HARDING FIDDLE TRADITIONS
In Norwegian folk music, the harding fiddle is central, and it is the main traditional instrument in most of the southern valleys. This is both dance music, listening music, and ritual music; all called “Slåtter“. Slått music is built up by very small motifs, bound together to a form via repetition, variation, improvisation. In the valley of Telemark, the dance forms of springar and gangar are dominant, as well as bridal marches. Tele-springar is an asymmetrical 3/4-dance that swings, the gangar (and halling) have more of a walking pace. The music is transferred by ear, from one performer to another. While some of the fiddlers focus on keeping the old forms, other fiddlers emphasize the improvisation and making of new variations and variants.
GRIEG’S OPUS 72
Edvard Grieg had great love for the Norwegian folk music, its trueness and profundity. He composed his own romantic, Griegiesh music inspired by characteristics from this Norwegian sound. Though in the three opuses 17, 66 and 72 he quoted concrete folk music into his score. Opus 72 is the largest of them, where 17 slått tunes are adapted. The story, in brief, goes as follows: Knut Dahle, one of our greatest Telemark fiddlers, feared for the future of the slått music he had learnt from Myllarguten and other legendary predecessors, and he wished for someone to write them down for posterity. He wrote to the well-known Edvard Grieg, and Grieg responded, but felt that his violinist composer colleague Johan Halvorsen would be able to do a better job. Halvorsen and Dahle met, and slått tunes were zealously written down. But there were no good methods at the time for notating slått playing, with all of its ornamentation, obliqueness in tonality and rhythms, and continual reshaping. The slått tunes were therefore inevitably quite simplified in this notation. Grieg did not get to hear Dahle playing himself, but received Halvorsen’s notes by postal mail, and these sheets he used as base in opus 72. I recorded Griegslåttene, Grieg’s Peasant Dances, opus 72, in Grieg’s home at Troldhaugen soon to be 10 years ago (Simax), and I studied the play of Knut Dahle, to take the folk musical style and the source himself, into the interpretation. Knut Dahle’s playing exists on wax roll, and there are also excellent recordings of his grandsons.
After working with the Grieg recording, and listening so much to the Dahle playing, I started playing the slått tunes after Dahle on piano, – i.e. only the slått, without Grieg’s additions. Then I was able to play with the reshapeable, improvising style, with the folk musical tactile, ornamenting aesthetics, with the twisting rhythms, and let the tonality and timbre emerge on the grand piano. I worked with finding ways to reveal the features I love so much in the slått music, and with seeking simplicity and truthfulness. Eventually, I incorporated several fiddlers and folk singers as my sources, by listening to old recordings. Transferring this music to the piano immediately revokes associations from the history of pianism. From Scarlatti, Bach, Schubert, to the minimalists of today and to jazz improvisation. The references and preferences I have pianistically from so various quarters, were allowed to meddle. In Slåttepiano, I play the slått tunes in an improvisational way, where the traditional ways are kept in spirit, whilst the grand piano gets to sing along freely with its own history.
Ingfrid Breie Nyhus, 2016