Alfred and Mattias Bismo - CD
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Alfred and Mattias Bismo
Fele (Ta:lik)

The twin brothers Bismo were born in 1918 in Bismo, Skjak, Norway. This CD includes 27 tunes recorded by NRK (Norwegian national radio) in the 1970s and 80s.

Notes from the recording:
Alfred og Mattias Bismo

The twin brothers Alfred and Mattias Bismo were born September 28, 1918, at Bismo in Skjåk township. Their father was a carpenter, whom many called the wheelwright. He made carts and wagons, but he was also the local coffin maker. Alfred and Mattias had two older brothers.

The two small boys showed an early interest in music. The first fiddle came to their home as payment for a bookcase. Later Alfred and Mattias got fiddles for themselves. They earned good wages hunting squirrels with a muzzle-loading gun and thus were able to acquire instruments. [Alfred Bismo]

Many people found their way to the carpenter in Bismo, including farmers and others. Lively conversations took place on all kinds of topics. Some visitors were construction workers, others had come home from America. One of these was the fiddler Hans Skamsar. A childless couple came from America and had bought a neighboring farm. They took in old folks and people who needed care who earlier would have gone on relief. At this home for the aged, traveling lay preachers saw a working sphere for their ministrations and songs. But there were also a couple of old folk musicians. One was called Ola Gjerdet, the other was Ola Banken. Ola Gjerdet had lived many years in Sunnmøre and was well known for his double stops and playing in position on the fiddle. He recalled from his early years the great fiddler from his village, Fel-Jakup, who died in 1876. Emil Bruheim, who was fifteen years older than the Bismo twins, had learned tunes from the two old folk musicians, which he in turn could impart to others.

Every Sunday Rolv Skjåkøygard came to visit the family in Bismo. He was hard of hearing and could be difficult to understand when he talked. He had developed his own musical language, which he conveyed through his own pieces on the fiddle. Compositions inspired by nature he introduced verbally with some talk about the tunes and perhaps an appeal to a higher power. Music that was met by many with laughter was met with respect in the Bismo home.

The Jakup tradition in Skjåk—Rikkar Skjelkvåle
A beloved guest a couple of times a year was Rikkar Skjelkvåle (1890–1976). He was a big farmer in Skjåk and also had extensive business in other parts of the country. Rikkar was a fiddler and also made concert tours. He left to his wife the practical aspect of the trips to the carpenter workshop at Bismo, and Rikkar himself searched out the two fiddle-happy young boys. In 1982, in a recording, Alfred and Mattias told about their upbringing. When Rikkar came, usually in the morning, the three of them went to the cookhouse and fiddled all day; their age difference meant nothing. Despite their differences in other domains, the relationship between them and Rikkar would last for life.

Their musical relationship went deeper than their political differences. When the Second World War broke out, Alfred and Mattias were 21 years old. During the occupation both were active in the resistance. Moreover, Alfred was a member of the Communist party. Their friend and role model from their childhood years, Rikkar Skjelkvåle, had strong contrasting views, although he was not a member of the Norwegian Nazi party.

The composer David Monrad Johansen had stood in high favor among many who pursued folk music. But during the occupation he was one of those whose reputation was tarnished. For a long time he had had a close friendship with Rikkar Skjelkvåle. One day in 1946 Rikkar looked up Alfred Bismo and asked if the two of them could take some action together to help Monrad Johansen. Rikkar said—Alfred recalled many years later—that with the people running the country now there’s not much help to expect for people like Monrad Johansen. Thereupon, the young Communist together with the imposing farmer started a collection and took in 2500 kroner in Lom and Skjåk for the scorned and poor musical artist. Like many others, Alfred left the Communist party during its takeover of Eastern Europe in 1948. In the 1960s Rikkar and Alfred together promoted the slate of candidates for an independent party in a municipal election in Skjåk.

Through the older fiddler Torkjell Auale, Rikkar Skjelkvåle was a link to the great musical legacy of Fel-Jakup. For the Bismo twins, it was a lifelong task not only to cultivate this treasure as performers but also to document the shortest tradition line back to the famous master fiddler of the 1800s. In the 1950s the tape recorder came, and it was possible for anyone to make sound recordings and save them for posterity. With equipment bought for the Skjåk historical society, Alfred was soon out making recordings of music and oral tradition. Mattias built his house during this time, and they discussed building techniques that would insure against demagnetization of the collected material.

