At the time when our reality is so far from a fairytale, my friend, the Norwegian violinist Elisabeth Turmo, and I are working on an album of music that is inspired by or in some other way connected to myth, legends and folktales. The album will be released in winter 2021/22.
Today I would like to write about several pieces that will be on our album, which includes music by Norwegian composers Johan Halvorsen and Ole Bull, as well as several brilliant transcriptions by violinists Efrem Zimbalist, Igor Frolov, Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz.
Although we cannot meet or rehearse together at the moment, simply knowing that we will soon be able to share this wonderful music is a source of so much joy!
Ole Bull: A Mountain Vision
I had never heard of the composer, Ole Bull, until Elisabeth introduced me to one of his pieces: A Mountain Vision. As I close my eyes and listen, from the very first notes, the music transports me to a beautiful Norwegian landscape with its mountains and rivers; I can even hear a cuckoo calling in the distance. It’s like being taken on a walk through nature, listening to a number of folk songs on my way, culminating with a glorious Halling dance. A truly exciting journey!
Ole Bull was once asked what inspired his music and the answer was “that from his earliest childhood he had taken the most profound delight in Norway’s natural scenery. He grew eloquent in his poetic descriptions of the grand and picturesque flower–clad valleys, filled with soughing groves and singing birds; of the silver–crested mountains, from which the summer sun never departs; of the melodious brooks, babbling streams, and thundering rivers; of the blinking lakes that sing their deep thoughts to starlit skies; of the far–penetrating fjords and the many thousand islands on the coast. He spoke with especial emphasis of the eagerness with which he had devoured all myths, folktales, ballads, and popular melodies; and all these things have made his music.” (From Ole Bull: A memoir by Sara C. Bull)
Johan Jalvorsen: Norwegian dance no 1 in D major
Norwegian music is full of folk tunes that inspire so much energy and joy that I find myself smiling every time I play one of Johan Halvorsen’s Norwegian dances. Halvorsen followed the national romantic tradition embodied by Edvard Grieg and was inspired by folk musical sources. He was also an exponent of the traditional Norwegian folk instrument: the Hardanger fiddle or hardingfele. It resembles a standard violin, but the most notable difference is a shape that allows the player to play on two strings most of the time creating a highly distinctive sound.
The next pieces on our album all fit under the heading “Dazzling Transcriptions”.
Efrem Zimbalist: The Golden Cockerel – Le Coq d’Or.
Playing this colorful fantasy written by Efrem Zimbalist is sheer delight. It is based on themes from the opera of the same title by Rimsky-Korsakov, who in turn was inspired by the poem by Alexander Pushkin.
Efrem Zimbalist was born in Russia and was one of the most talented pupils of the legendary Leopold Auer. Zimbalist graduated from the St. Petersburg conservatoire and, after debuts in London and Berlin, settled in the USA where he later became a teacher and a director at the Curtis Institute of Music.
The storyline of The Golden Cockerel goes as follows: Fearing his country is in danger, the Tsar Dodon turns to an astrologer for help who gives him a magic golden cockerel to protect him. The cockerel predicts a neighboring country is a potential danger so the Tsar sends an army led by his sons. After waiting in vain for news, the Tsar decides to head into battle himself only to find his sons dead. However, he forgets his tragedy when he meets the lovely Tsaritsa whom he brings back home with him to court. There the astrologer reminds the Tsar that he promised to give the astrologer whatever he asked as a reward for protecting the country, and asks for the Tsaritsa. The Tsar refuses to keep his promise and attacks the astrologer, but the golden cockerel turns upon the Tsar and disappears taking the Tsaritsa with him.
Fritz Kreisler: Chanson Arabe, Danse Orientale.
Another great violinist who was inspired by Rimsky-Korsakov’s music was Fritz Kreisler who made several transcriptions from‘Sheherazade’: Chanson Arabe (Arabian song) and Danse Orientale (Oriental Dance).
Rimsky-Korsakov described ‘Sheherezade’ as a “kaleidoscope of fairy-tale images and designs of Oriental character” and “music that evokes a sense of the fairytale adventure”.
N.Medtner: Fairytale in B flat minor (arr. by Heifetz)
The next piece from the album that is especially close to my heart is a fairytale by the Russian composer, Nikolai Medtner. The piece was originally written for piano, but here is arranged for violin and piano by Jascha Heifetz. Medtner completed it in 1909 and it was the piece most frequently performed during composer’s lifetime. According to Barrie Martyn, Medtner directed it should: “begin at once, impetuously, with a rush, as though appealing to someone with a fervent entreaty”.
There will be many more pieces in the album but I would like to keep these as our little secret for now and hope you will follow our musical adventures!