For the performer, the artistic demands of a composer can be largely understood as:
Appreciating and developing an understanding of what a score contains and requires, from basic interpretation of signs and symbols to meaningful sounds in succession enabling the performer to shape a consistent musical form.
Defining a sense of style and understanding that is culturally associated with the composer as reflected by potential qualities inherent in the score. Looking for character: is a musical passage speech-like, declamatory, folk-like, impressionistic, emotional, dramatic, cool, objective, romantic, classical, experimental, minimalistic, improvisatory etc.?
Being able to realize the perceived artistic intentions through instrumental means/demands by controlling and cultivating instrumental technique, vibrato, quality of sound, dynamics, articulation, phrasing, and more.
The artistry of the performer draws on:
the performer’s background, personal history, instrumental training, sense of aesthetics, philosophy of life, external influences, among others,
a personal style of playing/singing, individual instrumental preferences regarding expressivity, and
the ability to assimilate and transform scores (compositional ideas/composer’s artistry) into artistic meaningfulness.
The role of the performer can constitute different positions which normally interchange, overlap and inform the relationship and attitude towards the music:
Idealization of the composer. Trying to be loyal to the composer’s assumed intentions by attempting to properly execute the score’s indications and what they imply in a realization. What does it mean to be loyal to the composer?
Questioning the notation and indications, while adding interpretive musical elements from own artistry and intuition in critical dialogue with the score. What does one contribute to scores and how does one realize its potential?
Willingness to challenge strict readings and understandings of the musical parameters in order to promote immediacy and spontaneity. Herein one can notice severe changes of style, rhythm, dynamics, articulation, pitches, tempo, and metronome markings in relation to the score. What does it mean to be a creative performer?
The performer’s experience of the artistic demands a composer makes can be seen as a constant process of investigation and experimentation with the score as to how it resonates with the performer’s personal artistry. Scores are highly condenced and since many musical gradations need interpretation, a score is a meeting place for dialogue between the composer’s initial artistic vision and the performers’ urge to promote meaningfulness through his/her artistry. The score constitutes the common ground and starting point for performative reflections, while the essence of music lies beyond the score, in the perception of sounds.
One could say that there is a constant sense of unresolved, unsettled tension in this dialectic relationship which ultimately can be decisive for bringing energy and excitement to a performance. The role of the performer is thus always in flux between a sense of fidelity towards the composer – as engrained in classically-trained performers - and developing and stretching one’s own artistry to its limits and beyond – to meet composer requirements.
The two inquiries into Sæverud’s music had as basis an unsettled tension and resistance between the positions of composer, score, and performer. Despite the two performers’ long-lasting experience and collaboration with the composer and his music, questions still remained as to how the scores could be interpreted.
In the string quartet project, students with no former experience of Sæverud’s music were asked to study, rehearse, and perform the quartets together with Ricardo Odriozola over a period of time. To gain fresh views about the music, Odriozola observed how the students experienced the composer’s demands in relation to their own artistic process.
Einar Røttingen’s inquiry into the piano music reassessed earlier experiences of the composer’s artistic demands by digging more deeply into the musical material. An emerging insight from this process was the realization that musical figures and gestures were of greater importance to musical expressivity in his music than were forward drive and structural flow. The structure seemed to take care of itself. This connects to the composer’s associations to life and nature, illustrating his artistry in the following significant ways:
An attitude towards life as being spontaneous, present, aware, and creating a quality and value of the moment.
An attitude that extreme moods, feelings, or phenomena in nature can exist “side by side” and be juxtaposed with changes creating surprise and contrast.
The composer’s detailed notation and frequent score revisions suggest reluctance to deciding undeviating artistic versions. This argues for an open, informed performer involvement as a counterpart to somewhat controlling score indications. The performer’s active involvement “fills in the gaps”.
The relationship between composer and performer was also a central topic in the project on Morten Eide Pedersen’s piano pieces. Pedersen’s untimely death left the performer with many unresolved questions as to how his music could be understood in terms of style and aesthetic preferences? Even though former collaborations with the composer pointed toward essential elements in his music, deeper questions of interpretation beyond his written instructions remained. Despite information on essential expressivity and a philosophical commentary, his music remained unfamiliar. This included how the performer should relate to the poems of some of the pieces. The process with Pedersen’s music was unsettling, and the initial idea of continuing interpretation with the composer’s orally-delivered intentions from joint working sessions did not follow through. It became necessary to recall and test former ideas, followed by moving on, studying the scores and music directly from the performer’s own artistic outlook.
