Sunday, March 13, 2016

Johan Halvorsen

Johan Halvorsen was a Norwegian violinist, conductor, teacher, and composer born (in Drammen, Norway) on March 15, 1864.  He was the kind of violinist we do not encounter anymore.  We have lots of violinists who are also conductors and teachers – Joshua Bell, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman, Jaime Laredo, Maxim Vengerov, and Leonidas Kavakos quickly come to mind – but no violinist-composers.  Although he composed many other works, Halvorsen will probably remain immortal due to his having composed one of the staples of the cello-violin (or viola-violin) repertoire – the famous variations on a theme by Handel.  After having studied in Oslo and Stockholm, he began his career as a concertmaster in Norway (1885) and Scotland (1888.)  He began his studies at age seven.  Later on, his teachers were Jakob Lindberg (in Stockholm), Adolph Brodsky (in Russia), Adolf Becker (in Berlin), and Cesar Thomson (in Switzerland.)  In 1889, he was appointed professor of violin at the Helsinki Music Institute.  In 1893, he was appointed conductor of the Bergen (Norway) Philharmonic.  He was 29 year old.  In 1899, he was appointed conductor of the National Theater in Oslo.  By this time, he had established himself as one of the top musicians in Norway.  He remained at the National Theater until 1929, the year he retired.  During this period, he composed a lot of incidental music for plays as well as concert music.  The famous Passacaglia was composed in 1897 although he later revised it several times.  In 1909, he wrote a violin concerto (Opus 28) which he dedicated to Canadian violinist Kathleen Parlow.  After she premiered it (in the Netherlands) and played it a couple of times in Norway, the concerto was lost.  After that, it was believed to have been destroyed by Halvorsen although that was not the case.  In January of 2016, it was announced that the score had been discovered (by James Mason) among sheet music which had been donated to the University of Toronto many years before.  It had been misfiled.  The concerto will receive its 21st century premiere in July of this year – in Norway.  The soloist will be Henning Kraggerud.  Johan Halvorsen died on December 4, 1935, at age 71. Here is a video of the Passacaglia.