The artistic research project 2017-2020 “(Un-) settling Sites and Styles - in Search of New Expressive Means” consisted of eight individual projects focusing on music by 20th century and contemporary Norwegian composers. The research project was initiated by Professor Einar Røttingen and Associate Professor Arnulf Mattes to create a forum and environment for intersubjective musical research at the Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design (KMD), University of Bergen. It was funded by the Grieg Academy (KMD) and the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme.


In addition to external professional musicians, the project involved the faculty from the Grieg Academy. The participants were: Associate Professor Signe Bakke (piano), Professor Einar Røttingen (piano), Associate Professor Ricardo Odriozola (violin), Associate Professor Hilde Haraldsen Sveen (voice) and Professor Torleif Torgersen (piano) from the Grieg Academy; Associate Professor Arnulf Mattes (musicology) from the Centre for Grieg Research; external musicians John Ehde (cello), Liv Elise Nordskog (voice), Associate Professor Njål Sparbo (voice), and Knut Vaage (composer).


The aim of our project was:

  • to increase our knowledge and know-how within central artistic issues, such as interpretation, expressivity, creativity, aesthetics, and musical meaning,

  • to present works by selected Norwegian composers in concerts, presentations, publications, new editions, and recordings,

  • to widen and develop what group members could express, demonstrate, and talk about when working with expressive means in music. By reflecting and offering constructive criticism on each other's artistic choices and presentations, the group wished to create beneficial synergy effects. Here the aim was to bring tacit musical knowledge to the surface and to cultivate appropriate terminology, and

  • to share the chosen music, reflections, and artistic results.


The research group met regularly to develop their projects, discuss research questions, and exchange reflections. They conducted collaborative seminars, workshops, lectures, presentations and concerts in Norway, Denmark, Ukraine, Georgia, Slovakia, and the USA. Insights into artistic processes gained within the group were also presented to students, scholars and to the general public.


The following presentation discusses the main categories of research agreed upon by the research group. This is a compilation of texts received from all the members of the research group, edited by Einar Røttingen, Njål Sparbo, Arnulf Mattes and Elizabeth Astruc Røttingen. The structuring of the material, visual design and production of the Research Catalogue exposition was realized by visual artist and web-designer Bente Elisabeth Finserås.

Examples from the different individual projects can be found in the chapter about the individual projects, including links to further reading, scores and audio-visual examples.


The Norwegian Artistic Research Programme emphasises that in artistic research

“… the artist's own experience and insight is the starting point, as opposed to research on the arts, where the view from the outside is essential”. (

The research group discussed, defined and collected essential issues pertaining to artistic research. The following themes formed a unifying basis for discourse:

1. Performance tradition

2. Score fidelity

3. Essential means of expression

4. Extra-musical contexts

5. Articulating tacit knowledge

6. Intersubjective collaboration and research methods

Out of these issues, six research questions were formulated at the onset of the project. These will be discussed in the chapters "Research questions" 1-6.


The compositions selected by the research group were of 20th century and contemporary Norwegian composers:

  • Fartein Valen 1887-1952 (selected songs),

  • Harald Sæverud 1897-1992 (selected piano pieces and string quartets),

  • Ludvig Irgens-Jensen 1894-1969 (selected songs),

  • Geirr Tveitt 1908-1981 (selected songs),
  • Morten Eide Pedersen 1958-2014 (piano pieces), and
  • Knut Vaage b. 1961 (co-creative development of novel compositions involving, cello, piano, ensemble, and hybrid electronics).


These composers were chosen either because the selected works elicited special interest in relation to particular interpretational issues, or because of personal connections with the composer. Some research group members worked directly for years together with composers such as Sæverud and Pedersen. Several individual projects explored music for the first time, while others consisted of re-thinking, re-assessing, and scrutinizing repertoire which they had performed and/or recorded earlier. In addition, the project included a dialogue-based development of new compositions by Knut Vaage in an interactive process between him and cellist John Ehde. This added a special investigation of a unique methodological approach to the project.


