Ole Kristian Ruud: Harald Sæverud Symphony 4, Stavanger Symphony

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Conducted by Ole Kristian Ruud with the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra.

Harald Sæverud was born in Bergen and got his basic music education at the local conservatory where his teacher was the Leipzig-educated composer Borghild Holmsen. During his conservatory years he began working on what would become his first symphony, outlined as two large symphonic fantasies. The first fantasy was completed in 1919 and was accepted for performance in Kristiania (later Oslo) in 1920. It revealed an extraordinary talent and gained him a scholarship for further studies at Staatliche Hochschule für Musik, where Friedrich Koch was his teacher for two years. In Berlin, Sæverud completed the final part of his first symphony, and this new section was premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The performance was conducted by his friend Ludwig Mowinckel, who had hired the orchestra to present a concert dedicated to modern Norwegian music. The critics were mostly favorable to Sæverud's symphony, and this further raised his interest for symphonic and orchestral music.

Harald Sæverud moved back to his hometown of Bergen in 1922, where he stayed - with few exceptions - for the rest of his life. His earliest compositions are coloured by a late Romantic musical style, but later he developed a personal idiom, often based on classical forms inspired by composers like Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But his neo-classicism could often possess dissonant and strong expression. How he has utilized this, is commented on by musicologist Lorentz 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".

In the 1930s Harald Sæverud and his American-born wife Marie Hvoslef built a magnificent mansion on the outskirts of Bergen. It was named "Siljustøl," and the family moved there in 1939. The composer came now into close contact with nature, which had a very strong impact on him and his compositions. His compositions turned towards a more Norwegian and "greener" style. In 1940 Nazi Germany invaded Norway. From this point, Sæverud's compositions became weapons against the occupying army. His main compositions from the period are the three "War-symphonies": nr. 5, Quasi una fantasia, nr. 6 Sinfonia Dolorosa and nr. 7. Psalm. Also from this period comes his direct protest against the Nazis: Ballad of Revolt in versions for both piano and orchestra. In contrast to these strong compositions he also shaped a number of lyric piano pieces inspired by nature and Norwegian folk music (he never borrowed directly from folk music) published in collections called Tunes and dances from Siljustøl and Easy pieces for piano.

Harald Sæverud was widely famous for his humour, mainly of a grotesque kind. "I was born on a graveyard," he said, and it is a fact that the ground under the house where he was born was both a former graveyard and a place of execution. He was convinced that his mother's nightmares there had influenced both him as a person and composer: "My music is terribly melancholy - wildly melancholy." Besides his humour, his uniqueness as a composer is palpable. The English conductor Sir John Barbirolli said: "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".