About this Recording
8.553905 - SINDING: Songs

Christian Sinding (1856-1941)

Christian Sinding was born in 1856 in Kongsberg, Norway, where his father was an engineer. His mother was artistically minded, encouraging her three sons' artistic interests and both Christian's brothers pursued artistic careers. Otto Sinding became a painter and writer, while Stephan was a sculptor of some standing. Their father died when Christian was only four, and his mother decided it would be best to move to Kristiania (as the capital of Norway was known at the time), where she had family. It was there that Christian had his first music lessons, and we know that when he was accepted at the Conservatory in Leipzig, he indicated that he had been taught the violin by Gudbrand Bøhn, piano by Betzy Fischer and organ and harmony by Ludvig Mathias Lindemann. These were some of the most distinguished musicians in Kristiania at the time, so it is clear that, already at a young age, Sinding had set his sights on a career in music.

Christian Sinding's profound interest in music led him not to complete his school education, and after having worked for a while in the Brothers Hals's piano factory he studied between the years 1874-77 and 1878-79 at the conservatory in Leipzig, where, amongst others, he had Carl Reinecke as tutor in composition. Between 1882 and 1885 he continued his studies in Munich, where he completed what must be regarded as his break-through work, the Piano Quintet in E minor, Op. 5. In Munich he wrote also some of his earliest songs; it seems that the songs Opp. 1, 4, II and 15 all hail from this period. He also made his first foray into the world of opera then.

Between 1886 and 1889 he enjoyed a further period of study in Leipzig, when he established important contacts with, amongst others, Adolf Brodsky and Ferrnccio Busoni. The Brodsky Quartet and Busoni performed the Piano Quintet, Op. 5 during a concert in the Leipzig Gewandhaus in January 1889, which caused strong reactions in the press, both for and against Sinding. Especially brutal was Eduard Bernsdorff in Signale für die musikalische Welt with a negative review of the Quintet, whilst Adolf Ruthardt defended it strongly in Musikalisches Wochenblatt. The publicity that these opposing views brought proved invaluable in the furtherance of Sinding's career. After this the Quintet was played everywhere, clearing the way for several other works by Sinding, such as the Piano Concerto in D flat major, Op. 6, the Violin Sonata in C major, Op. 12 and the Symphony in D minor, Op. 21, which were all completed in 1892.

Throughout his life, Sinding tried to support himself solely through his work as a composer, without any extra income from teaching, playing the organ or music journalism, which many other Norwegian composers were forced to do. This resulted amongst other things in a series of compositions of very varying quality, compositions which he otherwise might not have written. It was especially the piano works which suffered during this intense period of composition. Many of them were written to order, partly under pressure from eager publishers. Sinding himself referred to this as a 'Piano work conveyor belt', yet it nevertheless secured him a decent income, together with various grants and, from 1910, a composer's salary, and later (1921), an honorary stipend from the Norwegian Government. In 1924 Norway offered him the house 'Grotten' as free quarters, which, incidentally, became his first permanent home. Until then he had, together with his wife, spent most of his life in hotels and guest-houses, an existence which he chose to best forward his artistic career.

It became clear early on that Sinding enjoyed a special relationship with text as a means of artistic expression, something which resulted in more than 250 songs, composed throughout his career. Alte Weisen, Op. 1 (‘Old Songs’), six songs to texts from Gottfried Keller's (1819-90) collection with the same title, belong to the earliest of Sinding's extant songs. Also from this time are Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 11 with texts by Gottfried Keller, Robert Hamerling (1830-89) and Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), as well as Lieder from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Op. 15, Sinding's very first attempts in the genre, compositions which he later destroyed, used texts which to a large extent stressed the exotic and the dramatic, such as Sulamiths sang (‘Sulamith's Song’) from the Song of Solomon and two songs with texts from Antar and Abla, and yet the earliest surviving songs use German folk-songs or German romantic verse. One of the songs from Op. 15, Maria Gnadenmutter (‘Mary Mother of Mercy’), has, incidentally, been used in a heavily revised form in the Norwegian Church Hymn Book as the melody to O.T. Moe's Jesus, del eneste (‘Jesus, the only one’) and is one of the most expressive hymn-tunes in Norway today.

