Part III: Ellegaard and Nordheim, accordion meets Norway
We met Frode at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo where he teaches accordion to master students. We present now the third part of the interview where we start to focus more on the accordion reality. If you missed the previous parts or you want to read them again:
FH: It was Mogens (Ellegaard Ed.) who called him. He was on a tour for children with his trio with guitar and percussion, the Trio Mobile. They were playing contemporary music and they probably just started the ensemble. They had already worked with Torbjörn Lundquist (Duell for accordion and percussions is from 1966 Ed.). Mogens called from Denmark to Oslo and he asked Nordheim if he wanted to compose something for accordion. Nordheim could not hear him properly so actually he thought he should compose for acquarium: “Excuse me, you wanted me to write for acquarium?”.
This is just an old story that Mogens told a lot of times, but I think it’s true: at that time the term accordion was new here, because the traditional term is trekkspill. Mogens wanted to reinvent the instrument and he used accordeon, derived from the German word.
Nordheim accepted the commission and the first piece, this was in 1967, was Signals for electric guitar, accordion and percussions. I think they did quite a lot of work together, Ellegaard and Nordheim; I believe Nordheim was also partly participating on the tour, explaining to the children. Signals is amusing, wild, creative. It doesn’t sound written for children but it’s full of imagination and energy. I think it’s fun for kids, you should listen to it!
The ideas are those you can find in Flashing, in Spur: he found his very own approach with the accordion very early in his career, he developed it in Dinosauros with tape from 1970 and then in 1975 he wrote a concerto, Spur. And Flashing is basically Mogens edition of the cadenza of Spur.
LP: About you: when did you met Ellegaard?
FH: I took some lessons with him in Denmark when I was around 16-17, I was having lessons for the whole day and then I was going back to Norway.
LP: Was he considered like a star?
FH: He was quite famous, he was probably even more famous some years earlier in one way because he had a very particular career: he was a very traditional accordion virtuoso, he played in the States, Flight of the bumble bee and other huge successes like the Carnival of Venice:
FH: But then he changed completely direction in the 60s…
LP: …he went back to Denmark…
FH: …he wanted to get the instrument into the classical music world. The first good composer he got in touch was Ole Schmidt.
LP: About this meeting I propose you this anectod:
“[…] in 1953 the first free-bass accordions were introduced in Denmark and, by coincidence, I was one of the first students to get such an instrument… In 1957, the pianist Vilfred Kjaer, who was also well-known in our country as a composer of light music, wrote a concerto for me and through his good connections, he was able to organize the world premiere of Jubilesse infameuse. It was a work of light character, but anyway a beginning. At that concert, also by coincidence, [the composer] Ole Schmidt was sitting in the audience. He didn’t like Kjaer’s composition, but liked the instrument, and told me this bluntly afterwards. So I challenged him to write something better. In 1958 he wrote Symphonic Fantasy and Allegro, op. 20 for accordion and orchestra, which was the first really serious work for accordion written by a good composer.”
FH: That was the kind of start of it. Accordion was a popular folk instrument in those days. When he started to do this, he was in television playing Arne Nordheim! Arne Nordheim was a lot on Norwegian television as well. This was outrageous, a lot of people didn’t like it.
LP: And do you think he succeed in changing the reputation of the instrument thanks to the fact he was a popular and well established musician? And the same about Nordheim? It would not have been the same if a minor musician would have started the same long term project. Maybe the improvements would not have been so fast.
FH: That’s true. Nordheim was an official figure in Norway and the same about Mogens.
(The list of composers who wrote for Ellegaard is long, among the others we can mention Vagn Holmboe (that wrote Sonata, Op. 143A), Per Nørgård (Anatomic Safari – 1967 for solo accordion and Recall – 1968 for accordion and orchestra), Ib Nørholm (Sonata for accordion Op.41 – 1967), Niels Viggo Bentzon (Concerto for Accordion 1963, In the Zoo – 1964 and Sinfonia concertante – 1965), Hans Abrahamsen (Canzone – 1978), Poul Rovsing Olsen (Op.72 for accordion), Antonio Bibalo (Sonata Quasi Una Fantasia, Two Nocturnes For Two Accordions), Ketil Hvoslef (Fantasy for two accordions), Finn Mortensen, Miklos Maros, Torbjörn Lundquist (Metamorphoses, Botany play, Partita Piccola, Ballad for two accordions), Jindrich Feld, Darius Milhaud, Zbigniew Bargielski (Traumvogel for accordion and percussion, Conversation with a shadow for two accordions), Andrzej Krzanowski (Sonata II, Adagio, Gakkaj, Fantasy, Divertimento, Capriccio Toccata for three accordions)).
Joseph Macerollo, the Canadian accordionist, dedicates a page on his website to the accordion pioneers.
LP: Somehow after the big work he did for the acknowledgment of the accordion as an instrument for classical music (commissioning new works to composers) he understood that there was the necessity to have an eredity, to found a school and a second generation of accordionist that could continue this path?
FH: Absolutely. But this was from the beginning, in a lot of pieces you can see that they have a pedagogical aspect, for example Lundquist or Arabesques from Leif Kayser. Also the way that he edited the works. I think he was much more strict in his editing than I am for example. I would like the composer to challenge me as much as possible if she or he wants to, but I think Mogens had much more clear frames of what was acceptable and what not.
