Ketil Hvoslef - Violino solo II (2009)
(b. Bergen, 19 July 1939)
Ketil Hvoslef 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 140 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 to date.
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.
VIOLINO SOLO II is the second in a series of three works Hvoslef has written for solo violin to this day. The first one, called simply Violino Solo, dates from 1980 and was written for Lars-Erik ter Jung, who premiered it the same year. Violino Solo III was composed for and dedicated to this writer in 2013 and premiered the same year.
Violino Solo II dates from 2009. It was commissioned by the Norwegian Composers’ Union for a special CD project, “Nine Solos for Nine Violinists” (ACD5067), in which the work can be heard performed by Sara Cheng. The first public performance took place on March 13th 2012 in Jyväskylä (Finland), at the hands of this writer.
Hvoslef has never been a composer to squander sounds. Every note he commits to paper has a specific function and meaning and a legitimate place in the unfolding of the music. When writing for solo violin (a very challenging endeavour for any composer) he follows the same principles as in the rest of his work: every note must be fresh and welcome; the attention of the listener must be kept at all times. When contemporary composers write for solo violin one often gets the feeling that they wish they were writing for two or more violins. The result is, in all but very few cases, plodding and unwieldy. Not so with Hvoslef! He does use double stops and even chords (the latter is the case in the short fanfare-like sequence, built on a bass note G#, that opens and closes the piece), but these tend to be used in ostinato fashion. In Violino Solo II Hvoslef limits his inventory of double-stops to the interval of a minor third. This can be seen on pages 2 and 3 of this edition. Elsewhere, the music is thoroughly homophonic although, like other great composers before him (all the way back to Bach and Telemann) Hvoslef creates a multilayered polyphonic web with his melodic lines. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the sequence beginning at the bottom of page 6 (half-note = ca. 80) where a playful, broken four-part harmony is spiced up by short, unexpected f outbursts. Elsewhere, the voices seem to engage in conversation with one another, as in the short sequence beginning on the last measure of page 1 (quarter-note = ca. 144) or the enigmatic pizz./arco exchange that takes place starting from the end of the 7th system on page 5. This is quite different from the next arco/pizz. exchange beginning on the 2nd system of page 6: here the stone-faced low pizzicato notes seem to be in no mood to partake of the playfulness of the top voice.
Hvoslef, who is best known for the rhythmic vitality of his music, can also create lyrical passages of great tenderness, as is the case with the relatively extended section (quarter-note = ca. 92) on page 5. The expansiveness of the intervals in this section is counteracted in a later, shorter lyrical section on page 7 (sul tasto flautando, quarter-note = ca. 120) where only minor and major seconds are used. This creates an unsettled atmosphere before the “finale”, which begins at the bottom of page 7 (half-note = ca. 80). This is a characteristic Hvoslef “moto perpetuo with gaps”. Instead of assailing the listener with an impressive cascade of notes, Hvoslef introduces numerous pauses in the music, always taking care to put an accent in the last note played before the rest. In this way the energy of the music is carried through the silence onto the next group of notes. The music grows in intensity and excitement. It becomes so self-assured that it even makes room for individual soft and long notes (echoes of the previous lyrical section) before finally plunging headlong to the bottom of the instrument’s range and the end of the piece.
Ricardo Odriozola, 31st December 2018