Part IV: A personal experience, New Scandinavian music for accordion
We met Frode at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo where he teaches accordion to master students. This is the fourth part of the interview. We present now some relevant Norwegian compositions for accordion and then Scandinavian composers Frode worked with. The next articles will be analysis of three recent important compositions. If you missed the previous parts or you want to read them again:
FH: I briefly wrote down a list of some important Norwegian accordion pieces. A lot of the Scandinavian music is Danish because Mogens (Ellegaard Ed.) was Danish. But this list is strictly based on works by Norwegian composers.
(Note: we will propose you the recordings of the pieces we present if they are freely available on the net, otherwise suggest you listenings of music from the same composer to collocate his style. It will be like a guided discovery of a lot of interesting music)
Arne Nordheim (1931-2010): Dinosauros (1970). This was perhaps the first important Norwegian solo piece, with electronics. It’s like small sections putted together, almost like ten etudes, it doesn’t have the unitariety that Flashing, e.g., has. And it’s quite rough: I know some people have even made a new tape part, in Poland and in Finland too. The original tape part is Mogen’s playing and it’s elaborated electronically. Nordheim did a lot of electronic work in Poland, in Warsaw, in a very famous studio there. But this piece is probably not made there, the electronic part is probably made here, in Oslo, at the radio. So it’s not so developed. But I like it, I find very fascinating to play like a duo with Mogens; he recorded it in 1969 or 1970 and you can still play together with him: I don’t think I would ever change the tape part, even though it’s a little bit rough and in one point is too loud, it peaks.
LP: How was Ellegaard as a player, was he spontaneous?
FH: No, I would not say he was a very spontaneous player actually, but he had a quite light way of playing. But I don’t think he was an improviser, to put it in that way.
Finn Mortensen (1922-83): 3 stykker (1973) (3 pieces). Finn Mortensen was the first professor here (at the Norwegian Academy of Music of Oslo Ed.) in composition, he composed also a piece for the Trio Mobile of Mogens with accordion, guitar and percussions. (Finn Mortensen’s Fantasy and Fugue for piano solo)
(Finn Mortensen studied harmony with Torleif Eken, composition with Klaus Egge and Niels Viggo Bentzon (the same that wrote In the Zoo for Ellegaard, a Concerto for accordion and Orchestra and several other pieces for the instrument Ed.), as well as the piano and double bass at the Conservatory of Oslo. He also participated in the now-famous Darmstadt summer school, and in Karlheinz Stockhausen’s master classes at the Studio für Elektronische Musik in Cologne (Köln). From 1970 onward, he taught at the Oslo Conservatory himself, becoming Norway’s first professor of composition in 1973. He was the leader of the group Ny Musikk (New Music Ed.), a Norwegian advocacy group for contemporary music, between 1961 and 1964, and between 1966 and 1967.
Until about 1953, Mortensen’s music was mostly influenced by neoclassicism (1 2 3) and expressionism (1 2 3). It later assimilated twelve-tone and aleatoric influences, creating what Mortensen termed a “neo-serial” style. Wikipedia and listento.no)
Antonio Bibalo (1922-2008): Sonata quasi una fantasia (1977). He passed away few years ago. He actually was born in Italy and he had a life that had been anything but ordinary.
It’s worthed to tell his history:
Antonio Bibalo was born in Trieste and studied piano at the conservatory there. During the World War II he was drafted into the army, he tried to desert but he ended up in military prison. He escaped from prison, was caught by the German army, and then forced to fight with them. During the battle, he was captured by the American army and sent to the United States as a prisoner of war. When he eventually returned to Trieste in 1946, he received his diploma from the conservatory and worked as a bar pianist to support himself. He then walked to Marseille, hoping to study composition, but ended up in the French Foreign Legion and was sent to Oman where he was assigned to entertain in the officer’s mess, and teach piano to their wives. Once again he escaped and eventually ended up in London in 1953 where he studied with Elisabeth Lutyens (Wikipedia).
