Duologue on Solspill1
I meet Lasse Thoresen in his office on the third floor of the Norwegian Academy of Music. He tells me about Solspill:
"Solspill starts with an improvisation over a folk tone like melody that I composed when I lived in the valley Saksumdalen. I also heard a local fiddler's version of the slått St. Thomasklokkelåten (The Bells of st Thomas), with a bell motif. The main theme is in a slow pulse, with room for rubato passages within. The rhythm is meant to be improvisatory and irregular, not machine-like; a kind of sketch of my own improvisation over a slow rhythm. The main theme is like a fiddler playing in rain, staged in a natural element. In the next part, the melody receives a drone string below, within a foggy atmosphere. The appoggiaturas give an impression of half high intervals. A kind of A minor, where the fourth is spiced with a half tone, and also the minor third, as a mixture between minor and major tonality. A quite dorian A minor. F sharp as sixth over and F as sixth below. These things came intuitively to me, but with a quick analysis, I see it now. The seventh is switching between G and G sharp. The tail is an expansion of the bell motif, almost bitonal, D and D sharp and C and C sharp simultanously. There is a back-and-forth motif on a large second. This part has an interlude function, really a variation of the second beat of the main theme. There is a kind of langeleik (box zither played with plectrum) timbre in parts of the piece. In the next part, the drone also lies on top, it is expanded. ‘Liquidation’ as in making it liquid; this process can be reversed, going from loose to solid. It can for instance be compared with a plant (solid form) that withers and dies (liquid form). And the opposite, a withered plant that is dissoved in earth (liquid form) before it grows to something new (solid form). The opposite of liquidation must be crystallization. Here it is a liquidation that happens because of a complication; so much is happening that all together it is unrecognizable, and further dissolves through a fragmentation of this.
Second variation. The notes A E F C sharp form the main theme. This could be like a twelve tone movement by Schönberg. I chose these four single notes and used them as a chord. It will be like this; take out four notes from the melody, make them a chord, that lasts for a long time. Tremolo the chords, maybe invert them, and transpose them (A D C sharp F). This becomes a world free from melody, with an accelerando. The music moves from something melodic to being pure sound. A E A E A E in a calm tempo will be some kind of melodic movement, but the faster it moves during the accelerando, it becomes more and more just sound, an iterated object of timbre. Time is important in this part - it must not be too fast timing-wise! It should be like when your chin falls down as you look out over the valley. It is all fragmentated towards the end. Transformation from singular notes, in an accelerando to a tremulo sound object; chord. The tremolos are fragmented in a ritardando, the chord is fragmented.
Third variation; here I have taken the melody from the beginning, made it into a chain of notes, and liquidated the rhythmic characteristics. It is almost a serial operation, as in Schönberg, only the chain of notes is really only a folk melody. And then the same chain comes in inversion from an axis of A, which gives it a hint of D minor colour. What comes after this are octave relocations of the notes in a tonal chain. Tonal contrast and back to the point of departure though transposition. You come further and further away from the starting point, as the theme is continually less recognizable. In the next part I took out notes from the theme, as a reduction. It is back to the ‘drops’; with an accelerando-ritardando-effect in the drops, steered by a contour of the melody. An irregular myriad, from the notes in the beginning. From being very dry, something very wet suddenly turns up, as a pit of water.
The next to last variation is a zoom idea; small details that have become very large, as in when zooming the camera so close to a flower that you no longer can see what it is. In the last variation it is zoomed out again. Zooming and moozing! It is zoomed out so much that there is almost no details left. Here there are very many trills. Chains of dynamics and density, laid on top of each other, have determined the form of the trills. It is a kind of serial dynamics, where a chain of dynamics originating from the main motif creates a contour. Strong and soft equals the movement up and down in the contour. Such a contour can also regulate the density of time within such a myriad. The end of the next to last variation: the bell motif in A major, now with crescendo. I transposed the last part of this movement to D minor instead of A minor, with A drone above; a necessary tonal contrast before the last movement that reconfirms the A tonality. Myriad, and bell ringing in D minor, where it gets denser and denser, until becoming a chord. The myriad is continually faster with less notes, until it is only a trill.
The last variation: back to the theme. It is answered in the lower voice, inverted, transposed to A tonality. Langeleik-like drone as a shadow. A shadow melody that crawls in between, and a very profiled main melody. At the end, the contour of the bell motif. A kind of mini recapitulation on the last page. If you’d like to make more variations or improvisations, as you mentioned, continued from this, then choose another tonality. Wasn't it Edwin Fischer that swore by improvisation as a method of coming into a work?"
