TVEITT: A Hundred Hardanger Tunes, Suites Nos. 2 and 5

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Geirr Tveitt (1908-1981)

A Hundred Hardanger Tunes, Op. 151: Suites Nos. 2 and 5

High in the hills a thousand feet above the western shore of the Hardangerfjord lies Bjødnabrakane, where the junipers grow and bears last lived; where, the tale tells, at midnight on Christmas Eve the animals can talk, the snow vanishes and the stream water turns to wine. (Though you would be unwise to step out for a drink and a chat: at the same hour ride Oskereia, strange, dangerous creatures and spirits of the dead, flying through the air so fast that sparks strike from their horses’ hooves.) No road rose to Bjødnabrakane; the vista opens across the fjord toward the mighty Folgafodne glacier and high Hardangervidda plateau. Here composer Geirr Tveitt built his new house when he settled at his father’s family’s ancestral farm near Norheimsund in Hardanger, west Norway, in the 1940s. Twenty years later Bjødnabrakane was to be crushed by a terrifyingly heavy snowfall, the first of two catastrophes to strike Tveitt: in 1970 his home on the old farmstead below burnt to the ground; much of his music was lost for ever. But from World War Two Bjødnabrakane was Tveitt’s fastness: here he married, had children, immersed himself in Hardanger ways, and "tuned in" to a tradition where music, everyday life, nature and the supernatural are indivisible.

Existence throughout the region was ruled by the earth’s cycle, revolving around the annual transhumance, the driving of cattle up to the rich dark-green mountain pastures of the "summer hill-farms". Staying and working with Hardanger people, Tveitt came to know them well enough to hear their very private songs and stories, scribbling down over a thousand of their folk-tunes, sometimes just scraps of words or melody. The often "deep, painful yearning" of their mountain music, Tveitt felt, told of "greater faith in nature than in people, and in singing or playing as their comfort in time of need." He came to comprehend their belief in the old legends and folklore. The profoundest music, they said, "the tones of truth, deep down from the subconscious, was symbolized by the music of the underjordiske, the netherworld people". The huldre, the beautiful green-clad fairy folk, with cow’s tails, singing their way through life inside the hills; the fossegrim, the fiddle-playing waterfall-sprite: you never caught more than a glimpse of him, but if you were on his wavelength, and offered him some tasty food (smoked lamb?), he might teach you a few tunes. Wandering alone in Hardanger’s heights, Tveitt saw fells that cast troll-shaped shadows; and began scribbling down tunes of his own.

From these foundations grew perhaps his most personal works: Fifty folktunes from Hardanger for piano and the still more vivid Hundred Hardanger Tunes (Hundrad Hardingtonar) for orchestra, original Tveitt-tunes blending with the folk-tunes, sharing everything from subject-matter to modal harmony. Hardanger tradition had become Tveitt’s own. For his daughter Gyri and son Haoko it came with their mother’s milk; Gyri recalls her "unscheduled concert début" aged about four: sitting in a Moroccan studio as her father played Hardanger tunes in a live piano broadcast, she spontaneously sang along - just like at home, so dad did not notice; grandma, back in Norway, heard her loud and clear on short-wave radio. "Tuned-in" indeed.

Four orchestral suites of fifteen pieces survive the 1970 fire, Suite No.3 among the missing. Naxos 8.555078 contrasts Suite No.4, telling a fifteen-chapter wedding story, with No.1, whose diversity mirrors the fifty piano folk-tunes (Marco Polo 8.225055-56). The remaining two suites recorded here have no narrative, but are unified by their themes: the musical Hardanger unity of mountain life, reality and mysticism, the natural and the supernatural.

