March 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

Feature: If Only They Had Written for Films

This month we start a new series in which we conjecture on what might have been. We look at the work of composers whose talent may well have attracted the attention of film producers. These composers more often than not lived and worked outside the era of Hollywood's Golden and Silver Ages.

We commence with the work of the little known Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg (1887-1934).

Kurt Atterberg studied piano from the age of seven and began composition in 1905. He graduated as an electrical engineer at the age of 24 and, indeed, his main source of income was outside music, as an official in the Swedish Patent Office where he worked until he was 81! (He died six years afterwards.) He wrote operas, concertos for piano, violin, cello and horn, and incidental music for Shakespearean productions etc. But he is probably best known for his symphonies especially the so-called "Dollar" Symphony No.6 that was controversially awarded first prize in a world-wide competition sponsored and organised by Columbia Records to celebrate the Schubert centenary of 1928.

Atterberg's music is robust and red-blooded; he does not shrink from displaying raw emotion. It is also vividly evocative. These are ideal qualities for film music composition and as such one could easily visualise Hollywood producers queuing up to use his services. But his music has remained little known outside Sweden.

Below are very brief descriptions of four recordings that you might like to sample.

West Coast Pictures Piano and Violin Concertos

Dollar Symphony

Symphonies 1&4

I first encountered the music of Kurt Atterberg when Rob Barnett, the editor of our sister site, Classical Music on the Web, sent me a tape of the composer's Symphony No. 3 in D Major "West Coast Pictures" many years ago. I was bowled over and played it over and over. This is a magnificent evocation of the sea. In fact I think it out-Debussy's Debussy's La Mer! The central movement is a towering evocation of a terrifyingly violent storm "among the islands of the outer archipelago" contrasted with the relative calm of the waters inside the neighbouring the fjord. The final movement entitled, 'Summer Night', is simply magnificent. Although it lasts some 17 minutes, it grips from start to finish. The movement evokes a seascape in the tranquility of evening. As night falls, the breezes pick up and the wind becomes brisker. The movement ends with a glorious crescendo for the sunrise.

Max Steiner would have been envious of the opening movement of Atterberg's Piano Concerto's and one feels that Bette Davis would have given her eye tooth to have (over) acted against this 'heart-on-sleeve' music, heroic and sweepingly romantic, and in the best traditions of Late Romantic concertos. The second movement has a limpid beauty that is also irresistible while the last movement is also very much in the mode of the music of Holywood's Golden Age. The Violin Concerto while not being so overtly appealing still has much material particularly in the lovely Andante that would captivate Hollywood. Readers can catch up with a more detailed review of this disc by Rob Barnett in the January reviews collection of Classical Music on the Web.

Atterberg's "Dollar Symphony", given Toscanini's virile, fast-paced treatment, is also worthy of Hollywood. As I once wrote of the final Vivace movement, in a review of this disc, "Toscanini opts for overt heroism: in fact, in parts, you feel that the music is anticipating Korngold's film scores. You half expect to see, out of the corner of your eye, a galloping Erroll Flynn."

The record company, cpo, have just released a new recording of Atterberg's 1st and 4th symphonies. This will be the first album in a projected series that will embrace all 8 Atterberg symphonies. My detailed review will appear on Classical Music on the Web in April but suffice it to say that once again, one realises that this is ideal music for a Hollywood knights-in-shining-armour epic.

The recordings:
Kurt ATTERBERG Symphony No. 3 in D Major ("West Coast Pictures")  Recording also includes Atterberg's Concerto for Horn and Orchestra The Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sixten Ehrling CAPRICE CAP 21364 [53:17]
Kurt ATTERBERG Piano Concerto. Violin Concerto The Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sixten Ehrling Sterling CDS10342 [53:17]

Kurt ATTERBERG Symphony No. 6 in C Major "Dollar Symphony"(with Sibelius Symphony No. 2)  Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra dell'Arte CD DA9019 [69:28] Mono recorded in 1939

Also recommended: - Atterberg's Cello Concerto and Cello Sonata on Koch Schwann International 3-1585-2 GI

Kurt ATTERBERG Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4 Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt conducted by Ari Rasilainen cpo 999 639-2 [61:55]

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