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ClassicsOnline Home » Swedish Orchestral Favourites, Vol. 1
By Rad Bennett
Swedish Orchestral Favourites
August Söderman (1832-1876)
Swedish Festival Music
Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927)
Interlude from the Cantata The Song ...
Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986)
Epilogue from A Winter's Tale
Wilhelm Peterson-Berger (1867-1942)
Four Pieces from Frösöblomster ..
Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960)
Polka from Roslagen
Dag Wirén (1905-1983)
Marcia from Serenade for Strings
The present collection of Swedish Orchestral Favourites includes works by six composers. The first of these, August Söderman, is regarded as the leading Swedish romantic composer. He worked extensively as a theatre conductor and later as chorus- master of the Stockholm Opera House, dying in 1876 at the age of 44. His principal compositions consist of incidental music. Of special interest are Bröllopet på Ulvåsa (Wedding at Ulvåsa), Marsk Stigs döttrar (Lord Stig's Daughters) and Peer Gynt, the last written five years before Grieg's music for Ibsen's drama. In 1858 he wrote an overture for the play Några timmar till på Kronobergs slott (A Few Hours More at Kronoborg Castle), with a text by a member of the Swedish royal family, and this, two years later, was also used at a performance of Schiller's The Maid of Orleans. For some years now this piece has been known as Svenkst festspel (Swedish Festival Music). It must be regarded as Söderman's finest orchestral work and bears witness to his skill in orchestration and his stylized approach to Swedish folk-music.
Wilhelm Stenhammar, Wilhelm Peterson-Berger and Hugo Alfvén were all born within a short time of each other in the final years of Söderman's life and made their names in the last decade of the nineteenth century, showing various degrees of national influence, although differing markedly in their musical language.
The least Swedish of the three is Wilhelm Stenhammar, a composer who seldom makes direct use of folk-music, although there is an undoubted nordic element in his music, apparent in the interlude from the cantata Sången (The Song). This has a text by Stenhammar's slightly younger colleague, the composer Ture Rangström, and was written in 1921 for the 150th anniversary of the Royal Swedish Music Academy. It was Stenhammar's last major work and is seldom performed in it entirety, although the central Interlude that joins the two disparate parts of the cantata is often heard.
Wilhelm Peterson-Berger wrote many symphonies and operas but is remembered today in Sweden mainly as a feared music critic and as a composer of some songs and of 21 piano pieces which form part of the three books of Frösöblomster (Flowers from Frösön). The model was apparently the Lyric Pieces of Grieg. These pieces have become supremely popular with musicians and audiences alike, melodies, humoresques and idylls expressly regarded by the composer as music for the many. They appear in many guises, not only for solo piano, evidence of their popularity.
The Swedish landscape was a continuing source of inspiration to Peterson-Berger, especially that of the district of Jämtland, where, in 1919, on the island of Frösön, he had a house built. This brought his Intåg i Sommarhagen (Entry into Sommarhagen), the name of his house, his Vid Frösö kyrka (At the Church of Frösön), with its stunningly beautiful view of the Lake of Storsjön and the mountains to the West. In Sommarsång (Song of Summer) it is easy to imagine Peterson-Berger wandering across the meadows of the island. Gratulation (Congratulations) is an elegant piece of drawing-room music with the rhythms of a fast gavotte and a musette.
Outside Sweden Peterson-Berger is hardly known, even by name. Hugo Alfvén, however, soon made an international reputation. His first great success was Midsommarvaka (Midsummer Vigil), in 1903. This is a rhapsody of freely adapted folk- tunes and dances, shaped like a symphonic poem. In brilliant orchestration Alfvén captured his impressions of the magic of the long, light Midsummer Night, as he himself experienced it during many summers on the Stockholm archipelago. A shortened version, arranged by Percy Faith, became known throughout the world as Swedish Rhapsody.
The 300th anniversary of the death of King Gustavus Adolphus II was commemorated at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm by a performance of a play called Vi (We). The drama has long been forgotten, but the music commissioned for it from Alfvén lives on. At funerals you may hear the Elegy that was originally background music to the poignant scene between Gustavus Adolphus and a nun on the eve of battle.
The last significant work of Hugo Alfvén was the ballet Den förlorade sonen (The Prodigal Son), first performed in Stockholm on the composer's 85th birthday, in 1957. Folk paintings in Dalecarlia treat scenes from the Bible as if they took place in the eighteenth century. This inspired Alfvén, who, as he said, looked for folk-tunes that would suit these paintings from Dalecarlia and when there were not enough of them composed some himself. One of these pieces was Polka från Roslagen (Polka from Roslagen), which won very wide popularity.
Among Swedish composers only Lars-Erik Larsson can rival Alfvén in popularity and this principally with compositions from the late 1930s, in particular his Pastoralsvit (Pastoral Suite). At this time Larsson was employed by Swedish Radio and among his duties was the task of writing music for special occasions. In 1938 he was asked to compose vignettes for a programme called Dagens stunder (Times of Day), in which the music was used as interludes to poems by Swedish writers. Three of these vignettes were put together to form the Pastoral Suite, with the middle movement, Romans, probably the most frequently played of all Swedish classical compositions.
The previous year brought a request for music for a broadcast of Shakespeare's En vintersaga (A Winter's Tale). Of the four movements Larsson assembled into a suite, the Epilog (Epilogue) is often heard on its own. This is romantic music from the year 1937 and an excellent example of the composer's inventiveness and his striving for simplicity and truth. .
Dag Wirén comes from the same neo-classical generation as Larsson and composed his most popular work, Serenad för stråkorkester (Serenade for String Orchestra), during the same period. The work was an immediate success when it was first performed at a Promenade Concert at the National Gallery of Stockholm in 1937. The last of the three movements, Marcia, enjoyed special popularity, not least through its use by the BBC as a signature-tune for a long-running programme series.
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra is one of the oldest orchestras in Sweden, founded in 1912. It was originally of the size of a chamber orchestra but today numbers some 51 musicians, giving some sixty concerts a year, in Helsingborg and the southern areas of Sweden. In 1988 the orchestra undertook its first foreign tour with a visit to Berlin, followed by tours to Poland and the then Czechoslovakia and subsequently to the United States of America and to Spain. The German conductor Hans-Peter Frank directed the orchestra throughout the 1980s and in 1991 Okko Kamu was appointed chief conductor.
Okko Kamu first came to attention as a conductor when he won, at the age of 22, the Herbert von Karajan conducting competition. This triumph was followed by engagements with the most famous orchestras in the major musical capitals of the world. Okko Kamu has held the position of chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Orchestra, the Helsinki Symphony Orchestra and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and was recently appointed chief conductor of the Finnish National Opera House in Helsinki, a position to be assumed in 1996. He is a member of the Royal Swedish Music Academy and has recorded for Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, RCA, Ondine, Caprice and BIS, in addition to his work for Naxos.
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Swedish Orchestral Favourites, Vol. 1