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
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