“Essential means of expression” can be understood as the (absolute) necessary or important ways of articulating a particular feeling or intention in the music. Expressivity is the quality of being expressive: exposing particular thoughts and feelings. Meaningfulness in music can be understood as the intent to communicate something valuable which exceeds the expressibility of words.


The project “Discovering Expressive Means in Geirr Tveitt’s Øverland-Songs explored the deeper realms of the song texts, personal associations, and images. The researchers experimented with extreme variations in tempo and dynamics in pursuit of the underlying existential themes in Tveitt’s dramatic songs. Different qualities in the voice were experimented with as they moved towards a more naked, vulnerable expression portraying text images such as that of an anxious child or a dying mother. It became apparent that the challenge was to expand the traditional “classical” space of vocal expression and be more courageous by going more deeply into the core of the human voice and its ability to express feelings in an emotive way. This led to the stylistic question of whether or where one goes too far in exaggerating an expression.


A central theme in the project “Sonotical Interpretations of 70 songs by Geirr Tveitt” was the investigation of Tveitt’s ambiguous modal harmonic language and its implications for unsettling the performers’ habitual mindsets. Through embracing and experimenting with Tveitt's aesthetical views, nuances of meaning in his choices of modal scales were revealed. These realizations affected articulation, intonation, rhythmical structures, musical phrasing, and the gravity in harmonic progressions. Creative experiments with imagined tonal centres led to metrical displacements and rhythmical alterations connected to the musical phrasing. This clearly changed the prosody of the lyrics, leading to novel narraive ideas and numerous interpretational possibilities. Changing the focus from the analytic to the actual sounding experience led to an interesting interplay of the various expressive means, shifting focus and “multitasking” with the musical and textual layers.


The investigations in “Rethinking Expression in the Piano Music of Harald Sæverud” dug more deeply into the expressivity of his musical gestures. Tools for exploring have been the use of non-pedal playing, extra-musical associations and references to speech. The value of different kinds of “air” (silences) between the notes – played without pedal – revealed different ways of “speaking” the notes, of phrasing and shaping the music. This led to a more careful and nuanced use of the sustain pedal. Experimenting with a greater range of dynamics and (non-notated) rubato resulted in ways of making the musical gestures, motifs and figures become more alive and meaningful.The overall phrasing and structure of the music is very much written out by the composer who uses a hierarchy of notated accents; however, a gentle use of rubato seems crucial for bringing out musical meaning beyond the rigidity of the score. Extra-musical associations, such as gestures, metaphors, narratives, images, titles, dialogues, and associations to the world of children, supported the need for greater spontaneity and variation in characterizing the music. To further this goal, the researcher added indications to the score. These were to indicate extra nuances and texts combining traditional analysis (music theory) and self-invented narratives (e.g., ‘drama or dialogue of two voices’).


In the “Lines and Limits” project, the search for new expressive means in the songs of Fartein Valen and Ludvig Irgens-Jensen led to the investigation of several unusual methods. The first consisted of using a laryngoscope with which vocal cords could be filmed and projected on to a screen. In this way different possibilities of altering sounds could be explored visually. This led to an analysis of what is happening in the throat while singing and became a tool for creating desirable sounds. The singer’s focus in this method was to reduce vibrato without losing correct intonation, as had earlier been the case. The search for greater nuances in volume (softer dynamics) led to the need for developing increased and more subtle muscular control.


In searching for expressive and nuanced colouration in the Valen songs, the researcher found late-romantic songs of Nicolai Medtner which she used as a catalyst for developing expressivity in Valen’s atonal style. Medtner and Valen shared a deep religious faith and each had a highly personal, introverted musical language. The sincerity and depth of their artistry became a point of departure for creating a collage of intertwined song by them. The aim was that the naïve and poetic expression to be found in Medtner’s tonal songs could bring about a similar expression in the Valen songs.


The focus away from singing difficult intervals toward a more natural expression brought the risk of faulty intonation. Extensive coaching and recording sessions with a producer became yet another method for exploring expression in the Valen songs. Here the focus was on lines, sound quality, slurs and legato to find the desired expression. This intense work on sensitive sound quality made the singer, pianist, and producer unaware of deviations in pitch which were only discovered after listening to the final recording.


The project “Composer-Performer Collaborations” found new expressive means by experimenting and improvising together, thereby developing a new musical vocabulary. How could these be used to form structured compositions and how to notate them in the score? They developed a method called “comprovisation” (Richard Dudas), meaning a mixture of composition, improvisation, electronic elements, and pure acoustical sound. Comprovised hybrid music using a synthesis of these elements was thus created. 


Basic ideas and structures were notated into compressed, instant scores. During performance, the scores functioned as sketches for unfolding musical structure based on improvisation. Small musical cells (enteties of musical essence or substance) either found during comprovisational etudes or recapitulated from earlier use, formed an important focus for this project. These small cells of fundamental material were moved from piece to piece, texture to texture. The following questions arose: will these small cells keep their identity? Will they be refreshed in each new situation, or will they become worn out and trite? For such extensive recycling to function well, the material must be durable and versatile, able to survive different surroundings and instrumentations. The composer’s suggestion for notation was discussed and finalized together with the performer. The latter’s task was to incorporate these new instrumental ideas into their common expressive palette. The next step was to check whether the notation actually led to the desired sounds. New and different possibilities for notation were often discussed, as they adjusted scores to fit performers’ needs. To make the scores understandable, technical descriptions for creating a particular sound or effect were also included.


The project “The Surface is Slow, performing piano music by Morten Eide Pedersen” investigated expressive means in his meditative pieces, which compel the performer to listen in new ways and experiment with increased sensitivity toward sound and space. A main issue was to go more deeply into the music. To this end, the researcher experimented with quality of sound, lightness versus heaviness, rests versus use of pedal, and how to feel and embody complicated rhythms. Ideas of line and flow in very slow tempos were tried out, and these brought up the question: how slowly can one play before the music falls apart? Creating a space for presence and deep listening together with the audience was fundamental in performances. The poems of T.S. Elliot which had inspired these compositions also served as a guide for finding underlying meanings, perspectives and attitudes towards the piano pieces. Different versions/solutions of the open-form pieces were investigated, with a modified version of the intuitively-felt (i.e., without analysing) initial interpretation chosen as the result.

S C R O L L   D O W N



What are the essential means of expression for the performers in the research group in relation to conveying expressivity and meaningfulness in the chosen works - and how do the performers find them?

Further reading