FARTEIN VALEN (1887 - 1952)
The Norwegian composers Fartein Valen and Klaus Egge were great innovators in their day and their quartets are some of their finest work. The two composers were quite dissimilar in temperament, Egge being lively and outgoing, whereas Valen was quiet and cautious. Between the two world wars each was at the forefront of opposing stylistic movements; Egge with a nationalist style based on folk-music and Valen with a more European twelve-tone polyphony.
Valen studied composition first at the Conservatory in Oslo from 1906 to 1909 and then at the Musikhochschule in Berlin. Whilst in Berlin and subjected to a number of strong influences, Valen composed his first published works, among them his great Violin Sonata, Op. 3. The works composed in Berlin are in a mature, late-romantic vein and use quite a different musical language to his later works.
From 1917 to 1924 Valen struggled to develop as a composer, a struggle which resulted in the Song for orchestra Ave Maria, Op. 4 and the Piano Trio, Op. 5, the only two works to emerge from these years. Independently of the Second Viennese School Valen continued to push back the frontiers of tonality until they ceased to exist. For the next twenty years after he produced systematic exercises in counterpoint, both in the style of Bach and his own strictly executed dissonant polyphony. During the 1930s and 1940s Valen composed a series of large-scale orchestral works, including his four symphonies, the Violin Concerto and the symphonic poem Kirkegården ved haver (‘The Churchyard by the Sea’).
During his lifetime Valen's music was unfortunately little understood, but he has subsequently come to be regarded as one of Norway's most important contributions to twentieth-century music. Despite all opposition he never lost faith in his chosen path as a composer, drawing strength from a deeply held Christian outlook.