As with Sæverud and Pedersen, the artistry of Valen and Tveitt is based on harmonic languages which are highly personal and unique. Tveitt and Sæverud had the advantage of being associated with a tonal grounding of modality and polymodality. Valen’s distilled atonal style, on the other hand, can be experienced by some as abstract and inaccessible.
Valen makes specific demands on performers. Valen’s dissonant polyphony requires performers to clearly delineate separate voices with long, legato lines and exact, clear pitches. Even if all expressive parameters play a fundamental part in his artistry, Valen’s scores are sparsely notated regarding expression. In his orchestral music, Valen seems less interested in exploring the colourful palette of orchestration, than in giving a graphic outline of his intentions. In his piano music there seems to be little focus on quality of sound; even use of pedal is largely ignored. Pedalling is notated in only few of his compositions, and in none of his songs. Especially singers, with all the expressive nuances available, will not find interpretative guidance from Valen’s scores. This leaves a lot of choices for performers of his music to address. A personal, informed approach to his music can be developed by making widely-divergent versions of the same composition, even to the point of creating entirely different works. This process of breaking past habits of how something “should sound” can be conducive to developing new and conscious artistic decisions.
The juxtaposition of chosen songs of Medtner and Valen in the project “Lines and Limits” was an attempt to see one composer through the lens of the other. Medtner’s poetic compositions – different as they are from Valen’s though similarly labelled as “grey and colourless”- contain an artistic integrity and honesty which can be perceived as similar to Valen’s intended expression. Experiments with bridging these parallel worlds became a way of gaining orientation in Valen’s music, a catalyst for decisions about choices of dynamics, quality of sound, voicing, clarity of texture, phrasing, and sense of line. For a singer, pitches and lines must be created by the voice with few references or help from the piano part. This puts great demands on the singer’s artistry and understanding of Valen’s music. Issues pertaining to his music’s “weightlessness”, its enigmatic harmonic language, sensitivity of expression, and layered complexity, need to be addressed.
Tveitt trenchantly compels performers of his works to integrate his aesthetical views on "the Norse feeling of tonality" in their interpretations. It would seem that only a few performers give this obligation much consideration. Expressive marks in Tveitt's scores are sparse; he seems deliberately to leave performers great freedom for interpreting his music according to their own preferences. These reflections became important issues in the project “Sonotical Interpretations”. Some experiences and challenges have been:
In the introduction of Tveitt's controversial treatise, “Tonalitätstheorie des parallelen Leittonsystems” (1937), he states that modal scales express different mindsets, originating from cultural affiliations. He requests that musicians who are trying to comprehend his musical aesthetics depart from the major/minor mindset of European music traditions and embrace the essential feeling of the different modal scales.
Tveitt's music is founded on his ideas about the power of nature and of a human primordial will (“urvilje”). He was drawn toward what he believed to be the Viking attitude to life and was extremely critical of cultural or religious attitudes which lead people to suppress their basic instincts in the name of civilization or of oppressing deities.
Tveitt's deliberate use of modality is basically expressive. It takes time and effort for a classically trained, European musician to realize what it entails.
Working with Geirr Tveitt's songs challenges habitual ways of working with musical perception. This change of mindset involves analytical and intellectual aspects toward gaining a basic feeling of modal tonality, as well as finding an embodiment of rhythmical energy and primordial expressivity.
The ethos concerning Tveitt’s choices of scales is not carved in stone. Experimentation with modality is necessary but can lead to altered intonation and detract attention from other important musical or textual elements.
Tveitt's tonal universe is enigmatic. His expressive use of modal scales could be compared to a train of thought or a flow of emotions. When the tonic of a phrase is clear, the expression seems to be like a statement. When the tonic is unclear, or when two or more modes occur simultaneously, the music seems ambiguous, as if reflecting intertwining deliberations.
The composer-performer collaboration of Vaage and Ehde explored each of their roles while they worked together in creating new music. The traditional role of composer-performer was unsettled:
During their work sessions, the term “comprovisation” became coined as a natural label for their method. At the same time, there was a loyalty towards the scores which were developed. Notation had to be extremely accurate, even though there was room for creative interpretation and improvisation to varying degrees for each piece.