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Geirr Tveitt (1908-1981)
A Hundred Hardanger Tunes, Op. 151: Suites Nos. 2 and 5
High in the hills a thousand feet above the western shore of the Hardangerfjord lies Bjødnabrakane, where the junipers grow and bears last lived; where, the tale tells, at midnight on Christmas Eve the animals can talk, the snow vanishes and the stream water turns to wine. (Though you would be unwise to step out for a drink and a chat: at the same hour ride Oskereia, strange, dangerous creatures and spirits of the dead, flying through the air so fast that sparks strike from their horses hooves.) No road rose to Bjødnabrakane; the vista opens across the fjord toward the mighty Folgafodne glacier and high Hardangervidda plateau. Here composer Geirr Tveitt built his new house when he settled at his fathers familys ancestral farm near Norheimsund in Hardanger, west Norway, in the 1940s. Twenty years later Bjødnabrakane was to be crushed by a terrifyingly heavy snowfall, the first of two catastrophes to strike Tveitt: in 1970 his home on the old farmstead below burnt to the ground; much of his music was lost for ever. But from World War Two Bjødnabrakane was Tveitts fastness: here he married, had children, immersed himself in Hardanger ways, and "tuned in" to a tradition where music, everyday life, nature and the supernatural are indivisible.
Existence throughout the region was ruled by the earths cycle, revolving around the annual transhumance, the driving of cattle up to the rich dark-green mountain pastures of the "summer hill-farms". Staying and working with Hardanger people, Tveitt came to know them well enough to hear their very private songs and stories, scribbling down over a thousand of their folk-tunes, sometimes just scraps of words or melody. The often "deep, painful yearning" of their mountain music, Tveitt felt, told of "greater faith in nature than in people, and in singing or playing as their comfort in time of need." He came to comprehend their belief in the old legends and folklore. The profoundest music, they said, "the tones of truth, deep down from the subconscious, was symbolized by the music of the underjordiske, the netherworld people". The huldre, the beautiful green-clad fairy folk, with cows tails, singing their way through life inside the hills; the fossegrim, the fiddle-playing waterfall-sprite: you never caught more than a glimpse of him, but if you were on his wavelength, and offered him some tasty food (smoked lamb?), he might teach you a few tunes. Wandering alone in Hardangers heights, Tveitt saw fells that cast troll-shaped shadows; and began scribbling down tunes of his own.
From these foundations grew perhaps his most personal works: Fifty folktunes from Hardanger for piano and the still more vivid Hundred Hardanger Tunes (Hundrad Hardingtonar) for orchestra, original Tveitt-tunes blending with the folk-tunes, sharing everything from subject-matter to modal harmony. Hardanger tradition had become Tveitts own. For his daughter Gyri and son Haoko it came with their mothers milk; Gyri recalls her "unscheduled concert début" aged about four: sitting in a Moroccan studio as her father played Hardanger tunes in a live piano broadcast, she spontaneously sang along - just like at home, so dad did not notice; grandma, back in Norway, heard her loud and clear on short-wave radio. "Tuned-in" indeed.
Four orchestral suites of fifteen pieces survive the 1970 fire, Suite No.3 among the missing. Naxos 8.555078 contrasts Suite No.4, telling a fifteen-chapter wedding story, with No.1, whose diversity mirrors the fifty piano folk-tunes (Marco Polo 8.225055-56). The remaining two suites recorded here have no narrative, but are unified by their themes: the musical Hardanger unity of mountain life, reality and mysticism, the natural and the supernatural.
