Symphonic Movement (1973) [10:53]
Symphony no 2 (1953) [46:23]
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Alun
Symphony no 3 (1955) [39:38]
Symphony no 4 (1959) [38:25]
Saar Radio Symphony Orchestra/Alun Francis
Symphony no 5 (1960-62) [40:51]
Symphony no 16 for saxophone and orchestra
John-Edward Kelly (alto saxophone)
Saar Radio Symphony Orchestra/Alun Francis
Symphony no 6 (1963-66) [60:38]
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Manfred
Symphony no 7 (1966-67) [44:35]
Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra/Gerd
Symphony no 8 (1968-69) [50:24]
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Thomas
Symphony no 9 (1970-72) [69:52]
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Alun
Symphony no 10 (1970-72) [27:10]
Symphony no 11 (1974) [25:30]
Hannover Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Alun
Symphony no 12 De Döda på
Torget (The dead in the square)
Swedish Radio Chorus; Eric Ericson Chamber
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Manfred
Symphony no 13 (1976) [67:03]
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Alun
Symphony no 14 (1978) [47:00]
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Johan
Symphony no 15 (1978) [38:18]
Pettersson on the Web
How often have I made
the rather obvious point that the CD
has devastatingly increased the recorded
repertoire. Whether it is cause and
effect is debatable.
In the case of Allan
Pettersson we need to bear in mind that
there were quite a few Pettersson LPs
in the period 1960-1980, particularly
during the mid-late 1970s. The enlightened
attitude of the Swedish recording industry
and arts establishment was crucial.
This chimed well with Pettersson's archetypically
pessimistic-tragedian language touching
sympathetically resonating nerves. We
should also remember the pioneering
work of the conductors Dorati and Westerberg
and overwhelmingly the Romanian-American
conductor Sergiu Comissiona (1928-2005)
who made gave many of the premieres
and whose recordings form part of the
The main Pettersson
symphony LPs were:-
Mesto for strings -
Swedish RSO/Stig Westerberg. Swedish
Society Discfil SLT 33203. September
Symphony No. 2 - Swedish
RSO/Stig Westerberg. Swedish Society
Discofil SLT 33219. 6-11 March 1966
Symphony No. 7- Stockholm
PO/Antal Dorati. Swedish Society Discofil
SLT 33194. 18-19 September 1969
Symphony No. 6. Norrkopping
SO/Okko Kamu. CBS 76553. 11 April 1976.
Symphony No. 9. Goteborg
SO/Sergiu Comissiona. Philips 6767 951.
8-10 June 1977.
Symphony No. 8. Baltimore
SO/Sergiu Comissiona. DG 2531 176. 1980.
Symphony No. 4. Goteborg
SO/Sergiu Comissiona. BIS 5 LP set.
LP-301/303. recorded 5 February 1970.
It's quite a list and
I am not by any means sure that it is
complete. Only numbers 2 and 7 from
this list have been reissued on CD
CPO have the hard-won
distinction of issuing the first CD
intégrale of the symphonies of
Allan Pettersson. It has been a long
slog. Their first Pettersson symphony
disc came out in 1984. Their last (No.
12) appeared very recently. We should
not forget that they have also recorded
many other Pettersson works – most recently
a second recording of the Violin Concerto
Pettersson was a modern
romantic. Romantic in that the music
conveys an interior and very personal
world. One senses a psychological pilgrimage
or passage of arms. As a romantic his
music is not to be compared for example
with that of Atterburg. There is no
pastoral relaxation, no folk influence
and no flicker of humour unless it is
the skull’s vacant leer. He has some
superficial kinship with Fartein Valen
and Harald Saeverud. He is ‘modern’
in that the music exploits dissonance
when it serves the composer’s purpose.
There is no systematic adherence to
serial technique or 12-tone dogma. It
is instead fraught with anxiety - tense,
distraught, turbulent, drained of relief,
buffeted, grievously wounded, tortured
by outrageous fortune, excoriating but
singing with hard-won hope. This pessimism
is in line with the Nordic stereotype
– or caricature - but its redemptive
power and the reason why people are
drawn back to these scores is the composer’s
ability to draw a tearful serene epiphany
out of exhaustion and a battered spirit.
This speaks to the experience of many
in the last century though Pettersson’s
suffering arose from his paralysing
illness, his meagre family circumstances
and the neglect of his music.
His way with small
rhythmic motifs, repeated in a non-minimalist
way is part of his sound autograph.
