Norwegian Rhapsodies/Svendsen

August 28, 2009


Johan Svendsen (1840-1911) wrote music at the same time as his fellow Norwegian Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) and while Grieg is a household name in classical music Svendsen is pretty much of an unknown. He actually supplemented where Grieg was less productive as Johan’s instrument was the orchestra: it was the one he knew best and the one he wrote most of his compositions for. He wrote somewhere in the middle of the Romantic period yet form wise much of his material is as that of a classicist. Writing primarily in a major key his work is upbeat and lively, a perfect setting for Norwegian folk material.

The (4) “Norwegian Rhapsodies” were written during the 1876-1877 period of time and are based on themes found in Lindeman’s “Older and Newer Norwegian Mountain Melodies,” material that Grieg also availed himself of for several of his works. In fact Svendsen’s No. 1 Norwegian Rhapsody and Grieg’s No. 3 Symphonic Dance use the same theme from the collection of Lindeman melodies. The 40+ minutes for the (4) rhapsodies are everything one might imagine of country life in Norway. A tranquil setting, folk dancing, a romantic interlude, mountain streams, and picturesque landscape are all things that come to mind when you listen to this music. These are pleasant and easy to listen to with melodies and orchestral arranging showing his strong command.

“Romeo and Juliet” ranks near the top of stories that have been put to music by composers and the Svendsen treatment while not as strong a work as Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, and Prokofiev it still depicts the romance and tragedy of lost love in a short overture. Svendsen wrote this work after the 1st Rhapsody and before the 2nd in 1876. The premiere of the work was only met with mild enthusiasm, perhaps because it wasn’t what audiences really expected.

“Zorahayda” is a true program work, which is based on a Washington Irving story The Legend of the Rose of the Alhambra that tells the story of a Moorish princess and her love for a Christian knight. This is quite the delicate work offering solo violin, oboe, horn and pizzicato from the strings in an easy to listen to style. It seems to be well suited to the slightly smaller size South Jutland Symphony Orchestra. Bjartre Engeset certainly has the feel for conducting Scandinavian type music. His enthusiasm is definitely translated to the recording.

While we couldn’t classify Johan as an unknown composer he is certainly rarely if ever performed. This CD, along with Naxos 8.553898, his two symphonies are ones to be explored. Recommended.


Produced and engineered by Tim Handley

Naxos CD# is 8.570322

Performed by the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bjarte Engeset

Track Listing:

1.… Romeo and Juliet, Op. 18 (12:17)

2.… Norwegian Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 17 (9:13)

3.… Norwegian Rhapsody No. 2, Op. 19 (8:51)

4.… Norwegian Rhapsody No. 3, Op. 21 (9:54)

5.… Norwegian Rhapsody No. 4, Op. 22 (12:18)

6.… Sorehead (12:21)

Total Time is 64:55


2 Responses to “Norwegian Rhapsodies/Svendsen”

  1. […] is pretty much of an unknown. He actually supplemented where Grieg … Read the original:  Norwegian Rhapsodies/Svendsen « Film Music: The Neglected Art Share […]

  2. m.mackenzie Says:

    Access denied to Norway Today.

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