2001 Fulbright Scholar
David Loberg Code
Western Michigan University

Project Title: Eivind Groven Centennial (1901-2001) and the Groven Piano Project
Institution: University of Oslo, Norway
Dates: January - June 2001

Summary of Fulbright Project:

As a 2001 U.S. Fulbright Scholar, I will be traveling to Norway to continue research on the music and theoretical writings of Norwegian composer and scholar Eivind Groven as part of activities commemorating his centennial anniversary that year. More specifically, I will be studying Groven's theories about tuning systems and the application of these theories to Norwegian folk music and Groven's own compositions and arrangements. In addition to qualitative research, I plan to construct a new kind of acoustic piano modeled after Groven's 36-tone pipe organ. Like the organ, this 'Groven Piano' would incorporate an automatic pitch selection device to allow real-time changes of tuning during performance. This feature would expand the pitch palette of the piano, allowing for more subtle nuances of pitch akin to that experienced by a string quartet or an acappella vocal ensemble. The goal is to have this system operational for participation in concerts and recordings of Groven's works as part of the centennial celebration.

Residency in Norway in 2001:

I will be a Visiting Researcher at the University of Olso's Institute for Music and Theatre for the duration of my Fulbright grant. There are a number of factors which necessitate my residency in Norway for the successful accomplishment of this project. The majority of the resources required to undertake my research can only be studied in person and are only available in Norway. The Eivind Groven Institute, in Oslo, Norway, houses most of Groven's manuscripts, scores, recordings, transcriptions, letters, and most importantly his 36-tone renstemt organ. Additional materials of Groven's are kept at the National Library, Norwegian state broadcasting, and the University of Oslo. The Norwegian Folk Music Collection at the University of Oslo (which Groven help found), also houses a sound archive of folk music recordings, needed in order to compare Groven's arrangements and transcriptions with the original sources. My residency would also provide the invaluable resource of the scholars and musicians themselves with whom I would work.

It is furthermore of vital importance that I be in Norway specifically in the year 2001 in order to take part in activities commemorating Groven's centennial and Myllarguten's bicentennial . In addition to the unique personal opportunity to hear performances of many of Groven's composition, I plan to make a substantive contribution to these activities through lectures and the construction of the Groven piano for use in performances and recordings. Without a viable 36-tone keyboard instrument such as I have proposed, a significant part of Groven's life's work would remain unheard and his centennial commemoration would be incomplete. To ensure that the proposed Groven Piano system can be completed in the time period which I will have available in Norway, I have already begun developing the necessary computer program and plan to test a prototype in the U.S. in fall 2000. Once the Norwegian model is completed on site, it should be available for continued use in Norway even after my return to the U.S.

Arrangements with host country:

I have received letters of invitation from the following scholars and institutions which speak to the importance of Eivind Groven to Norwegian musical culture and indicate their interest in working together with me in 2001:
Gunnar Flåtten, Institute for Music and Theater, University of Oslo
Anne Jorunn Kydland Lysdahl, Music Collection, Norwegian National Library
Dagny Groven Myhren, Eivind Groven Institute for Just Intonation

Personal Qualifications:

I believe that my background makes me uniquely qualified to undertake this project, as is evident from some of my previous publications and presentations. As a music theorist, I have specialized in research on tuning systems, and have studied just intonation with the American composer Ben Johnston. I am, thus, already, familiar with the acoustical, mathematical, and music-theoretical bodies of knowledge (including Groven's theoretical writing) needed to work in this area. I have published and presented papers on Eivind Groven's work and Norwegian folk music, and I have translated articles in this field from Norwegian to English (see Ingstad 1999; Lysdahl 1999). Although not required for this particular award, I requested that a Language Proficiency Form to be submitted on my behalf by University of Oslo professor, Rolf Strandskogen.

