Folk Musical Interpretation

Solspill: Outline 

Solspill by Lasse Thoresen was composed in 1983 as a variation piece built on a folk tone like melody, which had been recorded by Torleif Torgersen (Torgersen, 1995, track 13). I wanted to test the idea of an ‘outline’ in Solspill, imagining this work as a skeleton of form and details, and play it out from there - in a way that corresponds to slåtter, which are built up as outlines, open for variability. I made contact with Lasse when I was to start learning the piece, and I mentioned to him that I wanted to use it as a platform for some experiments, about which he had an open mind. I asked him to tell me which compositional techniques and inspirations had been the basis for Solspill. What he told me, is described in  Part I: Duologue on Solspill, Before.

I was curious to work with the outline idea with such a recent piece, where the material is more abstract, not built upon a structure of functional harmony. From what Lasse told me about building blocks and techniques, I made improvisational etudes. I exchanged the melody in Solspillwith other folk tone melodies, for instance some older polsmotifs, and I used the form of Solspill as an outline to create different abstract variations from them. This made it possible for me to explore the use of the compositional techniques of the piece. At the same time I could explore playing with folk tones in an abstract sound world. So in the process of working with this piece, I used improvisation as a method of practising.


The following are some examples of techniques I used in the improvisational etudes. They are related to Lasse’s explanations about the form of Solspill:


- Slow base pulse (playing motives so slowly that they become something else, but still with the oblique rhythmics present)


- Drone string (a parallel repeating, insisting note, over or below, in an independent rhythm)


- Impression of half high intervals (varying between high and low third, and similarly in other intervals, to destabilize the impression of scales)


- Bell motif, almost bitonal (making and putting in my own short bitonal side motifs)


- Liquidation, crystallization, fragmentation (letting a tonal chain or chord be liquified by playing it gradually slower until it becomes a myriad, or the other way, a myriad gradually slower, until it becomes a motif or single notes, or so slowly that it is dissolved)


- Choosing single notes to make a chord (taking single notes out of the motif, transforming to a chord sounding for a long time, changing it with tremulo, inversion, transposition)


- From melody to sound (playing two different notes, first slowly as single notes, then faster and faster until they become one sound, and the same the other way)


- Chain of notes (choosing notes from the motif and treating them like twelve tone music, as a chain of notes with fragmented rhythms) 


- Octave transpositions (playing the motifs but spreading the notes across different octaves of the piano)


- Reduction as drops (distant notes from the motif and playing them very slowly, with accelerando - ritardando and octave transpositions) 


- Irregular myriad (using the notes and forms of the motifs in an irregular myriad with rhythmical pulse)


- Zooming and moozing (zooming into a detail and playing it magnified; and the other way around, zooming out to a distant perspective, keeping only contours of the original) 


Improvising with the outline of Solspill was an attempt to search for an extended space, an attempt to further internalize the work. This was demanding: when taking choices constantly while playing in an improvising attitude, I find that the resistance lies in other places in the body than when working with directions and forms that are given beforehand, as in a traditional classical interpretation. It is as if I need to physically move to see the keys from another angle, to be able to inhabit another way of listening and reacting. There is another kind of resistance in asking one’s own taste to continually make judgements about the next move, and for me it was a positive resistance, adding musical energy and realizations. 


I spent a lot of time with these improvisational etudes, and then I had a long period away from the material. After this, I was curious to go back to the score and play the forms that Lasse had written, to see once again which choices he had made in composing, and to see them in the light of my own experiences while improvising with the building blocks. As I looked at the notes again, the piece appeared as new to me, but still familiar; as if it had been released from the paper. Maybe I had achieved this space to breath in: I experienced a change from reading through my performance of the piece to one in which I listenedthrough my performance, an impression of actively drawing the forms through my performance. 

In the recording I made of Solspill for the  Abstraction in Folk Art (
Nyhus, 2015a, track 2), I played it ‘as it says’ in the notes, a reading and rendering of the notes, rhythms and signs of the score. I used my understanding of style to frame the language and expressions of the piece, though applying a folk musical aesthetic. One might use the term ‘stylistic glissando’ here as well, but to me, the folk musical aesthetic in this piece could just as well be a modern aesthetic. It arises as a natural language between the music and me. It is dry playing, and with that there is a rougher surface to the sound, less polished edges, and less evenness in figures and chords; searching for these irregularities and what might arise through them. 


sound excerpts from Lasse Thoresen: Solspill, played by Ingfrid Breie Nyhus, piano (Nyhus, 2015a, track 2)

After having listened to the recording, Lasse pointed out that I play the piece slower than he originally planned it (see Part I: Duologue on Solspill, Afterthe email dated April 23 2015). I had taken the freedom to experiment in practicing, but the way I see it, I play the piece the way it is written. I had used the score, together with Lasse’s description of the piece, not as a blueprint, but as an outline to work from. This had been a starting point for a free search over a longer period, which gave me an extended mental and bodily understanding of what the work might accommodate. Then I went back to a more or less traditional rendering of the score. The process made me familiar with alternative ways and levels in Solspill, that I did not choose, but which were still present in me as experiences; I believe that this affected the playing. 


There were specific possibilities with Solspill: I had the possibility of speaking with the composer while at the same time, because this piece is twenty years old and has been performed quite frequently, I did not experience the same demand and responsibility to agree upon the interpretation as in a commissioned work where I am responsible for the premiere. Lasse later spoke to me about the distinction between doing and listening, and the way that classical performance education is becoming more and more focused on the first. The way I play Solspill is, according to him, closer to sound time, a more listening way of playing, corresponding with my experience of listening through my performance. 



sound excerpt from Lasse Thoresen: Solspill, played by Ingfrid Breie Nyhus, piano (Nyhus, 2015a, track 2)