If ever I was asked to name some unsung composers, Edvin Kallstenius would
most certainly be on my list. He was born in Filipstad, Värmland County,
Sweden in 1881. His early talent for music was nurtured in an artistic
family environment that included painters, choral conductors and poets. He
began his early life studying science at Lund University but later moved on
to the Leipzig Conservatoire (1904-7). Around this time he fell under the
spell of the conductor Arthur Nikisch and the music of Reger and Debussy.
Schrecker’s opera Der Ferne Klang
was also an influence (review
). He forged a career as a librarian at the
Swedish Broadcasting Corporation from 1928 until his retirement in 1946.
Alongside this, he acted as treasurer to the Society of Swedish Composers
(1933-61), and was on the board of the Swedish Performing Rights Society
(1932-57). He died in Stocksund, near Stockholm, in November 1967.
Despite being little known as a composer, and not being particularly
prolific, he could boast five symphonies, eight string quartets, concertos
for both the piano and cello and several other works. This is my first
encounter with Kallstenius, though Rob Barnett has reviewed a CD of his
music, which includes the Second Symphony (Phono Suecia PSCD 701
At first hearing his music seems to meander and have no structure or
direction. It is only after listening to the recording several times that I
discerned a logic and ground plan. It is written in a very individual and
innovative style, utilizing imaginative harmony and intense melody. I was
particularly struck by the unconventional way he resolves harmonies. For the
performer his scores are notable for their meticulous detail and
instructions. As a person, many regarded him as abrasive and obstinate, and
this earned him the nickname of ‘Gallstonius’ (Mr. Gallstone).
Kallstenius was forty-five when he composed his First Symphony in 1926,
and it was premiered two years later in January 1928. He made revisions in
1941, and it is this later version which we have here. This three movement
work is only twenty-three minutes in length, with the first movement being
the longest at ten minutes. The opening movement is in sonata-form but
displays a progressive tonal language. Throughout, major and minor keys
alternate. The opening is dark, with a restless, angst-ridden quality
pervading the music. It is quite dissonant in parts. In the second movement,
the composer conjures up an almost eerie atmosphere, marked ‘Intermezzo
malinconico’, using pizzicato. He adds to the tension by dramatic use of
pauses. There’s a more sunny section in the middle, before the music returns
to its initial melancholia. The rhythmically buoyant finale is more upbeat.
For the most part it is a dialogue between the various sections of the
orchestra, with each having its moment in the sun. Again, like the first
movement, it is in sonata-form. The Symphony shows what an accomplished
orchestrator Kallstenius was.
There are four orchestral works called Sinfonietta
composer’s oeuvre. This second one in G major was completed in 1946 and
premiered in April 1950. Again in three movements, the first is relaxed and
almost carefree. It is the tender lyricism of the second movement which
caught my attention, with its underlying wistful calm. The finale is lively
and vivacious with an almost march-like rhythm. There is a contrasting
slower section in the middle.
Following the three movement template of the previous two compositions,
the Musica Sinfonica
is a symphonic piece that started life as a
work for strings, in 1953. The full orchestral version was finished in 1959.
The first movement opens with a rather pointed theme, which gradually leads
to a tranquillo
section. Here, the composer employs a solo
clarinet. The movement ends in a chatty way. The Adagio poco
is sombre and reflective. The short final movement has hints
of Swedish folk music and is brilliantly orchestrated.
The Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra under Frank Beermann have an affinity
for this music, play with commitment and deliver inspired performances of
these rich tapestries. Sound quality is second to none, with the
Konserthuset, Helsingborg, Sweden providing an airy and resonant
I have returned many times to this excellent release over the past couple
of weeks, especially to the symphony. CPO are to be commended for their
advocacy of this long-forgotten composer. I sincerely hope that this is the
beginning of a Kallstenius series. Booklet notes are informative, yet the
translation from the original German is a little weak in parts.