In 1998, I was a guest researcher at the University of Oslo and the Eivind Groven Institute for Just Intonation conducting preliminary research for this Groven centennial project. At that time I was also interviewed (live, in Norwegian) on Norwegian National Radio about my work on Groven. Most recently, I organized a proposal for a special session at the multi-society Toronto 2000 music conference, which, if accepted, will involve scholars and performers from both the U.S. and Norway. As a performer, I have a first-hand experience with the music and dance traditions of Norway, and have studied extensively with native Norwegian experts. I not only play both of Groven's primary folk instruments, the hardingfele and seljefløyte, but I am an accomplished folk dancer as well. These abilities are of critical importance to anyone attempting to hear and interpret the complex pitch and rhythmic nuances of Norwegian folk music. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only American who possesses the combination of a theoretical background in musical tuning systems and an experiential familiarity of Norwegian folk music necessary to successfully continue Groven's research.

Dissemination of research:

Eivind Groven is an important figure in Norwegian music history for his compositions, his documentation of traditional folk music, and his scholarly research. Although well-known in Norway, Groven's prolific output has not yet been extensively researched, and his theoretical work is not widely known in the United States. I hope to not only increase the musical community's awareness of Groven, but to make a significant contribution to continuing his research. Because of the wealth of material and subject matter associated with Groven, I expect to produce a number of publishable manuscripts and professional presentations. Possible journals for submission include: Journal of Music Theory, Music Theory Spectrum, Perspectives of New Music, Ethnomusicology, and the Yearbook of Traditional Music.. The construction of the proposed Groven Piano would not only allow for first-time performances of his keyboard works here in the U.S., but a new exploration of all keyboard works. Future projects include recordings made with the Groven Piano. In this regard, I believe the Groven piano is an attainable and worthwhile project in its own right, expanding the pitch resources and capabilities of the acoustic piano, in addition to being an exciting and appropriate way to celebrate the Eivind Groven Centennial.

About Eivind Groven:

Eivind Groven (1901-1977) was a Norwegian composer and musicologist, as well as being highly skilled at playing both the hardingfele (Harding fiddle) and seljefløyte (willow flute). He was unique among Norwegian composers in that he had a first-hand expertise in the advanced tonal, rhythmic and structural characteristics of folk music, and because he possessed outstanding analytical and creative abilities. Groven's major works include two symphonies, a piano concerto, Renaissance (a symphonic poem in five movements), Historical Visions, the suites Symphonic Slåttar 1 and 2, Hjalarljod, From Saga towards Ballad, The Bridegroom, Olav Liljukrans, Margit Hjukse and Dream Ballad (also performed as a ballet). A number of his works have become part of the standard repertoire of contemporary Norwegian music. The overture Hjalarljod , in particular, commissioned for the 900th anniversary of the city of Oslo, has achieved wide-spread popularity; and the principal melody of his first symphony won a competition to become the signature theme for the Norwegian State Radio.

Like Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, Groven was also highly regarded as an ethnomusicologist. Groven collected more than 1,000 recordings of Norwegian folk musicians, and transcribed 1,970 folk tunes, published as part of the seven volume anthology Norsk Folkemusikk: Hardingfeleslåttar. In connection with this, 2001 also marks the bicentennial anniversary of Norway's most famous folk musician and tradition bearer: the hardingfele player known as Myllarguten. Groven shares several ties to Myllarguten not only through his work as a researcher and composer, but also through his own family's folk music lineage via his grandfather, Rikard Berge. The events planned for Myllarguten's bicentennial make 2001 an especially important year for folk music research and will provide a unique opportunity to highlight the connections between these two significant musicians.

