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2.110320 - MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) – NORWAY / FINLAND: Nordic Landscapes (NTSC)
A Musical Tour of Norway and Finland
The cliffs and crags of the Norwegian coast are seen, with one of the fjords that are such a feature of the landscape, the deep-water inlets familiar from legend. Music Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op 47—I. Allegro moderato The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius was born in 1865, the son of a doctor. The language and culture of his family was Swedish, but Sibelius himself was to enter wholeheartedly into the world of Finland, with its different linguistic and literary traditions. It was this world that he translated into musical terms in his remarkable seven symphonies and in a series of tone poems that echo the ancient saga’s. He was trained as a musician at first in Helsinki, then in Berlin and Vienna, and had early ambitions as a violinist, at a time when the first professional orchestra in Finland was being established. He completed the first version of his Violin Concerto in 1903 and it was first performed in Helsinki with indifferent results. The concerto was revised and successfully performed in Berlin in 1905 by Karl Halir, under the direction of Richard Strauss. The choice of soloist, however, offended the violinist Willy Burmester, who had originally been promised the work. The earlier version of the concerto was technically ambitious, and as a violinist Sibelius had needed no help with the lay-out of the solo part, although this presented technical difficulties that were beyond his own command. The later version made necessary revisions in the solo part and it is in this definitive form that the work has become a standard part of the solo repertoire. The concerto opens with no lengthy orchestral introduction, the soloist making an almost immediate appearance, accompanied by a Scandinavian mist of muted strings. Although the movement is in the traditional tripartite form, the central development section is replaced by a cadenza-like passage for the violinist.
The landscape of Savonlinna, lying to the north of Helsinki, boasts green fields, forests and lakes. It is the site of the famous Savonlinna Opera Festival, held in the old castle there. Music Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op 47—II. Adagio di molto The lyrical slow movement of the Violin Concerto brings a deeply romantic melody, the soloist proceeding to weave his own fantasies above the orchestra.
Finland is a country of lakes and islands. Suomenlinna, formed from five islands, was fortified by the Swedes in the 18th century, serving as a fortress to defend the area. It has castle ruins and preserves the old cannons that helped to guard Helsinki. Music Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op 47—III. Allegro ma non troppo Sibelius once described the last movement of his Violin Concerto as a danse macabre. It provides an opportunity for virtuoso display in a work in which the solo part is generally intertwined with the orchestral texture.
The landscape of Norway has considerable variety. The lower lying green fields and vegetation lead to wooded hills above and finally to the rocks and cliffs that tower over the deep fjords.
Music Svendsen: Romance, Op 26
Johan Svendsen was born in Christiania, the modern Oslo, in 1840, the son of an army musician. He was trained as a violinist, although his family background led to his enrolment as a clarinettist in an army band. Norway, ruled until 1814 by Denmark and under the continued cultural influence of that country, was from 1814 under the domination of Sweden until the dissolution of the union in 1905 and the accession of a Danish prince as king. Svendsen’s career coincided with that of Grieg, with whom he was closely associated, as a composer, conductor and performer, in the growing romantic nationalism that shaped the course of Norwegian music in the later years of the 19th century. Like Grieg, he studied in Leipzig and thereafter spent considerable periods abroad, finally settling in Copenhagen, where he died in 1911. His lyrical Romance for violin and orchestra was written in 1881 at a time when he was living in Christiania. It marked the virtual end of his career as a composer. His later years were devoted primarily to conducting. Here he had won considerable distinction and in 1883 was appointed conductor of the Danish Royal Opera in Copenhagen, a position he occupied until his retirement in 1908.
The foundation of the Norwegian capital, Oslo, dated from 1048. Known until 1905 as Christiania, it has importance as a harbour and contains many relics of its past as well as more recent buildings and monuments.
Music Halvorsen: Danses norvégiennes
The Norwegian violinist Johan Halvorsen was born in 1864 and studied at the Conservatory in Stockholm. He became leader of the Bergen Orchestra in 1887 and later moved to Leipzig to study with Adolph Brodsky, the violinist who gave the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and was later to lead the Hallé Orchestra and head the Royal Manchester College of Music. Halvorsen’s career took him to Aberdeen as an orchestral leader, then to Berlin and to Liège for further study. He later became conductor of the National Theatre in Christiania. His wife was a niece of Grieg, a composer who exercised a strong influence over his compositions. In addition to incidental music for the theatre and a well known pair of arrangements of Handel for violin and viola, Halvorsen wrote a number of works of direct Norwegian inspiration, including the Norwegian Dances of 1915. He also transcribed music he heard played on the traditional Norwegian hardanger fiddle, raw material used by Grieg.
Lake Mjøsa is one of the largest and deepest lakes in Norway, some 74 miles long, and at one time affording a means of transport to the settlements lying on its banks.
Music Sinding: Légende
Christian Sinding’s reputation as a composer has suffered unfairly through the excessive popularity of his piano piece The Rustle of Spring. Born in 1856 at Kongsberg, he studied the violin in Christiania, before moving, like a number of his Norwegian compatriots, to Leipzig, where he turned from the violin to composition. Influenced strongly by the neo-German school of Liszt and Wagner, he established himself in Norway as a composer only second to Grieg. He wrote his popular Légende for violin and orchestra in 1900, one of a number of such compositions, in addition to his three Violin Concertos.
Røisheim is set in the relatively remote the Bøverdal valley. Its wooden houses, with turf roofs, and traditional hotel in what was once a staging-post bring a return to traditional Norwegian life, as it was once lived.
Music Halvorsen: Air norvégien, Op 7
Halvorsen’s Air norvégien is in fact based on a series of Norwegian melodies, its brief introduction leading to a short violin cadenza. The work, originally for violin piano, dates from 1896 and was orchestrated in 1903.
Dong-Suk Kang, Violin, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Adrian Leaper [Naxos 8.550329]
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