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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

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Sweden's 19th-century musical life largely ignored its greatest 19th-century composer, Frank Berwald (1796-1868), best known for his symphonies; he spent much of his life outside the country, especially in Berlin. At the end of the century there was an expansion in Swedish artistic life, spurred on by the nationalist `1890s' literary movement and the central literary figure of August Strindberg. Most of the major musical institutions, such as the Stockholm Concert Society (now the Stockholm Philharmonic) and the Göteborg (Gothenburg) Orchestral Society were founded in this period. Wagnerian influences were represented by Wilhelm Peterson-Berger (1867-1942), but more central to his idiom was a Nordic Romanticism that followed the example of Grieg. Although he wrote five symphonies, he is best remembered for his songs and smaller piano pieces, and for the opera Arnljot (1909), the story of a Viking hero who, having met St.Olaf, dies as a Christian. Hugo A lfvén (1872-1960) was the Swedish composer who most successfully integrated national and folk-music elements; Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927) continued a late-Romantic tradition that looked south to Germany for its models. These three composers formed the foundation of 20th-century Swedish music.

Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974) and Oskar Lindberg (1887-1955) continued the Nordic Romanticism, while Ture Rangström (1884-1947) became the major Swedish song composer. Adolf Wiklund (1879-1950) is best remembered for his two piano concertos (Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, 1906-1907, revised 1935, and Piano Concerto No.2, 1916), attractive if unremarkable late-Romantic works, and for his combination of Nordic Impressionism and Romantic imagery in such works as the appealing, straightforward Sommernatt och soluppgång ( Summer Night and Sunrise, 1918) for orchestra. The reaction against this period of nationalism in Swedish music came with the foundation of the `1920s group', led by Hilding Ros enberg (1892-1985), whose contrapuntal style was influenced by Hindemith. The core of his work are eight symphonies, powerful and communicative, and it is extraordinary that the work of this most important of Swedish 20th-century composers is not better known outside Sweden. Also associated with this group was another symphonist, Gösta Nystr oem (1890-1966). A neo-classical reaction was represented by Dag Wirén (1905-1986) and Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986), best known in Sweden for his Pastoral Suite (1938) for small orchestra. His Vi olin Concerto (1959) is a fine work, lyrical, slightly melancholic and astringent, that deserves to be better known. His output includes a series of twelve concertinos (1955-1957) for different instruments with string orchestra, designed for use by community orchestras; he later adopted 12-tone techniques in such works as the Three Pieces for Orchestra (1960) and the Orches tral Variations (1962).

Another resurgence of Swedish composition followed the foundation of the `Monday Group' during the Second World War, an influential gathering of composers, instrumentalists and musicologists, many of whom were pupils of Rosenberg. Their studies and discussions ranged across contemporary music; from the departure point of the ideas of Hindemith, they were particularly concerned with tonal relationships. The major figure of this was Karl-Berger Blomdahl (1916-1968), who in 1959 produced the first sci-fi opera, Aniara, which received world-wide attention. Other members included Sven-ErikBäck and Ingvar Lid holm (born 1921). The symphonic tradition was continued by Allan Pettersson (1911-1980) in a post-Mahlerian idiom, and by the Estonian Eduard T ubin (1905-1982 - see under `Estonia'). Edvin Kalistenius (1881-1967), who had earlier evolved a personal tonal language, adopted 12-tone techniques, as did Hilding Hallnäs (1903-1984). The idiom of Gunnar Bucht (born 1927) follows what might be described as European Mainstream, drawing on the experience of the avant-garde for effect, but within a more traditional framework. His opera Kongsemnerne ( The Pretenders (1961-1966) was based on the play by Ibsen. His vocal music includes a number of settings of Swedish poetry written in Finland, notably the rarefied and expressive Hund skenar glad ( Dog Runs Happy, 1961) for soprano, women's chorus and orchestra, setting poems by Gunnar Björling.

The avant-garde in Sweden was led by Bengt Hambr aeus, who wrote the first Swedish electronic piece, but who moved to Canada in 1972. Bo Nilsson (born 1937) pioneered total serialism and aleatoric methods in Sweden in the 1950s, usually in short aphoristic works for small ensembles, with detailed, sharp textures. A series of four Szenes (1961) included the uncompromisingly aggressive Szene III. His later work started to include more traditional elements: Revue (1967) for orchestra turns mid-way from avant-garde techniques to a Romantic elegy for strings, while the woodwind quintet Déjà connu (1973) uses tonal harmonies. Vocal music has been an important component of his output, making use of the phonetic qualities of the texts. Brief an Gösta Oswald (Letter to Gösta Oswald, 1959) for soprano, alto, women's choir, loudspeakers and large orchestra is influenced by Boulez, finishing with an extended setting of an Oswald poem. Karl-Erik Welin (born 1934) and Jan Morthenson (born 1940) have been noted for their avant-garde organ music, incorporating new techniques. Perhaps the most eccentric Swedish composer is Ralph Lundsten (born 1936), whose combination of folk-legends, popular elements and atmospheric effects, all realized electronically and often for ballets, requires eclectic tastes, but can be hauntingly beautiful, as in the final `Amen' (using a boy's choir) from Fadervår (Paternoster, 1971) or quirkily entrancing in such works asNordik Natursymponi No.1 `Stromkarlen' ( Nordic Naturesymphony No.1 `The Neck', 1972).

Swedish 20th-century music has not achieved the prominence of that of the other Scandinavian countries, in part because of the conservative nature of Swedish musical circles, that have reacted strongly against the kind of developments initiated by Rosenberg in the middle of the century, and Hambraeus in the 1960s. Although Swedish composers in the second half of the century have become known outside Sweden, the country has not produced a composer of the stature of Nordheim or Sallinen. The composers of the first half of the century, however, little known in their own times outside Sweden, deserve a wider audience, especially Stenh ammar and Rosenberg. Sweden also has a fine tradition of choral singing, dating back to the community choirs of the mid 19th century, and now noted especially for a cappella singing. Swedish composers have responded to this stimulus, and if language problems have hampered wider dissemination of Swedish choral music, there is much of great interest to be explored by those involved in choral singing.

Swedish Music Information Centre:

Svensk Musik

P.O.Box 273 27

S-102 54 Stockholm

tel: +46 8 783 8800

fax: +46 8 662 6275















ALFVÉN Hugo (Emil)

born 1st May 1872 at Stockholm

died 8th May 1960 at Uppsala


The music of Alfvén, the father of Swedish nationalism in the revival of Swedish music at the turn of the century who lived on as the grand figure of Swedish music, is often inconsequential and usually programmatic, but redeemed by its sheer delight. He was the first Swedish composer of note to integrate folk material into symphonic composition. He was also instrumental in the development of the modern choral tradition in Sweden, now so highly regarded - he conducted the Siljan Choir for the extraordinary period of 1904 to 1957, and was director of the Orphei Drängar from 1910 to 1947, as well as being Director Musices at Uppsala University, 1910-1939.

His symphonies are wonderfully indulgent pieces of late nationalist Romanticism, less sure in their over-sized symphonic structure than in their orchestral colour and evocation. The Symphony No.1 in F Minor op.7 (1896-1897, revised 1903-1904) is the least convincing, at its best in the nobility of its first movement, but the Sy mphony No.2 in D op.11 (1897-1898) has a Brahmsian sweep to its opening themes, a nobility to its slow movement, and a more troubled but over-long finale. The Symphony No.3 in E flat op.23 (1905) is the sunniest, and was started in Italy. The most unusual is theSymphony No.4 in C minor, op.39 (1918-1919), titledFrån Havsbandet (poetically translatable as From the Seaward Skerries) which evokes the atmosphere of the outer skerries of the Swedish archipelago on the one hand, and a sensual love affair on the other (it was for long referred to as the Sinfonia erotica). Scored for soprano and tenor (singing wordlessly), and a huge late-Romantic orchestra, it has been either vilified as a symphony or rather admired for its atmospheric expression. If the one-movement work is treated as a tone-poem (Alfvén provided a programme), evoking images of the sea and of sensuousness, it is a gloriously rich and heady, if overlong, work, laced with falling or sinuous woodwind figures, brass surges, and an erotic solo line (a kind of Swedish equivalent to Szymanowski). This hugely indulgent score deserves to be treated indulgently as Sweden's major tone-poem of the era of the Strauss tone-poems. The Symphony No.5 in A minor (1942-1952), not started until 23 years later, is incomplete in its present form, although the first movement is sometimes given separately.