With regard to his theoretical work, in 1927, Groven published his thesis Naturskalen (The Natural Scale), a pioneering work in which he examined the use of melodic features of vocal and instrumental folk music that might have been derived from the so-called 'natural' scales and playing technique used on the seljefløyte. The 'natural' scale of the title refers to a system of tuning, called just intonation, which is comprised of acoustically pure intervals from the overtone series. My articles, "The Hardingfele's Unique Scale" (Code 1992a) and "Tuning, Tonality, and the Norwegian Hardingfele" (Code 1992b) are both based, in part, on Groven's Naturskalen. Two of his subsequent works, Temperering og renstemming (Tempered and Just Intonation Tuning, 1948) and Renstemningsautomaten (The Automatic Just Intonation Tuning, 1968), develop an extensive analytical system of harmony based on just intonation, and address the familiar problem of tuning keyboard instruments in just intonation tuning and provide a detailed description of his renstemt organ. A summary of this information is presented in my paper "Quest for the Pure Voice: Eivind Groven's Renstemt Organ" (Code 1999). The application of Groven's theories about tuning can be found in his transcriptions of traditional folk tunes, his own 'classical' compositions, and in the conception and realization of his organ. Following his death, Eivind Grovens Institutt for Renstemming (Eivind Groven's Institute for Just Intonation) was established so that his work in this area could be continued.

About Groven's Organ:

Groven spent much of his life's work striving to expand the pitch resources available to keyboard players. His most noticeable accomplishment in this regard was the construction of a 36-tone pipe organ which can automatically adjust the tuning dynamically during performance. The tuning system used in Groven's organ is based upon just intonation, in which major and minor triads are tuned to acoustically pure thirds and fifths. In the past, the problem with just intonation for keyboard instruments has been that any fixed 12-note tuning was limited to essentially one key. In other words, in order to make the chords used in one key acoustically pure, many of the chords used in other keys would be unacceptably out-of-tune. Historically, there have been essentially two approaches to resolve this dilemma. The most common approach was to modify (or temper) the tuning system so that more chords would be acceptably in-tune. This has resulted in various unequal temperaments, as well as today's standard, 12-tone equal temperament, a compromise in which all chords (and keys) are acceptably in-tune, although none are acoustically pure. A second approach to the problem was to increase the number of keys per octave. These mechanical solutions required not only the construction of new keyboard instruments, but performers willing to learn a new, and sometimes awkward, playing technique.

Groven sought out a solution which would preserve the standard 12-tone keyboard (and keyboardist), yet utilize a larger number of pitches per octave (see Groven 1948; 1968). Groven's organ uses a standard keyboard manual to which each individual key can be connected to one of three possible pipes, each tuned to a slightly different pitch frequency. While the performer plays in the normal fashion, an electronic pitch selector determines which particular pitch variants are required to produce acoustically pure intervals and chords and connects the keyboard manual to the appropriate pipes. The real-time tuning function thus allows for free modulation between different keys, while still preserving just-tuned intervals in all keys. It is also possible to pre-select a fixed set of 12 pipes for the duration of a performance, a feature used by Groven primarily for arrangements of traditional Norwegian folk music based on non-Western scales. Groven built three such organs, the first of which was completed in 1936. Two later versions are still operational and are installed at the Eivind Groven Institute in Oslo, Norway. A few recordings are available demonstrating both classical compositions by Bach and Handel (among others) and Norwegian folk music as realized by Groven's 36-tone organ. Unfortunately, Groven's organ, while still functioning, is no longer acceptable for public performances. As such, a new instrument, such as the one I am proposing, is needed to take part in performances of Groven's works as part of his centennial celebrations. I also plan to arrange for recordings of some of Groven's unrecorded keyboard works.

Proposed 'Groven' piano system:

The general design of the Groven piano system would consist of three basic units similar to the overall design of his organ: 1) an input device (the keyboard manual), 2) a pitch selector, and 3) an output device (e.g., organ pipes, or in this case a set of three player pianos). More specifically, each component of the Groven piano system would be comprised of the following:

1) Input device: piano keyboard
The input keyboard would be a full-length (88-key) piano keyboard from which the performer would play. The input keyboard would not produce its own sound, but would have an electronic output to connect and send the performance data to a computer in a standardized format known as MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). This could be achieved by retrofitting an acoustic piano with player piano system such as the "PDS-128 Plus" by PianoDisc. Yamaha and Baldwin also manufacture acoustic pianos with a similarly MIDI capability built-in. It is of course also possible to use either a digital piano or a synthesizer as the input keyboard, many of which simulate the touch of a mechanical keyboard.

