Author Topic: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968  (Read 17571 times)

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Offline vandermolen

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Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« on: December 12, 2008, 01:41:40 AM »
I have always rather liked the music of the Icelandic composer Leifs. He had something of a tragic life as one of his daughter's drowned and despite the fact that his first wife was Jewish he was accused (unfairly I think) of Nazi sympathies, as he lived in Nazi Germany.

The Saga Symphony is good and reminds me a bit of Havergal Brian and Carlos Chavez. Not because it sounds much like them but because of the rather uncompromising and craggy quality to the music. 'Geysir' on BIS is especially good and an appropriate introduction to Leifs. There is a good Chandos CD too.

Tears of stone was the title of a film about Leifs.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline Christo

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2008, 03:15:54 AM »
I have always rather liked the music of the Icelandic composer Leifs. He had something of a tragic life as one of his daughter's drowned and despite the fact that his first wife was Jewish he was accused (unfairly I think) of Nazi sympathies, as he lived in Nazi Germany.

The Saga Symphony is good and reminds me a bit of Havergal Brian and Carlos Chavez. Not because it sounds much like them but because of the rather uncompromising and craggy quality to the music. 'Geysir' on BIS is especially good and an appropriate introduction to Leifs. There is a good Chandos CD too.

Tears of stone was the title of a film about Leifs.

I saw Tears of Stone, but didn't like it, as far as I can remember. Leifs as a composer is intriguing enough, though.  :)

In 1999 I even travelled to Reykjavík to look for his traces and meet a few people who had known him. One of them, an Octogenarian composer, Jón Ţórarinsson (born 1917 and still among us) drove me through the town in his American car. I think he disliked Leifs, both as a man and as a composer, but he was too much of a gentleman to say so.
… music is not only an `entertainment’, nor a mere luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual if not of the physical life, an opening of those magic casements through which we can catch a glimpse of that country where ultimate reality will be found.    RVW, 1948

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2008, 03:34:49 AM »
I saw Tears of Stone, but didn't like it, as far as I can remember. Leifs as a composer is intriguing enough, though.  :)

In 1999 I even travelled to Reykjavík to look for his traces and meet a few people who had known him. One of them, an Octogenarian composer, Jón Ţórarinsson (born 1917 and still among us) drove me through the town in his American car. I think he disliked Leifs, both as a man and as a composer, but he was too much of a gentleman to say so.

Fascinating! Thanks Johan.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2008, 12:17:29 PM »
I am very happy to see you starting a thread on Jon Leifs, Jeffrey!

This is something I wrote about Leifs on a previous thread-

"Leifs is a fantastically interesting composer in my opinion!

I suppose that it is partly because I spent two glorious weeks in Iceland last summer that I respond so enthusiastically to his depictions of the amazing natural phenomena of that wonderful, amazing country

Works like 'Hekla', 'Dettifoss', 'Geysir' and 'Haifs' evoke such memories of the dramatic scenery on the island
The Saga Symphony and the Organ Concerto are also favourites of mine.

But he is very loud   You would not want to play too many pieces in succession without running the risk of a headache

The BIS series makes up a splendid collection and is strongly recommended."

If music and scenery go hand in hand, which, in the case of Nordic music, is very much true for me then the music of Leifs and my memories of Iceland are indissolubly linked. I did like Leifs's music before visiting Iceland but it means so much more to me now :)

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2008, 04:21:17 PM »
I am very happy to see you starting a thread on Jon Leifs, Jeffrey!

This is something I wrote about Leifs on a previous thread-

"Leifs is a fantastically interesting composer in my opinion!

I suppose that it is partly because I spent two glorious weeks in Iceland last summer that I respond so enthusiastically to his depictions of the amazing natural phenomena of that wonderful, amazing country

Works like 'Hekla', 'Dettifoss', 'Geysir' and 'Haifs' evoke such memories of the dramatic scenery on the island
The Saga Symphony and the Organ Concerto are also favourites of mine.

But he is very loud   You would not want to play too many pieces in succession without running the risk of a headache

The BIS series makes up a splendid collection and is strongly recommended."

