Kurt Atterberg

Kurt Atterberg

Atterberg’s musical strength ranges from clear and brightly melodious compositions on a small scale to grandly conceived symphonic works. His unflinching aim was to create living, substantial parts both for the melodic foreground and for the surrounding strata of the accompaniment. The solidity and saturation of his scores is also partly the result of an extensive knowledge of instrumentation.

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Born in Gothenburg on 12th December 1887, died in Stockholm on 15th February 1974. In 1910-1911 he studied at the Stockholm Conservatory, attending Andreas Hallén’s composition and instrumentation classes. As a composer, however, Atterberg was really self-taught. He also had an extensive technical education behind him. He studied at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm where in 1911 he graduated as an engineer. He was employed by the National Patent and Registration Office between 1912 and 1940, becoming a Head of Division there in 1937.

Atterberg was a founder member of the Society of Swedish Composers, serving as its Chairman between 1924 and 1943 and becoming Honorary Chairman in 1947. He was Secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music 1940-1953, and Chairman of the Swedish Performing Rights Society 1924-1943. Atterberg was a prolific writer, e.g. as music reviewer for Stockholmstidningen 1919-1957. His distinctions included first prize in the Columbia gramophone company’s “Schubert Competition“ in 1928 and Litteris et Artibus in 1936.

His romantic disposition is betrayed by several compositions. He paid special tribute to romanticism as a stylistic ideal in his seventh symphony, Sinfonia romantica, with its seamless fluency of form, its protracted melody and its many-facetted harmony. Pathos and passion were other moods which he aimed to depict, not least in his operas (Fanal being an eminent instance).

Other compositions – the String Quartet Op. 11, ballet music and several of the orchestral suites (there are ten in all) – are distinguished by their delicacy of touch. In the orchestral suites, Atterberg’s classical interest comes into its own and the third of these suites has become one of his most frequently performed works. Despite the limitations imposed by the form, the interaction of the solo violin and viola with the orchestra is permeated by that affectionate sense of melody which is such a beautiful quality of Atterberg’s artistry.

Hans-Gunnar Peterson
Source: STIM / Swedish Music Information Centre