Eivind Groven - Biography

Eivind Groven-portrett

Eivind Groven (1901-1977) was born in Lårdal in western Telemark, a part of Norway rich in folk-music traditions. He was a composer and musicologist, as well as being highly skilled at playing both the Hardanger fiddle and the willow flute. Groven completed his teaching degree in 1923, after which he taught for a short period of time. In the autumn of 1925 he studied counterpoint at the Oslo Conservatory of Music. His research in the fields of folk music and acoustics also had a strong influence on his compositional technique. A number of his works have become part of the standard repertoire of contemporary Norwegian music. The overture Hjalarljod in particular, commissioned for the 900th anniversary of the city of Oslo, has achieved wide-spread popularity.

Groven held his first recital in 1926. In 1937 he composed the winning melody in a competition to find a signature theme for the Norwegian State Radio. This theme would later be employed as the principal theme in his first symphony. He was awarded an honorary income by the government before the German occupation in 1940.

Groven regarded folk music as his musical mother tongue. From early childhood, even before he learned to play the Hardanger fiddle, his musical inspirations took the form of slåtte motifs (a slått, or slåttar in the plural, is a Norwegian folk-dance form based on a thematic "budding" principle). Norway has fostered a number of creative fiddlers, but Groven is the only one of them so far to become a symphonic composer.

Because he was unique among Norwegian composers in that he had an innate appreciation of the advanced tonal, rhythmic and structural characteristics of folk music, and because he possessed outstanding analytical and creative abilities, his encounter with traditional art music inspired him to profound musical reflection. He sought to renew music from within. Therefore, he was not content to transfer the folk-dance form to the orchestra or to borrow motifs from folk music, but generally created new melodies. He expanded the principles of metamorphosis characteristic of the asymmetrical Hardanger fiddle tunes and combined them masterfully with familiar compositional forms such as the sonata or rondo. His bold treatment of harmony, characterized by frequent use of the mediant, imbues his music with colour and a sense of extended tonality. His themes are highly melodious and his instrumentation serves to illuminate the very nature of these themes. The result is highly diversified and the music has a timeless quality, distinctively personal, while at the same time universal and genuinely Norwegian.

Groven's major works include two symphonies, a piano concerto, Renaissance (a symphonic poem in five movements), Historical Visions, the suites Symphonic Slåttar 1 and 2, Hjalarljod, From Saga towards Ballad, The Bridegroom, Olav Liljukrans, Margit Hjukse and Dream Ballad (also performed as a ballet). Groven's compositions based on texts, which include many characteristic songs (e.g. Moen, Neslandskyrkja, Moderens korstegn) and small-scale choral compositions (e.g. To Sylvan), bear witness to a profound literary sensibility. In addition to folk songs, Groven has mainly used texts by Henrik Wergeland, Hans E. Kinck and Ingeborg Refling Hagen. He has composed a number of works for orchestra, piano, organ and Hardanger fiddle, as well as for two Hardanger fiddles. He has also written sophisticated folk-tune arrangements for a variety of ensembles, such as voice and justly tuned organ, which reveal his predilection for the irregular intervals in the melodies.

Groven devoted a great deal of effort to disseminating information on genuine folk music which had neither been transcribed nor made the subject of scientific study. He was in charge of the folk music programmes on Norwegian Radio from 1931 to 1945, interrupted only by the war. He also laid the groundwork for the folk music archives of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, and he continued to produce programmes until well into the 1970s.

Groven began transcribing Hardanger fiddle tunes and other folk tunes while still a boy. Thus, he was an obvious choice as co-editor and contributor to the seven volume Norsk Folkemusikk, Hardingfeleslåttar (1958-81). In the 1950s he also studied and transcribed Helge Ingstad's collection of recordings of Eskimo folk tunes.

As early as 1927, Groven published his thesis The Natural Scale, a pioneer work in which he examined the use of formulas in vocal and instrumental folk music that might have been derived from the scales and playing technique used on the willow flute. The two dissertations Temperering og renstemming (Tempered and Just Intonation Tuning, 1948) - available in English and German - and Renstemningsautomaten (The Automatic Just Intonation Tuning, 1968) deal with the familiar problem of just intonation tuning of keyboard instruments in theoretical and practical terms. Groven's contribution in this field has gained international recognition. He constructed a justly tuned organ in which he retained the ordinary keyboard, but where each octave is divided into at least 36 tones, making it possible to play in all keys. An automatic conversion mechanism "retunes" the instrument as it is being played so that the chords and harmonies are in tune at all times. The instrument also makes it possible to construct scales consisting of steps other than the usual half and whole tones. Such scales are typical of folk music. Moreover, historical modes of tuning can also be imitated. Two justly tuned organs, a pipe organ and an electronic organ are to be found at Eivind Groven's Institute for Just Intonation in Oslo.

Eivind Groven's Institute for Just Intonation, 1993

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