Alfred Martin Janson
Alfred Janson can look back on a career of almost 60 years in Norwegian musical life. He made his debut as an accordionist in the Oslo restaurant milieu at the age of 12. He also had work with the Norwegian broadcasting corporation NRK and was offered a European tour, but his mother put a stop to that!
In fact, as a piano teacher, she played an important role in his musical development. His piano debut took place in Oslo in 1962.
As a performing musician he has aroused particular attention in the world of jazz, but diversity is his hallmark. He has himself said that he is interested in almost everything “except Wagner and Viennese operettas”.
Many of the works bear the marks of his background in jazz: among his earliest compositions we find several for a jazz ensemble, like Patrice Lumumba (1961) for piano, bass and drums.
From 1962 he began to compose more scored music. He made a name with works like November 1962 for piano and Cradle Song for 48 Strings and Soprano (1963).
In 1966 his orchestral work Construction and Hymn won a prize for the best non-Dutch work in the composition competition at the Bilthoven Festival. The same year he had his international breakthrough at the ISCM World Music Days with Canon for chamber orchestra and tape.
Other major works that can be mentioned are the ballet Mot Solen (‘Anticlockwise’) (1969), the opera Et fjelleventyr (‘A Mountain Fairyale’) (1972), Prelude for Violin and Orchestra (1975), Interlude for Orchestra (1985), National Anthem (1988) and Life Frieze for cello, choir and orchestra (1999).
It is difficult to fit Alfred Janson into any stylistic pigeonhole. His earlier works were in a modernist idiom, but gradually he moved in a more tonal direction. He is himself proud that Nocturne (1967) for mixed choir, cello, percussion and harp has been described as the breakthrough of ‘the New Friendliness’ in the Nordic countries. He is often spoken of as a modern romantic who has been inspired by both jazz and electronics. His works reflect creative strength, originality and willpower, but at the same time have a light, lyrical undertone.
He has often been inspired by political themes, and is presumably the only Norwegian composer who has managed to provoke a demonstration against a performance at the Oslo Concert hall, because the work in question was a tribute to Arne Treholt, who had been convicted as a spy.
In the more humorously political genre, Valse Triste stands as a milestone – a not entirely uncritical collage based on Norwegian cultural debate in 1970. In the latter genre we should also mention the choral suite Erotical-Political with a text by Arild Nyquist, where he is probably the only composer in the world to use the tempo marking Hambo Lento (the hambo is a traditional Swedish dance in triple time).
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The Norwegian Music Information Centre