Olav Fartein Valen (25 August 1887 – 14 December 1952) was a Norwegian composer, notable for his work in atonal polyphonic music. He develop a polyphony similar to Bach's counterpoint, but based on motivic working and dissonance rather than harmonic progression.
Valen was born in Stavanger, Norway in 1887 into a deeply Christian religious family and maintained his religious beliefs all his life. His parents were missionaries, and he spent five years of his childhood in Madagascar (Vollsnes 2001). In addition to his aptitude for music, he was also a polyglot, mastering at least nine languages. He earned his examen artium with the highest grades in all subjects except mathematics. He loved cats, nature and literature, cultivated roses (even developed an award-winning hybrid), and after losing them in a devastating freeze took up growing cacti.
In 1906, Valen moved to Oslo to study Norwegian literature and language but also took classes with Catharinus Elling (1858–1942) at the Oslo Conservatory of Music, graduating with a degree in organ playing. In 1909 he moved to Berlin to study piano, theory, and composition at the Music Academy with (amongst others) Max Bruch (Vollsnes 2001). While in Berlin, he worked on exercises in both tonal and atonal counterpoint.
In 1916, he returned to Norway and took up residence at his family estate with his mother and sister in Sunnhordland where he started the most productive phase of his career, churning out more than 25,000 piano etudes (though they are not among his official works), while continuing to refine his own dissonant counterpoint. The counterpoint has similarities to that of J.S. Bach and Arnold Schoenberg, though evidence reveals that they were developed independently.
After his mother's death, Valen traveled to Rome and Paris during the 1920s, gaining much inspiration from the wealth of art and architecture there. His work became more controversial among many conservative critics, much to Valen's disappointment. In 1924 he returned to Oslo, and from 1927 to 1936 he worked as a musical archivist at the University of Oslo. In 1935 the government gave him a semi-permanent grant for composers. He quit teaching and moved back to Sunnhordland into the care of his sister and began to compose full-time.
After 1948, his work began to gain greater recognition, both within Norway and outside (Vollsnes 2001). Among others, pianist Glenn Gould became a great admirer of Valen and said at the recording of Valen's Piano Sonata no. 2, "For the first time in many years I have found a looming personality in the 20th-century's music." Valen never married. He died in 1952 in Haugesund.
- Symphony No. 1 Op. 30 (1937–39)
- Symphony No. 2 Op. 40 (1941–44)
- Symphony No. 3 Op. 41 (1944–46)
- Symphony No. 4 Op. 43 (1947–49)
- Orchestral Works
- Pastorale Op. 11 (1929–30)
- Sonetto di Michelangelo Op. 17 No. 1 (1932)
- Cantico di ringraziamento Op. 17 No. 2 (1932–33)
- Nenia sulla morte d'un giovan Op. 18 No. 1 (1932)
- An die Hoffnung Op. 18 No. 2 (1933)
- Epithalamion Op. 19 (1933)
- Le Cimetière marin (Kirkegården ved havet) Op. 20 (1933–34)
- La Isla de las calmas Op. 21 (1934)
- Ode to solitude (Ode til ensomheten) Op. 35 (1939)
- Violin Concerto Op. 37 (1940)
- Piano Concerto Op. 44 (1949–50)
- Chamber Works
- String Quartet No. 0 (without opus number)
- Violin Sonata Op. 3 (1917)
- Trio for violin, cello and piano Op. 5 (1917–24)
- String Quartet No. 1 Op. 10 (1928–29)
- String Quartet No. 2 Op. 13 (1930–31)
- Serenade for wind quintet Op. 42 (1946–47)
- Piano Works
- Legende Op. 1 (1907–08)
- Piano Sonata No. 1 Op. 2 (1912)
- 4 Stücke Op. 22 (1934–35)
- Variations Op. 23 (1935–36)
- Gavotte and Musette Op. 24 (1936)
- Prelude and Fugue Op. 28 (1937)
- Two Preludes for piano Op. 29 (1937)
- Intermezzo Op. 36 (1939–40)
- Piano Sonata No. 2 Op. 38 (1940–41)
- Organ Works
- Prelude and Fugue Op. 33 (1939)
- Pastoral Op. 34 (1939)
- Choral Works
- Psalm 121 Op. 2 (1911)
- Hvad est du dog skiøn, motet for mixed choir a cappella Op. 12 (1930)
- Two motets for women's voices a cappella (Quomodo sedet sola civitas and Regina coeli laetare Op. 14 (1931)
- Two motets for male choir a cappella (O Salutaris Hostia and Quia vidisti me) Op. 15 (1931)
- Two motets for mixed choir a cappella (Etdices in die illa and Deus noster refugium et virtus) Op. 16 (1931–32)
- Kom regn fra det høie, motet for women's voices a cappella Op. 25 (1936)
- O store Konge, Davids Søn, motet for male choir a cappella Op. 26 (1936–37)
- Vaagn op, min Sjæl, motet for mixed choir a cappella Op. 27 (1937)
- Orchestral Songs
- Ave Maria Op. 4 (1917–21)
- Mignon. Zwei Gedichte von Goethe Op. 7 (1925–27)
- Zwei Chinesische Gedichte Op. 8 (1925–27)
- Darest Thou now, o Soul Op. 9 (1920–28)
- La noche oscura del alma Op. 32 (1939)
- Songs for Piano and Voice
- Drei Gedichte von Goethe Op. 6 (1925–27)
- Zwei Lieder, for soprano and piano Op. 31 (1939)
- Zwei Lieder, for soprano and piano Op. 39 (1941)
Fartein Valen Prize
The Fartein Valen Prize is a Norwegian music award in memory of the composer. The Fartein Valen Scholarship (Fartein Valen-stipendet) is an associated Norwegian music scholarship. The prize and scholarship were first awarded in 1999 and 2002, respectively, and are now awarded every two years. Past winners have included Arve Tellefsen and Ståle Kleiberg.
- Vollsnes, Arvid O. 2001. "Valen, Fartein". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Kortsen, Bjarne: Fartein Valen: Life and Music. 3 vols. Oslo: J. G. Tanum, 1965.
- Rapoport, Paul: "Opus est: Six Composers from Northern Europe." New York: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1979, c1978. ISBN 0-8008-5844-1.
- Tjørhom, Ola: Fartein Valen: Vestlandspietist og modernistisk banebryter. Oslo: Genesis Publishers, 2004. ISBN 82-476-0312-8.
- Tjøme, Berit Kvinge: The Articulation of Sonata Form in Atonal Works of Fartein Valen. Unipub 2002. ISBN 82-7477-097-8.
- Biography at the Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound
- List of works by Fartein Valen at the International Music Score Library Project