If music and scenery go hand in hand, which, in the case of Nordic music, is very much true for me then the music of Leifs and my memories of Iceland are indissolubly linked. I did like Leifs's music before visiting Iceland but it means so much more to me now :)

Interesting post Colin which I vaguely remember from its earlier manifestation. Yes, you wouldn't want to listen to Leifs for too long.  A work colleague, to whom I lent a Leifs CD, disparagingly described it like listening to someone inflating a paper bag and then bursting it!
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Lilas Pastia

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2008, 08:51:06 PM »
Leifs' big orchestral pieces are as unique as anything from the pen of other originals such as Charles Ives or Havergal Brian. I agre that the BIS series a the best way to sample and understand Leifs' peculiar genius. The combination of deceptively simple and short vocal or small orchestra works with his gargantuan yet concentrated hyper-orchestral showpieces is particularly apt.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2008, 01:26:58 AM »
I agree that the comparison between Leifs and Havergal Brian is an apt one.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline donaldopato

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2008, 05:21:36 PM »
I wrote this in a discussion about Leifs' music in October last year. I love the stuff!

His music is much like his native country; dark, powerful, cold, craggy, volcanic, relentless. It is difficult to categorize. The brutal power is sometimes overwhelming, thus making listening difficult and taking immense concentration. At the same time, the seismic tension of the music make it irresistible.

I have not heard all of Leif's music, just the "Saga Symphony" and the Three String Quartets. All are moving, emotional pieces. Note, since then I have heard a lot more.

The Symphony, based on Icelandic tales and heroes is full of battles, ghosts, glory,supernatural powers and sacrifice. I found it at first almost too much with little respite from the tension and drama. But that same relentlessness means the piece is never boring for sure.

The 3 Quartets span his working life and are each accessible and powerful. The more intimate setting of a quartet means a little less relentless orchestral power but certainly no let up in the emotional content. The second "Vita et Mors" is an elegy for his daughter killed in a swimming accident. The 3rd is a vivid portrait of some of El Greco's works including "Toledo", "Jesus chases the moneychangers from the temple" and the "Resurrection". A mini Pictures at an Exhibition that is every bit as descriptive as Mussorgsky's masterpiece.

I do encourage those who have not checked out Leifs to do so.
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2008, 07:51:05 PM »
I wrote this in a discussion about Leifs' music in October last year. I love the stuff!

His music is much like his native country; dark, powerful, cold, craggy, volcanic, relentless. It is difficult to categorize. The brutal power is sometimes overwhelming, thus making listening difficult and taking immense concentration. At the same time, the seismic tension of the music make it irresistible.

I have not heard all of Leif's music, just the "Saga Symphony" and the Three String Quartets. All are moving, emotional pieces. Note, since then I have heard a lot more.

The Symphony, based on Icelandic tales and heroes is full of battles, ghosts, glory,supernatural powers and sacrifice. I found it at first almost too much with little respite from the tension and drama. But that same relentlessness means the piece is never boring for sure.

The 3 Quartets span his working life and are each accessible and powerful. The more intimate setting of a quartet means a little less relentless orchestral power but certainly no let up in the emotional content. The second "Vita et Mors" is an elegy for his daughter killed in a swimming accident. The 3rd is a vivid portrait of some of El Greco's works including "Toledo", "Jesus chases the moneychangers from the temple" and the "Resurrection". A mini Pictures at an Exhibition that is every bit as descriptive as Mussorgsky's masterpiece.

I do encourage those who have not checked out Leifs to do so.

Good description :)

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #9 on: December 14, 2008, 02:38:23 AM »
As your local Brianic Advisor I'd like to chip in...

Yes, there are similarities between Brian and Leifs. The well-known words 'craggy', 'rugged', 'elemental', 'eruptive' apply to both composer. But I think Leifs exceeds Brian in ruggedness. Brian can be soft round the edges (his Englishness, I suppose), he is more contrapuntal (and counterpoint, to me, has an enveloping effect), whereas Leifs is stark, bare, harsh. I prefer the humanity that still shines through Brian's armour. Leifs wants his music to be like some elemental force, which I can't relate to as easily. I need a human filter. Being naked in a storm is less appealing to me.
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline Christo

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #10 on: December 14, 2008, 02:40:45 AM »
Being naked in a storm is less appealing to me.

