Notes and Editorial Reviews
From A Travel Diary. The Household God
SIMAX 1222 (49:03)
From a Travel Diary
Frå ei reisedagbok
), eight impressionistic studies for string quartet, was described by composer Geirr Tveitt as a suite on a single theme, “differently colored in each of the eight movements, partially inspired by
folklore from different parts of the Mediterranean region.” Besides the sea itself, places visited include Rome, Seville, and the Sahara Desert at night. This is highly uncharacteristic for Tveitt, who rarely looked outside of Norway for musical inspiration after his studies with Honegger, Villa-Lobos, and Boulanger. Still, while sensitive to the indigenous styles of the destinations, these portraits of more southern climes are clearly the work of the composer who sees all through the lens of his extensive work with western Norwegian folk traditions. His editor even suggests that the composer may have consciously intended to draw connections between the music of the Mediterranean folk traditions and that of Norway to satisfy his nationalistic theories on the Norwegian origins of all modal scales. The theory has never been taken seriously. Neither has his 1960 statement, published at the time of the premiere and quoted in the notes, that the string quartet as a genre was not suited to the musical styles of his time. Clearly he must not have known Bartók’s quartets, the contemporaneous essays in that form by Shostakovich, or closer to home, those of Danish composer Vagn Holmboe. Still, neither origins nor motivations in any way detract from the pleasure one can derive from this extraordinarily beautiful, atmospheric, occasionally lively, and always thoroughly engaging endeavor to bend the genre to his needs.
A note on the edition: The complete score of the original quartet version is lost, though the suite exists in a seven-movement version for chamber orchestra that includes six of the quartet movements. This recording presents the quartet version in its original form, restoring the first movement (from where is not clear) and the lost fifth movement, “Sirocco.” The latter was transcribed from a recording of a broadcast performance by Tor Johan Boen, the founder and first violinist of Fragaria Vesca, the Norwegian period-instrument chamber ensemble featured in this release.
Tveitt’s interest in a nationalistic neo-paganism serves as a backdrop to the other substantial chamber work on this program,
The Household God
). A ballet of 12 scenes running a little more than 16 minutes, it depicts the tension between older Norse beliefs and Christianity played out in a violent conflict within a 19th-century farming family on Christmas Eve. Based entirely on modal Norwegian folk dances, it is scored for string quartet, flute, oboe, horn, English horn, and harp. Melancholy but rhythmically acute and tuneful, concisely worked-out, with telling contrasts and concentrated drama, it is a highly effective narrative work. It was first performed in 1956.
The final works are orchestrations of two of Tveitt’s songs for a septet of strings and wind instruments. Performed in a memorial tribute to the poet Jakob Sande in 1967, they escaped the oblivion of the house fire in 1970 that destroyed almost all of the composer’s nearly 300 manuscripts. Nocturnal in tone—the titles of the songs are
When Day Toward Dusk
—they complement the more pensive aspects of the ballet. These are well worth hearing by anyone who appreciates folk-based music that maintains a surface artlessness over a compositional style that is sophisticated and subtle. It is hard to imagine better renderings of any of these works—or even any competition for this release, though one should never underestimate Naxos.
FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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