The Valen Collection at Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound consists of all Valen scores published by Lyches musikkforlag, as well as copies of many manuscripts. There are also recordings of an interview with Valen, made by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation in 1952, and subsequently taped and issued as private 78 rpm. records by Brommeland in Haugesund. Additionally, there are several painted portraits and pictures of Valen.
The collection was donated by the norwegian Fartein Valen Society at about 1989, and has since been used several times at the occation of Krysspunkt Valen (Crossroad Valen), an anually conference dedicated to Valens music, arranged by the Institute of Music and Dance at the University of Stavanger. The main subject of the last conference was Valens estetique and the relationship between modernism and religious piety.
Items from the collection has furthermore contributed to the theatre piece Masinandraina - Eye of the Sun, dealing with Valens childhood at Madagaskar and the influence this had on his music. The piece were premiered in 2004 as a cooperation between Haugesund teater, Rogaland teater in Stavanger and Det Norske teatret in Oslo.
Fartein Valen was born in Stavanger in 1887. His parents were missionaries, and he spent five years of his childhood on Madagascar. Valen was gifted with an extraordinary linguistic talent, and moved to Oslo to study languages and literature in 1906. In addition, he received tutoring in organ play and studied composition with Catharinius Elling at the Oslo Conservatory. He graduated as an organist in 1909, the same year that his first composition, "Legende for piano", was published.
Valen studied composition under Max Bruch in Berlin in 1909. He lived in Berlin until 1916, where he attempted to develop a polyphony similar to Bach's counterpoint but based on dissonance rather than harmonic progression. As training, he wrote his own fugues on fugue themes of Bach.
In 1916 he moved back to Norway. He studied Schönberg's Twelve-Tone Method when it was introduced in 1923, but even though his own atonal polyphonic has resemblances to this technique, it seems likely that Valen developed his style independently of Schönberg.
In 1925 Valen felt that he had developed a unique and personal style of composition. Until this point, his rate of composition had been very slow, but now it quickened considerably. Over the next years he composed a number of songs, motets for various vocal ensembles, a series og orchestral works and works for the piano and organ.
In the period 1927-1935, Valen worked as a teacher and inspector at Norsk Musikksamling (Norwegian Music Collection) at the University Library in Oslo. He was a valued teacher and taught several of Norway's best known composers. In 1935 he received a grant from the Norwegian Government, which made it possible for him to become a full-time composer. Over the next years he composed his symphonies and concertos, where his strongly expressional atonal polyphonic style developed further.
Valen was met with considerable scepticism and resistance during his life. His works were, with few exceptions, badly received by critics, and thus seldom performed. In later years his works achieved somewhat greater acceptance, and Valen societies were formed in Norway and the United Kingdom. His international breakthrough came towards the end of his life, in 1948, with the performances of the "Sonetto di Michelangelo" in Amsterdam and his violin concerto in London. Today, Valen is one of few Norwegian composers with an international reputation.
Fartein Valen never married. He was deeply religious, spoke nine languages and was fond of rose gardening. He died in 1952, while working on his fifth symphony.