perhaps most likely that Stenhammar used it in its original meaning: two romances that are full of feeling.
Ole Bull (1810–1880): Los Recuerdos de la Habana • A Mountain Vision
Ole Bull was the first Norwegian musician to win his country a place on the international stage, and became a pioneer for the country’s national art. ‘The Nordic Paganini’ was fêted as one of the world’s great violin virtuosos, and played thousands of concerts in Europe and America over a span of almost half a century. At the Great Peace Jubilee in Boston in 1869 he led an orchestra of a thousand players, performing in a hall with a capacity of 50,000 listeners. He played at all the leading theatres and great concert halls all over the world. As late as 1879, the year before he died, he played to a full house in Vienna’s prestigious Musikverein. Like other nineteenth-century virtuosos, he mostly performed his own music, with the aim of impressing the audience with his dazzling technique.
Bull put his fabled skill as an improviser to good use when tackling famous opera arias and folk melodies from the countries he visited. Los Recuerdos de Habana (Memories of Havana) for violin and orchestra is a good example of how such pieces were put together. In mid-February 1844 Ole Bull went to Cuba, where he was accompanied by forty specially selected orchestra players. The public’s enthusiasm proved so inspirational that Bull produced two fantasias on Creole folk-melodies and dances. Alongside Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s piano pieces, Los Recuerdos de la Habana is one of the earliest examples of the use of Creole/Cuban melodies in classical music. The score and solo part are lost, but a complete set of orchestral parts survives. Using these as his starting-point, and inspired by Bull’s recitatives, Henning Kraggerud has adapted the habanera melodies and composed the variations and final coda. Recuerdos de Habana, like most of Bull’s works, is a potpourri comprising a number of contrasting formal sections. These are linked by transitions designed either to reduce the musical temperature or to build up the tension in preparation for the next musical idea. After a slow orchestral introduction, increasing in intensity, there are two striking habaneras with variations.
As well as possessing an incredible technical ability, Ole Bull had a melodic vein that made some of his tunes immortal. The best-known of them is found in the potpourri of Norwegian national melodies Et Sæterbesøg (A Mountain Vision, 1849); this tune became so popular that it has taken on a life of its own with a text by Jørgen Møe, Seterjentens søndag (The Herdgirl’s Sunday) (På solen jeg ser/I gaze on the sun). There are many different versions and arrangements both of the song and of Et Sæterbesøg. On this disc we have used a manuscript for violin and strings from the so-called ‘Bullahuset’ (Ole Bull’s house) at Valestrand near Bergen. As well as containing Bull’s own melody, Et Sæterbesøg includes two slåtter (Norwegian dances) and two folk-melodies. The potpourri begins with an orchestral introduction, like a little nature portrait with a slått dance motif and the call of a cuckoo. The soloist takes up the slått motif and takes the music on to another type of Norwegian dance, a halling for solo violin, which imitates the characteristic sound of the Hardanger fiddle with its sympathetic strings. Then we hear the Norwegian folk-tunes Eg ser deg utfør gluggjin and Eg beisla min Styvel. After another halling, a reworking of the folk-tune Der sto’tre Skjelmer aa maka paa Raa, comes a Swedish folk-tune, I Rosenlund. This is based on the chord progression of the famous sarabande La Folia. In Norway this Swedish tune was used as the melody for the poet Johan Sebastian Welhaven’s tribute to Ole Bull, Hvor sødt at favnes i Aftnens fred (How Sweet to be Cradled in the Evening Peace). The melody is framed by brief orchestral interludes, and is followed by Bull’s own melody, På solen jeg ser. The potpourri ends with an energetic halling and a final whirling leap.