However, it is for his shorter, lighter, and generally more exuberant works that Alfvén is best known and most loved. The first of these, theSwedish Rhapsody No.1 `Midsommarvaka' op. 19, ( Midsummer Vigil, conceived 1892-1895, published 1903) is known the world over, and like much of Alfvén's more popular music, has its basis in folk-music. From its unforgettable jaunty opening tune via its ruminative slow section, a large-scale midsummer landscape and a ride punctuated with myriad bells, to the peasant dance of the close, it is the Swedish equivalent of Enescu's Rom anian Rhapsody No.1, joyously orchestrated for a series of prominent wind solos, massed strings, and brass support. The successors, the Swedish Rhapsody No.2 `Uppsala Rhapsody' (1901), which draws on older Swedish musical material, and the more introspective Swedish Rhapsody No.3 `Dalecarlia Rhapsody' (1931, published 1937), are less well known. His next international success was with Festspel (Festival Piece, 1907), a rather overblown short festive dance piece for large orchestra. The ballet-pantomime Bergakungen (The Mountain King, 1916-1923, usually heard in a four-movement dance-suite version) is a different matter, infused with folk spirit (though with little genuine folk material), scored for large orchestra, utterly Nordic in its evocation, lying mid-way between Grieg and Sibelius. Its tone is quite sensuous, sometimes delicate, at times almost Impressionistic in orchestration, its three mood-painting sections leading to a well-known rousing dance Vallflickans dans ( Handmaiden's Dance). The final work to achieve international popularity is the spritely and rather more formal ballet Den förlo rade sonen (The Prodigal Son, 1957, usually heard in its orchestral suite version), a youthful achievement for a composer of 85, anachronistic, but infectiously irresistible in its polkas.

Alfvén's songs are not as highly regarded as those by his contemporariesRangström and Stenh ammar, but his choral music occupies an important place in Swedish music-making. Best known are Afton (Evening, probably 1907) for baritone and chorus, and Gry ning vid havet (Dawn over the Ocean, 1933) for male voice choir. Alfvén himself had strong affection for the oratorio Herr ens bön (The Lord's Prayer, 1899-1900) for soprano, alto, baritone, chorus and orchestra, with good reason, for it is an unpretentious and attractive work setting a poem by Stagnelius in which the widow of a knight teaches her son to pray. It is almost two works, the long final fifth movement (itself in four sections) imposing in style, with fugal writing, while the middle movements have a bright, calculated simplicity that has affinities with Fauré's Requiem.


works include: (over 225 opuses)

- 5 symphonies (No.4 Från Havsbandet)

- En bygdesaga (A district fairy-tale), Festspel , suite Gustav II Adolf, En Skägårdssagen (A Tale of the Skerries), 3 Swedish Rhapsodies (No.1Midsommarvaka, No.2 Uppsala Rhapsody, No.3 Dalecarlia Rhapsody for orch.

- Romans and sonata for violin and piano; other chamber music;

- very large body of music for choruses, including Herrens bön for soprano, alto, baritone, chorus and orch., Afton for baritone and chorus, Gryning vid havet, Lindagull and Lindagull lilla for tenor and male voice choir; songs;

- ballets Bergakungen (The Mountain King) and Den förlorade sonen (The Prodigal Son)


recommended works:

Herrens bön (1899-1900) for soprano, alto, baritone, chorus and orchestra

Swedish Rhapsody No.1 (Midsommarvaka) op.19 (1892-1895)

Symphony No.3 op.23 (1905)

Symphony No.4 op.39 (1918-1919)



Alfvén published four volumes of autobiography, of which excerpts appear in a fifth,1946-1976


ATTERBERG Kurt (Magnus)

born 12th December 1887 at Göteborg

died 15th February 1974 at Stockholm


Kurt Atterberg is one of a number of Scandinavian composers whose former prominence has been eclipsed by the reaction against Romanticism. He is chiefly known for his sometimes abstract Romantic orchestral works, his use of folk material, and especially his nine symphonies (1912-1957), bold in colouring and generally bright in tone.

Of these, the Symphony No.1 in B flat minor op.3 (1909-1911) is, like those of many northern composers, under the influence of Brahms, but the Symphony No.2 in F op.6 (1911-1913) is more individual and more Nordic, especially in the combined slow and scherzo movement. The programmatic Symphony No.3 `Västkustbilder' (West Coast Pictures, 1914-1916) is more of a seascape symphonic suite than a symphony, integrating folk material. It is touched with delicate strokes, Impressionist in its opening, with a vivid and lushly scored storm. If treated as an evocation of mood, it has many fine passages. Actual quotations of folk material are used in the smaller-scale Symphony No.4 `Sinfonia Piccola' in G minor (1918), often considered his best symphony. The later symphonies include some polytonal passages, and the Symphony No.6 in C (1927-1928) used to be the best known, as it won the Schubert centennial prize. It is rather an unusual combination of Nordic sea-scape painting and clear symphonic structure, with a Schubertian-sized orchestra, most interesting in the slow movement, when Atterberg can more indulge in the mood-painting that is his forte. Atterburg remained a romantic until the end of his long compositional life; the Symphony No.7 op.45 (1942) is actually subtitled Sinfonia Romantica, while his distaste for 12-tone developments was expressed in the Symphony No.9 `Sinfonia Visionaria' (1955-1956) for soloists, chorus and orchestra, on texts from the Old Norse epic the V oluspa, in which a 12-tone motif and a diminished 7th represent evil.

Besides the nine symphonies, he also wrote nine suites for various orchestral forces, of which the Suite No.3 op.19 No.1 (1917) for violin, viola and strings is easily the best loved. Drawn from music written in 1916 for Maeterlinck's Sister Beatrice, it is a sad and lyrical work, the two solo strings intertwining cantabile lines, the central section having a strongly modal flavour. However, one of his smaller masterpieces is completely neglected. The slow movement of the Horn Concerto op.28 (1927) is one of the loveliest of its kind ever written, a mellow, nostalgic tune from the horn answered by a rain-drop landscape in the strings, building to a marvellous, misty Impressionistic image. This movement has all the potential to join other famous adagios in the affection of a very wide public. The first horn player to take it up and popularize it is likely to have a winner.

Later suites include the Suite Barocco op.23 (Suite No.5, 1923), using baroque dance forms, but rather gentle and meandering, the Baroque through an Edwardian glint. The Suite Pas torale (In modo antico) op.34 (Suite No.8, 1931) is in much the same vein. Of his other symphonic music the suite from the balletDe fåvitska jungfrurna ( The Wise and Foolish Virgins, 1920) has retained some popularity as a rhapsodic set of variations on an old folk chorale. The ballet Bäckahästen (The White Horse, 1923-1924) is a folklore piece. Of his string quartets, the S tring Quartet No.2 op.11 (1916) shares with the second symphony the effect of containing two contrasting moods within a movement. Of his five operas, Fanal (1932), the story of a hangman's love (with a happy ending) attracted some attention.

Atterberg was particularly active in Swedish musical life as a conductor, sometime cellist and music critic (of the Stockholms-Tidningen, 1919-1957) as well as composer. He co-founded the Swedish Composers Society and was its president from 1924-1947. He was attached to the Swedish Patent and Registration Office as an engineer from 1912 until the 1960s.


works include:

- 9 symphonies (No.3 Västkustbilder, No.4Sinfonia Piccola, No.5 Sinfonia funèbre, No.7 Romantica, No.9 Sinfonia Visionaria)

- cello concerto; horn concerto; piano concerto; violin concerto;Double Concerto for violin, cello or viola and strings; Rhapsody for piano and orch.

- Älven (The River), Ballad och passacaglia, Indian Tunes, and Svensk sommarfest for orch.; 9 suites for orch. (No.5 Suite barocco, No.8 Suite pastorale; overture Aladdin

- cello sonata; 3 string quartets; Variations and Fugue for string quartet; piano quintet and other chamber works

- Requiem and other vocal works with orch.

- operas Aladdin, Bäckahästen (The White Horse), Fanal, Härvard harpolekare (Härvard the Harpist) and Stormen

- incidental music, including suite from Soeur Béatrice


recommended works:

Horn Concerto op.28 (1927)

Suite No.3 op.19 No.1 (1917) for violin, viola and strings

Symphony No.3 op.10 (West Coast Pictures) (1914-1916)

Symphony No.4 'Sinfonia Piccola' in G minor (1918)


BÄCK Sven-Erik

born 16th September 1919 at Stockholm


A violinist and string quartet player as well as a composer, and member of the `Monday Group' in the 1940s, Bäck has had a high profile in Sweden, but little recognition outside. His earliest works, like others of the group, were influenced by his teacher Rosenberg and by Hindemith, and by his own studies of older styles (with shades of the 18th century in the Sinf onia per archi [Symphony for Strings],1951). Bäck himself was a noted interpreter of Renaissance and Baroque music. He quickly embraced the avant-garde trends in Europe, adopting serialism, pointillism (Chamber Symphony, 1955) and electronic music (including two electronic ballet scores). However, two other strains have run through his output: a religious sense and a penchant for dramatic works. The former has included the influence of Gregorian chant (exemplified in the series of unaccompanied motets that followed Behold, I make all things new, 1968).

Bäck adopted 12-tone technique in the Sinfonia da Camera (1955), while A Game around a Game (1959) for strings and percussion translated into musical terms the energetic sculpture by Björn Evenson that inspired it, with a large battery of percussion instruments. The Violin Concerto (1957, revised 1960) combines a decorated solo line, lyrical in the slow movement, with pointillism and percussion. The success of his operas inside Sweden has been partly responsible for his reputation there. The first, Tranf jädrarna (The Crane Feathers, 1956), a chamber opera originally written for television, but successful as a stage work both inside and outside Sweden, is probably the best known. Based on a simple Japanese folk-tale, it tells of a farmer unknowingly married to a crane in human form - if he sees he in her bird form she will have to leave. Using a children's chorus and a small orchestra, it is concise and effective, with a clarity of instrumental colour (often dominated by isolated percussion) and a simplicity of vocal line that closely follows speech-patterns. It was followed by Gästabudet (The Banquet, 1958) and geln (The Birds, 1961), a heavily symbolist work drawn from a radio play by the Serbian writer Aleksander Obrenovic. Kattresan (Cat Journey, 1952) is a cantata for young children, using a children's choir and common percussion instruments. Of his chamber music, the String Quartet No.3 (1962) is a rather severe essay in serialism.

