Masinandraina: The mythical past of Fartein Valen

The composer Fartein Valen (1887-1952) is one of Norways best hidden musical secrets. Now a new theatre production will shed new light on his life and music.

Fartein Valen m/hest

By Kyrre Tromm Lindvig

- Valen spent six years of his childhood in Madagascar, in a place called "Masinandraina". This is a mythical and religious place for the Madascans and we used this as a starting point for our theatre piece, Sverre Waage explains.

Waage is both director and writer of the piece, which naturally also incorporates a lot of music. The composer Nils Henrik Asheim has used Valen's music as a point of departure for the compositions that will be performed during the piece.

-It was important for us that the music reflects a certain intercultural exchange. I also used traditional music from Madagascar as an inspiration source, along with Valen's piano pieces, which I think make up some of the best piano music ever written in Norway. The main point however, is that we use both Norwegian and Madagascan musicians, that will improvise on the material that I write. So the music will be a mix of Valen, my scetches and the improvisations of the performers, Asheim tells us.

This intercultural exchange is also reflected in the script itself.

- The point is not to give an exact account of Valen's childhood in Madagascar, rather we use this as an incitement to create a mythical story on the life and work of Valen, Waage explains.

In fact, Valen's life has always been surrounded by a certain mystique. He never received any great amount of acceptance in the Norwegian musical society, he lived alone and spent a lot of his time at his place in Valevåg, a little obscure place at the coast of west Norway. The childhood in Madagascar only contributed to the mystique surrounding him.

So, is it the mystique that surrounds him that has inspired them?

- Well, in many ways, yes. Neither his music nor anything about him as a person is well known. In many ways, it is much easier to make a story out of Valen's life - a popular artist does not leave very much open, it is like everything has been told already, Waage syas.

The play will be a combination of theatre, music and picture. How are these elements going to fit together?

- Each of the elements will be telling parallel stories. The stage setting will represent one aspect of Valen and Madagascar, the actors another, the dancers yet another. It will all fit together like pieces of a cake. And of course, the red thread will be provided by the music, which is the most important element, Waage states.

Composer Asheim agrees:

- Valens music is so strong that it definitely can provide the basis for a whole theatre piece. Remember, Glenn Gould recorded his piano pieces, and that in itself is an indication of Valen's compositional excellence. And even if he was not properly recognized - especially not here in Norway - during his lifetime, the impact he had on other composers was vast, he says.

The first performance will take place on August 6., in Haugesund, before it will be performed in Oslo October 12. and at Rogaland Teater in Stavanger on October 19.
In addition, a European tour, as well as performances in Madagascar are planned for 2005.

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