Kenneth Sivertsen - »Eiketreet« for Harmonica and Strings (1994)
(b. Mosterhamn [Bømlo], 16 January 1961 – d. Bergen, 24 December 2006)
(the online preface doesn't contain the figure examples ... / die Notenbeispiele im folgenden Text sind hier nicht enthalten ...)
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 of 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.
EIKETREET (“The Oak Tree” - Original score available from the Norwegian National Library - www.mic.no) dates from 1994. It was commissioned by the Norwegian harmonica virtuoso Sigmund Groven, with support from the Norwegian Composers’ Fund (Norsk Komponistfondet). Groven secured the commission at a difficult time for Sivertsen: due to an accident, the composer had hurt both of his arms. This forced him to cancel numerous performances, which put him in a precarious economic situation.
The final page indicates that the piece was written in Moster and in Drebrekke (Jondal) in the spring of 1994 and revised on March 10th of 1995. Enigmatically, the manuscript contains movements 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the work. Sigmud Groven explains that Sivertsen had plans for a first movement that he later rejected. The only sonic documentation (unfortunately not available to the public) made of the entire work so far is a radio recording for NRK (the Norwegian Broadcasting Company) with Sigmund Groven as the soloist and KORK (Norwegian Broadcasting Orchestra) conducted by Göran W. Nilsson. This was the premiere of the work, with the composer in attendance. Groven later performed the work again with eight players from KORK at the Osa Festival in Voss on October 23rd 1999 and recorded the work’s last movement on the CD “PhilHarmonica” (PPC9050)
The manuscript score is not particularly tidy. Whereas Sivertsen’s early works were written down with elegant calligraphy, from roughly 1991 onwards his handwriting became increasingly sloppy, as if the music was notated in great haste. Nevertheless, his attention to musical detail (dynamics and articulations) remained as keen as ever.
As is invariably the case with Sivertsen’s music, Eiketreet has a deeply personal character. In the first two movements the composer seems, for the most part, to be conveying his observations in a rather objective manner, whereas the last two movements are more direct in their emotional expression.
The work must have had special meaning for the composer, since it was, according to his wishes, played at his funeral. It was also the radio recording of Eiketreet Sivertsen sent me in 2001 as a thank-you for having contributed with a letter to instigate the authorities to allow him to keep his house (which he was in danger of losing due to serious economic problems) There is an old oak tree in the garden of Sivertsen’s mother’s home in Moster (in the island of Bømlo), of which the composer was particularly fond. Apparently, shortly after he died a strong wind storm knocked it to the ground, which greatly upset the family. They were astonished days later when they found the tree raised again (without human intervention) to its standing position.
The combination of harmonica and strings, in Sivertsen’s hands, affords the listener many haunting moments.
The first movement “Fjorden” (The Fjord) is contemplative in nature, at times in a rather arcane manner. One can easily imagine the composer sitting by the bay near his home staring at the water, lost in thought. For the most part the harmonica plays its highly poetic melodies on its own, briefly joining in the richly harmonized chorale-like melody in mm. 20-23 and then, after the one orchestral outburst that threatens to upset the prevailing peace (mm. 50-57) in almost casual conversation with the strings, adhering closely to their rhythms, as if purposely trying not to be noticed.
“Skogen” (The Forest) follows, beginning with a deliberate dactylic rhythm in the strings, immediately confronted by a now more belligerent harmonica. Adventure and bravado are in the air. On measure 13 the strings introduce an element of mystery or, perhaps danger, with the repeated triplet figures and gradually rising melody. The harmonica will not let itself be scared and responds with mocking mordents in measure 24. The surprising, ponderous unison in mm. 36-37 sweeps away all sense of physicality and the music becomes suddenly enchanted: hushed tremolos played sul tasto and an equally soft walking bass (beginning in measure 40) create a haunting atmosphere that is further reinforced when the tempo drops in measure 51, allowing the harmonica to join with arabesque-like figures. The spell is broken in measure 58 with the return of the opening rhythm but now dotted, the initial sixteenth notes now transformed into thirty-second notes. The movement ends almost abruptly and not in a key we have been led to expect. Sivertsen would later use this movement as the basis of the Rex Tremenda Majestatis section of his Requiem, completed and premiered in 2003
The third movement, “Bergkrystallen” (Rhinestone) is played entirely by the unaccompanied harmonica and is one of Sivertsen’s loveliest melodies, with folk-like elements and declamatory in style. Sivertsen would use the melody again in his Miniature Suite from 1998.