Bäck was appointed director of the Swedish Radio Music School in 1959, having led its school and youth orchestras since 1954.


works include:

- Sinfonia da camera and Sinfonia per archi

- Fantasia on `Dies sind die helligen zehn Gebote' for orch.; A Game around a Game for strings and percussion

- solo flute sonata; Favola for clarinet and percussion; 3 string quartets; Signos for percussion

- Sonata alla ricercare for piano

- At the Outermost Edge of the Sea for soloists, chorus and orch.; cantata Kattresan for young children; motets and other choral and vocal works

- operas Gästabudet, Fågeln and Tranfjädrarna; incidental music for plays


recommended works:

A Game around a Game (1959) for strings and percussion

chamber opera Tranfjädrarna (The Crane Feathers, 1956)


BLOMDAHL Karl-Birger

born 19th October 1916 at Växjö

died 14th June 1968 at Kungsngen


Although his output is small, Blomdahl remains one of Sweden's most important composers. He combined a love of the scientific (he originally wanted to become an engineer or a scientist) with an idiom that is at its base more conservative that the more extreme elements would suggest, and which draws on many divergent styles from the lyrical to the ultra-modern. A sense of disillusion at the human condition is often an undercurrent in this personal synthesis. He came to prominence after the Second World War as the leader of the group founded in 1944 and known as the `Monday Group', which included Sven-Erik Bäck and Ingvar Lidholm and which was particularly influenced by Hindemith. A pioneer of Swedish electronic music, he remained at the forefront of the Scandinavian avant-garde until his premature death in 1968, extending his influence through his position as professor at the Stockholm Conservatory from 1960 to 1964. He himself followed many of the trends of the period, being one of the first Swedes to use serial techniques.

His earlier work included the neo-Baroque Concerto grosso (1944) and the Concerto for Violin and Strings (1946, not to be confused with the 1941 Violin Concerto) in a style indebted to Bach. Rhythmic patterns, characteristic of his sense of rhythmic vitality, were prominent in the Pastoral Suite (1948), while the three-movement Symphony No.2 (1947), the culmination of this period in Blomdahl's output, was still influenced by Blomdahl's teacher Rosenberg. In its vigorously contrapuntal opening and closing movements built on fanfare themes, it has echoes of Hindemith and Shostakovich. With a gentle passacaglia as the middle movement, the dynamic objectivity of the symphony makes it worth hearing.

Blomdahl then started to explore 12-tone technique, and his first major work to attract attention outside Sweden, and one of the first Swedish pieces using elements of serial techniques, was the Symphony No.3 `Facetter' (Facets, 1950), built in an arch-structure. The 12-note series on the flute from which all the material of the one movement symphony is derived (and to which the symphony returns) is, however, mournfully lyrical. Blomdahl sets up a commanding tension between the lyricism (including a sense of mysterious atmosphere in the repetitive figures on high strings) and the gritty rhythms, creating an aggressive insistence of purpose that includes a grotesque parody. Fine and convincing though the symphony is, with a sense of the whole work constantly pushing towards its close, it is not however a work of `total serialism'. The orchestration and the rhythmic development are firmly in the mainstream of the European tradition, its linearity an echo of Honegger. The harmonic constructs from the 12-note series (the `facets' of the title) are also tame by comparison with the experimenters of the time.

The cantata I speglarnas sal (In the Hall of Mirrors, 1951-1952) for soloists, chorus, speaker and orchestra, was written to radical verses by his regular collaborator, the writer Erik Lindegren, and combines 12-tone writing with colouristic effects, notably the tinkling glassy opening (harp, celesta, and strings playing behind the bridge, a technique earlier utilized by Pettersson ). It is highly eclectic in its material, which is chosen to suit the immediate effect rather than follow any overall system or pattern, a trend increasingly apparent in Blomdahl's music. Here contemporary popular elements and the blues vie with spoken choral sections and recitation. The polyphonic style then returned in the Kammarkonsert ( Chamber Concerto, 1953) for piano, woodwinds and percussion, with a single thematic idea linking its movements; it illustrates Blomdahl's recurring interest in dance-like music.

Blomdahl then gained world-wide attention with the opera A niara (1957-1958), set in outer space with a dying and doomed personnel of a space-ship that had left a destroyed earth, to a text by Lindegren based on an epic poem by Harry Martinson. The overall tenor of the music is traditional, with set numbers and sometimes a strong jazz influence, though electronic music is used for the machine Mima (with a distorted nonsense-language). The comment in the opera is as much an allegory on political structures and the contemporary sense of hopelessness than any sci-fi flight of fancy. Again there is an eclectic flavour to this opera, which produces moments of great effectiveness (particularly some of the ethereal electronic effects and choruses) but also sections of banality, lessening the overall impression until the middle of the second of two acts, where a beautiful lyrical soprano aria is followed by the climactic scene of singular dramatic power, drive, and visionary fervour. The sci-fi setting is both an advantage and a disadvantage, in that technology has moved so fast that the setting feels dated, while the very attempt at a space setting has its own fascination. A later opera, Herr von Hancken (1962-1963) has achieved less prominence; at his death he was working on a third opera that again reflected his scientific interests and the element of disillusion, Sagan om den stora datan (Tale of the Big Computer).

Of his later works, the sonorous Forma ferritonans (1961) for orchestra matches intervals to the Atomic Table, with atomic weight determining progressions and atomic number the tone relationships. Spel för åtta (Game for Eight, 1962), a choreographic suite in eight movements (and for eight dancers and full orchestra), manages to be both fragmentary (in the uses of short snatches of phrases), and lyrically flowing and rhythmically vital, with motoric elements and serially organized time-values. The sections veer from echoes of Varèse and cluster timbres and colours, to jazz influences. The electronic Altisonans (1966) is a large-scale sound-picture, taking snatches drawn from satellite communication signals, voices, and the electronic interference from sunspots, and creating an electronic montage, unusual in that the sound sources are already electronically generated and existent prior to the musical/electronic process. It is an effective work, and an indication of how electronic scores can still be vitally compelling, and not necessarily daunting to those unused to them.

Blomdahl worked extensively in radio and television, being director of the Swedish radio music department (1965-1968), and was an influential teacher. His earlier pupils included Pettersson. With his eclectic style, Blomdahl is not an easy composer to quantify; those who enjoy the vigorous counterpoint and abstract craftsmanship exemplified by Hindemith will find in his earlier music a Scandinavian counterpart, while his later music is of real interest as an individual attempt to fuse new elements into a continuity of musical development.


works include:

- 3 symphonies (No.3 Facetter)

- violin concerto; concerto for violin and strings; Concerto Grosso for orch.; Kammarkonsert for piano, winds and percussion

- Concert Overture, Fioriture, Forma ferritonans , Symfoniska danser for orch.; Pastoralsvit and Prelude and Allegro for string orch.

- Little Suite for bassoon and piano; trio for clarinet, cello and piano; string trio; wind trio; 2 string quartets; Danssvit (No.1 for flute, string trio and percussion, No.2 for clarinet, cello and percussion)

- Litet tema med variationer and Three Polyphonic Pieces for piano

- songs including ...resan i denna natt ( ...the journey in this night) for soprano and string orch.; cantatas Anabase for reciter, baritone, chorus and orch. and I speglarnas sal (In the Hall of Mirrors) for reciter, soloists, chorus and orch.

- ballets Minotauros, Sisyfos and Spel för åtta (Game for Eight)

- operas Aniara, Herr von Hancken and Sagan om den stora datan

- incidental music and film and radio scores

- electronic Altisonans


recommended works:

opera Aniara (1957-1958)

Forma ferritonans (1961) for orchestra

choreographic suite Game for Eight (1962)

Symphony No.2 (1947)

Symphony No.3 (Facets) (1950)



born 29th January 1928 at Stockholm

died 21st September 2000 at Apple Hill, Ontario


Bengt Hambraeus was the leading avant-garde Swedish composer of the 1950s and 1960s, introducing to Sweden the latest techniques from the Darmstadt school and from non-European musical traditions. As such, his influence and standing in Sweden has been considerable, and his output, especially for the organ (he is an accomplished organist), both interesting and thoughtful. His music attracted attention in Europe during this period, and he was among a number of European composers of his generation whose development and new works seemed worth following. However, he moved to Montréal, Canada, in 1972, and to a culture that has mostly ignored him (apart from McGill University, where he teaches), although on the evidence of his earlier work he is, with Murray S chafer, probably the finest composer in Canada today. It is a circumstance of regret that many Canadians involved in music have never even heard of him.

His earliest music, like that of many of his Swedish contemporaries, was influenced by Hindemith, and especially by his considerable study of Medieval and Renaissance music (he was librarian and amanuensis at the Uppsala Musicological Institution, 1948-1956). He was largely self-taught, and the works of this period (Music for Ancient Strings, 1948,Cantigas de Santa Maria, 1948) reflect these studies. With Music for Organ (1950), showing the colouristic influence of Messiaen, he established a more mature voice, and in the early 1950s he quickly embraced the serialist ideas of avant-garde Europe, including studies with Messiaen.

