Geirr Tveitt


Born: October 19, 1908 Died: February 19, 1981
Folk music and the very conscious application of aspects of folk music -- tunes, gestures, sonorities -- to serious concert music, was all the rage during the early twentieth century and it seems like every major country or ethnic group had its native champion or champions. Hungary had Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály; the United States had Charles Ives; and Norway had a man named Geirr Tveitt, a composer, pianist, teacher, and folk music collector who never earned anything like the fame awarded those other "folkish" composers but who has, in the years since his death in 1981, been investigated by Norse music lovers and scholars with ever-increasing interest. Efforts to paint a clear and accurate picture of the man's life and work have proven difficult, however: A fire ravaged his home in 1970, making ash of most of his compositions and folk music collections.

Tveitt was born in October 1908 and grew up, for the most part, in the region of Norway known as Hardanger. The piano and the violin were familiar to him from early childhood on, but when he went to the Leipzig Conservatory or formal schooling (1928 - 1932) it was composition on which he focused. After stops in Vienna (the Vienna State Academy) and Paris, where from 1932 to 1935 he took private lessons from Villa-Lobos and Honegger, he returned to Norway and supported himself writing criticism in Oslo and teaching privately. In 1941, he was awarded a Norwegian state pension and in 1942, he took up residence in the Tveitt family farm in Hardanger, devoting himself mainly to composition and to the collection and transcription of the region's folk music. His life's sailing was not always smooth, though: A scandal involving the Nazi's during the German occupation of Norway in World War II resulted in Tveitt having his state pension taken from him (it was reinstated in the late '50s) and several thousand pages of work -- including the bulk of 300 original works and reams of notated folk music unavailable except through Tveitt's transcriptions -- were lost to the above-mentioned 1970 fire. From time to time, Tveitt appeared as a performing pianist in his own works.

Tveitt's personal musical style draws heavily on the folk music with which he was so familiar, as much or more so even than does Bartók's. In 1937, he authored a theoretical treatise, Tonalitätstheorie des parallelen teittonsystems (Theory of parallel modal systems), seeking to support his own personal conclusion that the modal scale system (the so-called church modes) employed to various degrees and in various ways throughout the history of Western music are actually based on ancient Norwegian folk scales. His conclusions have for the most part been ignored, but the treatise still offers a great window through which to better observe the methods and manner of his own music-making. His output was prolific, including some 29 piano sonatas, five operas, a half-dozen piano concertos, a violin concerto, several suites for orchestra, miscellaneous chamber music, and works for various other solo instruments, including harp and saxophone. There is also a large body of pseudo-folk vocal songs. His best-known works are those that rely most on folk music: One Hundred Folk Tunes (1954 - 1963), a series of orchestral suites; and a volume, famous in Norway, called 100 Hardanger Tunes.

There are 27 Geirr Tveitt recordings available.

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