by Liv Elise Nordskog and Signe Bakke

Searching for an orchestral sound

Geirr Tveitt´s orchestral music contains both national and international musical influences, including: elements of Norwegian folk idioms and French impressionism. His music has a lush texture with a great variety of temperament. Tveitt’s soundscapes often combine elements from the wild, raw and rugged nature of Western Norway, with beautiful, long, and soft melodic lines over dissonant and “disturbing” harmonies. In exploring unknown music, we are coloured by our own expectations, perceptions and earlier experiences of other works by the composer. And as a violinist, I have long been fascinated with the scope, intensity and drama of his orchestral music. We hoped to find songs for soprano and piano with a similar imagination and grandeur. In the “Øverland Songs”, Signe Bakke and I found exactly what we were looking for: ten very different songs in which Tveitt shapes the poems in an exciting and inspiring way. 


The first score copies we received had very limited indications for dynamics, tempo or character. This gave us a certain freedom to choose expressive means to make our own interpretation. Our work began with the song “Stjernenes hus” (The house of the stars). The lyrics express a sense of greatness and eternity, and the music emphasizes this with long melodic lines and undulating dissonant harmonies in the piano. This inspired us to search for a timbre which suited both the lyrics and the music. Each song of the cycle has its own unique character; some with an intimate character and some with potential for a greater expression. It was essential to us to find the true essence of each song.


See video 1: Geirr Tveitt: “Dagvise” (Tune for the Day), “Et seil glir bort” (A sail glides away), “Stjernenes hus” (The house of stars) (in sidebar)

  • Recorded at Valestrand Church, August 25th, 2019

  • Performed by Liv Elise Nordskog (voice) and Signe Bakke (piano)

We chose songs preparing for a concert in a church. The church room, with its grand acoustics, invited to a wide range of timbre suitable for creating an orchestral sound. Here we got the freedom to use time and stretch phrases.


The recordings from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) influenced our process with “Et seil glir bort” (A sail glides away) - a study of slowness and rubato.


We were happy to find both the original scores and the NRK-radio recording of the premiere in 1965 at the National Library in Oslo. The recordings showed a different sense of time, a more enduring and slow phrasing. We worked with “Et seil glir bort”, and systematically tried out interpretational elements drawn from this first performance. We found metronome indications and imitated the very slow tempo, transmitting rubato and timing.


Working with extreme slowness led to a sense of unrest and impatience. This was challenging to endure both physically and musically. But these new experiences expanded our expressive register and created a basis for further experimentation within new interpretational spaces.


The following examples show our process:


Listen to audio 1: Geirr Tveitt: “Et seil glir bort” (A sail glides away) (in sidebar)

  • Recorded at Public Library in Norheimsund, June 6th, 2018,

  • Performed by Liv Elise Nordskog (voice) and Signe Bakke (piano)

This is our interpretation of the song before we heard the historic recording from 1965. This version is more in tune with present time with a faster, more flowing tempo and efficiency.


Listen to audio 2: Geirr Tveitt: “Et seil glir bort” (A sail glides away) (in sidebar)

  • Historic archive recording: NRK Radio in 1965 with Hans Glenne and Kringkastingsorkesteret

Here we noticed a very slow tempo with phrases almost stagnating. A bit heavy and drawn-out, but the performers dared to take time. Fascinating and inspiring!


Listen to audio 3: Geirr Tveitt: “Et seil glir bort” (A sail glides away) (in sidebar)

  • Recorded at Gunnar Sævigs Sal, Grieg Academy, January 31st, 2020
  • Performed by Liv Elise Nordskog (voice) and Signe Bakke (piano)

We listened carefully, notating the recording’s metronome marking and then imitated it. This proved to be a challenge. At first, we felt impatient and uneasy, but after a while we found a calm presence with time to dwell on and “be” in the music.


Listen to audio 4: Geirr Tveitt: “Et seil glir bort” (A sail glides away) (in sidebar)

  • Recorded at Fana kulturhus (“Visuals-concert”), March 6th, 2020,

  • Performed by Liv Elise Nordskog (voice) and Signe Bakke (piano)

In our last concert we focused on flow, rubato, and slowness.


Challenging the limits of classical singing


Tveitt coloured and revealed underlying themes in the poems in a way which aided our understanding of their message. Out of this understanding, questions arose as to the possibility of expanding my classical training and bring out a more raw and authentic vocal expression. In the pursuit of an authentic and honest voice quality, is it acceptable to challenge the classical singing tradition with its demands for beauty, and not always sound beautiful?


Listen to audio 5: Geirr Tveitt: “Å si mig hvorfor du vil fare” (And tell me why you want to leave) (in sidebar)

  • Recorded at Fana kulturhus (“Visuals-concert”), March 6th, 2020,

  • Performed by Liv Elise Nordskog (voice) and Signe Bakke (piano)

“Å si meg hvorfor du vil fare” is a conversation between a dying mother and her restless, anxious child. How should I as a singer perform this conversation in a believable way? I imagine the voice of the child as a thin, weeping voice. I go into the core of my voice, trying to leave my loud voice behind to find a more fragile sound. The dying mother is old and tired. I use my chest sound and destabilize my instrument to bring out her state of mind. It is challenging to alternate between these two different characters and a bit intimidating to “undress the voice” of its ordinary timbre. The question arises as to whether the expression becomes too extreme for the message of the song.  

Concert with visuals


The underlying idea of the concert in Fana Culture House (March 6th, 2020) was to create a special multimedia space for presenting the “Øverland Songs”. Performances of the songs were combined with speech, live video visuals by Jonas Magnussen and other stage effects (e.g., an old radio and furniture from the 1960’s). This was an attempt to add another dimension to the songs, by bringing together historical and contemporary elements into a concert “collage”.


The poems and Tveitt’s musical setting were illustrated by a display of metaphorical images portraying the duality of the realities of life and various states of mind. Different images were projected on a screen; one patch with earthly colours representing the underlying text, other images represented the eternal, starry sky in dark blue and black, while quivering red colours highlighted the dramatic elements in the text. It was important for us that the visual effects always supported the musical expression.


See video 2: Geirr Tveitt: Vuggevise (Cradle song) (in sidebar)

  • Recorded at Fana kulturhus (“Visuals-concert”), March 6th, 2020,

  • Performed by Liv Elise Nordskog (voice) and Signe Bakke (piano)

This is an excerpt from the concert of March 6, 2020. We created a historical stage setting combined with modern visuals projected on a screen. This helped emphasize the deep seriousness of this cradle song.


See video 3: Geirr Tveitt: “Det jodlet i røde skoger” (There was yodelling in red forests) (in sidebar)

  • Recorded at Fana kulturhus (“Visuals-concert”), March 6th, 2020,

  • Performed by Liv Elise Nordskog (voice) and Signe Bakke (piano)

This is an example of how video art can underline the character and energy of the music.


In August 2021, a CD recording with Geirr Tveitt´s Øverland, Falkberget and Hauge songs will be recorded on LAWO label.

S C R O L L   D O W N

Foto: Tore Hegdal