Since Music for Organ, Hambraeus has primarily concentrated on sonority, timbre and colour in his music, whatever the stylistic means, and this direction has been tempered by the clarity of line and detail of effect developed from his studies of older music. At times those stylistic means have reflected contemporary developments, such as the soft colours (alto flute, viola, vibraphone and harp) of Mikrogram (1961), clearly influenced by Boulez. At others the music of the Far East has tempered the colours (as in the three flutes and six percussion players of Introduzione - sequenze - coda, 1959). In works with voices, the emphasis on colour is reflected in the use of vocalise (Spectrogram, 1953, for soprano, flute and percussion,Antiphones en rondes, 1953, for orchestra with soprano, and Crystal Sequence, 1954, for orchestra with chorus). However, it is the works that utilize organ or electronics, sometimes in combination with each other and other forces, that are of particular interest, especially as modern compositions for the former utilizing the latest ideas are relatively rare.

Do ppelrohr II (Double-reed II, 1955), realised in Cologne, was the first Swedish electronic piece. The organ and electronic and other means were then combined in the series Constellations, originating inConstellation I (1958), a short organ piece. This evolved into Constellations II (1959), the electronic elaboration of that piece in which the organ sounds are combined with an electronic realisation of the sounds of a bird dawn-chorus Hambraeus heard in Milan. The effect, intentionally, is of the huge space of the title, in what amounts to a tone-poem for organ and tape, contrasting spacious sonorities from the organ with more detailed electronic sounds. In Const ellations III the tape from Constellations II was combined with a new organ piece; in Constellations IV percussion joined the same tape. Constellations V for two amplified solo sopranos, chorus and organ, (1982-1983) was added much later and was inspired by St.Paul's praise of liberty from Corinthians. With Interferences (1961-1962) for organ, Hambraeus extended the ideas developed in the Constellations series, in particular redefining the organ sonorities until they reached a point of meeting with the type of electronic sounds with which he had already worked. He utilitised the similarities between overtone sounds and variations available through avant-garde organ playing techniques (subsequently and similarly utilized by such composers as L igeti and Kagel) and the parallel sounds produced by purely electronic means, including clusters and the slow effect of disintegration when the electric power supply to the organ is turned off. The effect is less obviously of tone-painting, more abstract and disjointed, but still with the same sense of vast space.

Some of those organ effects are used in the powerful Motetum Arcangeli Michaelis (1967) for chorus and organ, where the vocal writing is primarily concerned with large-scale colour and effect, spacious polyphonic writing merging with more fragmentary declamatory passages. The mosaic-like Fresque sonore uses instruments and a wordless soprano voice recorded individually, and then combined with limited electronic transformation, filigrees of sounds, including a harp, wisping in and out of the landscape. The tendency to group works into `families' has included the series Transit, consisting of both electronic and instrumental music, of which the final work Transfiguration (1963), reflecting Hambraeus' attachment to an ethereal religious mood, is a large-scale work for orchestra. It is an extended study in massed sonorities, again aimed at slow-moving, large-scale effect and including characteristic bell sounds influenced by Far-Eastern music, clusters, and falling string lines reminiscent of the organ sounds produced by switching the organ off.

In Rota I (1956-1962), he combined electronic tape with three orchestras, while Rota II (1963) is a slow-moving ritualistic tape piece, combining heavily filtered orchestral sounds (including gamelan sounds) with more obviously direct instrumental recordings (including the organ). Ritual reappears in another tape with instrumental recordings, Tetragon (1965), which opens with a series of fanfares underpinned by gently knocking percussion, into which slide purely electronic sounds. The textures are much leaner, an unravelling of overlapping events with highly contrasted colours gradually gaining in density, like a dream-like procession heard at a great distance and distorted by the intervening space. It includes allusions to other music, notably in a harpsichord passage. Hambraeus returned to such allusions more directly in Rencontres (1968-1971) for orchestra, with references to Beethoven, Wagner, Scr iabin, Reger and Varèse, combined with fragments from his own works.

The major work written since Hambraeus' move to Canada is probably the Livre d'orgue (Organ Book, 1981), four sets of organ pieces with a pedagogical as well as concert intent, moving from the relatively easy to the complex and virtuoso, and including modern techniques such as clusters and stop-manipulation to alter timbre. From the point of view of the general listener, the most interesting pieces from this series are perhaps those which most exploit extreme techniques, such as the extraordinary massed sonorities in Les timbres irisés, using half-pulled out stops piling overtones and strange colour relationships on top of each other. Sheng (1983), for the unusual combination of oboe and organ, again explores the sonorities of the organ, sometimes sounding almost like an electronic instrument. However the Oriental influence is apparent in the woodwind line (`sheng' is a Chinese mouth organ), and apart from climactic central moments the overall feel is almost pastoral. Carillon (1974) for two pianos returns to bell motifs. The two pianos are placed at great distance from each other, a spatial dimension reinforced by reverberation from undamped strings. It quotes from earlier composers, notably Beethoven and Chopin, in a kind of piano music-drama in which the pianists try to recall earlier repertoire. Of his other Canadian works, Tides (1974) is an aurally graphic tape work, its evocation of sea-sounds created electronically rather than by musique-concrète means; its harsher companion, Tornado (1976) is less interesting. The short but effective Intrada: `Calls' (1975) is an electronic transformation of 30 fragments of brass calls and African kalimba (`thumb-piano') sounds recalling the cowherd signals of Sweden.


works include:

- series Constellations (see text)

- series Transit (see text) including Transfiguration for orch.

- concerto for organ and string orch.; River of Fire for oboe and chamber ensemble; Continuo for organ and orch.

- Litanies, Nocturnals and Ricordanza for orch.;Antiphones en rondes for orch. with soprano; Crystal Sequence for orch. with chorus; Rota I for 3 orchestras and tape

- Marosensemblen and Music in Sweden for chamber orch.;Relief - haut et bas for wind ensemble with percussion; Strata for wind ensemble; Music for Ancient Strings

- Monologue for solo flute; Cinque studi canonici for two flutes; Dos recercadas for guitar and cello; Night Music for guitar and percussion; Spectogram for soprano. flute and percussion; Tiento for oboe and 3 tom-toms; Trio sonata for tenor trombone, accordion and piano; Mikrogram for alto flute, viola, vibraphone and harp; Jeu de cinq for wind quintet; Introduzione - sequenze - coda for 3 flutes and 6 percussion

- Swedish PIANOrama and Tre Intermezzi for piano; Carillon for 2 pianos

- four books of Livre d'orgue, Interferences, Music for Organ and many other works for organ; concerto for harpsichord and organ; Sheng for oboe and organ

- Echoes of Loneliness for 4 mixed choirs, percussion and viola;Inductio for soloists, chorus, 3 trumpets and 3 trombones;Motetum Archangeli Michaelis for chorus and organ; L'oui-dire for soloists and orch.; Symphonia sacra for chorus, wind ensemble and percussion

- Five Psalms and Triptychon for unaccompanied chorus

- Mirrors for oboe or oboes and tape, or tape alone

- Doppelrohr II, Rota II, Tetragon, Tides and Tornado for tape


recommended works:

Constellations II (1959) for organ sounds

Interferences (1961-1962) for organ

Motetum Arcangeli Michaelis (1967) for chorus and organ

Rencontres (1968-1971) for orchestra

electronic Tetragon (1965)

electronic Tides (1974)



born 24th February, 1921 at Jönköping


Ingvar Lidholm was one of the group of radical composers who in the 1940s were known as the `Monday Group', and who reacted against the prevailing Swedish musical traditions of Romanticism or nationalism. Throughout his career he has continued to be at the forefront of musical ideas in Sweden, and although sometimes he has surprised commentators with the turns these directions have taken (as in the neo-tonal Piano Sonata of 1947), generally he has followed mainstream developments in the rest of Europe. Internationally, Lidholm is one of the better-known contemporary Swedish composers.

In his earlier works, he shows some of the rugged drive associated with his teacher Rosenberg and in turn influenced by the style of Hindemith. Although the musical language that Lidholm employs was to change considerably, this rugged strength remains a feature of his subsequent works. Stravinsky and early polyphony influenced the three-part Laudi (1947) for a cappella chorus, still one of his better-known works, which opens as if it is some choral procession in an ancient church tradition, and continues with great clarity of line and slow-moving contrapuntal textures, evolving from a stark simplicity into contrapuntal and polyphonic brightness. It achieves that rarity, an expression of joy and praise without any accompanying bombast or sentimentality. He turned to 12-note techniques in Klavierstück (1949) for piano, and there are echoes ofBartók and B erg in the Violin Concerto of 1951. He later developed serial techniques and improvisatory sections (Po esis, 1963, for orchestra). But of the earlier works, the most likely to be encountered is the powerful Mu sic for Strings (1952), which serves as an excellent starting point for Lidholm's music. Tough and emphatic in its three movements, it exploits the full range of expressive tone qualities of the strings, preferring the possibilities of the interaction of the instruments to the use of individual solo lines. Throughout, in spite of attempts to move to a clearer, lighter canvas, there is an underlying sense of tension and trouble, employing suggestive but undeveloped moments and ideas in the final movement to impart that sense of taut uncertainty.