These often are set off like little
automata in a sort of ‘oompah’ habanera
and then fade and fall. Similar DNA
strands include the screaming and protesting
strings and groaning and agonised brass.
The lachrymose and fragile yet enduring
blessing of a long-limbed Pettersson
melody will be what has you going back
to these scores. They are much stronger
than the fashionable following they
attracted in the 1970s and 1980s and
this is your chance to find that out.
Will you take to him?
First of all you have to hear him. I
recommend that you persist with the
Seventh Symphony which at 44:35 is by
no means his longest. It ends in a high-whistling
benediction of a melody that is haunting
in its crushing emotional power. It
is quite simply one of the largely unsung
wonders of Western classical music.
There is perhaps a little of Gorecki’s
Symphony of Sorrowful Songs about
that miraculously sustained finale.
Then again you get some idea of the
idiom by trying the ten minute Symphonic
Movement on the first disc. However
while you can hear the Pettersson manner,
the substance and its emotional range
mean that there is no substitute for
experiencing a complete symphony. That
has to be the Seventh – that’s the one
that Antal Dorati recorded in the 1960s.
That Dorati recording, still available
on Swedish Society Discofil – carried
Pettersson’s name far and wide and won
new friends for him across the world.
It remains the best version although
Albrecht is very good.
The First Symphony
was destroyed so the first viable one
and the first to be recorded was the
Second. It dates from his years
studying with René Leibowitz
in Paris. It is of about the same span
as the Seventh and is also in his hallmark
single movement format. Searing Tchaikovskian
strings pass like wraiths from the Pathetique.
They are dowsed in the acid rain of
Bergian lyricism and the devastation
and upheaval of the Fourth symphonies
of Sibelius and Shostakovich. There
is some balm in Gilead but here it does
not flow like honey and when it comes
it is brutally shrivelled. A sharp thrust
from the trumpets ushers the work towards
its close. CPO competes with the Swedish
Society Discofil’s SCD 1012 – the 1966
analogue recording. Francis takes five
minutes longer than Westerberg over
the symphony yet neither seems unduly
fast or unduly slow.
The Third Symphony
is divided into movements; the only
one of the symphonies to follow this
pattern apart from the Eighth. After
the first movement the remaining three
are linked attacca. The first
is alive with fast-trudging ruthless
ostinati and upheaval and is followed
by the desolation of a Largo with
a trademark flute solo singing emotional
emptiness over the murmuring deep strings.
The allegro commodo third movement
at times sounds like a 20th
century Tasso’s ride. The finale - in
language proclaiming connective tissue
with Prokofiev 6 – sinks into a shimmering
discontent punctuated with defiant little
troika cells. Of about the same duration
is the Fourth Symphony –
which has been available before on LP
as part of a Bis LP set. CPO have tracked
this in five segments with the longest
being 26:02 (Andante espressivo)
which serves as a second movement of
sorts. It features a rural hymn-like
melody occasionally chaffed by nightmare
creatures taking the form of rhythmic
protesting fanfares – a distorted echo
of Beethoven’s fate motif.
These are the only
CD recordings of the Third and Fourth
symphonies and they can still be tracked
down separately on CPO999 223-2.
was the last symphony he was able
to write out in his own hand before
crippling polyarthritis struck home.
It is in his accustomed, massive, single
movement pattern and is his first truly
mature work. It opens in the quietest
of whispering mysteries, punctuated
with stabbing figures, tolling and tumultuous
brass and strange bird and insect calls.
The symphony marks his middle period
spanned by symphonies 5-9 of which all
but No. 8 (in two movements) are monoliths.
The Sixth Symphony
has been recorded before but only
on LP. It plays for just over an hour
and only the Ninth and the Thirteenth
were to be longer. The Ninth is the
longest. The material for the Sixth
Symphony is drawn from the last of his
24 Barefoot Songs. That song He can
put out my little light is not heard
until the last twenty minutes of the
symphony which are the most lyrical.
The work attains a crippled majesty
at 24:20 after continuously tortured
material. The music seems to open the
wound and allow the listener to look
into and witness the hurt. It becomes
meditative aided by those reticent bass
ostinati which lend the work forward
momentum. Interesting at 50:00 onwards
to hear those punched out hammer-blows
recalling similar impacts in the symphonies
of Hilding Rosenberg – especially the
The note-writer for
the CPO version of the Seventh Symphony
describes it as ‘by no means a cheerful
work’. At 3:12 we hear for the first
time the mournful little troika ostinato
played by the deep brass that is to
buoy and goad the work to its conclusion.