I'm not sure about some posters here!  ;)
… music is not only an `entertainment’, nor a mere luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual if not of the physical life, an opening of those magic casements through which we can catch a glimpse of that country where ultimate reality will be found.    RVW, 1948

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #11 on: December 14, 2008, 02:42:55 AM »
I'm not sure about some posters here!  ;)

Let's not go there.  ;D
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #12 on: December 14, 2008, 07:14:16 AM »
I'm not sure about some posters here!  ;)

Not to be recommended indeed ;D

During my fortnight in Iceland in July 2007 I had 12 days of glorious sunshine and 2 days of cloud and some rain. The gods did indeed smile on me ;D

Offline Christo

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #13 on: December 14, 2008, 07:34:38 AM »
Not to be recommended indeed ;D

During my fortnight in Iceland in July 2007 I had 12 days of glorious sunshine and 2 days of cloud and some rain. The gods did indeed smile on me ;D

Hmm. During my stay, also in July, but 1999, apparently more Scottish minded weather gods proved active.  :( I only recall some sort of sunshine during a visit to the Ţingvellir, where the Alţingi started to meet from the 10th century on.  :)

BTT. Who's heard the latest installments in the ongoing BIS cycle, I wonder. I'm especially curious after the ones with Edda I and also the complete Baldr (boasted to a world premiere recording, but it isn't, as I bought a twofer with the piece with the Iceland Youth Orchestra under Paul Zukofsky in 1999 (shown left) in the office of the Icelandic Music Information Centre, somewhere in the northern outskirts of Reykjavík.

… music is not only an `entertainment’, nor a mere luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual if not of the physical life, an opening of those magic casements through which we can catch a glimpse of that country where ultimate reality will be found.    RVW, 1948

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #14 on: December 14, 2008, 07:54:45 AM »
The 'Scottish minded weather gods' are active here; it has rained for three days nonstop :(

Edda I: yes. Baldr: no.

From a review on Amazon-

"I found Edda Part One quite exhilarating throughout its 75 minutes and can't wait for the next discs (two, since part four was not completed). BIS continue to do superb work in promoting Nordic music. My guess is that this is music which will resonate with the part of you that seeks solitude, wide open spaces, and occasionally fantasises about smashing things. If you're looking for seasonal dinner party music, you're on the wrong page. "

I love the quote about "fantasies about smashing things" ;D

There is a more detailed review here-

http://www.amazon.com/J%C3%B3n-Leifs-Creation-World-Hybrid/dp/B000XXW9GC

I heartily endorse what the reviewer has to say :)

Lilas Pastia

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #15 on: December 14, 2008, 09:08:17 AM »
Baldr and Edda: yes. Baldr is typical Leifs.  "A choreographic drama in two acts" lasting some 90 minutes. Scored for  solo tenor, chorus, bells, organ and mega orchestra. It's a string of set pieces that together cohere to form a kind of Cro-Magnon Saga - complete with The Creation of Man, Hurricane, Baldr's Dream, Oathtaking (the high point IMO), Baldr's Cremation and a jaw-dropping concluding Volcanic Eruption and Atonement. Altogether, it works better for me than his other big orchestral work, the Saga symphony.

For some reason Edda failed to leave much of an impression. I'll have to put it back in the player. It may have been one of those nights where I was too tired to concentrate.

Johan, you are right in your assessment of the 'craggy' Leifs, but he wrote many sweet and totally consonant works, most of them in the form of miniatures. Taken as a whole, his oeuvre is very eclectic, almost the work of two very different minds. That's why I like the BIS series that scatter the big 'nature' tone poems (Hekla, Dettifoss, Geysir, Hafis) with these works from 'the other Leifs'.

I also have a disc of icelandic music based on the Edda. It's titled Edda - Myths from Medieval Iceland. In the manner of medieval ballads, with voices, fiddles and lyre. That also contains sections about Baldr: Baldr's Dream and In Memory of Baldr. Obviously the myth was as central to scandinavian people as Tristan or Siegfried were to celtic or saxon ones.