A similar sense of urgency pervades the ballet Rites (1960), and the effective five-movement concert suite drawn from it. Described as a `ballet with action', it explores the existentialist theme that cruelty is eternal, and human beings (abstractly portrayed in the ballet) are the victims. By this stage, Lidholm's idiom had broadened to include more angular, less tonal writing, moments of almost Impressionistic effect, and sections (`Sacrifice 1 & 2'), that are deliberately simple, quasi-improvisatory, and almost archaic, with a Pan-like woodwind predominant. Another feature of Lidholm's work is evident in R ites: the atmosphere of ritual, of the music serving an almost dramatic purpose beyond the confines of purely musical language. It recurs in such works as Kontakion (1978) for orchestra, where again Lidholm's idiom has further evolved, reflecting mainstream developments in European composition. In this one-movement work, the strings are forceful and scurrying, there are cluster effects, different layers of movement, an austere slow section, and moments of trilling woodwind recalling Debussy. Predominantly earnest in its weighty, dark orchestral power, it suddenly unfolds into a magical close, with a haunting trumpet solo incanting an Orthodox chant against hushed tremolo strings and the reverberating interjection of tuned percussion. His most widely disseminated work must be the aleatory Stamp Music (1970), a score commissioned to appear on a postage stamp to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music; a soaring melodic solo line revolves around contrasting mutterings.

Ritual also underlies some of the vocal work, for which Lidholm is perhaps best known inside Sweden. Perhaps the most immediately effective for wider audiences is the haunting and intense Nausikaa ensam ( Nausicaa Alone, 1963) for soprano, chorus and orchestra. Based on verses by Eyvind Johnson describing an event from the Odyssey, it is a kind of semi-dramatic scena, invoking with vivid characterization the internal reactions of Nausicaa to the stranger who has come to the court, while extending a wider impression of the isolation and interior imagination of the young woman. The vocal writing moves easily between quasi-recitatives and arioso passages, set against an orchestra primarily concerned with the expressive potential of timbre and colour, the subtleties of changes, and a general feeling of simplicity and character. His later choral works increasingly use the sounds of the words as the basis of building the structure of the music. In the Frya körer ( Four Choruses, 1953) the emphasis is on colour and block texture, with a declamatory feel, the passionate Efteråt ( Afterwards) using wordless sounds against a solo soprano. In the series A cappella-bok (A cappella book, begun 1956) Lidholm created a collection of works, all based on a single 12-note series with tonal implications, that explore a wide range of choral vocal techniques. Among his stage works, Höllandarn ( The Dutchman, 1967, based on Strindberg) was the first Swedish opera written for television.

In a European context, Lidholm's music rarely breaks completely new ground, even if he has been a pioneer in Sweden. Nonetheless, his voice is strongly individual, through his rugged sincerity, and especially through his commanding use of those mainstream techniques to serve expressive, and not merely musical, ends. That his output is relatively small partly reflects the detail and completeness that his music conveys. He was a violist with the Swedish Royal Court Orchestra (1943-1946), conductor of the Örebro Symphony Orchestra (1947-1956) and was professor of composition at the Swedish Royal College of Music (1965-1974). He has been particularly active and influential in Swedish radio, first in charge of chamber music broadcasts (1956-1965), and then returning in 1974 as head of planning at the music department, in which capacity he has done much to encourage contemporary Swedish music.


works include:

- concerto for orch. (based on string quartet); violin concerto

- Greetings from an Old World, Kontakion,Music for Strings, Motus-colores, Mutanza,Poesis, and Ritornello for orch.; Toccata e canto for chamber orch.

- sonata for solo flute; Four Pieces for cello and piano; Little String Trio; Invention for clarinet, bass clarinet or viola, and cello or piano; string quartet; aleatoric Stamp Music

- piano sonata; piano sonatina; Klavierstück and 10 miniatyrer for piano

- song cycle Six Songs; ...a riveder le stelle for lower voice and chorus; Cantata for baritone and orch.;Nausikaa ensam and Skaldens natt (The Poet's Night) for soprano, chorus and orch.; A cappella-bok, Frya körer, Laudi and other works for unaccompanied chorus

- ballet Riter (also concert suite)

- television opera Holländarn; television drama Inga träd skall väcka dig


recommended works:

Kontakion (1978) for orchestra

Laudi (1947) for unaccompanied chorus

Music for Strings (1952)

Nausikaa ensam (1963) for soprano, chorus and orchestra

Poesis (1963) for orchestra

ballet suite Rites (1960)



born 13th October 1890 at Silvberg

died 9th August 1966 at Särö


Gösta Nystroem was well-known not only as a composer but also as a painter, and developed late into a mature compositional voice. After studying Spanish music in Spain in 1912, he moved to Paris, working as a painter in an Impressionistic style combined with expressive colourful effects (paintings of the sea dominating his output) and studying with d'Indy. The little music of the period which survives includes symphonic tone poems.

With the Concerto grosso (1929) for strings and the Sinfonia breve (Symphony No.1, 1929-1931) he adopted a purposeful neo-Baroque idiom combined with polyrhythms and harsh dissonances, influenced by Hindemith (as were many of his Swedish contemporaries), but also by Ho negger. He returned to Sweden in 1932, and then produced what is generally considered his finest work, the Sin fonia espressiva (Symphony No.2, 1932-1935). Taut and expressive, it is conceived in one long sweep, though in four movements, building in density of orchestration and in the organic development of germinal ideas. It exemplifies his combination of a rugged Northern expression tempered by Impressionistic orchestral details.

Nystroem returned to this linear contrapuntal style late in his life, notably in the last two symphonies, the Sinfonia seria ( Symphony No.5, 1963) and the Sinfonia tramontana (Symphony No.6, 1965), the harsher harmonies recurring in theViolin Concerto (1954) and the two Str ing Quartets (1956 and 1961). But in the intervening works, he emerges as a romantic with a more purposeful hue, the lyricism more evident. In the martial symphonic overture 1945 (1945) there is a morbid edge to the fanfare celebration, the declamatory elements and the driving strings. In the rather long-winded Sin fonia concertante (1940-1944, revised 1951-1952) for cello and orchestra a similar melancholy is set by the solo line in a work that, with the Viola Concerto `Hommage à la France' (1940), expresses the more idyllic side of Nystroem's idiom. But his major works of the 1940s and 1950s returned to his favourite visual theme, that of the sea. The Sinfonia del mare (Symphony No.3, 1947-1948), perhaps his main popular success, is the most complete expression of that love-affair with the sea, built in one large arching movement. It includes a soprano song on verses by Lindquist at its core, later extracted to stand on its own as Det en da (The Only Thing, 1951). Similarly, three major song cycles treated the sea as their subject: the Impressionistic Sånger vid havet (Songs beside the Sea, 1942), alternately lyrical and dramatic, and the brief På reveln ( On the Reef, 1949), both for lower voice with either piano or orchestra, and the rather dark and melancholic Själ och landskap ( Soul and Soil, 1952) for lower voice and piano, also to verses by Lindquist. The sea is again central to the radio opera Herr Arnes penningar (Sir Arne's Money, 1958).

Nystroem worked as a music critic in Göteborg (1932-1947).


works include:

- 6 numbered symphonies (No.1 Sinfonia breve, No.2 Sinfonia espressiva, No.3 Sinfonia del mare, with soprano solo, No.4 Sinfonia shakespeariana, No.5 Sinfonia seria, No.6 Sinfonia tramontana); Sinfonia concertante for cello and orch,; Sinfonia di lontano (not among the numbered symphonies)

- Concerto ricercante for piano and orch.; 2 concertos for strings; viola concerto; violin concerto

- symphonic overture 1945; Babels torn ( The Tower of Babel), Ishavet (The Arctic Ocean) and suites from incidental music for orch.; Sommmarmusik for chamber orch. with soprano solo

- Rondo capriccioso for violin and piano (also orchestrated); 2 string quartets

- Regrets (arranged as Suite lyrique for orch.),Prélude pastorale, Valse marine and Valse solennelle for piano

- song cycles and songs for solo voice including På reveln, Sånger vid havet and Själ och landskap; choral songs including 3 havsvisioner (3 Sea Visions)

- ballet Ungersvennen och de sex prinsessorna ( The young gentleman and the six princesses, arranged into two orchestral suites)

- radio opera Herr Arnes penningar; incidental music to plays


recommended works:

Sinfonia espressiva (Symphony No.2) (1932-1935)

Sinfonia del mare (Symphony No.3) (1947-1948)

Songs by the Sea (1942)


PETTERSSON (Gustaf) Allan

born 19th September 1911 at Västra Ryd

died 20th June 1980 at Stockholm


Allan Pettersson, perhaps more than any other composer, has given expression to that element of introverted dark anguish that is part of the character of the northern spirit, but which in other northern composers is usually an element, rather than predominant. His music is on a gigantic scale, and has aroused passionate advocacy and considerable distaste, in the same fashion as that of Bruckner and Ma hler - and Pettersson is the direct successor to the latter. His sixteen symphonies are central to his output, and develop the tortured side of Mahler's idiom. To his detractors, his musical voice is steeped in self-pity; to his admirers, it is the reflection of the horrors of the century. Objectively, there is substance to both views. The tendency to the obsessive in the huge relentless nature of the music is offset by passages of tremendous power and feeling for those prepared to accept the former. Undeniably, he gives direct utterance to a childhood of poverty and deprivation, an adulthood racked by crippling arthritis and psychological breakdown, and a strong sense of proletarian suffering.

