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The Selfish Idealist


If you do things for yourself, do you have to be destructive towards the world? Life can be made fairly good both for you and for the rest of us.

Maybe you'll not only help out, but even give everybody a good laugh from time to time.

The moon, an old friend.

A starry night, maybe

Music, Uncategorised Posted on 04 Jan, 2020 04:57

For those of my readers who are not familiar with my music, here is one improvisation on the piano: An imaginary visit to Baku, inspired by my Azerbaijani friends whom I met in Oslo and who live here.

An Explosive and Creative Organ Event

Music Posted on 04 Dec, 2019 20:21

This is a recension of an event that took place this summer. I started writing it just after the concert, but finished it now.

An exceptional evening for me in Fredrikstad, listening to American organist Cameron Carpenter playing outside on his American municipal type organ, so far unknown to me.

Carpenter is one of those musicians whom you seriously don’t know what is going to do the next moment, you go “What?? It’s not possible” and the next second “It actually is”.

The instrument, although electronic, belongs to a tradition of organ building which started in the USA in the early 20th Century, with instruments being paid for by cities across the States, built in concert venues outside the churches. There were also city organists who were employed and paid by the municipality where this happened, thus the name.

You could perhaps argue that the registration of the instrument is also somehow formed by American mentality and…hm, nature, perhaps, which I believe, without ever having been in the States, is huge and strange enough seen with European eyes…to sometimes call for exceptional musical measures as well.

This organ had a lot of volume, great dimensions of sound and was perhaps made with some physical thinking – some sounds were really violent to my ears. In some peak points of Bach it made me think of the sound of Jimi Hendrix’s famous version of The star-spangled banner, sounding not like machine guns or jet fighters, but perhaps cannons, accompanied by more traditional organ sounds.

I am not an expert on organ music, but these are my impressions.

Most other voices used for the classical pieces were conceived and made in the tradition of acoustic pipe organs as I know it.

Some other pieces in the concert, non-classical stuff, were soundwise and stylistic perhaps with at least one leg into the world of hammond organs, and left a pleasant and more meditative impression, stylistically unproblematic to me.

Some of the most complex and dense parts of the great Bach pieces maybe sometimes had a lack of clarity, a few of Bach’s largest musical knots were perhaps not totally unwound.

But Cameron is a virtuoso and a truly original musician, as I have said.

It was a little difficult for me to take in this new genre, if that is what it is. Because of the greatness both of Carpenter’s talent and of his architecture of sound it left me pretty blown away. Some aggressive outbursts also sounded like too harsh comments on Bach if you wanted simply to listen to his music, but if you considered the performance a world of its own, maybe all parts could go together.

The concert started with Handel, but I missed part of it, and perhaps this would have bound the concert even better together to a whole for me, which Cameron certainly had the ability to do. We actually travelled from light (Handel) via meditation and contemplation to aggresion (some of Bach).

I had the impression that a church roof was blown up in the sky in the final piece. Quite an ending in my ears, at least!

Revolution sometimes happens on stage, that’s part of the game, I would say, and as long as one is able to collect the debris afterwards, put it together again, maybe in another way, and start all over with Bach another evening, it is perhaps no less allowed than directing plays or operas in ways that have been happening for many years. 

Food for thought to say the least, with perhaps a stretch from a normal humble attitude towards Bach to almost hatred in the end. But the greatness of Cameron’s talent made it impossible not to consider seriously what he was doing.

As far as I could judge, both the sound engineers at work and the musician himself did a brilliant job in making this outside event into a very laudible and audible event. I had really no trouble enjoying or hearing very clearly what he was doing musically, apart from the kind of musical shocks that I have described, and that you normally take at least a detour or want to pay a lot to hear. We were sitting on an outside bar with the river flowing quietly in the middle of it all, with hundreds or maybe a couple of thousand listeners on the bridge behind us and along the river. The weather was great and the evening a fantastic one, real magic, which can happen in Norway becauuse of the nature, I can say that as a patriot and an inborn. 

In fact not a bad match, the town of Fredrikstad, nature and art in a pretty spectacular encounter, but with some mixed feelings and a lot to think about on the way home.

“Second rate” music revived

Music Posted on 22 Aug, 2019 05:47

Really well played, those pieces of Clara Schumann, which proves my point from a few years back, that her music is firstrate, and in my opinion still, alongside other female composers and alongside so-called secondrate male composers whose music has been laying in the shelves, but is actually beginning to enjoy a renaissance.