The great climax of Antonio Bibalo’s career in musical drama came with Macbeth, based on Shakespeare’s play, commissioned by and first performed at the Norwegian National Opera in 1990. With great artistic courage, in this opera he renews the operatic form itself, breaks down the barriers between the theatrical and the musical and creates a direct musical-dramatic expression. Antonio Bibalo has played himself definitively among our (Norwegian Ed.) most prominent musical dramatists and many people in the theatre world are impressed, not least by his ability to adapt the texts of major dramatists for the opera. (listento.no, 1)
In 1956 he settled in Norway. He is a great composer and this sonata is a very nice piece in a kind of neoclassical style.
(a student performing Sonata quasi una fantasia)
Also Ketil Hvoslef (1939-): Acanthus (1984) is very nice piece also, in neoclassical style.
Other Norwegian pieces are:
Arne Nordheim: Flashing (1986) (we spoke about it in the third part of the interview).
Wolfgang Plagge (1960-): Facsimiles (1992) (Rhapsody for solo Bassoon).
Most of this compositions are written for Mogens Ellegaard and Jon Faukstad. While
PerMagnus Lindborg (1968-): Bombastic SonoSofisms (1996) and the next pieces are composed for me. His name is actually Per Magnus Lindborg but he was so tired being confused with Magnus Lindberg, which is a more famous composer, that he decided to write his name like this!
Bombastic SonoSofisms from Frode Haltli’s CD “Looking on Darkness”:
Composer, performer and researcher, Lindborg is a member of the Norwegian Society of Composers since 1996 and Assistant Professor since 2007 at the School of Art|Design|Media at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Lindborg studied piano, trombone, mathematics, languages, classical music and jazz improvisation in his native Sweden before concentrating on composition. He obtained degrees from Oslo (State Academy of Music 1995) and Paris (Ircam 1999 and Sorbonne 2003). He also studied with Klas Torstensson in the Netherlands. Lindborg was twice awarded a Young Artist Grant (1998 and 1999) from the Norwegian governement. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Sound Acoustics and Perception at TMH, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. (check out much more on his webstite http://www.permagnus.net/)
Rolf Wallin (1957-): Seven Imperatives (2008). This is originally a piano piece but we worked together and he made a version for accordion that actually differs a lot from the original piece. One of the movements has the central C of the piano as a middle point and is very rhythmical. We tried this part on the accordion and we realized that it didn’t sound like the middle of the instrument. So we changed up to A (central A) and the whole movement is moving around this A. Rolf is a modernistic composer, a really great composer, he’s also quite a bit metaphysical in his composing. I only played this piece a few times and it’s not even published yet, even though if it was composed in 2008 and he is on Chester music, a very important publisher. It’s a pity because it could be a much more played piece, in a way it’s a little bit a forgotten piece but it’s really great. (Twine for xylophone and marimba, Viola concerto “Under city skin”, wonderful Scratch for three balloons Ed.)
Composer and avant-garde performance artist Rolf Wallin has established a reputation as one of the leading Scandinavian composers of his generation. Much of Wallin’s music combines an intuitive freedom with a rigorous mathematical approach, such as use of fractal algorithms to construct melody and harmony, resulting in a music that often hints at the influence of Ligeti, Xenakis and Berio. But far from being abstract, Wallin’s music often connects directly with the world around him, most notably in later works such as Act (2004), a celebration of the power of cooperation, Concerning King (2006), based on speech patterns from Martin Luther King, and Strange News (2007), which tells the story of the rehabilitation of child soldiers in Africa. (musicsalesclassical.com, exerpts)
Ørjan Matre (1979-): Nephilim Songs (2012). He is an upcoming composer, I asked him to compose this piece as a commission to the Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik. (Four Miniatures for Orchestra Ed.)