The Mahlerian inheritance appears in particular in the style of the short-phrased melodic material and its potential for its extension through repetition. This material is usually treated in sharply delineated blocks, often overlaid in complex webs, with the rhythm their doing and undoing. In a conventional harmonic framework, the juxtaposition of blocks can often create grating dissonances, accentuated by using the extremes of instruments (sometimes with a screaming effect) and awkward intervals. Otherwise the orchestration tends to a homogeny of dark colours. The preferred one-movement form is generally divided into two halves, the first usually a huge sort of ostinato structure, in which the progression is created by crying, yearning phrases and aggressive blocks piled on again and again, and a more static second half in which the ideas are reworked within each other. The endings are usually inconclusive and anticlimactic.

Pettersson's earliest works were chamber music and short songs, and his Symphony No.1, although extant, has never been released. But the Symphony No.2 (1954) sets the tone; its 40 minutes are in Pettersson's favourite single-movement form, here a set of variations. The concept is developed in the very slowly unfolding Symphony No.4 (1958-1959), which pits the pithy forward-driving phrases, eventually with the addition of a germinating percussion phrase, against a lyrical choral atmosphere. With this duality, the work moves towards massive climaxes, an increase in contrasts and a Shostakovichian use of haunting woodwind. The Sym phony No.5 (1960-1962) was the last work he could copy out himself, and, based on a minimum of material, is a link between the contrasting dualities of the earlier symphonies and the more intense later ones. The one-movement Symphony No.6 (1963-1966), lasting just under an hour, has a sad inevitability of serenity among its moments of climactic strength.

The moving Symphony No.7 (1967) and its advocacy by the conductor Anton Dorati brought him national and international attention. It is a less relentless, a more public work, still concerned with the contrast between the interior protest and lyricism, but with the anguish of structural blocks smoothed out, a more convincing sense of structural purpose, and a strong component of resignation in the string writing. The enormous Symphony No.9 - 85 uninterrupted minutes - most reflects Pettersson's personal agony. The compelling and turbulent Symphony No.10 instigated a change to much shorter symphonies; its twenty-five minutes compress the earlier idiom into a feeling of nervous and frenetic or angry restlessness rather than the inevitability of relentlessness, the harmonic security quite removed. Of the later works, the Symphony No.12 `The Dead on the Square' (1972) uses chorus and texts by Pablo Neruda, the Symphony No.14 (1978) employs variations on one of theBarfotasånger (see below), and the Sympho ny No.16 (1979) is an alto saxophone concerto.

In other musical forms, the Violin Concerto No.1 (1949) is for violin and string quartet, while the Vi olin Concerto No.2 (1979) was criticised for being more a symphony than a concerto. There are also three concertos for string orchestra (1950,1956 and 1957) which are highly regarded by supporters of his music. His best known songs are the song-cycle of twenty-four Barfota sånger (Barefoot Songs, 1943-1945), miniatures as spare as the title might suggest, the emphasis on the expressive and ruminative vocal lines. Vox Humana (1974) for soloists, chorus and orchestra is Pettersson's major vocal work, setting verses of descriptive protest at the human condition without any political allegiance, and cast in four three parts. The first uses fourteen poems by Latin American worker-poets in emotionally and musically wide-ranging settings using different combinations of the available forces that create a Mahlerian cycle. The second parts sets three short poems by ancient Indian poets, the third creates a small cantata on a longer poem by Pablo Neruda. Both these sections, with their emphasis on choral writing, are different in idiom to the first; Pettersson intended that the individual components of the work could be heard separately. The first section is outstanding, the Mahlerian tendencies counterpoised by the moments of un-Mahlerian choral writing, and deserves to be widely heard on its own.

It may be (as was once the case with Ma hler) that Pettersson's enormous and heartfelt symphonies have not yet had the rehearsals and performances by sympathetic world-class forces that would bring them to a more general attention. Apart from scores, virtually the only acquaintance possible with Pettersson's music has been through recordings, often made shortly after premieres. Major interpreters may reveal new dimensions to, in particular, the structure of Pettersson's creations; conversely, they may confirm the inability of those structures to hold up such great lengths, troubled emotions, and limitations of thematic material. His music - and in particular the seventh and eighth symphonies - certainly deserves that test.


works include:

- 16 symphonies (No.12 The Dead in the Square, No.16 for alto saxophone and orch.)

- 3 concertos for string orch.; viola concerto; 2 violin concertos

- 7 sonatas for two violins

- song cycle Barfotasånger; Vox Humana for soloists, chorus and string orchestra


recommended works:

Symphony No.2 (1954)

Symphony No.4 (1958-1959)

Symphony No.7 (1966-1967)

Symphony No.8 (1969)

Symphony No.10 (1972)

Vox Humana (1974) for soloists, chorus and string orchestra


RANGSTRÖM (Anders Johan) Ture

born 30th November 1884 at Stockholm

died 11th May 1947 at Stockholm


Rangström is now best known for his songs, of which he is one of the Swedish masters. They range widely in mood (from intimacy to mood painting, with those from the 1930s and 1940s particularly dramatic), in source (but favouring the verses of Bo Bergman), and in subject matter, often using sparse accompaniments. He developed what he called `speech melody', in which the vocal line reflects an expressive speech rendering of the verse, and the style often changes to suit the particular poetry. Chief among his song cycles is the dramatic and vivid Ur Kung Eriks Visor ( From King Erik's Songs, 1918), to verses of Gustav Fröding about the tragic and ultimately mad 15th-century Swedish king. Powerful, emotive, and rhythmically tense, it exists in versions for both baritone and piano and baritone and orchestra, the colour and drama of the latter adding impact. This Romantic song cycle deserves to be better known outside Scandinavia. That his songs in general have not travelled is probably due to the unfamiliarity of the language to non-Nordic singers, as they are lyrical miniatures of the highest order; certainly they are well worth hunting out on recordings.

Rangström remained a Romantic composer, echoing the impassioned milieu of his compatriot the writer August Strindberg, and sometimes favouring a harshness in melody and harmony that is associated with the old Swedish tradition. He was also largely self-taught, and his larger-scale works sometimes suffer from structural problems; contrapuntal and polyphonic passages are rare in his work. His four symphonies all have programmatic titles, use a large orchestra with considerable flair and colour, and have not deserved the scorn sometimes heaped upon them by an age out of sympathy with anything Romantic; Rangström himself described them as `lyrics for orchestra'. The four-movement Symphony No.1 `In Memoriam August Strindberg' (1914) is over-ambitious and ineffectual, in spite of some fine moments. The three-movement Symphony No.2 `Mitt land' (My Country, 1919) is more obviously nationalistic (though in common with most of Rangström's work, it does not use actual folk material), darkly Nordic, and the more effective if treated as a tone-poem rather than a symphony, since some of the material is banal. However, theSymphony No.3 `Sång under stjarnorna' ( Song under the stars, 1929) draws on the experience of both these works for a much tauter one-movement symphony, whose sections of ostinati bass, side-drum snarls, falling or whooping brass and long string lines clearly prefigure the more sparse symphonic world of Pett ersson. These grimmer passages are set against more Romantic concepts in a powerful and effective, if not overtly memorable, work, whose clarity of orchestration, with sharp differentiation between sections of the orchestra, is considerable. Of his other orchestral music, the best known is the Divertimento Elegiaco (1917) for strings, combining a Nordic expansiveness (the opening movement is titled `Preludio visionario') with the lilt of the dance, but tinged throughout with melancholy - mournfully attractive, but not particularly distinctive.

His piano music includes four Preludia (Preludes , 1910-1912), full of the fire of youth, similar in style and tone to theRachmaninov Preludes. The later Improvisata (1927) for piano, a series of short improvisatory pieces, are more ruminative, with a Nordic opaqueness. In common with many contemporaries, an interest in older styles is reflected in two attractive but inconsequential suites for violin and piano. In the Suite (in modo antico) (In the Old Style, 1912) the influence of older music (through dance forms and technical details) is filtered through a Romantic hue. Many consider Rangström's finest achievement to be the opera Kronbruden ( The Crown Bride, 1915), a setting of Strindberg's folk play, in which his lyrical writing and writing for the voice come to the fore. It has remained in Scandinavian opera repertoires. He also wrote the words to one of Stenhammar's most important late works, the cantata ngen (Song, 1920).

Rangström was a conductor and teacher of singing as well as a composer, and worked as a music critic for Svenska dagbladet (1907-1908),Stokholms dagblad (1910-1914, 1927-1930), and Nya dagligt allehanda (1938-1942). He co-founded the Swedish Society of Composers in 1918


works include:

- 4 symphonies (No.1 In Memoriam August Strindberg, No.2Mitt Land No.3 Sång under stjarnorna, No.4 Invocatio)

- Ballad for piano and orch.; Partita for violin and orch.

