Torleiv Bolstad, hardingfele
National Library of Norway NFS-4
1. Store Saelmen, springar; 2. Nils i Rudningen, bonde; 3. Springar etter Okshovd; 4. Siste låtten Krosshaugen let, lydarlatt; 5. Likferdssaelmen åt Joma, springar; 6. Springar etter Torger Hegge; 7. Hailing; 8. Store Skoltin, springar; 9. Springar etter Ulrik i Jensestogun; 10. Bestefarlåtten, springar; 11. Lydarlatt etter Ola Okshovd; 12. Den lange låtten, lydarlatt; 13. Ein ta systerlåtto, springar; 14. Gamal bonde; 15. Jålin, springar; 16. Forespel og Skatrudbergen, springar; 17. Lydarlått etter Ola Okshovd; 18. Springar som Okshovd kom på; 19. Latten hass Knut nie garde på Dale, springar; 20. Latten som ho Gamle-Guro på bakka hulla forr ein tobakksfjerding, hailing; 21. Ola i Volbu, masurka; 22. Reinlender; 23. Karl Fant-vals; 24.Gamle Anne Vik, springar; 25. Ukserauten, lydarlatt; 26. Flethaugen, hailing; 27. Springar på Ijosblatt; 28. Jernrengja, springar; 29. Sumarkveld i Jotunheimen, lydarlatt.Torleiv Bolstad was a Hardanger fiddle-player from Valdres, an inland region in the south of Norway and one of the main centres of the tradition. This CD release marks the centenary of his birth (he died in 1979) and, given that he is considered to be one of the finest exponents of the Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele) to have come from Valdres, it is no surprise to find that it showcases some great playing.
Despite the influx and popularity of dances and dance music originating elsewhere in Europe, the older Norwegian forms such as springar, halling, gangar and bonde have continued to hold their own in regions such as Telemark and Valdres. It is these more indigenous styles which predominate on the CD, but it was Bolstad's belief that fiddle-players from Valdres should also play a wider range of material such as waltzes, schottisches, mazurkas and reinlenders. Referred to collectively as gammeldans (rather confusingly meaning 'old dance') these new kids on the block became common in much of Norway, sometimes played alongside the older styles, but to this day there are pockets of traditionalism where Bolstad's liberal view would hold little water. Listening to the first half of the CD, one is drawn into exquisite renditions of traditional hardingfele material with a wealth of wonderful and hypnotic springars, which makes the appearance at tracks 21 and 22 of a mazurka and a reinlender come as something of a shock to the system due to their sheer normality. It serves to accentuate just how unique is the character of the older Norwegian fiddle music.
There are a number of factors which contribute towards making hardingfele music such an idiosyncratic form. Firstly there's the unique sound of the fiddle itself with its resonating sympathetic strings and the various tunings to which it is subjected. The structure of the music has little in common with the strophic basis of much European folk music and instead tends to begin with a short melodic motif which is then repeated, usually twice, before introducing a variation, itself then repeated and so on. Apparently Torleiv Bolstad chose to undermine this practice by introducing variations on the first repeat of a phrase, though this may be seen to reflect the fact that whilst the Norwegian fiddle tradition has proved itself to be durable, the expectation that a top-rate player will introduce changes is also built into that tradition. The rhythmic pulse of the music, in particular that of the springar, is something else which has little in common with music beyond Norway's borders. The springar has a triple-time rhythm whose three beats vary in length from one valley to another, often to a quite subtle degree which cannot be specified using conventional notation. The Valdres springar is unusual in that each bar begins with a short beat, followed by two longer ones and this pulse can be heard in Bolstad's foot-stamping as he plays.
The complex musical structure of much hardingfele music can be initially perplexing to the uninitiated (particularly in older recordings where fiddlers were expressly discouraged from tapping the pulse with their feet) but for me the mark of a fine player is one who can bring to it a sense of clarity and coherence, and this is certainly the case with Bolstad. In the melodic detail of much of the music there are often two parts, which may then swap roles and subsequently become intermingled. In other musical forms one might expect these two parts to be shared between two players, but here it divides between the upper and lower strings. In a lesser player this two-part aspect can sound a muddle; in Bolstad's hands the music makes complete sense.
Although most of the music played on the hardingfele is intended for dancing, there is also a tradition of fiddlers playing lydarlått or listening tunes, to play when the dancers need a break and also to allow the musicians to be appreciated in their own right. The celebrated nineteenth century fiddler Myllargutten was said to have sometimes added extra beats into his dance tunes so people would have to stop dancing and listen to his artistry. The lydarlått also gives the fiddler a chance to try out other, perhaps more expressive or poetic ideas without the need to keep a strict tempo. Several of these listening tunes feature on the CD and they are perhaps even more relevant to a modern audience, listening to recordings at home or hearing the music in a concert.
The Norwegian folk tradition has become linked closely with a network of regional competitions or kappleikaras well as an annual national competition, the landskappleik. Torleiv Bolstad won many local competitions and won the landskappleik on four different occasions, 1946, 1957, 1970 and 1971, yet according to the CD's comprehensive sleeve notes, most of which have been translated into English, he was beset by a lack of self-confidence and a feeling of inadequacy. We are also told that he had broad musical taste and an esoteric interest in synaesthesia, associating different colours with different musical keys. An important figure within Norwegian traditional music he was never a widely known name internationally or even within Norway to the extent of a man like Sigbjørn Bernhoft Osa, but his contribution was considerable and this CD stands as a testament to that. Although his name was Torleiv, the album is given the title "Tølleiv", the dialect pronunciation. According to convention a hardingfele player will wear a regional costume or bunadfor a public appearance. Breaking with that convention, the cover of the CD has a colour photo of a smiling Bolstad playing his beautiful instrument while dressed in a fetching black beret and grey plastic mac!
Mike Adcock - 26.11.15
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