Tomorrow, on the 2nd of April, it is 217 years since the Danish Fairytale king Hans Christian Andersen was born. The Canadian composer Jan Järvlepp has composed music to three of Andersen’s fairytales, which will be launched by Navona records on his biethday. We asked the Canadian composer why he honors the Danish fairytale king.
“it all started when the founding artistic director of the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, Julian Armour, asked me in 2005 to compose some children’s music for a concert the next summer. Although I didn’t really want to do that since I had been composing a series of quintets for the festival, I decided to rise to the challenge and see what I could do. So, I went to the local bookshop (remember those?) and found mostly copyrighted Hollywood stuff like SpongeBob SquarePants and Spiderman.
Related: New Hans Christian Andersen Museum
Andersen’s stories resonated musically with the composer
In order to avoid copyright problems, I decided to go with classic texts and ended up buying stories by Andersen (the Mrs. H. B. Paull translation), the Grimm Brothers and 1,001 Nights. I read about 35 Andersen Stories and found three which resonated with me musically.
Julian and I successfully applied to the City of Ottawa for an arts grant and with that I composed music for The Little Match Girl. I felt that I was on a roll so I decided to do a couple of more lively stories to complement this sad tale. The stories were successfully premiered at the 2006 festival with two narrators and a string quintet. That was followed by a couple of performances in Finland by the Mikkeli orchestra and a Finnish actor telling the stories in Finnish.
Related: Two of Denmark’s Famous Sons
Fortunately Navona Records got interested in this project so the string orchestra part was recorded in Ostrava, Czechia by the Janacek Philharmonic orchestra conducted by Stanislav Vavrinek. I attended by Skype as this was done during the period of corona mania. Unfortunately, I had to get up at 2:30 a.m. to be ready, coffee in hand, for the 3:00 a.m. start time, which is a reasonable 9:00 a.m. in Czechia.
I also attended remotely the voiceover recording, which took place in Burbank, California using the veteran narrator Rob Dean, who has recorded about 1,000 audio books. Then, the whole project was mixed in Czechia and released from New Hampshire, USA where the cover art and booklet design were created.”
Related: Fairytale Castles in Denmark
Bob Denn is the storyteller of three Hans Christian Andersen fairytales; The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Little Match Girl and The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Composer Jan Järvlepp
Composer Jan Järvlepp began playing pop guitar at the age of 12 and took up cello in high school at the age of 14. He also learned to play bass guitar and harmonica at this time. In university he majored in composition while developing his cello playing skills. As his studies progressed, he realized that he was not on the same wavelength as his modernist composition teachers.
Järvlepp delved deeper and deeper into the world of pop-influenced contemporary “classical” composition. He has completely turned his back on the avant-garde modernism that he was rigorously trained in to concentrate on the emerging neo-tonal style. He has also taken an interest in Hispanic, flamenco, Arab and Nordic folk styles. The result has been a variety of accessible pieces of music that appeal to a surprisingly wide cross section of the public. At times Järvlepp employs unusual combinations of instruments that have not previously been heard in the world of classical music. He has composed over 80 works for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, orchestra and electronic instruments.
Canadian Composer Honors the Danish Fairytale King, based on Järvlepp’s website as well as email conversation between the composer and Tor Kjolberg.