Torturous and protesting writing for
the brass rises chorale like, ill-formed
yet deliberately so – eloquent in tragedy.
We might hear shades of Shostakovich
in the long caustically singing lines.
In the repetition we may hear the seeds
of trance-like concentration and in
the long-limbed searing theme the voice
of Pettersson singing a lonely consolation
and healing from 42:23 to the close.
The Eighth Symphony
was first recorded by pioneer Sergiu
Comissiona on a Polar/DG LP but never
reissued. It was premiered in Baltimore
in October 1977. Pettersson's chorales
are one of his trademarks: a fingerprint.
They are prominent in the Eighth Symphony.
A long calmly confident line expands
freely and stretches its wings across
the massive framework of this diptychal
symphony (21:46 + 28:32). Little surges,
shudders and currents disturb the calm
and nightmare scenes intrude. Thomas
Sanderling does not keep things moving
as effectively as Segerstam on his Bis
recording. There is always a temptation
towards meandering with Pettersson.
The second ‘panel’ is riven with conflict.
The symphony ends amid a raw lyricism
comparable with that of the Seventh.
The work gently moves down the gradient
The Ninth Symphony
is his longest at circa 70 minutes.
It is also in a single movement. CPO
have helpfully allocated this 17 tracks
so students can the more easily examine
its structure. This is aided by music
examples and commentary by Andreas K
W Meyer alongside a timeline and quotations
from the composer. The music is restless
and tense. Pettersson fingerprints are
there to be heard including those downward
punching ostinati (trs. 6, 17). A sauntering
version of the troika from the Seventh
Symphony can be heard in tr. 10. This
a statuesque symphony here enjoying
its only CD recording.
The Tenth is
a vortex of despair and violence. Pettersson
said that this symphony and its successor
were written ‘in the tunnel of death’
during a nine month period in hospital
in 1970. It could not have been produced
without Tchaikovsky's Francesca da
Rimini, nor without Shostakovich's
bleaker symphonies but the sound remains
essentially very much Pettersson's own.
Great themes rear up constantly through
the screaming agonised brass. The crippled
splendour of the music is accessible.
The rhythmic contour frequently reaches
back to Beethoven’s fate motif. An almost
Bach-like theme winds in and out of
the last half of the symphony; typical
Pettersson. Segerstam on Bis is a minute
and a half quicker and you feel this
invigorating acceleration in the first
10 minutes of the symphony where Segerstam
keeps pressing forward almost impatiently.
Francis seems to have a better handle
on the work. Frankly though, either
will satisfy and neither strikes me
subjectively as a distortion or unrepresentative.
The booklet cautiously recounts a possibly
apocryphal story that sections of this
symphony were written out on bandages
and dressings which became part of Pettersson's
daily life from the Fifth Symphony onwards
as arthritis took its toll.
opens in gentle spirit but soon feels
the siren call of Gehenna. It is turbulent
but without the sustained rip-tide of
its predecessor. Great striding themes
claw heavenwards through oceans of strident
clamorous sound. One of these themes
closes the symphony which ends as if
brutally cut off in mid-step: not for
Pettersson any conventional finishing
flourish; again typical of the composer.
The Tenth and Eleventh
are single movement pieces but CPO –
ever sympathetic to the student – have
allocated five tracks to each to aid
navigation and assimilation.
The Twelfth De
Döda på Torget is
his only choral symphony. It sets poems
by Pablo Neruda in nine movements. The
words are given in full but only in
Swedish and German – no other translations.
It seems that there were legal obstacles
to reproducing the Spanish originals
and English translations. The choral
writing recalls Tippett’s in A Child
of Our Time – often touched with
desperation as the deaths and injustices
perpetrated in Chile are tracked as
emblematic of social injustices on an
international stage. The searing tortured
string writing combines seamlessly with
the singing in the sixth movement. Fascinating
to have the solo violin adding its voice
to the progress of the finale. The Twelfth
Symphony although taken up with a specific
atrocity by the Chilean authorities
in 1946 was written in the wake of the
deposing of the Socialist president
of Chile Salvador Allende in 1973.
The Thirteenth is
two minutes short of the Ninth Symphony’s
duration. Its composition came at a
time of increasing wealth for the composer.
