Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Scandinavian Music

Last September, my best friend’s husband treated us to an old school hip hop concert. The music immediately took me back in time to when I was 15, basking in the sunshine at Laguna Beach, daydreaming about life after high school, with hip hop tunes blaring out of my boombox. Music owns such power, taking us to another time and place, evoking strong memories.

A few years from now, when I look back to the beginning of my growing infatuation with Nordic culture, I will hear the music of Scandinavia’s most famous classical composer, Edvard Grieg. I feel like I am floating over the clouds when I listen to Grieg’s “Morning,” (which he wrote for the Henrik Ibsen play Peer Gynt) “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen," (Troldhaugen was Grieg‘s Norwegian villa) “ In the Hall of the Mountain King” (which his bio says was his least favorite work) and “The Holberg Suite” (a romantic piece). I see Scandinavia when I hear Grieg’s music. It makes me smile. It makes me want to go running alongside Strandvägen on the Stockholm waterfront. Or ride a bike across the city, or kayak around the small island of Djurgården (home to parklands, a few museums and an amusement park), or meander through the flower market on Gamla Stan (Stockholm’s old town).

Prior to writing this story, the only Nordic classical composers I was familiar with came from outside of Sweden: Grieg, from Norway, and Jean Sibelius, from Finland. So I made a point of tracking down some music from one of Sweden’s most famous composers and got my hands on some of the works of Hugo Alfvén, his Symphony Number 4 and his most famous piece, “Midsommarvaka,” the first of his 3 Swedish Rhapsodies.

Alfvén wanted his 4th symphony to make the listener visualize the landscape of the Stockholm archipelago, a much beloved summer vacation spot for Swedes. While I find the piece to inspire images of the setting in which he grew up, my attention span for 1 song usually lasts for up to 10 minutes, and then it's gone. To really appreciate such long pieces, I feel I would need the actual visuals of a ballet, opera or a play to go along with them. His 3rd piece in Symphony Number 4, also known as “The Outermost Skerries,” lasts 19 minutes.

As for his lively piece "Midsommarvaka," I love it! Midsommarvaka was actually featured on "The Simpsons" tv show, erroneously depicting Danish culture. Midsommarvaka conjures up images of summertime in Sweden, being outside, celebrating the long days with family and friends.

Classical, jazz and (positive-message) hip hop are my favorite genres of music. I haven't had the chance to listen to any Swedish hip hop yet, but I had fun dancing to American hip hop at Stockholm's Spy Bar last summer. Stockholm is home to a big hip hop community. Wikipedia lists 70 hip hop artists in Sweden, most of them in Stockholm, with more than half of the artists performing in Swedish. Sweden's first generation of hip hop artists in the 1980's only rapped in English. Sweden's second generation of hip hop artists began rapping in Swedish in the mid 90's, influenced by American, British, French, Japanese and Danish hip hop.

Jan Johansson is said to be one of Sweden's most famous jazz musicians. I can't say I've heard his music, yet. One jazz song in Swedish that has me tapping my toes is The Delta Rhythm Boys' version of "flickorna i småland." I first heard this song while watching the Norwegian and Swedish movie "Salmer fra Kjøkkenet." The Delta Rhythm Boys were a popular American group in the 1950's who turned many Swedish folk songs into jazzy tunes.

Nordic roots music now plays in regular rotation on my Ipod. Nordic roots combines modern influences with Nordic folk music. Garmarna (Swedish), Värttinä (Finnish), Wimme Saari (Modern Yoik, Yoik is traditional Sámi music) and Hoven Droven (Swedish), make my list of favorite Nordic roots musicians.

And how could I end this blog entry without mentioning ABBA. Of course I like ABBA. Especially Mamma Mia and Dancing Queen.

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