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8.554497 - Norwegian Violin Favourites
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Norwegian Violin Favourites

The development of music in Norway owes much to the great violinist Ole Bull. Born in Bergen in 1810, he made his début at the age of nine, taking lessons from violinists in his home-town who had themselves studied with Viotti and with Baillot, but profiting also from the folk-musicians that he heard. Failing in his proposed studies in theology in Christiania, he found instead a field for his musical gifts, as a performer and as a conductor, while learning much from performers on the traditional Norwegian fiddle, the hardanger fiddle. In the 1830s he moved to Paris, where he heard Paganini but aroused little interest himself. In Italy, however, he fared better, now employing techniques he had developed from his study of the hardanger, with modifications to the bridge of his instrument and the bow he used. The flatter bridge allowed more effective polyphonic performance, as did the curved bow he used. A return to Paris brought wide acclaim and he continued to tour, now recognised as one of the great virtuosi of his time, at the same time drawing much attention to the culture of his own country. It was during a return to Bergen that he was able to give encouragement to the young musician Grieg and persuade the boy's parents to allow him a career in music. He died in 1880.

Ole Bull's colourful personality made a strong impression on all who met or heard him, influencing, it is said, even Ibsen's Peer Gynt, that reflects in its title-role something of Bull's own character. He left a quantity of music, including compositions for the violin of such difficulty that other players were likely to be deterred from attempting them. He occupies a unique position in Norwegian cultural history. Among his compositions Sœterjentens søndag (‘The Herd-Girl's Sunday’) remains among the best known, a folk-song used in his 1848 fantasia for strings, Et sœterbesøg (‘A Visit to the Mountain Pasture’).

Widely remembered by an earlier generation as the composer of Rustle of Spring, Christian Sinding was also trained as a violinist, studying under Schradieck at the Leipzig Conservatory, where he had composition lessons from Jadassohn. He was a prolific composer, very much in the German late Romantic tradition. His Suite im alten Stil (‘Suite in the Old Style’) was written in 1889 and opens with a toccata-like movement, followed by an Adagio that has about it more of the Romantic than the Baroque. The final movement gives scope for technical display in a cadenza, the whole dominated by its emphatic principal theme.

Ole Bull's La Mélancolie is a transcription of his song I ensomme stunde (‘In moments of solitude’) transcribed for violin and piano by the composer and subsequently arranged for string orchestra by Johan Halvorsen, testimony to its popularity. It is here given in an arrangement for solo violin and orchestra by Henning Kraggerud.

Johan Svendsen enjoyed an early career as an orchestral violinist, after service in a military band as a clarinetist. Stranded in Germany in the course of a concert tour as a violinist, he was rescued by a royal pension that allowed him to study in Leipzig. There he turned his attention more to composition, although his lessons with Ferdinand David had given him some encouragement and allowed him also to take his turn as a conductor. It was principally as a composer and conductor that he made his later career, in the latter capacity from 1883 as conductor of the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen. Among his most popular works is his moving Romance, Opus 26, written during a period spent in the Norwegian capital of Christiania in 1881.

The Norwegian violinist Johan Halvorsen studied first in Stockholm, before taking lessons with Adolf Brodsky in Leipzig, followed by further study with César Thomson in Liège. He served as conductor at the theatre in Bergen and subsequently at the National Theatre in Christiania. As a composer he continued the national tradition of Svendsen and of Grieg, and is remembered with particular gratitude by viola players for his challenging Handel arrangements for violin and viola of a Passacaglia and a Sarabande with Variations. His two Norwegian Dances, written in 1915, open with a lively Allegro, its final harmonics capped by a gently lilting Allegretto, briefly interrupted by fiercer episodes. His Maiden's Song and Old Fisherman's Song breathe an air of continued romantic melancholy.

Ole Bull's Violin Concerto in E minor is dated February 1841. As always, the work offered a very considerable challenge to other players, but the slow movement, arranged by the composer also for violin and piano, has enjoyed a separate existence and provides a valuable addition to Romantic violin repertoire.

Halvorsen's Wedding March provides a contrast to Romantic melancholy, but the mood of intense feeling returns with Grieg's Jeg elsker dig (‘I love you alone’), an arrangement of a setting of words by Hans Christian Andersen, published in 1864 under the title Hjertets melodier (‘Heart's Melodies’). Halvorsen's Andante religioso opens with a strongly felt orchestral introduction, before the lyrical entry of the solo violin. There is a more ominous central section, but the serenity of the opening is restored before the work comes to an end. The collection of popular Norwegian violin pieces ends with one of the best known works of all, Grieg's Last Spring, the second of his two Elegiac Melodies, arranged from a song written in 1881. In its intensity of feeling it epitomizes the achievement of the greatest of all Norwegian composers.


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