COMPOSERS’ HOMES AND EXPRESSIONS OF BELONGING
Summary: A research project by Arnulf Christian Mattes
The starting point for this project was a fascination with the “auras” of composers’ homes along the Norwegian western coast. Especially the estates of Harald Sæverud (1897-1992), “Siljustøl”, and Fartein Valen (1887-1952), “Valenheimen”, were places which the researcher felt still to reverberate with their presence. At these homes, many works had been conceived, rehearsed, and performed for family, friends, and guests. The landscape and nature surrounding their homes were instrumental to the inception of many of their works. This appears through many extra-musical references in scores referring to local landscapes, events, impressions, or moods. These composers also used programmatic titles and anecdotes connected to the conception of some works, grounding them in particular sites and events. Often, the initial idea of a work came as a response to a happening or an encounter with surrounding nature. These natural images and landscape metaphors can be perceived in their music. At the sites of their homes, the composers’ life narratives became engraved in “communicative memory” through storytelling, anecdotes, encounters between performers and composers, and events shaping their relationships (Erll and Nünning: 2008).
One part of this project was to reconstruct internal anecdotic history surrounding the sites. This was done by collecting newspaper articles, biographies, private performer recollections, concert programs, and composer correspondence.
Another part of this project was to observe research group performers in their quest for expressive freedom. Proximity to the sites informed stylistic questions. Several of the researching performers had had meaningful personal encounters with their chosen composers. Increased site-awareness became an intrinsic part of their own development and musical ethos. Understanding site information could thereby aid performers to create an independent interpretive position to the music.
Video footage, recordings and qualitative interviews with the performers at the on-site concerts were discussed with the research group. This led to new research questions and further theories which both drew on and challenged the existing framework of place- and site-related artistic and musicological research. This part of the project also challenged performers to become more aware of their own internalized interpretive assumptions, with the goal of being “able to identify the bits and pieces of this own language” (Nyrnes: 2006). As language is not just something one owns but is a common cultural practice, increased awareness and accuracy of language formed an integral part of the researchers’ projects.