Ingfrid Breie Nyhus-1 foto Geir Dokken.jpg

Tracing the traditional

Pianist Ingfrid Breie Nyhus has recorded three albums of piano pieces inspired by Nordic folk music. All the recordings combined display the results of three years of work as an artistic research fellow at the Academy.

The first album takes a contemporary perspective; Nyhus has commissioned works form several composers. – I wanted to generate some new pieces in the Norwegian style of piano music inspired by traditional tunes, and see how composers would carry out this challenge today, she says.

The second album relies on classical interpretations of traditional music. Playing a neoclassical piece, “Villarkorn” by composer Olav Kielland, Nyhus has recorded a piece that uses many references to Nordic folk music. The last recording takes the perspective of Nordic folk music. Nyhus’ has arranged peasant dances – slåtter traditionally played by the fiddle – for the piano. The newest album is named Slåttepiano.

Dancing piano

Can you describe your approach to arranging these traditional dances for the piano?

"I’ve been exploring the framework for solving this problem for a while. Looking in the transference between the instruments – the Hardanger fiddle and the piano – which possibilities and impossibilities could I find there? It takes so much alteration just to translate the slått into a piano piece – other references and associations automatically come to mind. Sometimes the tempo has to change radically for it to work, or the motif at the base of the music would get a whole different colour. I have listened to lots of fiddle players, and tried to find a personal understanding of the core of the music. If I understand the core of the slåtter I can use it to create a way to play them on the piano."

"I chose the same pieces as Edvard Grieg used for his opus 72 of peasant dances arranged for the piano. But this time Grieg is absent. You might say it is Grieg subtracted from Grieg – but on the other hand, it is just traditional music played on the piano. Slåtter, as they would sound when translated for world of the piano."

The piano as a folk music instrument

Some might say that the piano is not a folk music instrument, and wonder whether it is possible to play Nordic folk music on the piano. Which conclusion have you arrived at?

"Yes, there might be a value to playing the slåtter on the piano – the value might be to play them in such a way that they remain folk music. Not to add more just because the instrument is larger, and not to force the interpretation just because classical piano interpretation traditionally has more expressivity, but strip away everything that might deprive the music of its status as Nordic folk music. I have asked, “What is this tradition to me?” And then I have tried to immerse myself so deeply into the answer that it wold come to me again when I sit at the piano."



Photo by Felipe Ferraria 

Traditions at stake

Nyhus grew up with folk music and received an education in classical music. Her project as an artistic research fellow tries to see these two performance traditions in light of each other. She will complete her project this spring.

Both traditions entail performance and interpretation of inherited musical material. When performing piano music inspired by traditional music, she has tried to include approaches from both traditions. This has created space and inspired contemplation on the pianist aesthetics. 

Accepting simplicity

"Accepting simplicity has been my motto, and I have stuck to it. I have practiced traversing the classical idioms of piano playing. I have looked for dryness and nearness instead of brightness and richness. What is the opposite of a polished sound, and which qualities can I find there?"

Ingfrid Breie Nyhus gave the premiere performance of Asbjørn Schaathun’s piano concert Nations with the Oslo philharmonic orchestra this March.

Last updated: 6. April 2016