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Ketil Hvoslef - Organ Works (Vol. 2)
(b. July 19th 1939, Bergen)
(1991 – rev. 1993 and 2021)
First performance: Gewandhaus, Leipzig, 26. September 1992,
Ketil Hvoslef was born in Bergen on July 19th 1939. He is the youngest son of Harald Sæverud and Marie Hvoslef. He arrived at a propitious time, since his birth coincided with the completion of Siljustøl, the great mansion in the outskirts of Bergen where the Sæverud family settled and where his father lived until his passing in 1992. It also proved to be a haven during the Nazi invasion of Norway in the Second World War.
Being the son of a great composer, music was naturally very present during his upbringing. He learned to play the piano and the viola and, in his teens, he became heavily involved in Bergen's jazz and pop music environment, becoming a member of what was, reportedly, Bergen's first rock band. Hvoslef (who retained the Sæverud surname until his 40th birthday, when he decided to adopt that of his mother) had, however, plans to become a painter and took serious steps in that direction. It was in the Bergen Art Academy that he met the painter Inger Bergitte Flatebø (1938 - 2008), who would become his wife and adopt the Sæverud surname.
With the birth of their first child, Trond, in 1962, Hvoslef realized that he needed to provide for his family and, abandoning his dreams to become either a pop star or a painter he took an organist's diploma at the Bergen Music Conservatoire. Upon finishing his studies, he was offered a position as theory teacher at the Conservatoire by its director, the legendary Gunnar Sævig (1924 - 1969).
Hvoslef became a composer almost by accident. In his 25th year he composed a piano concertino for his own satisfaction. Shortly after, his father passed on to him a commission for a woodwind quintet he had no time or inclination to write. Since then Hvoslef has received a fairly steady stream of commissions and his work list counts with some 160 compositions to date. Hvoslef always enjoys a challenge and he has often written for unusual or seemingly "hopeless" instrumental combinations, always using the limitations of the ensemble as a stimulant for his imagination. He has written for large orchestra, for a great variety of chamber ensembles and for solo instruments. He has composed twenty concertos and three operas.
He was the Festival Composer in the Bergen International festival in 1990 and has received several prizes such as the Norwegian Composers' Society's "work of the year" in four occasions (1978, 1980, 1985 and 1992) and TONO's Edvard Prisen in 2011.
Hvoslef's music is characterized by great transparency and by a conscious building of tension achieved by accumulating latent energy. He wants his listeners to lean forward and listen rather than sit back and be lulled into a reverie. Listening to a Hvoslef composition is always an adventure. One never knows what to expect. He stretches sections of the music almost to breaking point and only then introduces a new idea. His music has a classical clarity and transparency and is therefore always easy to follow. Although his highly personal and concentrated language is very much of its time, Hvoslef is not averse to using material that is recognizably tonal (such as major and minor triads) albeit always in a context that sets these familiar sounds in conflict with their surroundings. Rhythm is a very prominent aspect of Hvoslef’s music. Although the vast majority of his production is notated in 4/4 metre, his rhythmical patterns almost never conform to it, always favouring patterns of odd-numbered notes.
Ketil Hvoslef is, without a doubt, one of the greatest composers to emerge from Scandinavia in the second half of the Twentieth Century and one of the truly original masters of our time.
ORGAN WORKS – Vol. 2
With this new series, Amethyst Edition aims to publish Ketil Hvoslef’s works for organ that still remain in manuscript form. These are Påskevariasjoner (‘Easter Variations’ – 1986), Revidert Åpenbaring (‘Revised Revelation – 1991), Passacaglia (1997) and Chiese di Roma (Churches of Rome – 2015-2017)
This second volume includes Revidert Åpenbaring.
One common denominator for the four works that feature in the series is that they were all commissioned by and written for the Bergen-based organist Karstein Askeland (b. 1963). We are very fortunate to count with his assistance in these editions, which he has meticulously proofread. His help with registrations and correct organ-related terminology has been invaluable.
Hvoslef belongs to a generation of Norwegian composers and musicians whose higher music education resulted in an organist diploma. He has, therefore, an intimate knowledge of the technical and expressive possibilities of the instrument. His first work for the organ was Orgelvariasjoner – Organ Variations from 1972 – which he does not consider to be fully satisfactory. Six years later he would salvage the work’s main theme in his 7-flutes miniature Ludium (mph 1977). His first consummate composition for the instrument came in 1974 with Organo Solo, the third in a series of works for solo instruments designated by their Italian name (Flauto, Tromba, Organo, Violino etc.)
