Le Confident

Ideas tête-à-tête

Geirr Tveitt: How curious a man!

Now for someone special. (you’ve got to love this tune)

I came across Geirr Tveitt several months ago, a Norwegian Composer, first I was not too impressed: some Shostakovich, some Prokoffiev, some modern orchestral colours, okay. But then I heard a lot of those other, better known skandinavian composers, Edvard Grieg, Jean Sibelius, Carl Nielsen. I learned to love their musical language, in which you can always hear, what otherwise only your eyes can experience: the calm, chilly and mysterious sight of the Fjords, the woods and mountains, the long, dark winters. Then I came back to Tveitt and understood: he gives you this northern ease, but in a unique way.

You will like this too, Leonore, as you love Switzerland with its lakes and alpine ranges so much. Tveitt was born as a farmer in Hardanger and grew so close to his roots, that he started to collect and reuse the folktunes of this area. That’s one of his achievements: listen to the concerto for Hardanger Fiddle or his Hardanger Tunes;
This is what inspired him. One understands why he loved his country so much:

Although not being a child prodigy, he started composing, much like Tchaikovsky who was around 20 I believe, when he decided to study composition. He learned well, with Nadja Boulanger above all, like many american composers at that time and with Egon Wellesz in Vienna, thus equipped with state of the art music theory (Wellesz was a pupil of Schönberg) and the colors of his own musical home, he began quite a successful career as singer of the Norwegian Nation, whereas his bigger works were not much of a success. Unjustly, I find, because they showcase some exceptional surprises; but his colors are sharp, his melodies often edgy and then there are those crazy subjects…

This is the second curious fact about this man. Starting from quite nationalistic philosophical theories, he developped his own interpretation of the world, which consisted basically in a radical rejection of christian belief and the notion, that our world is inhabited and influenced by the dramatis personae, as found in the Edda, Saga and northern mythology in general. He even invented his own timeline, starting with the discovery of the north american continent by Leif Erikson.
When people create a mythological system, that is an intellectual achievement, which I deem fascinating to follow, even though I don’t find any hope in mythology other than that of a good read and inspiration for my own thinking processes. But one has to honor these attempts as well, as they are not fundamentally different from those mental concepts, that actually work and cause the next step in human progress.
Even more so, if the mythomane is a musician, who receives the necessary agitation for epic drama out of his thoughts, like Messiaen, Skriabin and in some way even Beethoven did.

From his mythological works: Sungod Symphony  –  Norwegian Suite  – Nykken

Nykken by the way is the beautiful story about a water phantom, that gets out of a lake as a white horse, lures a boy and then rides with him back into the water. Its similar to Russalka in czech mythology.

And the last fact that makes this composer so special for me, is that he guarded all his major compositions – more than 300! – in little wood boxes in his house, to preserve them for later generations, while his contemporaries didn’t seem to like his complicated language. In 1970 his home burned down, and 4/5 of his output were lost for ever. Tveitt gave in to alcohol and never recovered from this blast.


Thomas Kittelsen
19th century

Ivan Bilibin 19th century


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This entry was posted on June 4, 2012 by in Art, Music and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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