Klaus Egge was born in Gransherad in the county of Telemark, although the family on his father's side came from the west coast, specifically in Egge in Breim. Klaus Egge was exposed to folk music pulses early in his life through the travelling musicians who were guests at Egge's childhood home, first in the Gransherad and later in Porsgrunn.
He started his education at a teachers' college at Stord, but soon went on to the Conservatory of Music in Oslo where he graduated as an organist in 1929 and studied piano under renowned pedagogue Nils Larsen. Furthermore, he studied composition under Fartein Valen, and studied abroad in Berlin in 1937-38. From then on, Klaus Egge lived the rest of his years at Ljanskollen in Oslo where he had his composer loft overlooking Bunnefjorden.
In addition to his composition activitiesm, Egge was heavily involved in organizational life, among other offices, he was chairman of the Norwegian composer Association from 1945 to 1772. Furthermore, he was active as chairman and member of a whole range of Norwegian and international committees and boards. He was also editor of the magazine Tonekunst, and wrote music reviews in Arbeiderbladet in the period 1945-1974.
It is the second piano concerto "Solfager and Ormekongen", which is the one of his major orchestral works, that is mostly played today, and this concert is regularly on the repertoires of the Norwegian symphony orchestras. Pianist Håvard Gimse has also made a recording of it a few years back. In addition, two short fantasies for piano, Fantasi i halling and Fantasi i springar, opus 12 a and c, are in the repertoire of several pianists. In teaching, his opus 1 is widely used, the opus contains Valča Dolce, a small piano piece Klaus Egge later in life would refuse to acknowledge, as it is written in a completely different musical language than he developed after his studies.
Klaus Egge's production can be divided into three periods. The first period runs until 1938, and can almost be said to be in the national romance tradition of Grieg, where he uses folk songs and writes works of national topics. The most important works here are the first piano sonata, composed of themes from Draumkvedet, Violin Sonata opus 3 and Sveinung Vreim for choir and orchestra. All the works here are based on folkloric elements in a polyphonic tone language.
After his stay in Berlin at the end of the 1930s, his stylistic development is continued, and his second period includes Symphony No. 1 "Lagnadstonar" from 1941-42 and the aforementioned Piano Concerto No. 2 with the title Variations and Fugue of Solfager and Ormekongen. In these works he transforms the folkloric style to larger forms, and polyphony are playing an increasingly larger role in the progress of the works.
Klaus Egge's third stylistic period begins with the Symphony No. 2 "Sinfonia Gioccosa" from 1947, and includes the Violin Concerto (1953), Piano Sonata No. 2 "Sonata Patetica" (1955) and Symphony No. 3, "Louisville Symphony" (1959). Here Egge abstracts the folkloric elements, and continuously develops their movement technique so that the major compositional forms of symphony and sonata is built up as the folk music evolves, namely a continuous metamorphosis of the various thematic subjects. Eventually, he develops this movement technique to contain elements of a dodecaphonic writing style where he uses 12-tone technique in his very own way. This is first used in the Cello Concerto (1966) which was commissioned by NRK to Klaus Egge's 60th birthday.
In the Symphony No. 4 "Sinfonia Soprano B.A.C.H. - E.G.G.E" (1967), Egge transforms the motif that comes out of the musical letters of the twelve-note technique's "Mode quaternion". But you do not need to know the theory to appreciate the music. It is magnificent, and you can hear clearly the main theme being treated in a highly polyphonic movement that culminates in a grand conclusion.
Egge's latest works include Symphony No. 5 (1969) and Piano Concerto No. 3 (1973). These have unfortunately not been published and exists only as NRK recordings.
It's a shame that not more of the Norwegian orchestras have taken hold of Klaus Egge's music. It is typically Norwegian, but international in its style. What is unique is that Egge is able to combine the feeling of national tunes with an international style like dodecaphony. The metamorphical technique of the folk tunes fuses with the European symphonic universe and the result is music full of details, polyphonic lines, light and shadow. These are works that can be heard several times, and deserves to appear regularly on concert repertoirs.
The Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound holds many of the LP recordings of Klaus Egge's music that was made in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately there are some gaps in the collection, but the major works are represented here.
In some cases, these records are the only opportunity to listen to this music as many have not been reissued on CD. This rings especially true for the Violin Concerto in Camilla Wicks' interpretation, but also the Louisville Symphony is difficult to find because the original LP was only published in the U.S. Some of the recordings in the series Contemporary Music from Norway was later reissued on CD by the record company Aurora / Simax, but not everything represented here has been re-released.
One example is the Oslo-recording of Symphony No. 1 with Odd Grüner-Hegge which was replaced by Karsten Andersen's recording with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra for this series. Despite the mono sound recording, the Oslo recording has its own nerve and Odd Grüner-Hegge's interpretation is not surpassed. It is possible to listen to this interpretation and the other records in this exhibitionat the Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sounds premises in Stavanger.
Really sad that this wonderful recording has never been issued on CD. The Karsten Andersen version is very good but the recording is boxed in and actually appears to overload at the climax of the first movement - which is my favourite part of the work! I heard the Gruner-Hegge version decades ago when I took the LP version out of a record library in London - it is a wonderful performance of a fine work.
Last update: 11.04.2011 12:28. Webmaster
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