Sunday, March 14, 2004

Nordic music under spell of the north



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Is there a Nordic sound?

The Nordic countries are generally considered to be Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Paavo Jarvi's native country of Estonia, a Baltic country, is linguistically related to the Finns, and the Scandinavian influence on the culture is large. (After centuries of Danish, Swedish, German, Russian and Soviet rule, it is now independent.)

For instance, Finland's Jean Sibelius' symphonic poem, Kullervo, which opens the Cincinnati Symphony season, has for its text an old Finnish dialect - something Finns don't understand anymore.

"At one point, Estonian and Finnish were very close - they come from the same root," Jarvi explains. "We went our way; Finns went their way."

Northern European composers, such as Norway's Edvard Grieg, often used folklore in their music - such as Norwegian folk tunes or the Hardangar fiddle.

Others, such as Sibelius, Sweden's Wilhelm Stenhammar and Denmark's Carl Nielsen, wrote in the German-Austrian tradition - but their Northern cast is unmistakable.

There's a lonely, rugged, close-to-nature aura about this music. Nielsen, whose "Third Symphony" will be performed next year, was a hearty individualist spanning the romantic period and the modern age. His six symphonies are bold, powerful and energizing.

Sibelius' symphonies are monumental, heroic, and evoke the spell of the North with beautiful melody and wild outbursts. You can often hear the sounds of rivers and woods, with brass-filled themes that stand out like cliffs of granite.

Janelle Gelfand




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