2) Pitch processor: computer program
The input keyboard would send out a MIDI signal which would be fed into a computer. A computer program simulating Groven's electronic pitch selector would determine the appropriate pitches required and output this information via MIDI. Computer programs which simulate aspects of Groven's system have already been written by Jørn K. Arvidsen (1982), Lars Frandsen (1995), Knut-Einar Skaarberg (1995), suggesting that this is a feasible goal. Skaarberg's program, for example, was designed to control the MIDI pitch-bend function of an electronic synthesizer. I am currently working together with Dr. James Steck, a professor of mechanical engineering at Wichita State University, to modify this design to instead route the MIDI output to a set of three acoustic player pianos. Unlike Groven's hard-wired device, the computer program would be easily transportable to allow the Groven piano system to be installed at different locations. Another advantage of the computer program is that it would be possible to experiment with other kinds of pitch selection criteria than those originally employed by Groven.

3) Output device: acoustic MIDI player pianos
The sound-producing component would consist of three separate acoustic MIDI player pianos, each tuned one comma (20 cents) higher than the previous one, following Groven's tuning system. (The pianos can, of course, be tuned to according to other systems as well.) The three pianos combined would result in 36 pitches (strings) per octave, matching the 36 pipes per octaves used in the original organ. Let us say, for example, that the pianist plays a C minor chord on the input piano. Of the three different tunings available for the pitches C, Eb, and G, the computer program may determine that, in order to produce a purely tuned chord, C and G should be routed to player-piano 1 and the Eb to player-piano 2. All three of these pitches would still sound simultaneously as if played on a single piano. Except for the physical tuning of the piano strings, these player pianos would require no special customization. An added feature of using MIDI player-pianos is that performances could be saved on disk or CD-ROM and replayed live exactly like the original performance.

Rationale for a Groven piano system:

1) Eivind Groven's first efforts at building a variable-pitch keyboard instrument were with the piano. After much experimentation, Groven concluded that he would be unable to build a viable piano mechanism, and therefore he turned to the organ instead. Hence, the construction of my proposed piano system would be a realization of one of Groven's early projects.

2) Groven's existing 36-tone pipe organ (in Oslo, Norway) needs to be either repaired, refurbished, or entirely rebuilt. The current automatic pitch selection device is almost 35 years old and does not always function properly. While it may be possible to repair this device, given its out-of-date technology it would be preferable to replace it altogether. Even if a computer program were used for the pitch selection, an additional custom-made device would be needed to interface with the organ pipe relays. Furthermore, the organ itself has only one voice and the pipes are not of the highest quality. The ideal solution would be to build an entirely new organ and pitch selection device. There is neither sufficient time nor funds to achieve this goal in time for Groven's centennial year.

3) Even if Groven's organ were restored to its original condition, its location in a small building on the outskirts of Oslo, Norway limits the exposure of its music. A Groven piano system can be moved and temporarily installed in different venues, such as a concert hall, and thus reach a much wider audience. Since the proposed system relies on commercially available keyboards and hardware (rather than custom-made components), it would be possible to reproduce the piano system in different cities or countries using locally available pianos.

4) While dynamic tuning systems similar to Groven's have been realized using electronic synthesizers (see Skaarberg 1995; Steck 1998), there is, to my knowledge, no one else working on an acoustic solution. While the use of synthesizers is a less complicated and more portable solution, it is aesthetically less desirable for live performance. Especially in the case of traditional classical repertoire, the use of an electronic and/or amplified timbre would detract from the performance and would prevent a fair comparison of the tuning system itself against standard equal-tempered tuning. For ensemble pieces, singers and instrumentalists would prefer to perform with an acoustic instrument, rather than an electronic one. Similarly, most pianists prefer the physical touch, weighting, and control of a mechanical piano keyboard. The purpose of this project is not to create a new electronic instrument to substitute for the piano, but rather to expand the pitch resources of the latter. The fact is that other instrumentalists and singers already use more than 12 distinct pitches. The question Groven attempted to explore was what musical possibilities would exist if pianos could as well.


