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Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871-1927)
Tirfing (1897-98) - excerpts
From Prelude, Scene 1 (Hervor, Shepherd) [15:20]
From Prelude, Scene 2 (Hervor): Min, min är du, Tirfing [5:01]
Final Scene Act 1 (Hervor/Hervadur) Jag är kvinna och han är man [8:12]
Final Scene Act 2 (Hervor/Hervadur, Gullväg) [10:49]
Postlude (Hervor) [17:37]
Ingrid Tobiasson (mezzo-soprano) - Hervor/Hervadur
Carina Morling (soprano) - Gullväg; Jesper Taube (baritone) – Shepherd
Royal Opera Orchestra, Stockholm/Leif Segerstam
Rec. live, 5 March 1999, Stockholm Concert Hall
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
STERLING CDO-1033-2 [57:25]

In his essay titled “Stenhammar and Wagner” in the booklet to this issue, Bo Wallner refers to the struggle in the musical world around the turn of the century 1900 between the old and the new. The new was represented by Wagner and the music drama, the old by Brahms. “When Stenhammar made his debut as a soloist with orchestra (in March 1892), he gave the first performance in the Nordic countries of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Brahms … and when he studied in Berlin during the 1892-93 season his teacher was Heinrich Barth, who belonged to the Brahms/Joachim circle. Stenhammar – a Brahmsian!”

It is easy to draw that conclusion, but when Wallner scratches on the surface and reads Stenhammar’s correspondence from Berlin with his mother in Stockholm (Stenhammar was only just of age) he learns that the young Wilhelm sat at the opera every other day, hearing Wagner operas. Within one week he saw Tristan und Isolde and the complete Der Ring des Nibelungen and a couple of weeks later he saw Siegfried again. He wrote: “I fear that I might end up becoming rather an intense Wagnerian.”

Stenhammar had shown an interest in Wagner before that, as Wallner goes on to describe in his essay, most important being his first music drama Gildet på Solhaug (composed 1892-93). “There is much Wagner in this work, too, although above all it displays a Nordic folk style.”

Gildet på Solhaug (see review by my colleague Dave Billinge) was premiered in Stuttgart in 1899 but didn’t reach Stockholm until 1902. By then his second opera, Tirfing, had already been shown (premiere on 9 December 1898) and it was quite a success. It was performed 17 times, which was notable for a new Swedish work. It is a large work, the score encompasses 790 pages and the premiere was scheduled to last around 3½ hours, according to the premiere poster, which is reproduced in the booklet. Stenhammar conducted and the title role was sung by Matilda Jungstedt. It was positively received by the press, with one exception: the notorious Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, who slammed the work mercilessly. But the most disappointed of all was Stenhammar himself. A few weeks after the premiere he wrote to his publisher in Copenhagen: “Tirfing is not written with the heart’s blood. It is written with ink, black ink on white paper.” There passed more than a century before Tirfing was seen again.

The present issue is far from complete. With a playing time of slightly under one hour it presents two essential scenes from the Prelude, the finales from acts one and two and the postlude. It focuses on the main character, Hervor/Hervardur, and is a real tour de force for Ingrid Tobiasson. The action takes place during the Viking Age, and Tirfing is not a person but a magic sword, i.e. a parallel to Nothung, Siegfried’s sword in Wagner’s Ring cycle – though in old Norse mythology Sigurd’s sword in Völsungasagan, upon which the Ring is based, is named Gram. Tirfing derives from another source, Hervarar saga (Hervor’s saga) which was the basis for Anna Boberg’s libretto to Tirfing. Anna Boberg was married to the architect Ferdinand Boberg, who around the turn of the century 1900 created a plethora of famous buildings in the Stockholm area (see footnote), but she was also an artist and author in her own right. The libretto to Tirfing with its archaic language at times verges on the pretentious and I suppose that it was the best pieces the Royal Opera Orchestra chose for the concert performance here released by Sterling.

The Wagnerian influences are very strong and I must admit that the young Stenhammar – he was only in his mid-twenties when the opera was composed – has observed and assimilated Wagner’s idiom very well. As in Gildet på Solhaug Nordic folk tone also plays a role, and that is very prominent at the very beginning of the opera, where we are on the island of Samsö. A shepherd plays his pipe. The long beautiful oboe solo certainly lends a Nordic atmosphere to the proceedings, before Wagner takes over when Hervor makes her entrance. She is a kind of Walküre, daughter of the Viking Angantyr, who has fallen in battle, and now she searches his grave to steal his sword Tirfing. She fights with her father’s ghost and wins but has to relinquish her femininity, since the sword can only be inherited from father to son. Thus she becomes Hervardur. That’s what happens in the prelude.

In the first act we are at the court of King Gudmund, where the princess Gullväg gets two visitors. It’s her brother Vidar together with his friend Hervardur (Hervor). Gullväg falls in love with Hervardur but Hervor feels that she and Vidar are in love. In her monologue that finishes the act and is recorded here (tr. 3), she regrets this and is determined to continue on her warrior’s path. She bids farewell to Vidar and tells her sword: “Come, Tirfing! Still we should be companions.”

Still at the court of King Gudmund in act two a feast is in progress. Gullväg asks three riddles (as another princess later does in Turandot), Hervardur solves them and the price is, to his surprise, Gullväg. Hervardur refuses to enter this liaison, Vidar is upset, there is a fight and Hervardur kills Vidar. Hervardur has to flee, having told Gullväg his/her true identity. This final scene is also included on this disc.

In the postlude we are back where the prelude started, on the island of Samsö, but now it’s winter. The stage directions say: “Hervor draws Tirfing. Everything becomes dark except Tirfing, which flashes and blazes in her raised hand. Suddenly: a deadly silence. Hervor falls dead, but Tirfing remains hovering in the air above her. It’s flames die away to a slowly dying glow, until darkness reigns undisturbed.” The whole postlude is included here and to my mind it is the musical summit of the work. It has in fact palpable likeness to the Immolation scene from Götterdämmerung and feels like a final blaze of divine inspiration. These pages were, it seems, “written with the heart’s blood”! I’m certain that I will return to this score, at least for the postlude.

The playing of The Royal Opera Orchestra under its then chief conductor is beyond reproach, Jesper Taube and Carina Morling are well inside their small but important roles, but it is Ingrid Tobiasson’s superb double act as Hervor and Hervardur that will linger in the memory of the listeners – and I hope they will be many. Tirfing will never become a repertoire opera, but anything that Wilhelm Stenhammar composed has its value and it is indeed thrilling to hear how well he canalised his passion for Wagner. Call it eclecticism, but it is gifted eclecticism – and he soon realised that it wasn’t really his cup of tea.

Göran Forsling

Among Ferdinand Boberg’s best known works are:
The Central Post Office, Stockholm (1898 – 1903);
LO-borgen at Norra Bantorget, Stockholm (1899);
Thiel Gallery, Djurgården, Stockholm (1903);
Waldemarsudde, Djurgården, Stockholm (1905 – 1913);
Oakhill, Italian Embassy, Djurgården, Stockholm (1910);
Nordiska Kompaniet, NK Department Store, Stockholm (1915)

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