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Jul. 03 2024

The Scandinavian Sound

By Abhinn Malhotra | Posted in Host Blogs | Comments Off on The Scandinavian Sound

Composers have long been enamored with the landscapes of the Scandinavian countries. Sibelius saw swans taking flight outside his cottage window in Northern Finland, resulting in the Swan Theme in his Symphony #5. Similarly, Wilhelm Peterson-Berger used the images of Northern Sweden in his Symphony #3, “Lapland”. During a musical time dominated by European composers from Germany, Russia, Italy, and France, Scandinavian composers started to break through with their unique sound in the early part of the 20th century, with composers like Sibelius, Grieg, Nielsen, and Peterson-Berger just to name a few.

However, my interest has always been in the “Unfortunately Underperformed”. There is a treasure trove of music by Scandinavian composers that have been overshadowed by the larger titans of the time. It is an interest that I also try to impart on friends, colleagues, and YOU: Our Listeners! You’ll hear from time to time that I refer to composers and works as “Unfortunately Underperformed”, and my hope is to bring these amazing composers and their works into the light!

A few composers that I have discovered along my musical journey include Finland’s Leevi Madetoja, Sweden’s Kurt Atterberg, Gösta Nystroem, and Ture Rangström, and Denmark’s Rued Langgaard. 5 great composers who followed the European traditions of the time and produced numerous large-scale works including symphonies, tone-poems, suites, operas, ballets, and so much more.

Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947) studied with Jean Sibelius from 1908 to 1910 and is considered by many to be his “Symphonic Successor”. Madetoja was also influenced folk tunes of Scandinavian lands, incorporating them into songs and choral works. In addition, nature played a monumental role in his Symphony #3, which has been equaled, in terms of its pastoral mood, to symphonies by Sibelius.

From Sweden come three composers, all of whom were born within 6 years of each other. Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974) stayed more true to the European traditions that preceded and was influenced heavily by Tchaikovsky and Brahms, while also studying works of Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. In some of his symphonies, Atterberg also used Swedish folk tunes and imagery from the Western coast of Sweden. In speaking of Swedish imagery, Ture Rangström (1884-1947) includes depictions of “A Midsummer Night”, “An Autumn Song”, and “Under Swedish Stars”. These programmatic elements find their way in numerous Orchestral works such as tone poems and symphonies. The idea of “A Midsummer Night” is not exclusive to Rangström, however; Gösta Nystroem (1890-1966) also uses that same subtitle in a work for soprano and piano, and even has vocal and orchestral music with the subtitle “Summer Music”.

When we think of Denmark, Carl Nielsen immediately comes to mind. One composer that fascinated me was one of Nielsen’s students: Rued Langgaard (1893-1952). Langgaard, of all these composers, seems to do the most with imagery of his native Denmark, as seen with the names of some of his symphonies: “Cliffside Pastorals”, “Awakening of Spring”, “Leaf-fall”, “Summer Legend”, “Drama The Stormy Sky”, and “Storm at Sea”.

All 5 composers share a love and interest in their native lands of Finland, Sweden, and Denmark. The unique landscape and images of nature are found in only a few places on earth. Composers from these regions have an incredible wealth of rare scenery that feeds directly into their music. All 5 composers also are experts of their craft, taking heed of the compositional traditions that come before them. Many studied with master orchestrators, melodists, and others familiar with this sonic landscape (Strauss, Wagner, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Brahms to name a few). Such a unique sound cannot be lost, and it is my goal to pass on these great works as much as possible, and I welcome our listeners to hear these masterpieces and help me to take them from “Unfortunately Underperformed” to “Delightfully Discovered”!

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Abhinn Malhotra is WBJC's Evening and Sunday Afternoon host. You can contact him at amalhotra@bccc.edu.

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