After a gap of twelve years Hvoslef again turned his attention to the organ. The occasion was the debut concert by the, at the time, 23 year old Karstein Askeland. The work in question was Påskevariasjoner (“Easter Variations” mph 4637). Revidert Åpenbaring (“Revised Revelation”) would follow in 1991 and Passacaglia (mph 4637) in 1997. Twenty years later he would complete his magnum opus for the organ, the four-movement work Chiese di Roma, written between 2015 and 2017.
This work is, as its title suggests, a revision of an earlier one. In 1984 Hvoslef composed an organ piece based on chapter 12 of The Book of Revelation. It was a large work that included recitation and a dancer. Its title was Johannes Åpenbaring 12. Kapittel (The Revelation of St. John, Chapter 12). It received its first performance during the Bergen International Festival in May 1986.
Given the nature of the work the composer must have sensed that performances beyond the premiere would be unlikely. Thirteen years later, when he received a new commission from Karstein Askeland, Hvoslef returned to the earlier work and extracted its most characteristic features, incorporating them into a much more concise composition. With the absence of either a text or a visual element, the “revised revelation” stands as a piece of music that works in strictly musical terms. The sections of the earlier piece that remain do not occur in the same order. The musical elements, obeying to their own inner logic, determine the form of the composition.
The powerful, albeit understated opening motif will reappear in the piece in different guises.
A typical Hvoslef meandering figure appears in measure 14, in conversation between the manuals. A semiquaver figure in m. 24 soon develops into something more significant. It leads to the small 3/8 ostinato beginning in m. 34: a very characteristic figure Hvoslef also used in his orchestral work Antigone and in his Clarinet Quintet, both from 1982. The energy that the development of this motif engenders dissipates in m. 54 with a memorable “quasi glissando” motif that will return later in the piece. Earlier elements develop underneath, with a new violin-like figure appearing on m. 65.
Measure 71 introduces another distinctive Hvoslef ostinato, this time lasting 11 quavers. This paves the way for a “rainbow motif” beginning in m. 74. Earlier elements are again thrown into the mix playing against each other in constant development. After a brief, isolated semiquaver passage, a new motif is introduced in the second manual in m. 99. This also is subjected to development. Rather than accumulating energy, this section seems to be holding it back or conserving it. When an entirely new theme appears in m. 123, its high dynamics and stark homophonic simplicity have a startling effect. It soon unfolds into highly expressive three- and four-part harmony and then three-part counterpoint - m. 152 and following.
The first overtly “apocalyptic” element appears in m. 177 in the form of a repeated trumpet-like motif in an awkward rhythm. The single note eventually unfolds into a thunderous unison, with extra notes piling up both upwards and downwards creating a fearsome cacophony. After a short, pregnant pause in m. 206 the music continues to unfold with seemingly unstoppable energy, leading to a new, brief trumpet-like fanfare in m. 220, marked “quasi recitativo”. The glissando motif reappears in a lower register than earlier, leading to an extended section of tender character: a chorale develops underneath a gentle repeated note beginning in m. 238. The music recovers its earlier forward motion in m. 253. This new sudden surge of energy signals the beginning of the work's final stretch. Oscillating semiquaver semitones expand and contract like small flashes of blinding light. Such figures continue developing on top of the reinstated 3/8 motif, now played with dissonant harmonies. From m. 315 to the end, the music stays at top volume. It is a rare segment of unabated loud music in Hvoslef's production, lasting 64 whole measures. It contains wild hockets between the hands, rapid syncopated seven-note chords and a final version of the expanding and shrinking motif, played in unison by both hands and the feet. All the main elements described above make a return in the final three pages of the work, leading headlong into the final, organo pleno unison C.
Revidert Åpenbaring is a tour de force requiring great virtuosity from the organist.
As a sign of Hvoslef's implicit trust in Karstein Askeland's srtistry, the score of Revidert Åpenbaring contains the bare minimum of information in the matter of registration. He lets the use of dynamics suggest the spots in the music where registration may be changed, leaving it to the discretion of the performer.
Ricardo Odriozola 30. September 2022
German preface not available ....
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