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Thread: 13.6.2011 - Johan Svendsen

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    Default 13.6.2011 - Johan Svendsen

    Johan Svendsen (1840-1911)

    Ho! I doubt Svendsen has been discussed on CotW before, but then, he's never been dead for 100 years before:

    "A century after his death Johan Svendsen still finds himself in the shadow of his compatriot Edvard Grieg, yet in his native Norway he's rightly regarded as of equal important in rescuing the country's musical tradition from near oblivion.

    Donald Macleod sets out to rescue Svendsen from his obscurity and paints a portrait of a multi-talented individual. Svendsen excelled not only as composer but also as conductor, in fact in the last 29 years of his life it was his podium activities which saw him lionised first in Oslo, then in Copenhagen after one of the opera world's most controversial transfer deals."

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    Aha! sometimes the time cometh and maketh the man, or someone once said something like that, anyway.

    I've just acquired some Svendsen, on a very unusual collection of ancient LPs, and havent played any yet, but I can deliver a sleeve note from the late 1950s when he seems to have had an outing on Philips HiFi Stereo. It would have been a SABL series item for the UK, but the sticker has dropped off and all I have is the original Philips code, 838 051 AY.

    What I get is the Oslo PO under Odd Gruner-Hegge (I just posted elsewhere to say yes, I HAVE heard of him and here he is again), Svendsen's 'symph no 1' and 'Zorahayda', legend op 11.

    Of course, all of you have umpteen other versions of these well known classics, I await acute comparisons with keen anticipation.

    Sigh, OK, a look in the Penguin Guide shows there actually are several other versions of the symphony, but I still seem to be on my own with 'Zorahayda'. Must get around to playing it ...

    Interestingly, perhaps, in the light of a forthcoming week of discussion of his works, the LP sleeve also lists some other ancient Philips LPs of his music (which I dont own):

    Romance for violin and orchestra no op. no., Bjarne Larsen vln and the OPO Philips 838 050 AY (and works by others)

    Festival Polonaise no op. no. , cond. Fjeldstad Philips 838 052 AY (and works by others)

    Carnival in Paris op 9 cond Fjeldstad Philips 838 050 AY (and works by others)

    So there was a time when he was sort of known, and recorded, and no doubt there are recordings in the BBC library. I think it will be interesting, if hardly arresting (he is sort of a lesser Grieg, as far as I can gather from the sleeve notes).

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    I've been impressed with what I've heard. I liked the string quintet just now.

    I had never heard of him!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flay View Post
    I've been impressed with what I've heard. I liked the string quintet just now.

    I had never heard of him!
    Well! I certainly never knew he composed Du Gamla, du friska, du fjellhöga nord ! (the Swedish National Anthem, apparently). Thank you for the mention of the string quintet - I shall hasten thither. I have a disc with a couple of Svendsen symphonies and hadn't thought about what chamber music he might have written.

    (Hello, there, Flay!)

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    Well, I've been persevering, but so far haven't found much of individuality or character in this week's COTW. I'll keep persevering...........

    S-A

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    He's not a bad composer at all, I've a handful of his works in my collection and have long been fond of his 1st Symphony. I can't ever recall Svendsen ever being COTW before so this is encouraging, now how about the dozens of other composers I can think of that have never been or haven't been COTW for many, many years?

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    In recent years COTW has been featuring groups of composers: next week's devotion to Light Music composers being an instance. How about this for an idea: paired composers, mutual contemporaries, so-to-speak, who in some way complement each other in their differences? I'm not just thinking, folr example, Debussy/Ravel, two composers who have been much featured, but, say, Hindemith/Stravinsky; Britten/Tippett; Goehr/Birtwistle? A week could, for example, be devoted to examining differences between the ways in which Stravinsky and Hindemith sourced or recycled baroque compositional procedures in the 1920s. Given the emphasis these days on biographical detail, welcome in its own way but increasingly it seems at the expense of talking about idiom, form and stylistic evolution in a particular composer, this might present difficulties, but the two approaches could I think be married and lend aded depth to the subjects.

    Straying even further off-topic, ahem, restating a particular bugbear of mine, there are, as Suffolkcoastal briefly remarks, LOADS of composers who never, ever make it to COTW. Now that we are reexamining relatively neglected personalities from the past - besides Svendsen, Zemlinsky comes to mind - surely the BBC is still in a position to obtain rare recordings from abroad to illustrate these forgotten names and bring them back to life? Who ever hears music these days by that small, fasccinating group of french composers who eschewed the serial route post WW2 and followed broadly within the Honnegger spirit - Andre Jolivet, Marcel Landowsky, Jean-Luis Martinet, Maurice Le Roux? And, if we're talking about British music, when do we ever get to hear the music of Peter Racine Fricker or Iain Hamilton - much more substantial figures imv than their contemporary Malcolm Arnold? Hearing these composers' music might give us a much broader perspective on "modernism" than the now much-maligned term "serialism" implies.

    S-A

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    S-A, I can vaguely remember in the 1980's and early 90's that there were some interesting combined COTW's. As you mention Honegger he's another of many composers (who are always ones I seemingly admire) who have taken a nose-dive under the RW regime. Fricker and Hamilton, yes impressed (especially the former) with what I've heard and the little I have in my collection, mind you Arnold, whose music I do admire, is largely only represented by a handful of short 'popular' works these days.

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    Another possibility for variations on the CotW theme is to have composers who, for at least part of their lives, are involved in a particular cultural movement, for instance a Sturm und Drang CotW where various composers who had produced works in that style would be featured.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aeolium View Post
    Another possibility for variations on the CotW theme is to have composers who, for at least part of their lives, are involved in a particular cultural movement, for instance a Sturm und Drang CotW where various composers who had produced works in that style would be featured.
    A fantastic idea, aeolium. I immediately thought of parallels and relationships between the Blaue Reiter Expressionist painters and the Second Viennese School. Stuck too much as my thinking is in the 20th century it hadn't occurred to consider how wide a historical reach a brief of that kind could embrace.

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