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Carl Michael BELLMAN (1740-1795)
Songs and Epistles Arranged for Orchestra (arr: Claude Genetay)
Movitz blåste en konsert op. 51; Gråt Fader Berg och spela op. 12; Blåsen nu alla op. 25; Vår Ulla låg i sängen op. 36; Skyarna tjockna, stjärnorna slockna op. 21; Kära syster, mig nu lyster op. 24; Nå skruva fiolen, hej spelman op. 2; Drick ur ditt glas op. 30; Hej, sade Fredman op. 11; Ulla! min Ulla! op. 71; Käraste bröder, systrar och vänner op. 9; Liksom en herdinna op. 80; Fader Bergström, fingra ditt oboe op. 16; Vila vid denna källa op. 82; Solen glimmar blank och trind op. 48; Aldrig en Iris op. 54; Fäll dina ögon och skäms op. 64; Käraste bröder, systrar och vänner op. 6; Undan ur vägen  op. 38; I januari månad, gutår song 17; Se, svarta böljans vita drägg song 5b; Supa klockan över tolv song 10; Joachim uti Babylon song 41; Nå ödmjukaste tjänare song 9; Opp Amaryllis vakna min lilla song 31; Träd fram du nattens gud song 32; Movitz skulle bli student song 28; Så vandra våra stora män song 5a; Så lunka vi så småningom song 21; Hur du dig vänder song 46; En Potifars hustru song 38; Fjäriln vingad syns på Haga song 64; Ur vägen, ur vägen song 27
The Drottningholm Chamber Orchestra/Stig Westerberg
Recorded November 10th 1960 at the Drottningholm Court Theatre, Stockholm, Sweden
SWEDISH SOCIETY DISCOFIL SCD 1099 [37:45]

 

 

Carl Michael Bellman may not be well-known outside the Nordic region, but within Scandinavian literature he is regarded as one of the most important and original poets ever. From a rather modest start as an entertainer in pubs and at parties he gradually advanced to become a favourite with King Gustavus III and had for some time a position as unofficial poet laureate. His most important works are the two collections Fredman’s Epistles (1790) and Fredman’s Songs (1791). These contain a wide variety of poems, many of them long narratives, requiring a real singer/actor to perform them, something Bellman obviously was, according to eye-witnesses. Among these songs are burlesque portraits of drunkards and prostitutes but also pastorals, bible parodies, drinking songs. Often Death looms darkly over the proceedings.

The music is to a great extent comprises borrowings from and adaptations of marches, minuets, folk songs, operas and operettas, very often from French Opéra-Comique - Gustavus III was very French-oriented. But they are not mere loans; he modifies them very skilfully to fit the texts, which at all times are at the forefront. In some cases the tunes he used were written by well-known composers: Handel, Roman, Rousseau and Johann Gottlieb Naumann, to mention just four. In other cases the originators are long forgotten. He is also supposed to have composed some of the finest of them himself: on this disc tracks 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 26 and 32, of which the last mentioned, Fjäriln vingad syns på Haga, is one of the songs that almost every grown-up person in Sweden can at least hum and probably also knows a few lines.

For English speakers it is good to know that there exist excellent translations of many of these songs by Paul Britten Austin, some of them recorded by Martin Best back in the 1970s or 1980s. On Proprius there is also a disc where Martin Bagge sings a selection of them.

With so much focus on the texts it may seem a bit odd to record a whole disc with only the music, but, as C-G Stellan Mörner wrote in the liner notes to the original LP issue back in 1960: “Many of these melodies were in fact originally instrumental or else had a melodic line in their instrumental accompaniment, consequently there is good reason for these melodies to appear in their instrumental garb without their vocal elements.” The choice of Claude Génetay as arranger ensures stylish orchestrations, Génetay being French-born and specializing in 18th century music. Recording the music in the Drottningholm Court Theatre, built in the late 18th century, further lends an aura of period atmosphere, although the orchestra play on modern instruments. Conductor Stig Westerberg sees to it that the playing is vigorous and springy, but I believe that recorded today it might have been even more pointed, with more “air” between the notes. Génetay’s arrangements have worn well and he has often observed Bellman’s instructions about what particular instruments the singer was supposed to imitate. The overall impression is more of early 19th than late 18th century. Lovers of good melodies need not bother about this, but should know that the ordering of the pieces gives maximum variety.

Squeezing 33 melodies into a disc playing for less than 38 minutes of course means that many of them are frustratingly short: most of them around one minute and none exceeding two minutes but who needs to play the whole disc at one sitting? 38 minutes was of course quite normal playing time for an LP in the early 1960s and Swedish Society probably didn’t have any suitable fillers. Sound quality is quite OK for a 45-year-old recording and even if this may not be regarded as essential listening it is highly entertaining and many of the melodies should appeal even to non-Scandinavians.

Göran Forsling

 



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