People like Agathe Backer-Grøndahl from my own country, Catharinus Elling among the men, Hjalmar Borgstrøm, Alf Hurum. David Monrad Johansen is known, but not for early, romantic pieces – a violin sonata and other chamber music has got a fantastic new recording by the Oslo-based ensemble Fragaria Vesca.

I still feel there is sometimes a tendency to overemphasize the classical, European side of this Norwegian music from the romantic period, and even if this side is often a really well done part of the compositions, we also need to hear the real shit of the trolls and the harmonic strangeness not least, which exist in some of these pieces.

It’s often there, but I feel it could sometimes be interesting to experience more of it, to have the courage to be…sorry, more strangely Norwegian and not see this feature as German or European music, just not quite as good…

After all this music was made in a period where nationalism established itself throughout Europe and perhaps wider, and today we could need this base in order not to exaggerate it – as long as we have it, what’s the point of bragging or be afraid of other countries’ culture?

Much of it was meant to explore the special and peculiar sides of a country 100% when it was written, its character as different from others, but of course in a common idiom, a more or less similar style across Europe. Today we can use it for adjustment to other cultures, to tone down sides of our own culture is easier when you feel confident, and one may listen to others without losing oneself totally.

Just a bit.

Here is the first movement of Monrad Johansen’s piano quartet:

His violin sonata also deserves attention. Here is the second movement:

I am playing Mozart’s music

Music Posted on 09 Jul, 2019 11:38

I think that competitions in music are principally bullshit, but of course, there is a lot of good music going on…

Another interesting thing is that these guys & girls seem to be giving us more personal versions, not only the most correct Mozart (which can be an interesting thing, of course, to check once in a while, by watching competitions ;-)).

I hope this is a new trend, more individual interpretations, it would be nice with a little more freedom at last. And no, I’m not talking about extra notes compared to a standard text, that is another discussion, I think, but of how to play the whole thing. There are many possibilities.

Correctness is only one aspect of the music.

The question of the correct Mozart remains there, not exactly unanswered…but as part of the package, one way of thinking which will also be important. Many things are.

But it is ok that time moves on once in a while, that the main focus shifts, and perhaps gives us a way of dealing with things that also suits our times better.

One could think like that too.

And of course, to tip over the whole discussion you should actually consider the fact that the grand piano wasn’t invented when Mozart died in 1791, these concerts were written for the fortepiano, which is a completely different instrument. It is just too tempting to play them on a “modern” instrument because they sound so bloody good on it, but actually, I think you have to see these versions as kind of arrangements for another instrument.

At least this is an interesting view and an interesting way into yet another approach.

In the end, and when showtime draws near, too, all ways of thinking about music go into one another like Chinese boxes, and maybe it is not obvious which one is the outer one, the actual frame for all the others, that exact day.

And again, what goes on live is also unpredictable to a certain extent, or should be, because no one really wants to hear what you did last night, at least I very much enjoy a happening, whatever genre or mode.

That’s why we’re nervous playing…

Music from our own country

Music Posted on 03 Jan, 2019 12:59

The «national» side of this music (I am thinking of Grieg, Svendsen, Halvorsen) was of course thoroughly exaggerated during the war, and it is peculiar that I think still both Nazis and patriots embrace it, which perhaps makes a point for the existence of absolute music, freed from the history it is made and played in.

The point is anyway that our view on it is far too narrow, and as I have been trying to say for some time. It’s time also to dig out from the library shelves the scores of all the other brilliant composers and start considering what we have. Some things are happening both in the field og music and in art. Nationalism is ok, in a sense, as long as you don’t exaggerate it, it just gives you a feeling of coming from somewhere and funfacts to exchange and later mix with people from other cultures. I am not afraid of borders as long as there are doors to open and a willingness to communicate. A proper amount of self-esteem is needed in order to really meet others, and it is also a necessary means to find out what’s next, where are we all going now.

Carl Nielsen, Grieg and folk music

Music Posted on 03 Jan, 2019 11:55

One important side of classical music which follows the whole tradition until the 20th century and longer, is the connection to folk music. The melodies and the rhythmical sides of folk music have gone into the «educated» tradition, and many composed melodies, simple or complicated, has been developed from here.

Carl Nielsen is one composer I feel is frequently performed too dry, except for a few pieces. He is harmonically interesting, of course, but not only that, he is also a guy from the countryside, one who sets the landscape to music, he is also a national romantic. One should of course not abandon the «academic» sides of Nielsen, on the contrary, but the roots of folk music and indeed the sound of Nielsen, his life in Denmark, the country itself, is so much present, not only in the simple melodies, they go on long into the more complicated passages. One should not lose the feeling of walking on the ground, actually Danish ground, a point that is hard to miss for a Norwegian who are, like most others, steeped in the clichés of how to play Grieg.

