‘Bommen’. A personal portrait of Kvandal by Arne Nordheim

By the beginning of the 50s there was still a scent of fairytales, of Asbjørnsen and Moe, of Halfdan Egedius and Arne Garborg in the hills of Bærum. The occasional battle cry from Henrik Sørensen could still be heard in the landscape. The train to Slependen station took the novice right back to the golden age in Norwegian music, literature and art. Up the hill, and at the gate to no. 21 in Gyssestadkollen, one suddenly stood at the threshold of the fairy castle Soria Moria.

Anyone who stepped into the castle had to leave his identity in the hallway. A memorable atmosphere prevailed there, and most visitors were given a new name.

David Monrad Johansen sat enthroned by the end of the table in capacity of the Boss. The son, Johan Kvandal, emerged as Bommen, whereas Arne Dørumsgaard – whom I never met – only was referred to as the Digerstupet (huge cliff). I was very fairly given the role as Sværmeren (the Romantic), an identiy I feel that I have lived up to. I order to keep the peace, I will refrain from making any more nicknames public on this occasion. I have become aware that the mastermind behind this naming tradition indeed was Bommen himself – this tribute’s main person.

However, there was no fairytale atmosphere surrounding our first meetings in Nordahl Brunsgate 8, the Music Conservatory – or Konsen.

But Bommen immediately made an impression with his high level of musicality and artistic determination. I found his ‘Song to Stella’ from 1951, based on Wergeland’s poetry, especially impressive, and the Solo Cantata from 1953 to biblical texts. The latter was performed by Kirsten Flagstad, which of course did not make my admiration any smaller. At this time, he bicycled all the way from Gyssestadkollen to Larvik to visit me – Sværmeren. I find this to be the right occasion to make this public knowledge. It bears witness to an endurance and a lucidity, which we, his collegues, later could benefit from, among other things his work in TONO and the Norwegian Composers´ Association. Bommen’s inherent relationship to Norwegian culture, his closeness to it’s history, has made him a glowing keeper of tradition in his environment. Simultaneously, his music reveales a deep insight into technical and esthetic conditions surrounding today’s composition art. In the conflicting relationship between tradition and innovation, I would like to emphasize the richly varied and pretty different works ‘Antagonia’ for two string orchestras from 1973 and the collection ‘Norwegian stev tunes’  from 1974. For me, these two works represent an organic originality together with traditional musical material. They are designed with sublime and confident craftsmanship and a high level of expression related intensity. This makes it a pleasure to come knocking on the door at Soria Moria with a thank you and collegial greeting. On this occasion, as well as later.

by composer Arne Nordheim in Anniversary Tribute to Johan Kvandal on the occasion of his 70th birthday, Norsk Musikforlag