(1887 – 1952)
From 1938 Fartein Valen lived permanently in Valevåg, and for the following seven years his longest journey was the forty miles to Haugesund. For him, Valevåg was the centre, but his horizons were broader than than Valesåta and Siggjo. He had previously travelled far and wide gathering memories and experience, from his childhood years on Madagaskar, his student years in Berlin, his visits to Rome, Paris, Sicily and Majorca. He was an internationalist.
This is also evident in his music, both stylistically and in his choice of themes. He was drawn to the “classical” European traditions, from Palestrina, through J.S. Bach and the Vienna School: Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, to the great romantics, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner and Bruckner. In addition he felt a strong affinity to painters such as El Greco and Rembrandt, and authors such as Shakespeare, Shelley and Goethe. His interest in philosophy and his deep religiosity are also connected to his feelings of affinity with mankind in general and the spiritual impulses of western civilization.
Valen was also closely aware of the currents of his own time. He was inspired by Arnold Schönberg to find beauty behind the pretty façade of music, and he developed his independent, expressive atonal music after having written radically romantic works such as Legende, Piano Sonata nr.1 and Psalm 121. Before the Norwegian parliament awarded him an artists’ salary he worked for many years at the University Library. There he made acquaintance more with radical painters and poets than with conservative colleagues.
His radical works were performed by enthusiastic friends, but not all were easily understood. It was during this period that the myths surrounding Valen were created – concerning his perfect ear, his high intelligence, his linguistic abilities, his love of nature, his humility – and his very difficult music. There are fewer today who would regard his orchestral work “Kirkegården ved havet”, his Violin Concerto or his symphonies as radical or difficult music, which in his own time won international recognition.
Now, 50 years after his death, we attempt to penetrate beyond the myths. Younger musicians approach his music directly and find it fresh, lively and new, and play it as such. Fartein Valen’s music has a message to them and us. His music is also classical in the sense that it is exemplary, in many ways timeless music of its time, and as such important today.
Arvid O. Vollsnes