Collected work—Per Bolstad and Sigurd Eggen
The Bismo brothers didn’t participate in competitions, but in the 1950s they gradually became more central in the Norwegian folk-music milieu. It was also a long time before the tradition they desired to represent was taken up by the folk-music half hour. This radio program was the foremost expression for the new mass communication at that time. In retrospect, perhaps one can say that they were able to work in peace. They found tracks of Fel-Jakup’s influence in extensive areas, and many musicians were proud to be associated with the name of Loms-Jakup, as he was also called.

In 1953 Alfred Bismo met for the first time the old and very popular composer and musician Per Bolstad, from Ålesund, and they met annually in the years that followed. The Bolstad name comes from Stryn in Nordfjord. As a young boy in the late 1800s, Per Bolstad had gone around with his father playing for weddings in his home area in the inner fjords. From his father Per learned fiddle tunes that his father and uncles had used in the mid 1800s together with Fel-Jakup, who was from the neighboring mountain valley to the east. For the Bismo brothers, Per Bolstad was an important source for the connection between Fel-Jakup and fiddlers from Stryn. As a performer in Ålesund with his own orchestra, he was a musical authority.

In Bøverdalen in Lom there lived the aging fiddler Sigurd Eggen. He was an honorary member of Landslaget for Spelemenn (the national fiddlers’ association), but in the 1950s he no longer had a fiddle. In 1953, the same year as the meeting with Per Bolstad, Alfred Bismo visited Sigurd for the first time. In the ten years until Sigurd’s death, Alfred was a regular guest in his home. A tape recording from the 1950s shows how much work Alfred put into playing in Sigurd’s style, and he got to hear the old master call him his brother. Sigurd Eggen had learned his repertoire from a neighboring fiddler, called Per spelman, who had held concerts together with Fel-Jakup at the Romsdal market fair every autumn for thirteen years in the 1800s.

During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s Alfred worked as a driver in the Ottadalen municipal bus company. At the same time, for 25 years, he was a politician fighting district consolidation and school centralization. Alfred was always on the go by bus or moped. But he always found time to have long conversations with people young and old. Mattias worked at the communal sawmill in Bismo as a sharpener. In his shed, the communal property owners tried their views on him more than once. In both Albert’s and Mattias’s homes, fiddlers gathered, those who had always been there as well as newcomers. As a patient teacher, Mattias took in students. And he was the brother who made his own compositions. In 1976 Rikkar Skjelkvåle was quite sick and near the end of his life. Mattias had practiced one of his compositions, and late one Saturday afternoon he went to the sick bed and played a concert for the old master. The next morning Rikkar’s son phoned, perhaps to thank Mattias, but mostly to report that the sick man wanted to hear the concert once more. And that was done the same day!

Fruits of their labor
In 1971 it was 150 years since Fel-Jakup was born. Alfred Bismo took the initiative to organize an event in Skjåk in memory of the legendary fiddler. People streamed in from near and far, and the occasion was a great success. Five years later another such event was held to note the 100th anniversary of Fel-Jakup’s death. This gathering was just as successful. The Bismo brothers received well-deserved honors for the work they had done over the years for the music and tradition. In the 1970s more comprehensive work was started with registering and documenting traditional music in the Norwegian flat-fiddle district. This also included the tune forms and documentation the Bismo brothers had set forth.

Alfred was especially happy to meet with the composer Johan Kvandal. He was the son of David Monrad Johansen and remembered well the rich musical companionship between his father and Rikkar Skjelkvåle in Oslo in the 1930s. Kvandal and Alfred met for the first time at Alfred’s home in the early 1970s and again in 1980. Johan Kvandal had recording equipment with him then. They were together for two days, and Mattias and Alfred recorded nearly 40 tunes central to their repertoire. This meeting was also a personal source of wealth for the composer, who at that time had reached a dead end while working on a violin concert. Then he went up to Skjåk, Johan Kvandal told in a radio interview some years later. In Alfred Bismo he found a person with such spirit that he himself was inspired to complete the musical work he had started.

Alfred Bismo lived until 1988. Mattias continued to be a source of inspiration for younger fiddlers even though an accident to his hand ended his fiddling days. Since 2003, when he was widowed, he has lived at the rest home in Bismo. - notes by Ivar Teigum

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