He had received a stipend of 10,000
Swedish crowns from the Swedish copyright
organisation. There were to be 25,000
crowns for the Thirteenth Symphony from
the Bergen Festival. It is a dense and
complex work – not the place to start
out with Pettersson! It is as if he
is making up for the directness of speech
in the Twelfth Symphony. The language
is the usual restless combination of
angst, fear and ominous reflection which
is only redeemed in the work’s last
ten minutes with a powerful rather than
whispered blessing of a melody carried
by the piercing strings and of course
bearing a tragic and restless payload.
The Fourteenth Symphony
is another single movement work;
this time of 47 minutes duration. Both
Arnell on CPO and Comissiona on Phono-Suecia
take about the same time. The CD format
has been kind to Pettersson permitting
his monolith symphonies a single uninterrupted
listening experience. This has been
the upside. It was written the year
after the Second Violin Concerto – recorded
by Ida Haendel and also on Phono-Suecia
(and now on CPO as well) - and the year
before the Sixteenth Symphony. It dates
from the same year Pettersson also wrote
the Fifteenth Symphony. The CPO is of
Arnell conducting the German premiere
of the work and the recording has some
analogue hiss to remind us of its age:
From the first instant
you are left in no doubt that this is
a serious piece. It protests and laments,
screeches and bellows. Tension rises
and is sustained almost unbearably and
then slackened off into great arioso
valleys. I am not sure how well it all
coheres and the ending strikes me as
suspect. However there is some extraordinarily
excoriating writing along the way. The
effect, as with so much Pettersson,
is of an agonising and scouring abrasion.
There is nothing belligerently atonal
about it but the racking conflict leaves
its dissonant mark. It is a fine work
that speaks with superior conviction
and deserves to stand in the magisterial
company of the Seventh Symphony.
The Fifteenth Symphony
is from the same year as its predecessor
and the Second Violin Concerto. Again
it is in a single movement which CPO
have tracked into five elegiac, angry
and scouringly poignant sections which
end on a surprisingly Sibelian dazzle
from the violins.
The coupling for No.
15 is Düsseldorf-born Peter
Ruzicka’s … das Gesegnete, das Verflüchte,
which the composer terms his Pettersson
Requiem. The style is close to Pettersson’s
with references to symphonies 14 and
15. I reviewed Ruzicka’s Celan
Symphony in 2005 and at that
time noted the Petterssonian sound of
his more tortured climactic writing.
The Sixteenth Symphony
was written in the same year as
another concertante work: the Viola
Concerto. There is little peace in it.
A furious angst is alleviated by a second
movement producing another of those
blessed Pettersson melody-laments. It
is amongst his finest examples. This
repose which is almost Bachian is surely
what he envisioned for himself ... This
is a very tuneful score and one of Pettersson's
most accessible. Those who have enjoyed
other modern saxophone concertos would
do well to try it.
I am not sure how much
of the incomplete Seventeenth Symphony
exists but surely it is time someone
was engaged to complete or ‘realise’
This set follows the
now classic pattern for a CPO box: strong
price discount (circa £5.80 per disc),
light card box – a casualty in waiting
- and heat-sealed shrink-wrap. Otherwise
it’s the original single issue CDs reached
down off the warehouse shelf and shuffled
into the box. This is not a typical
EMI or Brilliant Classics wallet issue.
Nothing amiss with that. The liner-notes
are inside each of the twelve cases.
One symphony is played
by Pettersson’s compatriots, two by
the BBC’s Scottish radio orchestra and
the rest by German orchestras. All but
one of these were recorded pre-1995;
the only exception being the most recently
issued: No. 12 – which would have been
the trigger for the collection. Alun
Francis, whose modest media presence
belies his magnificent contribution
especially in the field of recorded
music, is the mainstay here. He conducts
symphonies 2-5, 9-11, 13, 16. The others
are shared between Peter Ruzicka, Johan
Arnell, Manfred Honeck, Thomas Sanderling,
Gerd Albrecht and Manfred Trojahn; the
first and last being composers. Symphonies
8 and 14 are in ADD sound.
Of course you can still
get the individual discs and some have
been reviewed on this site. I have drawn
on those reviews for some of the material
in this piece.
This set is to be welcomed
at so many levels. Pettersson’s voice
can be sensed as a significant one.
There is little in the way of a performance
tradition and recordings, broadcasts
and concerts are still unusual. This
CPO box offers a unique insight into
the music and will aid its cautiously
A significant and sensitive voice that
continues to resonate and hold redemptive
power … the composer’s ability to draw
a tearful serene epiphany out of exhaustion
and a battered spirit. ... see Full