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8.557100 - SAEVERUD: Complete Piano Music, Vol. 6

Harald Sæverud (1897-1992)
Complete Piano Edition, Volume 6

Throughout his life, Harald Sæverud was one of the most distinctive figures on the Norwegian music scene. His desire to express himself and his will to seek unique solutions to the artistic challenges presented by each new work gave rise to a personal musical idiom, easily recognisable as ¡¥Sæverudian'. The English conductor Sir John Barbirolli, closely acquainted with Sæverud's orchestral music, expressed his uniqueness thus: "Whether you like the music of Sæverud or not there is no mistaking who wrote it, and this can be said of few composers of the present day."

The neglect, or even contempt, with which Sæverud often appeared to treat conventions and inherited ¡¥truths' should not be seen as a disparagement of the historical music tradition. It was within this tradition that he found support for his own preferences, often indicating Mozart and Haydn as his most important influences. His formal music education was somewhat fragmentary; in 1915 he entered the Music Academy in Bergen where he studied piano, supplemented by lessons in music theory taught by Borghild Holmsen, an accomplished pianist and composer with a degree from the music conservatory in Leipzig. After having completed the course at the Bergen Music Academy, Sæverud undertook further periods of study in Berlin (1920¡V21) and Paris (1925).

The support he received from his older, distinguished colleagues at the outset of his career was particularly important to Sæverud. Certain members of this group of colleagues, such as Christian Sinding, had difficulty in grasping Sæverud's musical intentions, but were nonetheless positive towards his achievements. Sæverud's spirited style and power of expression bore witness to his unique talent. The support and encouragement offered by Gerhard Schjelderup in Norway and Carl Nielsen in Denmark were no less influential, just as was Sæverud's friendship with the composer and conductor, the younger Johan Ludwig Mowinckel. It was thanks to Mowinckel that excerpts from Sæverud's Symphony No. 1 were performed in Berlin in 1921.

Slowly but surely, Sæverud gained a prominent position in the musical life of Norway, subsequently attracting international interest, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to being one of Norway's most distinctive and unique composers, he was also able to find time for administrative work and held honorary positions in organizations such as Ny Musikk (the Norwegian section of the ISCM) and Musikselskabet Harmonien (the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra). In the course of his career he received a number of awards both in Norway and abroad, and from 1953 was a recipient of the annual State grant to artists.

Harald Sæverud's output falls into two main categories, works for orchestra and works for piano. The works for orchestra include nine symphonies, and solo concertos for oboe, violin, piano and bassoon, in addition to a number of single movement works. It is, therefore, no coincidence that his Opus 1 is Five capricci for piano (1919), while Opus 2 is the Symphony No. 1 in G minor (1920). At a relatively late stage in his career he also made a considerable contribution to the chamber music repertoire. It is also interesting to note that his meagre production of theatre music had a substantial impact in Norway's cultural circles; this is particularly true of his music to Ibsen's Peer Gynt (1947), which became an ¡¥antiromantic' opposite to Edvard Grieg's music to the same play.

Many of the characteristic traits which make Sæverud's music so easily recognisable are ubiquitous in his music, and not least in the works for solo piano. It is not so easy, however, to categorize Sæverud's music in any one particular style. His music has been labelled in a variety of ways, atonal (though much of his music is clearly tonal), barbaric (though many works are inclined towards lyrical-romantic moods), dissonant (though just as frequently we encounter consonant triads), thematically ¡¥short of breath' (though many themes are given generous space in which to unfold). Common to most of the piano pieces is an apparently simple form and texture, often two-part, with detailed dynamics and pedalling. Frequently we find highly individual development of each part, giving the music a distinctive dissonant quality, and when the rhythmic element in each part is treated similarly freely, the end result is that tonal quality referred to above as ¡¥Sæverudian'.

Fabula gratulatorum, Op.51, was written in 1973 to mark the sixtieth birthday of the Hungarian-American pianist Andor Foldes, who for years was an ardent advocate of Sæverud's piano music, especially his Piano Concerto, Op.31, which he played several times from the early 1950s on. In Fabula gratulatorum Sæverud has used Andor Foldes' name as the basis for the thematic material and the composition is a large-size fable that in many ways continues the style of the Suite, Op.6.

Sæverud wrote the Bryllupsmarsj, Op.46, (also with the title Marcia solenne) for the wedding of his oldest son Sveinung in 1966. In the version for orchestra it was performed for the first time by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in April 1967. With its steady rhythm and a sound which recalls that of the Norwegian folk hardanger fiddle the piece turns into a wedding march with the characteristic free dissonances so recognizably ¡¥Sæverudian'.

In 1935 Sæverud wrote music for the play Vold mot Lucretia, a play by André Obey, Le viol de Lucrèce, based on Shakespeare's poem The Rape of Lucretia. From this music Sæverud in 1936 extracted a suite for orchestra in six movements. There also exist, however, some excerpts for piano, mainly drawn from the Spinning Scene.

In Sveinungs sang and Li-tone-fantasi we find motivic similarities with the Li-tone from Op.14, while Digitalis and Digitalis-fantasi may be regarded as early sketches for Revebjølle (Digitalis purpurea) from Op.22.

Of the other pieces here included Lolita (Appassionato molto) is a declaration of love to his wife Marie, whose second name was Lolita. The two pieces Dulgt kjærlighet and Takk for det gamle, are humorous dedications to his friend Sigmund Torsteinson, who from 1955 to 1978 was the curator of Edvard Grieg's home, Troldhaugen.

Øyvind Norheim

First Performances of Harald Sæverud

It was most exciting investigating Sæverud's forgotten and hidden (posthumous) manuscripts. They were in total disorder and had to be examined with the greatest care. The manuscripts were kept in Siljustøl, the composer's house, and in Bergen off. bibliotek, Musikkavdelingen (the Bergen Public Library, Music Department). Every composition and every note in this recording, however, is original, with nothing added, nothing changed. Among the pieces from Sæverud's posthumous manuscripts here included, Con moto energico ma molto grazioso and Solskyedriv are good examples of Sæverud's mature, dissonant style, while many of the others are in a more romantic language. Let the rest of the pieces speak for themselves and for the most exciting and sparkling musical personality of Harald Sæverud.

Sæverud's Musical World

"All my music has grown out of a vague and supernatural sound. As a fourteen-year-old boy I heard the invisible fluttering of owls' wings in the summer night. This made the starting-point for all my music."

So much for Sæverud's own words. Motifs came to his mind almost like wild flowers and weeds, he said. He let them grow freely while he, the composer, could only be their guiding gardener. Evidently he could not decide for their growth and development, just lead them along. As much as Sæverud loved plants he even cared for stones. "There is also much stone in my music!" he said.

Sæverud does not often describe the grand Norwegian scenery of mountains and fjords. He rather gives focus to fragments of nature and human moods; he describes ancient legends and myths or tales from valleys and islands. Throughout his life Sæverud consciously suffered from being born on the site of a former churchyard, a place of execution from Viking times. He kept talking about the sadness, sorrow and the dissonances this fact gave to his art. "There are reflections of murder and death in me as well as in my music." Those were his words. This provides, therefore, an underlying sombre quality to his otherwise cheerful music.

Einar Steen-Nøkleberg

The Sæverud Edition has been supported by Grieg-Forsk and the Edvard Grieg Museum, Bergen, Norway

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