Concert Blog

Folk Impressions

Transformations of Folk Music from the North

Folk songs from Norway and the Hebrides are transformed into impressionistic pieces for solo piano by composers Agathe Backer-Grøndahl, Alf Hurum, and Marjory Kennedy-Fraser in this recital by Steven Luksan.

Friday, September 30th @7pm

Music Center of the Northwest

Seattle, WA

Saturday, October 1st @7pm

Des Moines United Methodist Church

Des Moines, WA


Agathe Backer-Grøndahl: Selections from Norwegian Folksongs and Dances, opus 30 & 33

Alf Hurum: Norrøn Suite (Old Norse Suite)

Marjory Kennedy-Fraser: Piano Lyrics from the Hebrides, Books I-IV

Program Notes

Agathe Backer-Grøndahl:

Selections from Norwegian Folksongs and Dances, opus 30 & 33

Agathe Backer-Grøndahl (1847-1907) was the foremost Norwegian pianist of her generation. Edvard Grieg eulogized her, saying "no artist has ever walked purer paths than she. I loved her solemn idealism. It had its unique charm. If a mimosa could sing, its sounds would be like her loveliest and tenderest music.”

Like Grieg, Grøndahl took a strong interest in the folksongs and folkdances from her native land. Norway, which was fighting for independence from foreign rule, witnessed a renaissance of homegrown culture during the second half of the 19th century, and Grøndahl's adaptations of folktunes are right at home in this cultural movement.

In these pieces you'll feel the incessant rhythmic drive of the halling (a dance with two beats per measure traditionally danced by agile young men) and the springar (a couples' dance in triple meter) along with the haunting sounds of traditional bådnlåt (lullabies).

Alf Hurum:

Norrøn Suite (Old Norse Suite)

Alf Hurum (1882-1972) was one of the most promising Norwegian composers of his generation, but his life took him to unexpected places. Studying in Berlin, Paris, and St. Petersburg, Hurum blended influences from Grieg, Debussy, and Stravinsky, to create a uniquely Norwegian response to the new musical aesthetics of the 20th century.

However, in the 1920s Hurum decided to shift his focus to the visual arts. He moved to Honolulu and spent the rest of his life painting using techniques learned from Chinese and Japanese artists. In the second half of his life, he composed just one song.

The Norrøn Suite on this program is comprised of 7 movements and is based on old Norse folk tunes. Stravinsky's exploration of ancient pagan themes in Rite of Spring clearly had an impact on Hurum's desire to bring ancient Norse melodies to life. However, due to Hurum's love of French impressionism and Grieg's compositions, his melodies feature a much softer edge than those of Stravinsky.

Marjory Kennedy-Fraser:

Piano Lyrics from the Hebrides, Books I-IV

Marjory Kennedy-Fraser (1857-1930) was a Scottish pianist, singer, and teacher who took a great interest in the revival of Celtic culture and in the preservation of folk music in the Hebrides islands. For years she travelled around the Hebridean Archipelago, recording on wax cylinders the singing of the local population. She later created her own interpretations of these songs in a style influenced by the Romantic and Impressionistic music popular on the Continent.

The 12 folksongs featured on this program represent all aspects of daily life in the Hebrides. Included among the selections are work tunes, religious songs, songs representing the fairies and sacred Druid spirits, and even a song originally sung by pirates!

Meet the performer:

Steven Luksan

Steven Luksan is a composer, pianist, and educator making music in Seattle, WA, USA. Steven is an advocate for the performance of new and uncommon compositions (especially those by Scandinavian composers and women composers), and for the performance of chamber music in intimate settings. He is the founder and artistic director of the Saltwater Music Series (Des Moines, WA), a concert series dedicated to performances of local and off-the-beaten-path chamber music.

Steven Luksan is on the faculty of Music Center of the Northwest, a teaching artist at Seattle Opera, and is the accompanist for the Norwegian Male Chorus of Seattle. He currently serves as Composer-in-Residence with the Northwest Edvard Grieg Society.

Steven received a Master’s Degree in Music Composition from the University of British Columbia and Bachelor’s Degrees in Music and Norwegian Language from the University of Washington. Since age 6, Steven has written music for solo piano and for ensembles of all sizes, from symphony orchestra to solo flute. His compositions have been performed throughout the USA, as well as in Canada, Norway, Spain, and Taiwan.