Allgén" – and now I quote
the booklet notes – "was born on
April 16, 1920 in Calcutta, India, but
was brought up in Djursholm near Stockholm.
He started composing at the age of 13,
and studied viola and counterpoint at
the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm.
He was a member of the Monday Group
consisting of some of the leading Swedish
composers. However, as a composer Allgén
considered himself as self-taught."
"In 1950 he converted
to Catholicism and changed his first
name, Klas-Thure, to Claude Loyola Johannes
Maria. He studied theology in Innsbruck
and Holland but was never ordained and
that he considered one of the greatest
tragedies in his life."
"During the last
years of his life Allgén lived
in a partly self-chosen poverty. He
lived in a small house and on the income
from some shares, all inherited from
his mother. These possessions he considered
himself as holding in trust for his
planned legacy for an orphanage. But
the plans came to nothing. The night
before September 18 in 1990 he was burned
to death in his home, and with him many
He was a prolific composer,
but most of his oeuvre was never performed,
due to the complexity of the writing
but maybe also since he didn’t belong
to a specific school. He always stated
that music is incapable of expressing
anything extra-musical, but this is
at the same time "a possibility
of manifoldness, of ambiguity, which
certainly, fundamentally is based on
the freedom which is characteristic
of the human mind" as Allgén
wrote in an essay in 1968.
One of the manuscripts
that survived the fire is this string
quartet, which exists in several versions,
of which this is the first, composed
in 1942 and actually a transcription
of the orchestral parts to Falstaff,
an opera based on Shakespeare. It was
first performed by the IORE Quartet
in April 2004 and then on a couple of
further occasions. From what I have
written above one can draw the conclusion
that whatever extra-musical references
I can find in the music are completely
contrary to Allgén’s views.
Let me say at once
that this is intriguing music. The quartet
is traditionally divided into four movements,
of which the second occupies about half
the playing time. The first movement,
marked Allegro elastico, is restless,
constantly on the move – the question
is: where to? One can feel that it moves
in circles and so could be described
as introspective – music about itself.
There are some abrupt pauses, after
which the music takes new directions.
The rhythmical elements are essential.
This is vital music, stylistically sounding
like – Claude Loyola Allgén.
The long second movement
is divided in seven parts, with a recurring
Adagio serioso appearing four
times, so it can be described as a rondo.
The Adagio is contemplative and
beautiful, reminding me to some extent
of Arvo Pärt; it is interrupted
by a more lively Un poco meno lento,
a kind of march. But the Adagio returns
and in spite of further excursions into
other moods it is this initial contemplative
atmosphere that prevails and also gets
the last word.
The third movement,
a tripartite Scherzo starts with
some pizzicato bars, then becomes more
and more agitated. We seem to hear repeated
cries for help. There is more than a
hint of desperation in a scherzo that
lacks any gaiety.
Strangely enough the
last movement, marked Presto,
has a lighter tone, but the same whirlwind-like
relentlessness of the first movement
is also present here. Then at c. 4:40
the music suddenly stops, there is some
confusion but then it starts again,
hesitantly at first but after some time
it’s the same relentlessness again.
One eventually gets the feeling of a
perpetuum mobile. Now and then one can
discern fragments of melodies, suggestive
of something: a children’s song, a folk
melody? In the end the music just dissolves,
disappears into thin air.
As I said, an intriguing
composition and not for the faint-hearted.
It is atonal and acrimonious, written
at a time when Karl-Birger Blomdahl,
the leading Swedish modernist and a
future co-member to Allgén in
the Monday Group, was still composing
in a comparatively well-behaved vein.
But it is honest, uncompromising, ambiguous
and exhausting. I tremble a little at
the thought of playing it again, for
it is so intense that I get a feeling
it will take the life out of me. However
it also has a certain magic. Next time
I am going to start with the slow movement:
a quartet within the quartet.
One has to admire the
players for their stamina, their wholeheartedness
and their energy. The IORE Quartet was
formed in 2003 with the intention to
perform Allgén’s music. IORE
is the name of the locomotives pulling
the carriages with iron ore on the railway
between Luleå and Narvik in northern
Scandinavia. Since these trains weigh
more than 8000 tons, the engines need
enormous "strength, staying power
and steady tempo, characteristics which
are of vital importance also for anyone
who decides to play Allgén’s,
often rather complex, chamber music."
Moreover Joar Skorpen, the first violinist,
also works as an engine-driver!
is excellent with few extraneous noises,
apart from some rustle of music sheets
being turned. There is a good, un-credited
note in two languages, from which I
have quoted extensively.
Allgén has been
something of a myth in Swedish contemporary
music, although very few have ever heard
anything of his music. After his tragic
death the myth deepened further and
it is a privilege to have the opportunity
to hear this music. Inquisitive readers
should give it a try. It’s no easy journey.
I can’t promise that you will like what
you hear but there are rewards to be