It was probably partly because of his own limitations, although he was an excellent player, but he also considered that his students could do the pieces. He established pieces by Schmidt, Nørgård, Lundquist, as standard pieces in the 70s. My feeling is that after some years his main focus was more on the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music, to get the instrument established there. He managed to build up a big environment: still today there is always a big accordion class in Copenhagen.
LP: What is attractive for you in Nordheim, in his aesthetics?
FH: To me Arne Nordheim’s music is a very playful music, but it has also a very lyrical side. For many people it’s probably concieved as very serious music. Like Spur, for example: it starts with this big vaste landscape feeling with only this deep A, and everything grows from this kind of Icelandic nature scene. So it has in a way a lot of loneliness and vasteness, but at the same time there is a lot of playfulness and space for interpretation.
I feel that in performances of his accordion works, the space for interpretation has been narrowed: you are supposed to play Flashing in this and this way. But it’s very freely notated from the composer’s hand. Flashing and Spur are probably the two best pieces from his accordion production. They both combine a fantastic big form, which is very convincing and works very well. But within this form you have the possibility of almost improvising with the elements: how you choose to do the timing for example, the tempo, it’s all very free, and I think it should be more free than it often has been played.
(Frode Haltli’s interpretation of Flashing by Arne Nordheim, from the CD “Arne Nordheim Complete Accordion Works” Ed.)
This is music from the 50s, 60s, not heavy structuralistic music; I think Nordheim was maybe more inspired by Polish composers and improvised music (he worked quite a lot in Poland: link 1; link 2 Ed.). He was more interested in sound than in structure. So I think it’s important, to me, to play a little bit around with the elements within his music. I think it’s part of it, he was also like that as a person, not that that matters necessarily, but he was a very playful person. Even when he was an old man he was full of humour, almost childish.
I saw a little bit of this documentary on TV recently, and he talks about his childhood memories, about hearing the bells in the church for example, and many other things you can almost find in the scores. It’s very important to remember this part of Nordheim, he had strong connections with his memories as child and his first impressions of sounds and music.
As further listening we propose you “The Tempest (Suite from the Ballet)” composed by Nordheim in 1979.
In The Tempest, a ballet based on Shakespeare’s play, electronics and orchestral sounds are mixed, while the focus is strongly on vocal music (e.g. the ‘double voice’ of Caliban). Nordheim’s continued use of historical elements is shown by the incorporation of Leonardo da Vinci’s musical rebus, which solved reads Amore sol la mi fa remirare, la sol mi fa sollecita. (Wikipedia).
Listen to the trumpet part from minute 7:00…
If you are curious on Arne Nordheim’s music I suggest you this playlist on YouTube wich is collecting all recordings of his works available on the net. On the website dedicated to him after his death in 2010 you can find a very interesting biography as well as the list of his works. Arne Norheim’s example of electronic music.
The interview with Frode Haltli continues.
List of topics
Part I: Introduction to the Scandinavian culture and society
Part II: From the contemporary to the traditional music and back
Part III: Ellegaard and Nordheim, accordion meets Norway
Part IV: A personal experience, New Scandinavian music for accordion
Part V: Maja S. K. Ratkje – ‘Gagaku Variations’, Ich bin ein Japaner!
Part VI: Bent Sørensen – ‘Looking on Darkness’, researching a new sound
Part VII: Atli Ingolfsson – ‘Radioflakes’, new virtuosism
and much more. Stay tuned!
Frode Haltli (b. 1975, Norway) studied at the Norwegian State Academy of Music, then at the Royal Danish Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, graduating in 2000. In 2001 the Norwegian Concert Institute named him Young Soloist Of The Year, he was also placed second in the International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition 1999 in the Netherlands.
Concerts throughout Europe, USA, Canada and Asia. Directing his career into explorations of new music, he became associated with like-minded musicians mainly in Europe where the development of adventurous forms has grown throughout recent years.
Haltli has established links with several composers, notably Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje who is one of several who have written especially for him; others include Bent Sørensen, Rolf Wallin, Atli Ingólfsson, Hans Abrahamsen, Jo Kondo and Sam Hayden.
He has also cooperated with several string quartets, among them the Arditti String Quartet.
His debut CD ‘Looking on Darkness’ was released on the prestigiuos German record label ECM in 2002.
In 2012 Haltli released ‘Arne Nordheim Complete Accordion Works’ (Simax Classics) to great critical acclaim.
He has played regularely with the trio POING, alongside saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm and double bass player Håkon Thelin. They have commissioned more than 60 works from composers all over the world and recorded several albums.
Since the release of the duo album “Yeraz” on ECM in 2008 Haltli has also toured regularly with saxophonist Trygve Seim.
Frode Haltli has developed several transcultural music projects, in India, China, Japan, North Korea, Egypt. He has also played music rooted in Norwegian traditional music, notably with RUSK in which he is teamed with singer Unni Løvlid and violinist Vegar Vårdal.
On his 2007 recording ’Passing Images’ (ECM), Haltli is joined by trumpeter Arve Henriksen, viola player Garth Knox, and vocalist Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, for a selection of lyrical explorations of folk themes couched in the form of contemporary improvised music.
This theme and combination of old and new music is further delevoped in duo with Norwegian violinist Gjermund Larsen and in The Snowflake Trio with Irish flute player Nuala Kennedy and Norwegian fiddler Vegar Vårdal.
Frode Haltli teaches accordion at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo.
To know more about check http://frodehaltli.com/.