It was not long, however, before Sinding turned to contemporary Norwegian and Danish poets, choosing verse often inspired by nature, such as the songs from Op. 18: Songs to texts by Vilhelm Krag (1871-1933), Op. 19: Songs to texts by Holger Drachmann and Svend Trøst, and Op. 36: Fra Vaar til Høst (‘From Spring to Autumn’), Poems by Nils Collett Vogt (1864-1937), which all hail from the beginning of the 1890s. He had earlier set the poetry of Holger Drachmann (1846-1908) on several occasions (Opp. 4, 8 and 13). Drachmann's poetry has survived thanks to the fondness composers such as Sinding and Grieg showed for them. Sinding's choice of texts ranges then from the early German romantics to modern Norwegian poets of the inter-war years, such as Arnulf Øverland (1889-1968) (Op. 128) and Hermann Wildenvey (1886-1959) (Op. 90). Despite this wide range of verse, Sinding's musical language is surprisingly stable and, in contrast to many of his Norwegian contemporaries, Norwegian folk-music never became a great source of inspiration. Even if, in some of the songs with Norwegian texts, one can find examples of melodies which hint at folk-music, such as in Vaardagen (‘Spring Day’) from Op. 75, it is more a question of an attempt to create a general folk-music atmosphere than an artistic transformation of a folkloristic ideal. Also Sinding's musical vocabulary showed relatively little development over time; he found his personal style at an early stage, and he kept to the main characteristics almost completely without regard to time and context. Deeply and solidly rooted in German late romanticism, his harmonic style, regarded as rather radical at the end of the nineteenth century, placed him fairly swiftly in the music world's conservative camp. Sinding's songs are most often characterized by singable, folk-song-like melodies, such as several of the songs in Op. 50, even though there is a tendency towards a freer, more declamatory style in some songs, especially earlier ones. His melody lines are almost always diatonic, despite a late-romantic harmonic style embracing chromaticism. As a rule the piano part has a purely accompanying rôle, and is only exceptionally given any independence from the vocal line. In many of the songs, including some on this recording, the piano part is used to support the melody or even simply to double the voice part, such as in Pinselilje, Op. 90, No. 3 (‘Narcissus’), and in a few instances Sinding uses ostinato figures in the piano part as a formally binding element.

In a letter from 1899 to his biographer Henry T. Finck, Grieg wrote that among younger Scandinavian composers of romanser (the Scandinavian equivalent of Lieder or songs) he held the highest regard for Sinding. "He is berated for being too Wagnerian," wrote Grieg, "but that is not right. Even in his romanser he is simply himself'. The Norwegian Sinding scholar Gunnar Rugstad claims that the models for Sinding's songs are to be found in Franz Liszt's Lieder output; amongst other things the tendency to build up songs through tonal 'gear-changes', giving a 'terrace' effect, is a strikingly common trait. Whatever the models, however, Sinding's vocal œuvre contains a wide range of compositions which continue to grace any programme, and belong to the finest Norwegian songs and romanser.

English Version: Andrew Smith

Bodil Arnesen is among the most talented Norwegian singers. Born in Harstad, she studied with Marit Storækre at the Rogaland Conservatory, graduating in 1991 and continuing her training thereafter under BP funding at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, where she also took smaller parts at the Bavarian State Opera. In 1994 she was one of the top prize-winners of the prestigious Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition in Helsinki. This followed first prize in 1989 in the HRH Princess Astrid Music Contest in Trondheim and awards in the Munich ARD Competition, the Shell Prize and the BP Fellowship Prize. In 1991 she was also awarded the first Kirsten Flagstad Prize and acclaimed as European Music Prize Winner in Dresden by the Fordergemeinschaft der Wirtschaft. Her career has brought concerts and recitals in her own country and abroad, with appearances throughout Europe, in the United States and in the Far East. In addition to this she has an equally active career in the broadcasting and recording studios. The 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympic Organizing Committee appointed Bodil Arnesen to be one of the official Olympic Games musicians, participating in worldwide culture presentations. Since August 1994 she has enjoyed a sponsorship agreement with the Norwegian State Oil Company, STATOIL. In a Gramophone review for her Grieg recital on Naxos (8.553781), she won praise for her "lyric soprano with just the right freshness for these open-air song songs (as so many of them are) of spring and hope".

Erling Ragnar Eriksen
Erling Ragnar Eriksen studied with Einar Steen-Nøkleberg and Hans Leygraf in Hanover and with Alfons Kontarsky in Munich. He is an Associate Professor in piano and accompaniment at the Stavanger College, the Conservatory of Music, and also has a career of distinction as a soloist and chamber-musician. With Bodil Arnesen he has given a large number of recitals both in Norway and abroad and has also collaborated with her in recordings, in addition to his own recordings for Norwegian and German radio and television stations. He is a member of the Stavanger New Music Ensemble.

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