There's another big Baldr work, this time by the Norse Gerr Tveitt: a giant vocal-orchestral work called Baldur's Dream. It also lasts 90 minutes and features soloists, chorus and a large orchestra. Unfortunately I got this from EClassical downloads, but that's a work that cries out for a booklet and without it I'm sure I miss a lot in terms of understanding its structure and of course, the narrative tread. Which reminds me that the Leifs Edda is also a download, with no text or notes. That may account for the dim memories I have of it.
« Last Edit: December 14, 2008, 09:10:18 AM by Lilas Pastia »

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #16 on: December 14, 2008, 09:49:31 AM »
Thanks, Johan, Colin and André. I have the Saga Symphony, Hekla and Hafis, but I don't know Baldr. I am listening to a sample right now on eMusic (Volcanic Eruption and Atonement - I don't know why I find that title mildly humorous...) I like it.
« Last Edit: December 14, 2008, 09:51:37 AM by Jezetha »
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #17 on: December 14, 2008, 04:11:52 PM »
Baldr and Edda: yes. Baldr is typical Leifs.  "A choreographic drama in two acts" lasting some 90 minutes. Scored for  solo tenor, chorus, bells, organ and mega orchestra. It's a string of set pieces that together cohere to form a kind of Cro-Magnon Saga - complete with The Creation of Man, Hurricane, Baldr's Dream, Oathtaking (the high point IMO), Baldr's Cremation and a jaw-dropping concluding Volcanic Eruption and Atonement. Altogether, it works better for me than his other big orchestral work, the Saga symphony.

For some reason Edda failed to leave much of an impression. I'll have to put it back in the player. It may have been one of those nights where I was too tired to concentrate.

Johan, you are right in your assessment of the 'craggy' Leifs, but he wrote many sweet and totally consonant works, most of them in the form of miniatures. Taken as a whole, his oeuvre is very eclectic, almost the work of two very different minds. That's why I like the BIS series that scatter the big 'nature' tone poems (Hekla, Dettifoss, Geysir, Hafis) with these works from 'the other Leifs'.

I also have a disc of icelandic music based on the Edda. It's titled Edda - Myths from Medieval Iceland. In the manner of medieval ballads, with voices, fiddles and lyre. That also contains sections about Baldr: Baldr's Dream and In Memory of Baldr. Obviously the myth was as central to scandinavian people as Tristan or Siegfried were to celtic or saxon ones.

There's another big Baldr work, this time by the Norse Gerr Tveitt: a giant vocal-orchestral work called Baldur's Dream. It also lasts 90 minutes and features soloists, chorus and a large orchestra. Unfortunately I got this from EClassical downloads, but that's a work that cries out for a booklet and without it I'm sure I miss a lot in terms of understanding its structure and of course, the narrative tread. Which reminds me that the Leifs Edda is also a download, with no text or notes. That may account for the dim memories I have of it.

Hmmm......I had forgotten about the Tveitt! I remember considering buying the 2 cd set when it was released by BIS. Oh dear...more expense!!

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #18 on: December 16, 2008, 02:30:16 AM »
I have a CD of Edda Part 1 "The Creation of the World". It is very powerful stuff with some great moments (Part 8 Night/Morning) but at 75 minutes it does have some longeurs. Cumulatively I think that the sum is greater that the parts. In this respect it reminded me a bit of Hilding Rosenberg's epic choral symphony No 4: St John the Divine. It is certainly worth investigating and I expect that I will like it more with increased familiarity.
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Offline Tapkaara

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Re: Tears of Stone: Jon Leifs 1899-1968
« Reply #19 on: July 21, 2009, 09:11:35 AM »
Leifs is really interesting.

I can see the comparisons between Leifs and Brian based on that monolithic, craggy, "force of nature" sound. But Brian, not the most melodic of composers, is certainly more of a melodist than Leifs! This makes Leifs a composer I can;t spend a whole day listening to, but taken in the appropriate smaller chunks, he's great!

The Saga Symphony is a very good work with some LOUD percussion. I'm a bog fan of his Organ Concerto. It is one of the angriest works I have ever heard. I really can a feel a sort of seething rage in it.

The latest BIS disc, the first installment of the Edda, was not all that impressive to me. The music is very repetitive with little contrast between sections. Did anyone else get this same feeling?
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