Suite No.2, Fifteen Mountain Songs, opens on the Hardangervidda: a reindeer hunter sighs Far, far across the fells to Turid - "her song will ease sadness"; a boy has lost his love: bereft, he wanders With wolves and reindeer in the upland storm. In the childrens rhyme Hen, hound, cow and horse Tveitt had fun finding the best instruments for the animal sounds - "klukk-klukk-klukk", "vov-vov", "møø" and "prrro". The dairymaids Mountain cattle-call sings longingly of her loneliness on the summer hill-farm; maybe she can drown her sorrows in the strong ale the pack-horses are bringing. Far away across the quiet mountain lake a shepherd plays his flute, a long pipe without finger-holes, fashioned in springtime from the bark of the goat willow. Old Nick, his lament seethes with devilish orchestral invention: sky-high double-basses introduce the tune; poor Nicks fiddle lacks strings because the diligent denizens of Hell keep spiriting away the guts out of their guests - "Damn it!" At the suites heart is a haunting bird-song all of Tveitts own: the little snow-white ptarmigan dwarfed by the great glacier Folgafodne, a mournful reminder of the legendary seven hill-settlements buried forever far beneath - humankind crushed by impassive, all-powerful nature. And yet
"if you can hear the song in the waterfalls roar, you can laugh and joke even when youre heavy-hearted": Tveitts tune surfaces through cascading undertones and overtones. Lame Lars is such a fine fiddler that he surely learnt his tune from the huldre, whose faery song Geirr invokes from their home inside Hulder-Hill, on his mothers family farmstead, a days walk south across the fells from Bjødnabrakane. A fiery tune for tramping to? - take Beard ablaze: the man whose pipe fell from his jaw and gave him a really close shave! Maybe his mouth was otherwise occupied playing the jews harp - or muted trombone in Tveitts inspired Coplandesque imitation. The mountain girl skiing downhill, showing off, gets her come-uppance with a bruised backside (or "arse", if - like Tveitt - you prefer the direct approach). Finally, with clear-eyed gaze, the view of a life unfulfilled: "when I was young, I used to think I would climb those blue distant hills; now I know Ill never reach so far."
The Norwegian word "troll" means not just the mythical mountain-creatures, huge, ancient, often ugly, often lonely; it symbolizes magic, and the whole underjordisk world beyond our own. So Tveitts Fifth Suite, Troll-tunes, travels deeper into that netherworld: fount, in folklore, of "true tones". To tune up, try "Troll-tuning": the decorative Hardanger folk-fiddle has extra, sympathetic, under-strings and multitudinous tunings - this one sounds eerie, for "real", unearthly music. The next seven pieces feature, without supernatural stories, among Tveitts Fifty folktunes for piano; brilliantly re-imagined here for orchestra (their "real" medium, Tveitt felt), they reflect the linked lives of the underjordiske and Hardanger people. The huldre, too, in their parallel dimension, have their transhumance, driving their shining cattle to summer farms; they sing soft lullabies to their children; they celebrate huge Hardanger weddings (see Tveitts Suite No.4), and are so groggy next morning that a fiddler has to wake them for the nøring, the wedding-breakfast. Then comes what Tveitt, with (personal?) feeling, called the "Tragedy" of The changeling, the folk tradition that "someone whos different, who walks their own path, really comes from another world. That the underjordiske took the human being who was like us and left their own child instead. And the changeling never really finds a place in the norms of this world." The Folgafodne glacier glowers ominously: cold, silent symbol of human helplessness; but happy is The boy with the troll-treasure. How did he get it? Probably threw a knife over it: iron, traditional defence against the supernatural, breaks charms - cast by a powerful Spell-song. The old harp, with bent frame of mountain birch branches, is certainly bewitched: it talks! (An original Tveitt-tune; more follow.) Garsvoren is the farms resident goblin - the Scots "brownie": forefathers spirit, overseeing his inheritance? An elusive elf, heard hammering, or chopping wood, but rarely seen: cat-sized, shape-changing, transparent. Helpful - if you look after the place. If not, beware. Garsvorens mocking clog-dance gives way to The water-sprite playing, a spectral spell-song, floating up from his lakes depths. Dusky, murky Tussmyrkre (Twilight) (is the best time to spot the tusse, a capricious little imp, green-dressed, with a bobble hat (not unlike a leprechaun); and a whizz on the tin whistle (Tusseflyta). That eldritch effect of nature, the echo, is explained as the underjordiske calling back. And to end Tveitts supernatural suite, a massive, shattering evocation of Judgement Day itself: clangorous with bell-sounds and seven battering timpani. The Oskereias final flight, perhaps, sweeping away us all, mortal and immortal alike.