- Dithyramb, Divertimento Elegiaco,Intermezzo drammatico, Festival Prelude and Vauxhall for orch.

- Romance for cello and piano; Suite (in modo antico) and Suite No.2 (in modo barocco) for violin and piano; string quartet (Night Piece after E.T.A.Hoffmann)

- Improvisata, Mälarlegender (Lake Mälaren Legends), 4 Praeludia, and Spelmansvår (Fiddler's Spring) for piano

- many songs including song cycles Fünf Pastischen ( Five Pastiches) and Ur Kung Eriks Visor

- operas Kronbruden, Gilgamesj (incomplete) and Medeltida (Medieval)


recommended works:

song cycle Ur Kung Eriks Visor (From King Erik's Songs, 1918)

opera Kronbruden (The Crown Bride, 1915)

Symphony No.3 (Sång under stjarnorna) (1929)


ROSENBERG Hilding Constantin

born 21st June 1892 at Bosjkloster (Ringsjön, Skåne)

died 19th May 1985 at Stockholm


Hilding Rosenberg occupies an important place in Swedish music, an equivalent to Vaughan Williams in the U.K. That his music is still so little known outside Scandinavia is something of a mystery, for such works as his Sy mphony No.3 have the power to communicate to a wide audience. Although his works cover the complete span of traditional genres, he is best known for his eight symphonies and for his fifteen string quartets. His mature style is characterized by a noble dignity, emphasized by a powerful contrapuntal logic and combined with a lyrical sense of delicate beauty, as luminous as the northern light. His orchestral colours are usual dark, lower strings predominant and punctuated by brass. In his later works there is a strong feeling of overall momentum spread over long spans.

His earliest music shows the influence of Sib elius and Nielsen, the major Scandinavian symphonic models of the time, but he was considered a radical in the 1920s, when his travels introduced him to the latest European developments. However, with the Symphony No.2 (1928-1935), his mature style emerged with the contrapuntal art of Hindemith perhaps the major model, tempered by the echo of Sibelius in phrasing and colouring. The vigour, characteristic of the mature works, is founded on the rhythmic drive of bass lines in counterpoint, and on the direct but slowly unfolding logic of his structures; the lyricism emerges in cantilena solo lines and the suggestion of Nordic tone-painting that occurs from time to time. The harmonic structures are predominantly diatonic, chromaticism being largely used for added effect, or characteristically to give a more angular cast to a melodic line.

The Symphony No.2 `Sinfonia grave' is intense and well-wrought, the energy of its opening movement, insistent percussion to the fore, alternating with more pastoral moments in which woodwind predominate. The slow movement is founded on long soaring string lines, its sense of purpose gradually evolving to a grand climax. The scherzo, never quite allowed to emerge into jauntiness, has an exotic passage that is almost oriental in feel, while the finale, if the least convincing of the movements, has an impressive moment for snarling trumpets answering diving strings in a series of short antiphonal snatches. The four-movement Symphony No.3 (1939) is a development of the idiom initiated in the second. It was originally titled De fyra tidsåldrarna ( The Four Ages of Man), and opens with a stark theme that uses all twelve notes of the chromatic scale, while maintaining a sense of tonal base that becomes more overt as the work progresses. With its vigorous counterpoint, sense of purpose, logic and drive, an emotional intensity founded on the bass lines, and dark hues to the orchestration, this fine symphony, like its predecessor, most recalls Shostakovich in affinity (another composer influenced by Hindemith), although with the occasional Sibelian touch and sense of long sweep that firmly shows its Northern heritage. The final movement starts off in a happy Northern woodland vein, but then unexpectedly evolves into a grimmer march of considerable power. The total neglect outside Sweden of such an emphatic symphony is a cause for considerable regret.

The next two symphonies were choral. The apocalypticSymphony No.4 `Johannes uppenbarelse' ( Revelations of St.John, 1939-1940) is in complete contrast to the third, being a one-hour work for baritone, chorus and orchestra in eight-movement form, to words from Revelations and by the Swedish poet Hjalmar Gullberg in the linking a cappella chorales, more in the nature of Bach Passion than a symphony. Its textures are generally lean, apart from the more climactic choral passages; often one predominant instrumental colour accompanies the soloists to considerable effect - the limpid simplicity of the fifth section is especially affecting. Many commentators consider the Symphony No.5 `Örtagårdsmästaren' (1944, The Keeper of the Garden) for chorus and orchestra, to be the finest of all Rosenberg's works. Unfortunately, it has never been recorded.

Rosenberg returned to the purely orchestral symphony with theSymphony No.6 `Sinfonia semplice' (1951, its subtitle a tribute to Nielsen, whose sixth symphony is similarly named). It returns to the instrumental forces of the third symphony, but tinged with a more delicate and reconciled touch in its lyricism, particularly in the cantilena lines that open the first two movements (cellos in the first, French horn in the second).

The Symphony No.8 (1980, developed from the introduction to the cantata In candidum, 1974) was at one point subtitled Sinfonia serena. Less immediately direct than the preceding symphonies, it is a complex and dense work in a single movement, its velvet mixed with grit, especially in the patchwork effect of the constantly varying orchestra and the interspersing of more forceful rhythmic snatches. The long stride of the earlier symphonies has become fragmented, interspersed with moments of hazy, almost Debussian Impressionism. This fine work rewards close attention, and completely belies the octogenarian status of its composer, although the abrupt and unexpected ending (it just stops) could perhaps only have been written by someone with the total confidence and disregard of old age.

The first of the two cello concertos (1939) is little known (although the slow movement has been heard in revised form as the Intermezzo for Solo Cello), but the Cello Concerto No.2 (1953) is one of the better known of a number of concertante works that appeared in the early 1950s, including the Piano Concerto (1950) and the Violin Concerto No.2 (1951). Predominantly lyrical, it has some gently beautiful passages, especially the opening of the slow movement, a horn call answered by the soloist against muted strings like a finely shaped branch floating down a lazy river. Overall, the effect is less impressive, that lazy river too often meandering into less interesting backwaters.

Of his other works, the dance suite from the ballet Or pheus in Town (1938), describing the awakening of a statue in Stockholm, used to be relatively popular with a tango among its numbers. With its boisterous atmosphere, and its feel of the jazz of Berlin of the early 1930s, its subsequent neglect is perhaps undeserved. The initially menacing and then pleasantly bouncy overture to his opera buffaMarionettes (1938) is also worth an airing. The Lento for strings is an impassioned dirge responding to the event in Hungary in 1956. The cantata Den Heliga Natten (The Holy Night, 1936), with its simplified style, became extremely popular in Sweden, being broadcast each Christmas.


works include:

- 8 symphonies (No.2 Sinfonia grave, No.3 originally The Four Ages of Man, No.4 The Revelation of St.John for baritone, chorus and orch., No.5 The Keeper of the Garden, No.6Sinfonia semplice); symphony for wind and percussion; 2 Sinfonia da chiesa

- Symphonie concertante for violin, viola, oboe, bassoon and orch.; 4 concertos for orchestra (No.1 and No.4 for strings, No.3 Louisville); 2 cello concertos; piano concerto; trumpet concerto; viola concerto; 2 violin concertos

- Adagio funèbre, 3 Metamorphosi sinfoniche,Overtura bianca-nera, Overtura piccola, Threnody for Stenhammar, Variations on a Sarabande and other works for orch.

- 3 Riflessioni, Lento and Suite on Swedish Folksongs for strings

- song cycles Dagdrivaren (variously translated as The Shepherd of Days or The Sluggard) for baritone and orch., 14 Chinese Songs; Huvudskalleplats (Calvary), Hymnus, Svensk lagsaga (Old Swedish Verse) and other oratorios; cantatas including Julhymn av Romanus and Lyrisk cvit

- ballet Orfeus i sta'n (Orpheus in town) and other ballets based on his music

- operas Hus med dubbbel ingång (The house with two doors ), Kaspars fettisdag (Punch's Shrove Tuesday),Lycksalighetens ö (The Isle of Felicity),Marionetter, Porträttet, Resa till Amerika ( Journey to America); children's operas Spelet om St örjan and Da två konungadttrarna (The two princesses); opera-oratorio Josef och hans bröder (Joseph and his brothers)


recommended works:

Symphony No.2 (1928-1935)

Symphony No.3 The Four Ages of Man (1939)

Symphony No.4 The Revelation of St.John (1939-1940)

Symphony No.5 The Keeper of the Garden (1944)

Symphony No.8 (1974/1980)



M.Pergament Hilding Rosenberg, a Giant of Modern Swedish Music, 1956


STENHAMMAR (Karl) Wilhelm (Eugen)

born 7th February 1871 at Stockholm

died 20th November 1927 at Stockholm


Best known outside Scandinavia for his Serenade for orchestra, Stenhammar occupies an important place in the revival of Swedish music. He mostly avoided folk influences, maintaining a more abstract late-Romantic symphonic and string quartet idiom as the 19th century turned into the 20th. He then developed a more formal and personal idiom, thus setting the tone for the following generation of Swedish composers. In terms of aesthetic he occupies much the same place in Swedish music as Elgar does in English music, though without the anguish that surfaces in the latter; his is an exuberant, colourful idiom, sometimes shaded with northern melancholia but usually bright and spontaneous. He was very active in Swedish musical life, as a conductor (notably with the Göteborg Orchestral Society, 1907-1922) and pianist (especially in conjunction with the Aulin String Quartet, 1894-1912); consequently his compositional output is limited to 44 published opuses.

