Over to Sweden this week for some radio performances of less-known works from Sweden with the Swedish Radio Symphony conducted by Sten Frykberg in this 1948 radio broadcast via Sveriges Radio in Stockholm.
Soros Flowers by Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, an orchestration of his popular piano work.
Wilhelm Peterson-Berger (1867 – 1942) was a Swedish composer and music critic. As a composer, his main musical influences were Grieg, August Söderman and Wagner as well as Swedish folk idiom. He is best known for three albums of national romantic piano pieces entitled Frösöblomster I, II and III (Flowers of Frösö), which includes the often performed Vid Frösö kyrka (At Frösö Church) and Sommarsång (Summer Song). The sets, which were composed over a period of 18 years (1896 – 1914) and brought together afterwards as a collection have gained a reputation of representing a quintessential “Swedishness” in the romantic, nationalistic vein of their time. The most famous of the pieces, Sommarsång (Summer Song) recalls the warm, calm, harmonious and bright pre-summer evenings where the sun in the north almost never goes down; they were the great breakthrough for Wilhelm. Sommarsång is still known to most Swedes, even to people generally uninterested in music: the majority of young piano students in the Nordic countries have been taught this piece. His songs for vocal ensemble are also still regularly performed, and are part of the core repertoire of Swedish choirs.
His other works include the five symphonies – among them are no.2 Sunnanfärd and no.3 Same-Ätnam generally considered the best – as well as the operas Ran, Arnljot, Domedagsprofeterna (“The Doomsday Prophets”) and Adils och Elisiv (“Adils and Elisiv”). His command of the larger forms, in both architecture and instrumentation, is disputed.
He was stage manager at the Stockholm Opera from 1908-10. The opera Arnljot has nevertheless become something of a symbol for the province of Jämtland and is regularly performed there, as a “musical drama”, at Arnljotlägden on Frösön, close to Peterson-Berger’s former home, Sommarhagen. Domedagsprofeterna is the antithesis of Arnljot – a light festive musical comedy set in 17th century Uppsala, while the saga Adils och Elisiv where Swedish ‘talsång’ (speechsong) attained its purest expression is a work extolling Peterson-Berger’s belief in humanism and the goodness of man.
He also wrote about eighty songs, many of which set poems by Erik Axel Karlfeldt, for example Aspåkerspolska.
As well as being a composer, Peterson-Berger was also a respected though very controversial music critic for the Stockholm newspaper Dagens Nyheter (“News of the Day”) from 1896-1930. He was conservative and fought the increasing influence of modernism in music, especially from Arnold Schoenberg and his followers. His progress was hindered by many enemies whom he made through his writings; he attacked showy virtuosity and dry academicism with satire but also with strict conscientiousness. For either composers or performers who did not conform to his taste (or who were young and insecure female musicians, to take one typical example), he was not above grave personal insults.
Other writings include ‘Svensk musikkultur’ (Swedish musical culture, 1911) which includes clearsighted and satirical attacks on the prevailing musical establishment, ‘Richard Wagner som kulturföreteelse’ (Richard Wagner as a cultural phenomenon, 1913) as well as translations of Tristan und Isolde (for a 1909 production in Stockholm), and Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy (1902) and Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1919).
This performance comes from a radio broadcast by Sveriges Radio in 1948 and was issued as part of a cultural series of concerts by The U.S. State Department. More to come.