Slåttepiano: Folk Music on the Piano
In experimenting with slåtter on the piano, I tested different timbral and formal choices by improvisation, to see what it could bring musically. Often, the result was a feeling of the slått music disappearing, losing itself. I felt that important qualities in the slått music disappeared, turning quickly into something else, which I did not like. The solution was to set a framework in which the music needed to stay within the image of folk music. I made myself follow the instruction: play it ‘as if it is folk music’.
The grand piano is so voluminous, the ten fingers can play so much at one time. To make the slåtter step out and not disappear under my fingers, minimizing and narrowing was important, rather than expanding. On a grand piano, virtually grand, playing simply enough, less than enough, which is harder than one could believe, especially with the classical piano tradition as the backdrop. How simple could I play, and still be in contact with depth? How little could I play, and still keep a core of a slått?
sound excerpt, Ingfrid Breie Nyhus/trad.: Rekveen (Slåttepiano) (Nyhus, 2015c, track 9)
One aspect of my work has been to explore a folk musical aesthetic in the pianistic execution: the dry, the uneven. Another has been to find the right positions in me for a folk musical expression: how to place my own voice at the back of the playing, in a sort of mask of traditioning.
sound excerpt, Ingfrid Breie Nyhus/trad.: Haugelått (Slåttepiano) (Nyhus, 2015c, track 4)
Formal variability involves playing out from a kind of outline of a universe, one which is open but still very detailed. Seeking tonal destabilization, as in varying between high and low pitches, can give the feeling of flexible intonation. I seek timbres and overtones that belong to slått music, according to my ears.
sound excerpt, Ingfrid Breie Nyhus/trad.: Gangar etter Myllarguten (Slåttepiano) (Nyhus, 2015c, track 6)
sound excerpt, Ingfrid Breie Nyhus/trad.: Tussebrureferdi (Slåttepiano) (Nyhus, 2015c, track 14)
sound excerpt, Ingfrid Breie Nyhus/trad.: Kivlemøyane, gangar (Slåttepiano) (Nyhus, 2015c, track 17)
If this was to be my response to what 'folk music on the piano' might be, I realized that it was just this playing.
But why should my attitude be ‘as if’ it was folk music? Was it because I play on a piano, that I thought it could not be folk music? I decided to change my position, so that I was actually ‘traditioning’: so that it is folk music.
Slått traditioning happens by listening and imitating, by knowing the sources well, and making a conscious selection, to carve out an essence that you want to carry on. And I listened to several sources and different variants of every slått, sifting the motivic, searching for core material. With some of the sources, certain traits stayed in me: something characteristic about the playing, the bowing, the articulation, the rhythms, the expression, which I transferred and used as starting points. Such diverse experiences of the core, was used to spin out new versions of every slått. It was a search for parts and details that worked in the translation to the piano; when something new arose in the meeting point between the slått material, the grand piano and me. Recordings which were important to me included those by fiddlers Halvor Klonteig, Gunnar Dahle, Johannes Dahle, Knut Dahle, Kjetil Løndal, Einar Løndal, Olav Nyheim, Olav Øyaland, Knut Hamre, Eivind Mo, Tarjei Romtveit, Odd Bakkerud, Eilev Smedal, Kjetil Flatin, Trygve Vågen, Hallvard Bjørgum, Leif Aasane, Hauk Buen, Olav Heggland, Gudmund Manheim, Leif Rygg, Gunnar Stubseid, and vocal variants by Talleiv Røisland, Agnes Buen Garnås, Bjarne Øvrebø.
sound excerpt, Myllargutens bruremarsj/Karislåtten, played by Kjetil Flatin (Smedal & Flatin, 1990, track 10)
sound excerpt, Myllargutens bruremarsj/Karislåtten, played by Tarjei Romtveit (Romtveit, 1995, track 41)
The album Slåttepiano (Nyhus, 2015c) contains the same 17 slåtter that are the basis of Grieg’s op. 72, in that way sounding as a resonance in Slåttepiano, without being actually present.
With Slåttepiano, I imagine the grand piano as a folk music instrument. The Hardanger fiddle and the grand piano have very different stories and references, so the way from the Hardanger fiddle to the piano is very long. In the transfer itself, a lot happens to the material. Even by imitating the Hardanger fiddle as much as possible, a totally different music still comes out, because of the world of the grand piano and its history. Depending on which opportunities appear in various performances, memories of other music, may enter in other levels or step out in short moments; echoes of another music are intertwined. Could the grand piano expand the world of slått music?