Knut Håkanson is probably an unknown name to international
readers but even Swedish readers probably may raise an eyebrow
or both. I believe, though, that to many Scandinavian choir-members
the name will ring a bell: Brusala, a setting of a poem
by Erik Axel Karlfeldt, is in the standard repertoire. It is
a masterly composition. Why isn’t he better known?
There may be several reasons. One is that he was an outsider,
who walked his own path off the beaten track. Another is that
he lived most of his life in the provinces, not in Stockholm
or Gothenburg where the music establishments were. He also suffered
from weak health and spent long periods in hospital. He died
when he was only 42.
Brusala was written during a short period of intense
activity just before his death on 13 December 1929. His creativity
also brought forth three sets of solo songs and the Ten Variations
and Fugue Op. 37 recorded here, which is a true masterpiece.
On this disc we can follow Håkanson’s development
from the late-romantic language of the songs Op. 1, written
during the first decade of the 20th century to the
late piano works where he combines Swedish folk music with Bach-inspired
polyphony. Hearing the Twelve Two-Part Inventions (trs.
20-31) from 1925 made his composer colleague William Seymer
call him ‘a Bach in Swedish broadcloth’. It’s
elegant and cleverly constructed though by necessity quite simple.
Most of the individual parts are very brief and all draw on
melodies from the vast treasury trove of fiddle tunes from various
parts of Sweden. This is entertaining music. His magnum opus,
the Ten Variations and Fugue, op 37, is more than that.
Here the inspiration flows and there is power and intensity.
One is flabbergasted at his ability to transform the rather
simple basic theme, a popular folk song that Gabriel Souvanen
sings without exaggerated artfulness as the opening number.
Midsummer Garland and From the Sylvan Temple are
inspired by Swedish nature and six of them allude to poems.
The Sylvan Temple was a guest chalet which he had built
high up on a hill close to his home near Borås in south-west
Sweden. There he could sit in peace and compose, secluded from
the world around him. He lived for shorter periods in bigger
cities but he always longed to go back to his Sylvan Temple.
‘Give me the solitude of the countryside, by the road
of the waterfall in the conifer woods, in the shade of “the
Temple” beneath a starlit sky’, he wrote. Scandinavian
nature has been an important source of inspiration for many
Nordic composers. We need only mention Grieg, Peterson-Berger
and Sibelius. Håkanson can be added to that list.
As a song composer Knut Håkanson was very discriminating
in his choice of poems. Two of his favourites were Karlfeldt
and Ola Hansson, the latter ‘the poet who has most intensely
and spiritually taught me to comprehend the nature of poetry
and dream’, he once wrote. Without being an epigone he
also, in this capacity, follows the likes of Grieg, Sibelius,
P-B and Stenhammar. He considered his songs an important part
of his oeuvre, wrote around one hundred, which were frequently
performed at the time. Kirsten Flagstad sang several of them
during her recitals.
Solveig Wikman has for quite some time been one of the foremost
Swedish pianists. She is often found together with her husband
Bertil as a piano duo. She was born in Borås, close to
which town Håkanson also lived for many years. She has
been active as chamber musician, accompanist and soloist. Her
playing is characterized by great clarity and technical command.
Gabriel Suovanen has been busy in opera houses in Finland and
Sweden for more than a decade but he is also a renowned recitalist.
His warm tone and verbal excellence make him well suited to
Håkanson’s songs. The concluding piece, the setting
of Karlfeldt’s Slottstappning (Château bottled)
is magnificently sung with wit and intensity. His tone is a
little grittier here than I remember it from earlier, but these
are good readings even so.
The technical quality is splendid. The liner-notes by Solveig
Wikman - in Swedish and English - are exemplary.
This disc represents a laudable initiative by the little record
company Altfiol i Väst and the two artists to bring Håkanson’s
music to a wider audience. It is to be hoped that other musicians
will follow suit. Knut Håkanson’s music is worth
1. En gång i bredd med mig (One day, beside me)
2. Ten Variations and Fugue on a Swedish Folksong, Op. 37 [12:53]
From Five Songs, Op. 1
3. Lutad mot gärdet (Leaning on the fence) [1:40]
4. Som blommornas doft (Like the fragrance of flowers)
5. De väntande (Those who wait) [2:18]
6. Midsommarkransen (Midsummer garland) [5:03]
De bägge viljorna och andra dikter av Ola Hansson
(The two wills and other poems by Ola Hansson) Op. 4
7. De bägge viljorna (The two wills) [3:10]
8. Du livets eviga röda flamma (Eternal red flame
of life) [3:47]
9. Dragspelet vinade (The accordion whined)[1:33]
Skogstemplet (The sylvan temple) Piano-miniatures, Op.
10. Vårbräckning (Break of spring)[2:20]
11. Björken susar (The birch whispers)[1:44]
12. Forsen (The rapids) [2:20]
13. Prinsessan och Bergtrollet (The princess and the
14. Myggen dansa över ån i sommarkvällen
(The mosquitoes dance above the brook in the summer evening)
15. Beväringen tågar förbi (The conscript
marches by) [2:02]
16. Det förgångna (The past) [1:08]
17. Stormnatt (Stormy night) [3:22]
Två dikter av Ernst Norlind (Two poems by Ernst
Norlind) Op. 22
18. Någon har kysst min panna (Someone kissed my
19. Ögat skall slockna (The eye will grow dim) [2:33]
Tolv små tvåstämmiga svenska inventioner
(Twelve small Swedish two-part inventions) Op. 26
20. Gånglåt från Norrland (Marching-tune
from Norrland) [0:46]
21. Polska från Sörmland (Polska from Sörmland)[1:31]
22. Polska från Dalarna (Polska from Dalecarlia)
23. Polska från Småland (Polska from Småland)
24. Polska från Sörmland ”Tyska klockorna”
(Polska from Sörmland ”The German Bells”) [1:04]
25. Polska från Uppland (Polska from Uppland) [1:00]
26. Polska från Sörmland (Polska from Sörmland)
27. Polska från Värmland (Polska from Värmland)
28. Polska från Norrbotten (Polska from Norrbotten)
29. Marsch från Uppland (March from Uppland) [0:36]
30. Polska från Gotland ”Sanda-polskan”
(Polska from Gotland ”Sanda-Polska”)[1:20]
31. Polska från Västergötland (Polska
from Västergötland) [0:44]
32. Fall, fall, ymniga snö (Fall, fall, copious
snow) Op. 23 No. 2 [2:39]
33. Slottstappning (Château bottled) Op. 40 No.