Suite No.2, Fifteen Mountain Songs, opens on the Hardangervidda: a reindeer hunter sighs Far, far across the fells to Turid - "her song will ease sadness"; a boy has lost his love: bereft, he wanders With wolves and reindeer in the upland storm. In the children’s rhyme Hen, hound, cow and horse Tveitt had fun finding the best instruments for the animal sounds - "klukk-klukk-klukk", "vov-vov", "møø" and "prrro". The dairymaid’s Mountain cattle-call sings longingly of her loneliness on the summer hill-farm; maybe she can drown her sorrows in the strong ale the pack-horses are bringing. Far away across the quiet mountain lake a shepherd plays his flute, a long pipe without finger-holes, fashioned in springtime from the bark of the goat willow. Old Nick, his lament seethes with devilish orchestral invention: sky-high double-basses introduce the tune; poor Nick’s fiddle lacks strings because the diligent denizens of Hell keep spiriting away the guts out of their guests - "Damn it!" At the suite’s heart is a haunting bird-song all of Tveitt’s own: the little snow-white ptarmigan dwarfed by the great glacier Folgafodne, a mournful reminder of the legendary seven hill-settlements buried forever far beneath - humankind crushed by impassive, all-powerful nature. And yet… "if you can hear the song in the waterfall’s roar, you can laugh and joke even when you’re heavy-hearted": Tveitt’s tune surfaces through cascading undertones and overtones. Lame Lars is such a fine fiddler that he surely learnt his tune from the huldre, whose faery song Geirr invokes from their home inside Hulder-Hill, on his mother’s family farmstead, a day’s walk south across the fells from Bjødnabrakane. A fiery tune for tramping to? - take Beard ablaze: the man whose pipe fell from his jaw and gave him a really close shave! Maybe his mouth was otherwise occupied playing the jew’s harp - or muted trombone in Tveitt’s inspired Coplandesque imitation. The mountain girl skiing downhill, showing off, gets her come-uppance with a bruised backside (or "arse", if - like Tveitt - you prefer the direct approach). Finally, with clear-eyed gaze, the view of a life unfulfilled: "when I was young, I used to think I would climb those blue distant hills; now I know I’ll never reach so far."

The Norwegian word "troll" means not just the mythical mountain-creatures, huge, ancient, often ugly, often lonely; it symbolizes magic, and the whole underjordisk world beyond our own. So Tveitt’s Fifth Suite, Troll-tunes, travels deeper into that netherworld: fount, in folklore, of "true tones". To tune up, try "Troll-tuning": the decorative Hardanger folk-fiddle has extra, sympathetic, under-strings and multitudinous tunings - this one sounds eerie, for "real", unearthly music. The next seven pieces feature, without supernatural stories, among Tveitt’s Fifty folktunes for piano; brilliantly re-imagined here for orchestra (their "real" medium, Tveitt felt), they reflect the linked lives of the underjordiske and Hardanger people. The huldre, too, in their parallel dimension, have their transhumance, driving their shining cattle to summer farms; they sing soft lullabies to their children; they celebrate huge Hardanger weddings (see Tveitt’s Suite No.4), and are so groggy next morning that a fiddler has to wake them for the nøring, the wedding-breakfast. Then comes what Tveitt, with (personal?) feeling, called the "Tragedy" of The changeling, the folk tradition that "someone who’s ‘different’, who walks their own path, really comes from another world. That the underjordiske took the human being who
Item number 8555770
Barcode 747313577026
Release date 02/01/2002
Category 20th Century
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Composers Tveitt, Geirr
Tveitt, Geirr
Conductors Engeset, Bjarte
Engeset, Bjarte
Orchestras Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Producers Handley, Tim
Handley, Tim
Disc: 1
A Hundred Hardanger Tunes, Op. 151: Suite No. 5
1 No. 16 Far, far across the fells to Turid
2 No. 17 With wolves and reindeer in the upland stor
3 No. 18 Hen, hound, cow and horse - Nursery rhyme
4 No. 19 Mountain Cattle-call
5 No. 20 Bringing strong ale up into the mountains
6 No. 21 Willow flute across the quiet tarn
7 No. 22 Old Nick, his lament
8 No. 23 Snow grouse on the Folgafodne glacier
9 No. 24 Do you hear the song in the waterfall's roa
10 No. 25 Lame Lars, his fairy fiddle-tune
11 No. 26 The song inside Hulder-Hill
12 No. 27 Beard ablaze
13 No. 28 Jew's harp melody
14 No. 29 The mountain girl skiing downhill
15 No. 30 I saw so far away
16 No. 61 Troll-tuned Hardanger fiddle
17 No. 62 Hulder transhumance
18 No. 63 Hulder hush-a-bye
19 No. 64 Hulder wedding-breakfast
20 No. 65 The changeling
21 No. 66 Folgafodne glacier keeps its secret
22 No. 67 The boy with the troll-treasure
23 No. 68 Spell-song
24 No. 69 The crooked harp that could talk
25 No. 70 The brownie dancing
26 No. 71 The water-sprite playing
27 No. 72 Twilight
28 No. 73 Fairy flageolet
29 No. 74 Echo from the other side
30 No. 75 Doomsday
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