Johan Halvorsen (1864–1935): Norwegian Dance No 3
Johan Halvorsen has many similarities as a musician with his Norwegian rôle models, Ole Bull and Johan Svendsen. In their youth all three aimed for a career as a violinist. They acquired the desire to write music and knowledge of compositional technique from their everyday activities as performers. Without any formal training except a few counterpoint lessons, Halvorsen composed around 170 works in a wide variety of genres. He wrote his first pieces while he was working as a violin teacher at the Helsinki Music Institute, a two-year period that began in 1890. During this time he performed chamber music by Jean Sibelius, Edvard Grieg and Christian Sinding. Halvorsen later became conductor of the theatre orchestras of Den Nationale Scene in Bergen and the Norwegian National Theatre in Kristiania (Oslo). He not only proved to be an outstanding conductor but, thanks to his great aptitude for stylistic imitation, showed the ability to give the music he composed for theatre productions the right local colour, everything from the neo-baroque and Asian exoticism to opulent late-romanticism and folk-music.
Halvorsen taught himself to play the Hardanger fiddle, and in 1903 wrote seventeen slåtter after the Hardanger fiddle player Knut Dahle, who had also provoked Grieg to write his Slåtter, Op 72. Halvorsen was inspired to compose Norwegian rhapsodies and the Norwegian dances from 1914, which are a continuation of the national style of Grieg and Svendsen.
In Norwegian Dance No 3 the calm middle section is framed by a wedding dance from LM Lindeman’s collections of folk-music. This is the same tune that was used by Johan Svendsen in his orchestra work Norwegian Artists’ Carnival (1874).
Jean Sibelius (1865–1957): Six Humoresques
Jean Sibelius is Finland’s national composer and the foremost symphonist of the Nordic countries. He began to play the violin as a child and for many years dreamed of becoming a violin virtuoso. During his study years he composed a large amount of violin music, including a Grieg-inspired Sonata in F major. Some fifteen years later he produced his Violin Concerto in D minor, one of the most significant and frequently performed works in the violin repertoire. In the years before and during the First World War Sibelius was in the same precarious financial situation as Christian Sinding. Sibelius similarly chose to compose numerous smaller-scale works, among them two Serenades for violin and orchestra and a number of pieces for violin and piano. Most important are the Six Humoresques for violin and orchestra, which were given their première in 1919. The composer himself said that they reflected the sadness of living a life that was only occasionally illuminated by the sun.
In every single bar it is evident that the composer himself was a violinist and that he knew how to make the instrument speak. Sibelius wanted the Humoresques to be played together even though they were published with two separate opus numbers.
The first of the Op 87 Humoresques has the character of a mazurka, and its use of Lydian mode at the beginning, together with the shape of the melody, create the mood that we associate with Sibelius. The second piece forms a contrast: it is a rhythmical showpiece with an extremely virtuosic solo part. The third humoresque—one of the highlights of the set—is a gavotte. Here, as in all of these pieces, the characteristic elements indicated by Sibelius’s title are clearly evident: the surprising, capricious alternation and interplay of various musical moods, stylistic eras and violin techniques. The fourth Humoresque has a meditative character and alludes to romanticism with its double stopping and exquisite pizzicatos that serve to decorate the soloist’s beautiful melodic line. In the last two of the set we return to the era of the nineteenth-century virtuoso; the music alternates between impassioned melodies on the G-string, high harmonics and passagework. The fifth Humoresque, with its folk-like melody, once again demands great technical proficiency from the soloist. Overall, the Six Humoresques are a summation of the development of the violin repertoire from Ole Bull to the Nordic late romanticism of the 1920s.
Christian Sinding (1856–1941): Abendstimmung
Christian Sinding began his career as a violinist, and came to be regarded as the most significant Norwegian composer since Grieg and Svendsen. Three violin concertos and numerous chamber works involving the violin prove that he never lost his affection for his own instrument. Even before the turn of the century, Sinding was a world-renowned composer, thanks to his Piano Quintet and the piano piece Rustle of Spring. As most of his works were issued by German publishers, he suffered financial difficulties during the First World War. To generate income during the war years he composed a number of small pieces, among them Abendstimmung (Evening Mood), Op 120, (c. 1914). Even in works of a smaller format, we can observe his desire for strength and monumentality. The modulations, long melodic lines and supple harmonies are characteristic of Sinding, and also show his strong affinity with German late-romanticism.
English translation by Andrew Barnett
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