Helena Munktell
Helena Munktell

Helena Munktell

Helena Munktell already made a name for herself as a composer at her début concert in 1885, the programme for which included some of her own songs. They were regarded as pearls of music. Her bold harmonic style came to be regarded as indigestible in Sweden and Germany, but France was the country where she reaped her greatest successes.

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Born on 24th November 1852 in Stora Kopparberg, died 10th September 1919. Her father, Henrik Munktell, was a very talented musical personality, a friend of Spohr, and a successful industrialist. (He died when Helena was only a child, in 1861.) Helena Munktell was taught by Ludvig Norman, Conrad Nordqvist, Johan Lindegren and Joseph Dente and then, for several years, by Benjamin Godard and, later, by Vincent d’Indy. She became a Member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1915. 

Helena Munktell already made a name for herself as a composer at her début concert in 1885, the programme for which included some of her own songs. They were regarded as pearls of music, “rich in surprising turns and adhering closely to the main key but with a variety of harmony achieved by innumerable suspensions, passing notes and other adornments in the French style.“ Her bold harmonic style came to be regarded as indigestible in Sweden and Germany, but France was the country where she reaped her greatest successes. Her richly chromatic orchestral work Bränningar op 19 was given its first performance in 1895 in Monte Carlo. Her baritone ballad Isjungfru (written in 1889) was performed at Salle Pleyel in Paris and very well received. At that stage d’Indy was working very hard to promote her music. Her Violin Sonata in E flat major, op.21, was first performed by Georges Enescu in Paris and was also a success in Berlin. She wrote a cantata for the consecration of the Swedish Church in London in 1911. The French piano teacher Theodore Lack exclaimed that Helena Munktell was not “a lady who composes, but a composer“. 

Her comic opera I Firenze, the first opera to have been written by a Swedish woman composer (although orchestrated by Joseph Dente), was performed in Stockholm in 1889. Although her great affection for things French imparted new impulses to Swedish music, she herself derived inspiration towards the end of her career from Nordic National Romanticism. This is clearly apparent, for example, from her Dalasvit op.22 (first performed in Paris in 1910) and in Valborgsmässoeld op.24 (1910), both of which deal with themes from her native Dalarna. 

Stig Jacobsson 
Source: Svensk Musik