Aksdal, Bjørn and Sven Nyhus (eds.). Fanitullen: Innføring i norsk og samisk folkemusikk. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget 1998.

Arvidsen, Jørn K. "Eivind Grovens renstemte orgel med automatisk toneoppvalg", Norsk kirkemusikk : 8, 1982

Code, David Loberg. "Piano as...Text," Interface , 20(1), 1991.
_____. "The Hardingfele's Unique Scale," Sound Post, 9(3), 1992a
_____. "Tuning, Tonality, and the Norwegian Hardingfele," paper presentation,Society for Music Theory, Kansas City, Mo, 1992b
_____. "­ [Not Equal]: Feminism, Tuning, and Theory Pedagogy," Theory and Practice, 20, 1995a
_____. "Microtonal Serialism in Ben Johnston's Diversion, paper presentation,Music Theory Midwest, Iowa City, IA, 1995b
_____. "Quest for the Pure Voice: Eivind Groven's Renstemt Organ," paper presentation, Music Theory Midwest, Indianapolis, IN, 1999.

Eggen, Erik. Skalastudier. Kristiania 1932.

Frandsen, Lars . Livsløgnen og drømmen om det fuldkomne. Om anvendelsen af ren stemning i forbindelse med det sūdvanlige 12-tonige klaviatur, med udgangspunkt i Eivind Grovens renstemte orgel, Aalborg Universitet 1995

Grinde, Nils. Norsk Musikkhistorie. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget 1981.

Groven, Eivind. Naturskalen, Skien 1927
_____. Temperering og renstemming, Oslo 1948
_____. "Temperering av tonesystemer", Fra fysikkens verden : 1, Oslo 1948
_____. Renstemmingsautomaten, Oslo 1968
_____. Eivind Groven - Heiderskrift til 70-års-dagen 8. okt. 1971 (Red.: Olav Fjalestad), Oslo 1971

Gurvin, Olav, et. al. Norsk folkemusikk. Serie I. Hardingfeleslåttar, bd.1-7. Oslo.

Ingstad, Helge: Songs of the Nunamiut: Historical recordings and transcriptions of an Alaskan eskimo community. Ed. Sigvald Tveit, transcriptions by Eivind Groven. trans. David Loberg Code. Tanum-Aschlag, Oslo 1998.

Ledang, Ola Kai. "Seljefløyta--eit 'naturetoneinstrument'?" Spelemannsbladet. 30(8), 1971.

Lysdahl, Anne Jorunn Kydland. "I den Gryende Morgentime: Eivind Grovens arbeid med det renstemte orgelet i histroisk og estetisk perspektiv." (English trans. David Loberg Code). Studia Musicologica Norvegica 23, 1997.

Sevåg, Reidar. "Neutral tones and the problem of mode in Norwegian folk music," in Festskrift (Ernst Emsheimes). Stockholm, 1974
_____. "Toneartspørsmålet i norsk folkemusikk," in Fanitullen, Bjørn Aksdal and Sven Nyhus (eds.). Oslo: Universitetsforlaget 1998.

Skaarberg, Knut-Einar. Algoritmer for renstemt klaverinstrument. Hovedoppgave, Fysisk institutt, Universitetet i Oslo, 1995

Steck, James E. and Dean K. Roush, "Dynamic Optimal Tuning of Electronic Keyboards As They Are Being Played," presentation at Acoustical Society of America, Seattle WA, 1998.

More about the Groven Piano Project

David Loberg Code
School of Music
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
Phone: 616.373.6877
Email: code@wmich.edu