(Lasse Thoresen, in conversation October 3, 2012)
Nov 10 2014, 9.13
I just wanted to tell you that this weekend I recorded Solspill. Maybe you find it odd that I didn't play it to you beforehand, but it was something with the process I had lately where I needed to work on my own and it felt like a good direction. I have had with me in my thoughts the things you told me a while ago, and it has influenced the process. I have become very fond of the piece. I played on a grand piano from 1893, a Steinway D, very fine instrument, fully renovated inside. This will be published by LabLabel, this winter or spring. In the meantime, I play Solspill again Monday Nov 17 in the Levin Hall when the new grand there is consecrated.
Best wishes from Ingfrid
Nov 10 2014, 13.11
good to hear from you. After our initial cooperation a couple of years ago you suddenly disappeared, but when you told me you had been ill, I understood why. I accept that my pieces live their own lives without my supervision; but preferably after I am sure that the piece works as it should, and for that I need a cooperation with accomplished performer(s) and a good performance, and the possibility to revise and change until I am satisfied myself. It is through such cooperations that I as a composer also may learn about the performer's world. When finally a totally good recording of the piece, to my taste, is present, I let go, and then I am finished with the piece, and then others can take it on...
Nov 10 2014, 14.04
yes, I understand that it was strange that I disappeared at that time, but I literally did, I disappeared somewhat from the world for almost a year, suddenly one day. It was a strange experience and most things looked differently when I woke back again. Also when coming back to the work I had disappeared from. Before I got ill, I had worked a great deal with improvisation with Solspill, for my own sake, really as a way to come deeper into the piece, working musically and intuitively with the compositional techniques and ideas you had used. And in a greater picture, to find out more about what I think is important in my own playing. It was an interesting and evolving process, I wanted to see what it could lead to, openly. I did the same thing with another piece, Villarkorn, by Olav Kielland. I have learnt a lot about my own language or taste on the piano, through this. When I got well again and had been silent for a long time, I thought it was interesting to come back to these pieces, as they are written, and see them again in a classical interpretational perspective. A lot opened up in this, probably because of the combination of the basic searching work I had done, which was trying to dig downwards or inwards in the music - and also the near to purifying process of lying in a kind of awake coma for so long, and then coming back to the piano. Solspill acquired a form in this that I was a little bit afraid of opening for input. I have the complete understanding that this didn't feel natural to you. But to me the music owned itself the way it had become. And it is done fully in respect for the score. Just wanted to tell you how I have been thinking,
Nov 10 2014, 23.44
very arresting, what you are saying. What a process you have been through. Good that you have come unscathed through this, and when such things go well, with considerable life experience... And to me, it becomes very interesting to hear the musical result, after the interpretation has been influenced by such profound work, but also so profound existential problematics that you must have gone through. Anyhow, this must become very good! I very much look forward to the result! With the best wishes!
PS. Just now, Solspill is played by several pianists. There has just been a pianist here from Georgia; she had heard you play the piece, and had fallen in love with it and consulted me and wanted to play this and other things. In a way it is strange; this was a small picture of a mood, that I improvisingly composed some time at the beginning of the 80s, and then it took several attempts before I found a pianist (Einar Henning Smebye) willing to premiere it (at Finn Alnæs' photo exhibition at Høvikodden). The quintuplets probably frightened the pianists at that time; now amongst you young, it is changed...
April 23 2015, 16.37
This was very different. Incredibly fascinating. I didn't know there was so much music between the details in the score. You have an incredible sense for timing, and the piano you use, together with the recording, create close-ups from this. Listening presence, I would call it, and the result is quite hypnotic, ppp-intense. You almost microscope the piece and play it 50% slower than I planned, and still: the piece works on another frequency. A message from another consciousness. What works with your free interpretation is that a central idea of the piece is safeguarded by your playing; you have heightened this element of attentiveness in space in-between that has to be filled with listening presence - one might say consciousness. This I believe is a kind of time and attentiveness that is promoted by spending time in nature, as many of us have as a habit in this country. When I say central idea - this is something that is not identical with the work as notated or performed, and can only appear in a particular performance. You have captured something that is a central part of the ‘meaning’ of the work. What you do extends a feature of the meaning of the work. Thus it doesn't violate the idea even if you take freedom in relation to what is notated because you have understood the work on a deeper level. And this form of interpretational freedom is in another class than what you for instance meet with some director’s theatre performances, where a director distorts the meaning of the work from the author’s side, and almost uses the material as a jumping board for self marketing, profiting from the author's name and reputation. That being said: the second listening made me think that some of the rests you do between the variations are too long, I think you could profit from cutting some seconds here and there.... this has been a thought-provoking experience.
Best wishes from Lasse