Lines and limits by Hilde Haraldsen Sveen

The singer’s methodological approaches

I started by working with a laryngoscope, filming technical exercises which could be relevant to the challenges in the songs of Valen and Irgens-Jensen. I observed the position of the pharynx and tongue in relation to function and sound. This was to understand the functions and experiment with variants of position and movement by visualizing the voice. I focused on the following points:

  • expressivity and sound quality within various styles of singing,

  • maximizing clarity of intention,

  • visualising the voice as an instrument and searching for possible sound qualities by exploring physical positions of the vocal instrument, and

  • challenging the performer’s comfort zone and expanding limits of expression.


I observed that a restless voice with a big vibrato is visualized by big movements in the larynx and structures surrounding the vocal cords, while a calm larynx gives a calm vibrato. I found great differences of timbre when singing with or without vibrato and a relaxed larynx. A relaxed larynx was sought for as a means of finding a romantic quality of sound with a warm, natural vibrato. It was observed that the cartilaginous closure (the rearmost part of the vocal cords) often slides apart on some consonants, leading to breaking the linearity (legato). In order to avoid this, increased flow of air through the vocal cords was needed. I observed that too much air pressure in the larynx gives a heavy and compressed voice which can create inaccurate intonation. This again leading to a new compensation of increased the vibrato. I worked daily over a longer period with the laryngoscope and technical challenges of the voice together with the lab team at Haukeland hospital. Our goal was to find a new approach to the timbral shaping of the songs by the aid of visualisation. I discovered that intervals of Valen’s Op. 6 became evener with a calm larynx, but then there were problems intonating and hitting the right intervals. A calm larynx also aided the interpretation of the lines of Irgens-Jensen’s songs. Focusing on the laryngoscope created challenges of communication between singer and pianist. In resettling interpretation of these songs, we sought to combine insight relating to visualization and sound quality, thereby further develop our musical partnership.


Working on interpretative techniques with the producer

During rehearsals with producer Jørn Pedersen, Torgersen and I worked using the following techniques:

1) “Bowing”

2) Imitation of the piano part

3) Meticulous attention to the notated rhythms


As an aural support for clearer direction and purpose of individual phrases, the concept of “bowing” (a string instrument) turned out to be a helpful tool. This aided in building vocal phrases in a physical way, distracting me from the stiffness which can result from intense concentration required to sing unusual intervals with clear pronunciation. Introducing a “rule of down-bow” to Valens atonal melodic fragments made it easier to carry a longer line in the polyphonic web of voices. In addition, Valen’s polyphonic style, although not dodecaphonic, seems to borrow both from Bach and later modern serialists; melodic fragments come attached to small rhythmic motifs that meander between the piano and voice. The difference in rhythmic accentuation in the cantilena nature of the human voice - as opposed to the percussive directness of the piano - also presents challenges in providing a seamless flow of musical development. The voice needs to be disciplined and exact, responding to an almost clinical correctness of the piano, without losing its sense of freedom. A helpful approach towards attaining this was developed by practicing similar rhythmic lines simultaneously, afterwards inserting them back in the canonical mosaic.


See video “Sakontala”, “Weiß wie Lilien”, “Suleika (in sidebar)

  • Recorded at a seminar in Gunnar Sævigs sal, January 31st, 2020, showing a video from Haukeland hospital.

  • Music by Fartein Valen (1887-1952) (From Op. 6).

  • Lyrics by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832).
  • Performed by Hilde Sveen (voice) and Torleif Torgersen (piano).

This was the first time we performed the songs with laryngoscope and the team from Haukeland hospital. My scores are worn. We are in the foyer where the piano is. Patients, doctors, and visitors pass by, looking at us. Some stop up and listen, others shake their heads. I am only concerned with observing the movements of my larynx, that it moves gently and not too much. Adjustments are made. The vowel “ah” in the middle register shows a highly active tongue, with less movement in higher register. The other vowels show a more even position in the larynx. I concentrate intensely on holding the vocal cords together during the entire word by singing through the consonants in legato. It is easier to sing the intervals without effort while watching the larynx and vocal cords. Forming intervals feels liberating, but it is more difficult for the pianist to follow me, not the least because I am thoroughly absorbed on my “own channel”.


