Friday, September 7, 2012

Discovering Musicians, Part 2: Allan Pettersson

"Jag är ingen tonsättare!"

This is a quote from the Swedish composer Alan Pettersson (1911 - 1980) which continues as follows:
"I am not a composer. I am a voice crying out, (something that should not be forgotten) that threatens to drown in the noise of the times."
 I am amazed to have to say that I only recently stumbled across this composer. Despite having studied with some of the members of the post-WWII avant-garde in Paris such as Honegger, Milhaud and Leibowitz, in the early 1950s and achieving his first successes with commissions and state support in the 1960s culminating in the resounding success of the premier of his Symphony No. 7 in 1968, he has been little-known outside Scandinavia. One reason was that that very concert was the last he was able to attend due to very poor health. When he says "I am not a composer" we might understand that he simply does not participate in all those professional career-building things that composers 'have' to do if they are to be 'successful'. So much the worse for professionalism.

Pettersson had a hard life--his father beat him for buying a violin when he was twelve! But despite everything being against him and having no advantages, neither connections nor money, and further, despite making a late start, he became a composer in the real sense of the word: someone who writes music of power and depth as opposed to someone who is clever at getting commissions and premieres.

I don't have a great deal to say as I am just discovering him myself. But have a listen to his 7th Symphony and see what you think. I don't have much difficulty putting him beside Sibelius and Shostakovich as there certainly seems to be a great deal in this music: "a voice crying out" indeed.


Craig said...

This is so interesting. I too have only recently discovered Allan Pettersson's music. I don't remember where I first heard of him, and I didn't know the biographical background you discuss, but I recently acquired both his Symphony No.7 and (recently issued on BIS) Symphony No.6. I haven't listened to them yet.
I am not sure whether you anathematize those who listen to classical music in mp3 format -- my guess is that you are not strict about audiophilia -- but I get a good deal of my new music from download services like eMusic. Pettersson is attractive to an eMusic subscriber because his symphonies are typically cast in one or two movements, which means they can be had for about a dollar. I'm not sure how the record label can make any money that way, but that's the pricing system, at least in Canada.

Bryan Townsend said...

Welcome to a fellow Canadian! No, I'm really not a stickler about audio formats--I'm listening to the music, not the sound system. There is so much on YouTube to listen to (though I do recommend getting a modest speaker system if you have a laptop. Laptop speakers just don't have any bass to speak of).

If you like Sibelius symphonies, I think that you will find Pettersson quite powerful. Enjoy!

Craig said...

Yes, an Albertan, cruelly transplanted to Toronto.

I do like Sibelius; I am looking foward to hearing these Pettersson symphonies.

I would draw the line at laptop speakers. So much is lost that one cannot really hear the music at all. It might be borderline acceptable for, say, baroque keyboard music, in which there is a relatively limited dynamic range, but for orchestral music? No.

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh yes, quite true. That's why I suggested an additional speaker system that you can plug into the laptop. Makes a remarkable difference. But for real fidelity I went out and bought Cerwin Vega speakers for my system when I realized that I could not separate out the cello lines from the double bass lines in a Shostakovich symphony.