Works of the selected composers show stylistic diversity and artistic individuality. They represent examples of the search for new aesthetic directions in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries within a Norwegian cultural context. Little artistic research about their works had been documented prior to this project. Fundamental questions remained as to how these composers' distinctive styles and expressivity could be understood, interpreted, cultivated, and received. Their harmonic languages are highly idiosyncratic, containing widely divergent elements of modality, polytonality, atonality, neo-classicism, impressionism, folk music, and avant-garde techniques. These different styles and currents formed the point of departure for the explorations, since they represent:

  • important trends in Norwegian musical tradition, and
  • associations and parallels to trends in Europe (which offers a reference for discussing performative issues in Norwegian music within a wider European context), and highly different ways of communicating with the performer through signs and written indications in the scores.


As this project was primarily concerned with un-settling and rethinking earlier experiences with Norwegian repertoire, the composers involved were chosen freely by the individual members. This led to a lack of gender balance regarding composers, while gender balance within the research group was adequate.


Performers of Western classical music are trained to adhere to the written score, and often find themselves torn between loyalties of literal text versus practical considerations of context. This will be discussed in RESEARCH QUESTION NO. 2. The amount of interpretative freedom in relation to scores derives from a process of normative and personal aesthetic preferences. Zealous ornamentation and improvisation were - and still are - required for performances of Baroque music, but are considered to be a sign of poor taste and judgement in music from the classical and the romantic eras, unless it is called for by the composer, e.g., in a cadence.


One aim of this project has been to attempt to articulate the many reflections that inform our ultimate artistic choices. These considerations are based on several concerns:

  • what the performer believes to be the composer's (or poet’s) intention,

  • what the performer believes to be the essence and style of the work,

  •  the performer's own aesthetic evaluations and artistic intentions,

  • the instant “comprovisation” score with compressed ideas to be expanded during performance (see the composer-performer project), and

  • fulfilling expectations of audiences and music critics.


Attempting to find consistent answers to these questions leads to other and more complex questions of practical, aesthetical, and philosophical nature:

  • How can anybody know another person’s (composer’s) intentions?

  • How exact are traditional notational symbols and signs in relation to a composer’s intensions?
  • Is a composer aware of all the intrinsic interpretative possibilities in his or her score?
  • To what degree does a composer expect or allow performers to freely interpret the score?
  • What are the limits of expressive freedom when performing in different venues, in different contexts, for different audiences?
  • To what degree do extra-musical issues (visual elements, gestures, etc.) and the performer’s stage presence influence the focus and perception of a musical piece?


In the tradition of the nineteenth century “werktreue” concept, meaning fidelity or loyalty to the work (Dahlhaus: 1980, Taruskin: 1995, Goehr: 1992), the composer’s intentions were primary; their mythologies, shaped by the interpreter’s aesthetic subjectivities, determined the readings of the symbolic meaning of their notated signs. This tradition of werktreue and “authentic” interpretation, based on a fixed composer-performer hierarchy, prevailed through the twentieth century. The post-modern movement challenged this approach by interrogating hidden, often internalized power structures and hierarchies, thereby deconstructing scores as aesthetic expressions, or “texts”.


Beyond the individual approach, the collective task was not to revive the mythologies, historical authenticity and semiotic references which guided the perception of these composers in the past. Questioning a work’s performance tradition and attempting to extract the essence of it through alternative methods of conceptualization does not imply ignoring or denying the work’s performance practice history.

The amount of artistic freedom entrusted to the performer varies greatly according to the composer. As most performers in the research group were intimately familiar with the composers’ opus, some having even met and studied with them personally, they shared a deep understanding of site-related cultural and aesthetic performance-practice considerations. The interrogation of this internalized cultural and aesthetic knowledge is part of the process of “unsettling” to be discussed in RESEARCH QUESTION NO. 2.

Footnote: Tanja Orning, The polyphonic performer. A study of performance practice in music for solo cello by Morton Feldman, Helmut Lachenmann, Klaus Huber and Simon Streen-Andersen, Norwegian Academy of Music, 2014. PhD thesis. In this project, Orning explores the multifarious voices or roles that constitute modern musical performance, as an instrumentalist ‘cultivating the intimate relationship between the instrument and the performer’, and as performer taking in ‘many extra-instrumental considerations about the act of performance itself’; both voices “even oppose the dominance and ideology of the author [composer]”. (Orning: 2013, 3f.)

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