See video «Der Blütenzweig» Op. 2, No. 3 (in sidebar)

  • Recorded at University Aula (“Final concert”), February 23rd, 2020.

  • From the song collection “Japanischer Frühling” Op. 2 by Ludvig Irgens-Jensen (1894 - 1969).

  • Lyrics by Fujiwara no Hirotsugu, translated to German by Hans Bethge (1876-1946).

  • Performed by Hilde Sveen (voice) and Torleif Torgersen (piano).

Doctors in white coats at Haukeland hospital accompanied the singer onto the stage. A rack holding a laryngoscope is visible, taking up a lot of space on the stage. The Lab team holds the singer’s head, mounting a tripod on it and attaching wires. A tube is inserted into her nose. It slides slowly down her throat until the image appears on the screen. Seeing one's own vocal cords in action is a strange experience, up-front and alien at the same time. The projected image is slimy and hairy. All the pleasing metaphors normally used about the human voice seem very remote. This gives an extremely revealing access to the voice. Many in the audience look down or away, disturbed by the image. Some wonder how a beautiful sound can be created by something which looks so off-putting. Others are concerned with the connection between the natural sound and the image. Yet others wonder: “why?”.


Listen to audio 1: “Wanderers Nachtlied II”, Op. 6, No. 1, “Liebliches Kind”, Op. 6, No. 5, “Meerestille”, Op. 15, No. 7. (in sidebar)

  • Recorded at University Aula, UiB, March 2019.

  • Music by Nikolai Karlovitsj Medtner (1880 - 1951) (From Op. 6 and Op. 15).

  • Lyrics by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832).

  • Performed by Hilde Sveen (voice) and Torleif Torgersen (piano).

In the songs of Medtner I find similar lines as in Valen’s songs. They become therefore a point of reference for work with Valen’s songs. In the three Medtner songs, producer Jørn Pedersen challenged us to use natural, effortless phrasing with legato “bowing” as an image. The ideal was effortless communication between voice and piano, filling out and challenging each other.


The expression in Medtner’s music is connected to his deep religious feeling and to his approach to harmony and the “immortal” laws of harmonization. The composer’s faith and spirituality permeate his music, and he was uneasy and sceptical to the dawning modernism in his youth, which he found dishonest and superficial. This led him to write a book called “Music and Fashion”, which he published in 1935 with the help of his friend Sergei Rachmaninov.


Listen to audio 2: Sakontala”, Op. 6, No. 1, “Weiss wie Liljen” Op. 6, No. 2 and “Suleika” Op. 6, No. 3 (in sidebar)

  • Recorded at University Aula, UiB, March 2019

  • Music by Fartein Valen (1887-1952) (From Op. 6)

  • Lyrics by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832)

  • Performed by Hilde Sveen (voice) and Torleif Torgersen (piano)

Contrary to convention, none of us thought of checking the intervals during our recording session in the University Aula. Our focus was on musical lines, phrasing, rhythmic precision, “bowing”, and flow, in addition to technical issues and adjustments. The result was that some of the intervals are not correct on this recording. But this was actually not what the project was mainly about, even though it would have been nice if corrections could have been made.


Listen to audio 3: So lasst mich scheinen”, Op. 7, No. 1, “Heiss mich nicht reden” Op. 7, No. 2 (in sidebar) 

  • Recorded at University Aula, UiB, March 2019

  • Music by Fartein Valen (1887-1952) Op. 7

  • Lyrics by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832)
  • Performed by Hilde Sveen (voice) and Torleif Torgersen (piano). 

In Valen’s philosophy, his faith is reflected by his love of “the other beauty” (l`Altra Beltà). As the composer writes: “When one is captured by atonal music, one experiences what Michelangelo called l`Altra Beltà, a different beauty. Atonal music is just as sensitive as any other music, maybe even more so, only in another way”.


S C R O L L   D O W N

Foto: Bente Elisabeth Finserås

From Valen’s Op. 6


“Weiß wie Lilien”,




Ludvig Irgens-Jensen

«Der Blütenzweig»

Op. 2, No. 3






Einar Røttingen



Njål Sparbo & Einar Røttingen


Arnulf Christian Mattes


Hilde Sveen & Torleif Torgersen



Knut Vaage & John Ehde


Signe Bakke



Liv Elise Nordskog & Signe Bakke



A research project by Ricardo Odriozola