To many readers the name Henning Mankell may ring a bell. This
Swedish author is one of the world’s best-selling writers
and his books have been published in more than 100 countries.
He is probably best known for his long series of criminal novels
about Kurt Wallander, also filmed a number of times, most recently
with Kenneth Branagh as the hero in three BBC productions. The composer
Mankell was the author’s grandfather. Not even in Sweden
is he a household name and up till now he has been scantily represented
in the record catalogues. My only record with music by him is
an LP, produced by Swedish Radio in the 1970s where Andreas Röhn
and Kerstin Hindart play a violin sonata coupled with one of
Brahms’s sonatas. As far as I know it has never been transferred
to CD. It may seem surprising that a German company is the first
to issue these late piano works in their series Piano Rarities
we must be grateful that these works have been unearthed.
After studying organ, singing and musical pedagogics Mankell
turned to the piano and worked for many years as piano teacher
and music critic. As a composer he was self-taught and this also
shows in his music which is idiomatically written for his instrument
but is rather impulsive. Typically most of the compositions represented
here are of the nondescript kind: preludes, legends, pieces,
fantasy-sonatas. Mankell ‘found his inspiration in the
natural grandeur of northern Sweden and later in the archipelagos
in the south of the country’, we read in the liner-notes
by another grandson, Gustav Mankell.
Stylistically his music is based on the romantic era but he assimilated
the impressionists’ tonal palette as well and even though
he expressed reservations against Scriabin there is a clear affinity
with the Russian. Harmonically he is quite advanced and was regarded
All the music on these two discs is from the end of his life,
composed 1922-1930. Basically he seems to have been a rather
gentle person; there is a meditative character in many of these
pieces. The first of the three Legends Op. 59 is however strong
and dramatic to begin with but the moods shift and he ends on
a contemplative note. Atlantis
, the second of these, reveals
dark waters - down in the deep - and then it rises up in the
sunlight, jubilant, only to sink again slowly down to the depths.
This is most certainly Mankell’s Cathédrale engloutie
, whoever she was, is a rather lively and adventurous
person but she also has her patches of dark thoughts and contemplation.
The sounds of bells - light and shimmering - seem to indicate
a happy event - maybe marriage. The four pieces Op. 60 are inspired
by the nature and Tempest Mood
may be his most impressive
In his fantasy-sonatas the stress is decidedly on fantasy. They
are loosely constructed and in several passages Mankell seems
fully occupied by exploring the sonorities of the instrument
and the dissonances he creates. They are long and not very coherent
but - possibly through this vaguely outlined structure - deeply
fascinating. Typical of Mankell is the profusion of ideas, sharp
contrasts and a freedom of expression that makes listening an
adventure. There is very little predictability and returning
to his music offers new insights every time.
Anna Christensson is a convincing advocate of Mankell’s
music and with excellent recording this is an issue for adventurous
lovers of piano music.