Harald Sæverud - Biography

Harald Sæverud

Harald Sæverud (1897-1992) was born in Bergen. His own account of the event of his birth in a house that was located on a previous place of execution, and later a cemetery, should be well-known. He is convinced that his mother's horror of the place, due to it's macabre history, has compelled him to become somewhat peculiar and that it, to a large degree, has influenced his music: "My music is terribly melancholy - wildly melancholy."

However, it is probably the humour, mainly grotesque, that is most associated with Sæverud. That this humour, and his entire personality, are somewhat distinctive is not in question. His uniqueness in appearance and his music are to such a large extent his own, there is little resemblance to anyone else. Or, as the English conductor Sir John Barbirolli expressed; "Whether you like Sæverud's music or not, there is never any doubt about who has written it, and this can be said about very few composers today".

This originality has marked his work since his debut in 1920. One can attempt to fit his works into different styles and directions. A late-romantic period, which in the beginning of the 1930's culminated in something close to atonal expressionism, lead further into a more neo-classical direction, before a clear national tone can be heard towards the end of the 30's. However, the originality of Sæverud renders this type of style analysis into lightweight and banal descriptions. There are simple features which can, nonetheless, be mentioned as quite characteristic: First and foremost, his sense for simple and clear melody. Sæverud's music moves for the most part in a free tonal sphere, but his tonal language is further enriched by his large use of dissonance. This is often attained through linear voicings, or simply by sounding intervals of seconds. Other characteristics often mentioned regarding his music are his use of harmony in fourths, in addition to variation- and ostinato-techniques.

Much has been written about the self-taught Sæverud. His short time at Staatliche Hochshule Für Musik in Berlin was not very successful - he "found education boring and conventional". His own studies of the important classics have held much more meaning. How he has utilized this, is commented on by musicologist Lorenz Reitan: "His symphonies, for example, are studies in musical form: Thematic/motive development in accordance with the material's own rules and logic. Classic forms such as sonatas and fugue are for him, to a larger extent, overriding principles rather than forms to be filled out, and his circling around musical constructions often gives his music an abstract quality". (Cappelen's Musikkleksikon).

Sæverud's central place in Norwegian and European music has resulted in a number of honorary awards: He has received the State Guaranteed Income for Artists since 1955. He has been an Honorary Member of the music society "Harmonien" since 1957, and has been awarded their Gold Medal. In 1957, he became a Knight in the Order of St. Olav, and 20 years later became a Commander in the same order. In 1979, he received The Norwegian Cultural Council's Honour Award. He has also received awards from Sweden, Finland, Yugoslavia and England.

Harald Sæverud died March 27 1992

Translated by : Palmyre Pierroux
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