Modernism in Norwegian – interpretation of Finn Mortensen’s piano music in an international perspective

Kristian Thunestvedt Evjen, University of Stavanger, Department of Music and Dance

The Norwegian composer Finn Mortensen (1922-1983) was one of the leading figures in the Norwegian music life during the decades following the Second World War. Both as a composer, as professor of composition and as a leader of Ny Musikk and the Norwegian Society of Composers, he was particularly influential in introducing the internationally leading contemporary music to Norway. This lead to himself and some others turning away from the nationalistic tendencies that had predominately influenced Norwegian composers in the past, and instead they turned their focus towards the most modern musical styles and techniques at the time. As a result, many contemporary and later performers and critics have regarded his music as purely theoretical constructions, overlooking the expressive and aesthetic possibilities this music contains.

In this project, I intend to study and perform the piano works of Finn Mortensen together with the music that inspired him and influenced the direction his compositional processes took. This way, I hope to be able to draw parallels to Mortensen’s music, and explore how these influence the interpretations.

In such a project, there are central aspects that can only be touched upon from a performing point of view, testing and reflecting at the instrument will therefore be a large parts of the work. This project will also require a deep study of not only the music I will perform, but also the performance traditions and the aesthetic and philosophical ideas behind the music. I will therefore study numerous written sources as well as recordings that could influence how we view and perform Mortensen’s music.

It is my goal that this project will lead to a deeper understanding of the music and the musical context of composition, and in that way find a plausible foundation on which to base performances of Mortensen’s music. This, I hope, will help us overcome a pure constructivist view of his music, and lead to more interest in the expressive and aesthetic possibilities. I also hope that, for the first time, making a recording of his complete piano works available, I will make his music better known, and thus contribute to a new evaluation of his music, and challenge and nuance the view of one of Norway’s leading composers.