Brevet til Loise (1991)
(b. Mosterhamn [Bømlo], 16 January 1961 – d. Bergen, 24 December 2006)
Kenneth Sivertsen was arguably the most staggering musical talent to emerge from Norway at the tail end of the 20th century. Born in the island of Bømlo (south of Bergen) he learned to play the guitar at a very young age, soon forming a pop band with two of his older siblings and becoming very active in the local music scene. He took composition lessons from Magnar Åm (b. 1952) for a year and guitar lessons from Arild Hansson for a short period. Other than this Sivertsen was essentially self-taught. He wrote his first symphony at the age of twenty. At twenty five he was the youngest Norwegian to be accepted into the Norwegian Composers’ Union. His work For Ope Hav was chosen to represent Norway in the 1986 edition of Nordic Music Days in Iceland.
Sivertsen was equally active as a composer and performer. He was a world class guitarist and an able singer and pianist. Being of a restless and inquisitive nature he worked and excelled in many different musical genres: contemporary classical music, popular song, jazz and rock. He wrote two symphonies, numerous chamber works, many songs, an oratorio, a trumpet concerto, ballet music and a Requiem, besides countless arrangements. The recordings he left behind attest to his baffling versatility. These include several CDs of songs in popular style, an album of guitar compositions, ballet music, religious songs, chamber music and three acclaimed jazz albums in which he played with some of the world’s finest jazz musicians at the time.
Kenneth Sivertsen became a very public figure in Norway, particularly from the early 1990s. Besides his musical ability, he possessed an uncanny comical talent. The latter was exploited relentlessly by the media and made him a darling of the entertainment circuit in Norway for many years. The chaos of life on the road eventually took its toll on Sivertsen’s health. After several years of intermittent illness he died on Christmas Eve 2006.
Sivertsen’s music defies categorization. Surprising and unpredictable as life itself, it often changes atmosphere and style radically, even within the same composition. Sivertsen was a master at creating moods that draw the listener close to the music. He wrote some of the most beautiful and gripping music ever to come from a Norwegian composer.
Brevet til Loise (1991)
Original score available from the Norwegian National Library (www.mic.no)
Brevet til Loise (Letter to Loise) was commissioned by the Stord Youth Choir and their conductor Reidun Hagenes. Sivertsen finished writing the piece on Christmas Eve 1991. With characteristic precision, he notes 14:35 as the time of completion. No date for the first performance is available, but a personal source once told me that the Stord Youth Choir (an excellent female choir founded in 1980 by R. Hagenes) did indeed perform the piece in the early 1990s.
Writing for this choir must have been particularly stimulating for Sivertsen. In 1990 he had composed Whistling Wind (mph-Amethyst Edition no. 4002) for the same ensemble. The two works share a tenderly intimate mode of expression and an uncanny ability to evoke deep human emotions and memories. Significantly both works are settings of original texts by the composer (who normally used words by other poets). Whereas the text of Whistling Wind was in English, Sivertsen wrote a short poem in his mother tongue, Nynorsk, for Brevet til Loise.
In it the composer shares a happy, albeit distant memory (whether real or imagined) of great poignancy:
er tilbake her, - etter lang, lang tid
går inn gjennom gamle dører du er langt borte no, -
fuglesongen treff meg som eit stikk eg opnar eit vindu
nedi hagen står du med snøklokkene, - du ber meg kome ut
gårsdagen prøver å trenge inn i dagen gong på gong prøver eg å sprenge tidsrommet
for å komme frem til deg – min elskede
I have returned after a long, long time and go through familiar doors
you are far away now birdsong strikes me with its sting
I open a window
you are standing down in the garden with the snowdrops you ask me to come out
days of yore try to press themselves into the present time and again I try to burst the bubble of Time that I might come to you, my beloved
(English translation by Mike McGurk and Solfrid Sivertsen)
Unusually for Sivertsen, this work adopts a “bookend” formal device, whereby the same material appears at the beginning and at the end of the piece, but nowhere else. In the opening it sets up the stage for the story, whereas in the ending it drives the music home with a clearer sense of finality.
The text is presented in three clear segments. The first one is lightly coloured by the instruments, while the second and third are strictly a capella. These three sections, together with the beginning and ending, give the work a sense of cohesion. The three choral interventions with text are vastly different from one another but share a common style and the melodic motif c-d-c-a-g (mm. 43-44, 82-93 and 119-120). The music before the first of these sections and in between the others can best be described as free fantasy: pure musical invention with no repetition of material. A musical stream of consciousness which, amazingly, works very well. One clearly feels that the composer/poet ruminates about the fragments of text in the purely musical sections, where the choir is used as an added texture to the ensemble. These musical commentaries embrace a great range of emotions: contemplation, anxiety, awe, fear, devotion… and childlike joy. The last is definitely the case at the end of the piece, where the undulating piano figure is complemented by unselfconscious “ha-ha-ha” exclamations from the choir and an equally self-assured quotation of Beethoven’s Für Elise (in the major mode). It is a hallmark of Sivertsen’s disarming honesty that, whenever he chose to borrow from other composers, he always used very well-known and not at all “high-brow” pieces.
Brevet til Loise is an uncommonly beautiful work that leaves the listener aestheticallysatisfied and feeling that he or she has been granted the privilege of sharing a precious secret from the composer.