To go slightly away from the Norwegian solo repertoire, over to some other pieces I have premiered:
From Maja (Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje (1973-) Ed.) the gagaku variations (2001) for accordion and string quartet is the main piece with accordion; it’s a great piece, I played it many times. She also composed some other pieces for the accordion, one is Passing Images (2003). (gagaku variations by Frode Haltli’s “Looking on Darkness”, Passing Images, Trio from the album “Voice” of Maja Ratkje, Once upon a time)
I would also mention
Nils Rosing-Schow (1954-): Spiral Ladder (Paris 1997), a piece which is clearly inspired by Ligeti’s piano etudes, a good piece. A later version for two accordions was made for Geir Draugsvoll and James Crabb, with whom I was studying at that time. I do it as a solo piece: I still think it’s a really good solo piece. (I giardini dietro le città, interesting backstage of the concert both from the CD “Peinture du temps” – 2011)
Bent Sørensen (1958-): Looking on Darkness (Copenhagen 2000). I was finishing in Copenhagen with Geir Draugsvoll and James Crabb (Mogens died just after I started my studies, so I never studied officially with him). I wanted to have two good composers, one Norwegian and one Danish to write new solo works for my final recital in Copenhagen. Asbjørn Schaathun from Norway wrote Lament. He was a very established composer, Sørensen as well. Today he [Sørensen] is among the most played Danish composers. Looking on Darkness was a very important piece for me also because I was challenged on some issues myself and I started to work a lot on tone glissandos and used that technique also in improvisation after: I feel that it’s a very effective way of changing the sound colour on the accordion (Looking on Darkness from Frode’s CD edited by ECM Ed.).
We will explore Looking on Darkness later, more in depth.
Hans Abrahamsen (1952-) is another Danish composer that has been important to me. He first wrote the Three little nocturnes (listen Frode Haltli and Arditti Quartet at Radio France and by the German accordionist Eva Zöllner with DoelenKwartet) with string quartet, and then I asked if he could have another look at his solo piece Canzona from, I think, 1977. That was a very interesting process: his attitude changed suddendly from a definitive “no” to a “yes”. So I visited him in Copenhagen and he went through the entire piece at the piano. He tried to analyse what he was doing as a young composer because there were some parts where, it was just an intuition, I felt the piece didn’t move in the right direction or stopped too fast. Anyway, when he analysed his music it was exactly at the same places that he realized that he had changed something in his structures, he had went out of his own frames, so to say: he is a very thorough composer, he has his system, structure.
His music, in general, sounds in one way very simple: he was part of the movement called New Simplicity, where he uses a lot of tonal elements, but his music is actually very structured. Probably he felt he had to add some virtuosity in Canzona, he said he was very young, he felt he had to do something, use his personality. But then we both realized that if he just skipped that and finished the composition more within its own rules the piece would improve. And so he recomposed the piece, and Air is the result (Frode performing Air at the Festival d’automne 2013 in Paris, part of this concert). To me it is a much more interesting piece. It’s much calmer, quiter, much more difficult to play actually because it takes so much to keep the form. Canzona is in many ways easier piece to play because it has some more obvious parts in it that help you as a performer.
Abrahamsen studied music theory at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. His music is inspired by his mentors Per Nørgård and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, who were two of his composition teachers, and in the 1980s he became close both personally and stylistically to György Ligeti.
Abrahamsen is considered to have been part of a trend called the “New Simplicity“, which arose in the mid-1960s as a reaction against the complexity and perceived aridity of the Central European avant-garde, particularly the circle around the Darmstadt School. Abrahamsen’s first works conformed to the tenets of this movement. For Abrahamsen this meant adopting an almost naive simplicity of expression, as in his orchestral piece Skum (“Foam”, 1970). His style soon altered and developed, at first through a personal dialogue with Romanticism (audible in works such as the orchestral Nacht und Trompete (1984)), and later into something entirely personal, combining a modernist stringency and economy into a larger individual musical universe. Notable recent works include a piano concerto and the extended chamber work Schnee, where the paring-down of material appears to reach a new extreme. (Wikipedia)
There has been some more composers I’ve been working to. Lately Bent Sørensen again for example, a work for solo accordion and string chamber orchestra, which is also quite important for me. And I’ve been doing lots of works with POING of course (the trio with Rolf-Erik Nystrøm (saxofon) and Håkon Thelin (double bass) playing anything between classical contemporary music, jazz, improvisation and folk music. Website of POING Ed.).
Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, Essential Extensions (1999) for accordion, alto sax and double bass:
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
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/.