He, and the rest of our national romantics, could do with some new ideas to describe their music, other than inspiration and description of mountains on the west coast, like any tourist is totally fascinated by. Well, the mountains are fabulous, and so is Grieg, but when you live a lifetime in the closeness of mountains you do other things too than just admire them, even if that is also part of life.

I mean, Grieg’s nature idiom contains stories about other things (yey) and his music also goes other places than Hurrungane – also, yes, it also goes to those mountains, but what happens there? is also the question.

Sigurd Slåttebrekk put completely new colours into Grieg with his «authentic interpretation» project some years ago, and I’ve heard others do really interesting things. I am not quite updated, but I feel that the idea of going to folk roots maybe especially for melody and sound could be a good one for more composers than Nielsen – but that we up here, in Norway, quite simply, as is pretty common – has the opposite position and need the opposite thing. The nature kids need to think, differently, move out of the idea of nature for a little while, and the Danes need to go to their grass roots, maybe, to make contact with their own ground, or whatever Nielsen is into.

I also read once a quote from him saying something like «if a man pushed his back towards an iceberg…» – in discussing some of his own music, I think. Well, there are no concrete icebergs where we live, but the idea of North is and was of course always a thing in the South, and there are and were mental and artistic icebergs to be experienced. The history of Denmark and Norway is intertwined in many ways , and we should never stop listening to each other and give each other new ideas.

On its own account

Music Posted on 08 Jun, 2017 01:46

They may not be entirely new, but recordings are entering my YouTube window, of music by female composers, recordings that I feel really take the music seriously.

Is the music different from works by their male counterparts? I think maybe it is, but judge for yourself. In any case, all music needs to be played as itself, not as a different or less important version of Brahms, (Robert) Schumann or anyone else.

The last sentence is of course more or less a program, and I won’t dismiss any old, inspiring recordings, or anything else that works, for that matter. But new ideas…well, I felt they were needed here.


PS Of course it is a little too much to say that on older recordings the musicians doesn’t take the music “seriously”. The point is that the musical language sometimes seems so close for instance to Brahms or Clara’s husband or someone else of the “greats”, while the music actually contains completely different ideas. Which I think is shown here.

Sinding and National Romanticism – civilized nature

Music Posted on 11 May, 2017 09:30

Christian Sinding’s opus 5, played by the Take 5 piano quintet.

brilliant musicians cover the “European” side of Sinding very well in
their interpretation of this work, which is obviously present, and which is
what he is most known for in Norway. But the strange and quirky side of the music,
the nature of Norway, indeed of Norwegians, put into a Romantic, virtuoso idiom,
is maybe not quite as well understood. The troll
in us, the nature around us, the stylised or otherwise changed folk music, all
this is so easy to identify for an insider, maybe less so for a foreigner. This
is present in the music, maybe a little less in the playing.

Grieg has of
course a lot of this stuff, but is usually unable or uninterested to put it
into more complicated forms. This is what Sinding does, and it would be most
interesting to hear even more of what the music has to say on this point, especially
in the first and last movements. In the third movement the meeting of folklore
and educated forms is actually very
audible, but could maybe still be given even more flair of the nature which is
the inspiration for it. Extreme clarity on one side, quirkiness, darkness, coarse
and even evil turns on the other, that is, I would say, traditionally the sound
of this in the national romantic Norwegian tradition. There is probably a lot
more to say about it, but this is one way of putting it that I don’t think miss the point completely.

In Norway, I
believe Sinding is often seen as a little dusty, over-intellectual composer,
and actually, after listening to this, it seems totally wrong. Nature is never
far away in our country, and a constant inspiration even today. Sinding puts it
into a classical form, but it is still there.

It sounds
stupid once again to demand from foreigners that they should properly
understand us – but our cultural isolation for so many years has made much of
our culture virtually unknown to outsiders, and badly understood by ourselves,
because we have lacked other perspectives than our own.

Maybe it is
difficult to understand this part of our arts without having experienced a
summer night in Oslo or a winter day in Tromsø. Nature is such a strong force
here, and thoroughly brought out in this period of musical history. Inspiration
from nature is sometimes the very reason for saying what is said, or the mode
which every other sentiment moves in, the over-all idea, the mould that the
music, in this case, is cast in. I may be wrong in overemphasizing this in Sinding,
but not in the period in which he lived.

I’m less
sure what function the virtuoso side of the music has, but I don’t doubt that
it has one. If nothing else, it is a means of getting the message through, a
way of showing off, but in order to leave no doubt about what is said.

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