At the end of a letter to me dated March 13th 1999, Sivertsen wrote: Motto: the main thing in art is that something happens, maybe music is the closest we get to the really great love - no filters….
As is consistently the case with Siveretsen’s work, the music of Brevet til Loise, in perfect marriage with the text, poses many valuable questions about what it means to be human.
A recording of this work can be heard on the CD “Dragning – Chamber music by Kenneth Sivertsen” (ARCD 1301) and purchased here: http://www.amethyst-records.com/shop.html
Ricardo Odriozola, December 29th 2019
The handwritten score of “Brevet til Loise” gives the impression of having been written in great haste, judging from the sloppiness of the traces and the general untidiness of the calligraphy. The notes don’t always line up vertically among the parts. The use of flats and sharps is often haphazard, with little regard for diatonic structures.
In the present edition the vocal parts are written on four separate staves (instead of the two in the original score) in order to facilitate reading.
Also, all performance indications are translated to English, from the Norwegian in the original.
Sivertsen’s characteristic practice of writing individual slurs from note to note on legato passages comprising many notes (thirty-second-note runs, for example) is, no doubt, indicative of his wish to give every note its due expression. To put it in the negative, it was his way of avoiding the smearing of quick passages. There are many examples of this in “Brevet til Loise” (see bars 35, 50, 59 and 75). These slurs have been kept in the present edition,
Although it is not common in Sivertsen’s scores, this edition adheres to the practice of showing the accidental in notes tied over a bar line.
Bar 2 – removed 8va. sign from piano left hand. Said sign is obviously a mistake. Not only would the hands get in each other’s way but, when the same figure returns at the end of the piece, the distance between the hands is the same as in the beginning (without the 8va. sign in the left hand), albeit one octave lower.
Bar 9 – removed fermata from vocal parts. There is a molto rit and a fermata on the final sixteenth-note of the piano. These are sufficient.
Bar 11 – added missing trill sign to flute’s second beat.
Bar 19 – the unusual spelling on cello and piano left hand has been kept, having weighed all the tonal implications.
Bars 20 – 26 – spelt in Ab minor in all parts: Fb instead of E natural, Cb instead of B natural.
Bar 27 – third cello note changed to Db, in order to keep in unison with flute (the handwritten score gives an E flat)
Bar 30 – C# instead of Db on piano left hand.
Bars 39 – 40 – Cb instead of B natural on second vocal part.
Bars 39 – 42 – added ties to repeated notes on vocal parts 2, 3 and 4 and a legato slurs to voice 1.
Bar 53 – added mp to piano part (in order to balance it with the choir; absent from the handwritten score)
Bar 55 – notes corrected to Bb and G on vocal parts 3 and 4 (beats 2-4, in order to keep the same chord throughout the measure, which seems to be the only logical procedure)
Bar 57 – added cautionary accidental to vocal part 2, third beat. Bar 63 – added missing treble clef to piano left hand.
Bar 65 – added missing dynamic (f) on cello part.
Cautionary natural sign added to lower note (F) of 4th beat on piano, right hand (missing on manuscript)
Bars 66 – 68 – piano left hand: G# instead of Ab.
Bar 67 – cello grace note: B natural instead of Cb. A# instead of Bb. D# instead of Eb. Flute enharmonised, with sharps rather than flats.
Bar 68 – corrected flute first beat to D# flute sextuplet (erroneously notated as Cb in the manuscript). F# instead of Gb.
Bar 69 – flute, second last note: Ab (erroneously notated as Fb in the manuscript) Bar 72 – added tremolo sign to flute part.
Bar 73 – piano repeated notes: sequence changed to right – left. Applies also to mm. 76 & 78
Flute: F# instead of Gb.
Bar 74 – Piano right hand: G# instead of Ab; left hand: Ab instead of G#.
Bar 75 – Flute and piano right hand, opening figure: D# and A# instead of Eb and Bb. Cello and Piano left hand: A# instead of Bb. Added mf dynamic to flute part (as an immediate echo to the piano’s f)
Bar 79 – added mf dynamic to flute part (in order to match the piano)
Bar 81 – mysterious splodge on first note of piano right hand removed. Only an F remains.
Bar 84 – First note of soprano 1 changed to dotted 4er. note, in order to tidy up the ending consonant (k) in all parts (the dot is missing in the manuscript)
Bars 88 – 89 – added separate slurs for each bar on alto 2. in order to clarify the text. Bar 91 – second vocal line: Bb instead of A#.
Bar 92 – Beats 1 and 4 of alto 1 & 2 enharmonised.
Bars 93 – 95 – second and third vocal lines redistributed in order to make the singing of the individual parts easier. Also applies to bar 112.
Bar 101 – This is, obviously, a piano part (mistakenly designated “choir” on the handwritten score)
Bar 127 – dynamic (mf) added to flute part.
Bar 134 – added slur to the upbeat to the next bar on alto 2, as well as a diminuendo hairpin from f to mf.
Norwegian pronunciation (in its English equivalent, unless otherwise noted) A = ah
E = eh
I = ee O = oo
U = French “u” Ø = German “ö” Å = oh
Er = “ær” (a mixture of ‘a’ and ‘e’)
Her = “hær” (as above) Gjennom = yehn-nohm Songen = sohn-ghen Klokkene = Klohk-ke-ne Kome = koh-meh
Hysj = hüsh Gong = gong