The final movement, “Søkjer din Fred” (Seeking Thy Peace) first saw the light of day as a piece for solo guitar, written during Sivertsen’s period of studies at the Voss Folk High School (1977-79). He recorded it on his 1988 album of solo guitar music “Spør Vinden” (NOCD 2911). The music is now openly devotional and welcomes the listener as a trusted friend, rather than a mere receiver of observations or messages. There is much warmth and love in this brief song-like statement. It can be seen as a song in G major with two verses each ending on a short refrain in D major (mm. 8-10 and 18-20). A third verse takes the music in a different direction before leading to the same final refrain, now repeated twice (mm. 30-34). The piece concludes with two measures of solo harmonica in a calm heaven-ward gesture.
Eiketreet bears the dedication “to Herborg” [Kråkevik], the outstanding singer and actress who was Sivertsen’s partner in life and music from 1992 to 1997.
Comments on this edition
Some phrases have been respelled (enharmonically with the original), in order to make them conform to more easily readable diatonic patterns. There is no need to enumerate these, as the pitches stay the same.
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.
This edition respects Sivertsen’s characteristic use of long legato slurs that at times intertwine with one another. Having said that, bowings are left to the discretion of the interpreters.
Bar 16 – “nat” added to violin 2, viola and cello (to cancel the preceding ponticello)
Bar 19 – diminuendo hairpin added to violin 2, viola and cello (to match the first violin)
Bar 20 – con sordino (instead of “sordin”)
Bar 32 – “1 solo” (instead of “a 1”) in second violin part.
Bar 43 – “1 sola” and 1 solo (instead of “a 1”) on respectively viola and cello parts.
Bar 40 – “nat.” added to violin 1 (to cancel the preceding sul ponticello)
“tutti” added to violin 2
“arco” added to the bass part
Here and subsequently, “div.” added to all places where two simultaneous pitches
Bar 55 – “cresc.” (followed by dotted line) on bass part (instead of crescendo hairpin), in
order to match the upper string parts.
“cresc.” (and dotted line) to ff added to cello, to match the bass part.
Bar 58 – “1 solo” instead of “a 1”
Bar 62 – rhythmic notation on cello changed, in order to show the beats of the bar.
Bar 65 – “nat.” added to cello (cancelling the preceding ponticello)
Bar 80 – “tutti” added to first violin
Bar 1 – “cresc.” on viola and bass (instead of hairpin) in order to match the other instruments
Bar 18 – “cresc.” on violin 2 (instead of hairpin) in order to match the viola part.
Bar 21 – Violin 1, top note: E flat (not natural, as it erroneously appears in the manuscript)
“arco” on cello and bass parts (added by the composer at a later stage)
Bar 25 – “1 solo” (instead of “a 1”) on cello part.
Bar 27 – “tutti” instead of “ord.” on cello part
Bar 48 – “non trem.” added in parentheses to violin, viola and cello parts.
Bar 58 – Tempo I (instead of “A tempo” in the manuscript)
Bar 67 – Here Sivertsen has erroneously written the second violin and viola parts as if they
were notated in, respectively, alto and bass clef. This oversight has been corrected,
matching the harmony of bars 1-2, 5, 8, 10, 58-59 and 62.
In bar 54 (2nd beat, last note) and 56 (4th beat, first note) the unplayable B natural (below
middle C) has been substituted by, respectively, an E and a D, based on Groven’s
Bar 4 – “arco” added to bass part
Bar 12 – mp added to bass part
Bars 25-26 – “div.” added to first note on bass part
Bar 26 – cresc. hairpin added to first half of the bar on violin 1.
For the following clarifications, in regards to diverse deviations from the manuscript made or authorised by the composer, I am indebted to Sigmund Groven:
m. 62 - in the manuscript the first violin has Bb throughout the measure, while the harmonica has B natural:
This was corrected to B natural from the second beat of the bar. The two parts play in unison in beats 2-4 (notice the discrepancy in the manuscript above)
m. 64 - Sivertsen changed the last sixteenth-note in the third beat of the harmonica part from Ab (see example below) to A natural during the radio recording of the piece.
m. 8 - the grace note in the harmonica was changed from F to A. The last note of the measure (see example below) was taken down one octave. Sivertsen accepted both of these suggestions from Groven.
m. 12 - changed from the original:
to a more idiomatic version suggested by Groven:
m. 20 - Cello and bass drop the last two notes of the bar in order to make the shift from pizz. to arco. The latter is also a deviation from the original, where there is no arco indication on m. 21 or even on m. 22, where it is obviously needed.
m. 35: the original (unplayable) half-step trill on D# in the harmonica was changed to a D#-F# shake by Groven, and approved by Sivertsen.
m. 57 - The last note in the harmonica was corrected to G# (from a G natural in the original)
m. 28 - the unplayable half-step trill on C# was taken away by Groven with Sivertsen’s consent.
m. 18 - the unplayable trill E-F# was substituted by an un-trilled E. The same applies to mm. 31 and 33
m. 30 - the original
was changed to
according to the composer’s wishes
Ricardo Odriozola, 19 February 2019