Karl-Birger Blomdahl

Karl-Birger Blomdahl was a dynamic "natural“ who in time rose to be a leading Swedish music debater. A vivid personality, he worked energetically in a variety of fields.

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Born on 19th October 1916 in Växjö, died in Kungsängen, 14th June 1968. His detractors readily recalled, on finding his music excessively modern and “engineered“, that he had begun by studying biochemistry. In actual fact he began studying composition with Hilding Rosenberg in 1935, but those studies were interrupted by prolonged military service during the war years. Afterwards he studied at the State Academy of Music in Stockholm, conducting with Tor Mann and Baroque music with Mogens Wöldike. He became the natural cynosure of a circle of friends called the Monday Group, in which new music and new techniques of composition were put under the microscope. They took as their starting point the “neue Sachlichkeit“ of Hindemith’s Unterweisung im Tonsatz. He was already working as a private composition teacher towards the end of the 1940s, and between 1960 and 1964 he was an innovative Professor of Composition at the Academy. He was Secretary of the Swedish Section of the ISCM 1947-1956 and Chairman of Fylkingen 1949-1954. After a few years as consultant, he became head of the Music Broadcasting Department of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation in 1965. He became a Member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1953.

He campaigned for the foundation of an electronic music studio in Stockholm (EMS) and for the reorganisation of music broadcasting resources into a fullyfledged symphony orchestra with a studio of its own. He insisted on modern music having its appointed flavour in radio broadcasting and in concert programmes.

In the space of a few decades, his compositions, which frequently struck the general public as newfangled and unintelligible, have acquired the status of classics and stateful items of concert repertoire. Although, in the normal run of things, complete gramophone recordings of Swedish operas are few and far between, Blomdahl’s Aniara has been recorded twice. His other music too has been profusely recorded.

His compositions from the 1930s already bear witness to solid craftsmanship, and those from the early 1940s reflect his studies of the Baroque (a neo-classical Concerto Grosso and the Bach-inspired Three Polyphonic Piano Pieces). Later on he was influenced by Hindemith, Bartok and Stravinsky, as witness the Pastoral Suite for strings (1948), which was the first composition resulting from his friendship with the poet Erik Lindegren. Whereas Blomdahl had previously argued the incompatibility of literature and music, Lindegren and the rest of the circle connected with the magazine Prisma unstopped his ears to this medium, and Lindegren wrote librettos for the oratorio I Speglarnas Sal, the operas Aniara (1958) and Herr von Hancken (1962-1964), as well as the cantata ...resan i denna natt (1966). In some of these works the composer also alludes to blues and jazz, not infrequently by way of parody.

With the third symphony Facetter he achieved an international breakthrough (at the 1951 ISCM), using a personal, manycoloured tonal language. Subsequent orchestral works like the ballets Sisyfos (1954) and Minotauros (1957) and the orchestral poems Fioriture (1960) and Forma Ferritonans (1961) reveal a vigorous, fluent imagination with massive powers of expression.

Stig Jacobsson
Source: STIM / Swedish Music Information Centre