RETHINKING EXPRESSION IN THE PIANO MUSIC
OF HARALD SÆVERUD
Summary: A research project by Einar Røttingen
This project’s aim was to examine and rethink Røttingen’s former conception of the piano music of Harald Sæverud (1897-1992). This is an oeuvre with which he was familiar, due to a long-standing personal and professional contact with the composer including conversations, rehearsals, performances, and recordings. By studying historical sources and scrutinizing expressive markings in the selected scores, Røttingen sought to examine the potential for enhanced expressivity and more subtle nuances.
As a starting point, Røttingen worked without the sustain pedal as a means of discovering new expressive possibilities. This was an attempt to gain more accuracy in key release as a way of exploring the spaces/rests between melodic figures. He experimented with ways of executing touches as notated in the score, such as legato, non-legato, portato, staccato, tenuto, marcato, and the relationships between these. With these examinations he sought to acquire a greater range of dynamics than the score indicated.
Applying the use of non-notated rubato was experienced as necessary, given the natural characteristics of the melodies and their implied intent of gestures. The composer’s hierarchy of accents was investigated as a means of creating musical shape, phrasing, and structure. Nuanced pedalling was carefully employed to vary the quality of sound, while still emphasizing clear articulation and transparent voicing.
Some of Sæverud’s metronome markings were reconsidered and adjusted to slower tempos, so that intervals, gestures, and dissonances could be perceived more clearly and expressively. Spoken language was used as an analogy to musical speech, in which tones - perceived as words and syllables - build meaningful musical sentences. The use of analysis, metaphors, and associations to dialogue and narratives became a method for experimenting with musical character.
The pieces were selected from “Slåtter og Stev fra Siljustøl” (Tunes and Dances from Siljustøl) Opp. 21, 22, 23, 25, “Lette Stykker” (Easy Pieces) Op. 14 and “Seks Sonatiner” (Six Sonatinas) Op. 30. The documentation consists of different kinds of score analyses, with indications added by the performer. Røttingen’s new approach to expressive means was documented in a recording from a concert at the composer’s home, Siljustøl.