Those outside Scandinavia are most likely to encounter Stenhammar's orchestral music. The early and extensive Overture, Excelsior! op.13 (1896), essentially a tone-poem, shows strong Germanic influence but has an attractive extroversion and a sure handling of the orchestra. The Symphony No.1 in F (1902-1903, never published, as Stenhammar intended to revise it) is a very long work (just over 50 minutes), and derivative, with shades of both Wagner and Bruckner (Stenhammar called it "idyllic Bruckner"). That being said, it is a gloriously opulent score, memorable in its Brucknerian themes, masterfully orchestrated, especially for brass where the horns are particularly prominent (a feature of Stenhammar's orchestration). The major emphasis is on the outer movements; the slow movement carries less weight than expected from a symphony of this period. A similar structural emphasis applies to the much more frequently heard Symphony No.2 in G minor (1915). By this time Stenhammar had left behind much of the Romantic elements for a more personal language partly founded on his extensive study of counterpoint, and this is the finest Swedish symphony of its era. It is Nordic in its opening melancholy (created harmonically by the use of modes), and yet combines this rather dark hue with considerable formal urgency and drive, clarified by the clear-cut orchestration (the brass are again prominent). Some of the rhythms are derived from folk-music, the slow movement is a spacious funeral march, and the four-movement work ends with a vigorous movement reflecting his counterpoint studies in the expert working of its seven sections, including variations and a double fugue.

The more formal, personal language is repeated in the nature poem that is the Serenade (1913 revised 1919) for orchestra in five movements (but sometimes played with six by including a short Reverenza which Stenhammar removed in the revision). It looks forward to neo-classicism in its use of solo strings in 18th-century concertante manner, but remains within the aesthetic of the large late-Romantic orchestra. It is broad and spacious, filled with a Nordic clarity of colour and light, the light humour of the ending having much in common with Elgar. The Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor op.1 (1893), although now forgotten, was the first major Swedish work of its kind. The Piano Concerto No.2 in D minor, op.23 (1904-1907) is a Romantic work, close to Rac hmaninov in spirit, although the sometimes fiery piano writing is often integrated symphonically into the overall texture, when not in dialogue with the orchestra. The themes are not as memorable as those of the Russian composer, but for readers looking for an alternative to the better-known Romantic concerto repertoire, this often glittering piece is worth considering. The two Sentimental Romances op.28 (1910) for violin and orchestra look to Beethoven as a model, but display a yearning Romanticism in their lyrical outpouring.

However, many consider Stenhammar's string quartets to be the kernel of his work, though they are rarely heard outside Scandinavia. Str ing Quartet No.1 in C, op.2, (1894) is an early work, but the passionate String Quartet No.2 in C minor op.14 (1896) is modelled on Beethoven, classical in mould. In contrast the St ring Quartet No.3 in F op.18 (1897-1900) is Romantic in inspiration, with a heartfelt Lento. The Str ing Quartet No.4 in A min., op.25 (1904-1909) shows the darker side of the Nordic temperament, while the String Quartet No.5, `Serenade' in C, op.29 (1910) is a short and lively work (orchestrated by Nielsen) using, unusually for Stenhammar, a set of variations on a folk nursery-rhyme instead of a slow movement. The more elusive String Quartet No.6 in D minor, op.35 (1916) completes the cycle.

Stenhammar also made important vocal contributions to the Swedish repertoire. The seascape Ithaka op.21 (1904) for baritone and orchestra is as much a small cantata as an extended song, with a very flowing rocking solo line supported by a rich-textured orchestra that graphically matches the words, in a score that inhabits the same area asVaughan Williams's A Sea Symphony. Nationalist expression comes to the fore in the cantata Ett Folk (1904-1905), whose unaccompanied hymn Sverige (Sweden) is one of the best known of all Swedish songs. Midvinter op.24 (Midwinter, 1906-1907) is a beautiful `Swedish Rhapsody' for chorus and orchestra, building slowly on a variant of a traditional hymn, and combining it with echoes of fiddle folk-music. The orchestral Intermezzo is often extrapolated from the dramatic cantata Sången op.44 (The Song, 1920-1921, words by the composer Ture Rangström), but the whole cantata for four soloists, chorus and orchestra, is an important product of Stenhammar's later style. Rangström's poem, divided into two parts, equates sense of place with song in dense imagery; the rich, luxuriant lyricism of Stenhammar's setting places it firmly in the twilight of Romanticism, but tempered by his strong sense of formal choral procedures harking back to the tradition of the oratorio. He himself called it a `two-movement Sinfonia', and this often heady and beautiful work, moving from tense lyricism to exuberant joy and repose, is worthy of the attention of accomplished choral societies.

His songs are also particularly effective, notably those written to verses by the poet Bo Bergman. Musical means are closely allied to the nature of the words, with often relatively simple accompaniments. Prominent are the song collection Visor och stämningar op.26 (1906-1909), the cycle Stockholm Poems (1918) and the combination of tragedy and lyricism in Fylgia. His two early operas both failed, and he did not attempt a third. His piano music includes the Three Fantasies (1895) showing the influence of Brahms, but using folk material in the final piece.

Stenhammar particularly influenced later Swedish music through his pupil Rosenberg, the major Swedish composer of the middle of the 20th century. His own Romantic hue has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years; certainly those who enjoy the music of Elgar will appreciate the music of the contemporary Swedish composer.


works include:

- 2 symphonies

- 2 piano concertos; 2 Sentimentala romanser for violin and orch.

- overture Excelsior! and Serenade for orch.

- violin sonata; 6 string quartets (No.5 Serenade)

- 2 piano sonatas and other works for piano

- Florez och Blanzeflor for baritone and orch.; Ithaka for baritone and orch.; Ur idyll och epigram av J.L. Runberg for mezzo-soprano and orch.; many songs and song cycles with piano

- Ett folk for baritone, chorus and orch.; Midvinter for chorus and orch.; Sången for soloists, chorus and orch.

- operas Gildet på Solhaug and Tirfing


recommended works:

Midvinter (Swedish Rhapsody for Choir and Orchestra) op.24 (1906-1907)

Serenade in F op.31 (1913) for orchestra

String Quartet No.3 in F op.18 (1897-1900)

String Quartet No.4 in A minor, op.25 (1904-1909)

Symphony No.2 in G minor, op.34 (1915)


TUBIN Eduard - see under `Estonia'


WIRÉN Dag Ivar

born 15th October 1905 at Noraberg

died 19th April 1986 at Stockholm


Dag Wirén's name is widely familiar through the popularity of a single work, the pleasant Serenade for Strings op.11 (1937), with its well-known march-like theme. His output was small, reflecting the detail of craftsmanship evident throughout his work. His earlier music was Romantic in idiom, but in the early thirties Wirén lived in Paris, and turned to the new idiom of neo-classicism, influenced by Ho negger and Stravinsky, imparting to it his own brand of gentle humour and melodic skill. To this period belong the Symphony No.1 (1932) and the Symphony No.2 (1939). His idiom again developed in the 1940s: the language remained tonal, but Wirén started exploring problems of form, aiming at a `special form' in each work, especially creating thematic development and interaction from germinal ideas (recalling Sibelius). The main expressions of this approach were theSymphony No.3 (1944) and the Sym phony No.4 op.27 (1952). The later, the best-known of his symphonies, is a marvellously vital work, whose polish and completeness sparkles. Rhythmically alive, it still shows a busy injection of neo-classical verve, and the scoring is searchingly lucid. The melodic flair remains predominant, but it is broadened by a darker streak, especially in the repeated pattern of two irregular rhythmic figures of the bass of the first movement, in the sinuous opening, and in the massed string miasmic introduction to the slow movement (recalling Martinu). This especially fine symphony is a much more interesting and rewarding work than the Serenade, and deserves to become popular in its own right. The development of Wirén's idiom is also clearly laid out in the quartets, from the melodic neo-classicism of the String Quartet No.2 op.9 (1935), through the more stringent harmonies of Str ing Quartet No.3 (1945), and the development and reworking of germinal motifs in String Quartet No.4 (1953), to the economic String Quartet No.5 op.41 (1970).

Wirén was music critic for the newspaper Svenska Morgonbladet (1938-1946). Among his lighter compositions was the Swedish entry for the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest.


works include:

- 5 symphonies; sinfonietta

- piano concerto; violin concerto; concertino for flute and small orch.

- Divertimento, Little Suite, and Köpmannen i Vendig (The Merchant of Venice) for orch.

- Serenade for Strings; Music for String Orchestra

- violin sonatina; 2 piano trios; 5 string quartets; quartet for 3 wind and cello; wind quintet and other chamber works

- piano sonatina and other works for piano; Serenade for guitar

- songs

- Yttersta domen (Domesday) for soloists, chorus and orch.; Titania for women's chorus

- ballets Den elaka drottingen (The Evil Queen),Oscarsbalen and Plats på scenen ( Take your Place on the Stage)


recommended works:

Serenade for Strings op.11 (1937)

Symphony No.4 op.27 (1951-1952)


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