Photo: Josef Doukkali

Anders Eliasson

His music grips the heart and reaches inside the soul – the soul of the music. His personal path leads inwards, towards the core of the divine, and outwards, towards the universal.

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In a current list of Anders Eliasson’s work I count up to a hundred titles – and yet this composer has said: “It would be a catastrophe if I tried to compose”.

So how do you describe his creative process if he objects to the term “composition”? Perhaps it is more as though he is following a trail, seeking with his ears, unearthing... music that in the deepest sense should be universal, existing beyond the limits of the individual. And he uses the following words to describe the insight that such a universal concept of music engenders: “We all have a common identity. I really mean that we are all part of the same identity, all of us”.

When the young Anders Eliasson landed up in the midst of the musical climate of the 1960s, which was either experimental or full of cerebral constructions, he felt like an outsider. The intellectual superstructures threatened his “childish faith”; everything that had been important to him seemed to have no value there. He feels similarly ill at ease in the post-modern set-up; its illusory freedom feels equally constraining. His reaction, then as now, is steadfast loyalty and trust in the continuity of his own identity and intuition. With enormous concentration and perseverance he has continued to work in the same manner, using as his starting-point an extremely limited “alphabet” which he discovered – and he means discovered, as distinct from invented – at a very early stage. A couple of modes: a Lydian figure which perhaps symbolises something beyond this world and a Dorian one which could represent humanity. “A harmonic space, my way of singing”. His world of thoughts and ideas may be abstract but he is all the more concrete in his compositional techniques. The fundamental elements of music are melody, rhythm and harmony: they have stood the test of time remarkably well – and to his way of thinking modernism started in the year dot, in pre-Christian times.

With his almost reverent and at the same time strictly disciplined method of working he has opened his ears to the possibilities of these fundamental musical cells, to their ability to grow and take shape. Works of the most varied format have come into existence in this manner: symphonies, concertos, songs... each with its own individual character, yet at the same time united by an immanent genetic code. “What combination of instruments you use is of no importance – it’s just the screen onto which the musical unity is projected.” Admittedly his music often has an intense emotional energy, but his ultimate goal is not to express a subject, a spiritual life, but to listen attentively to “what the music itself wants”.

When Anders Eliasson talks about his music he stresses that it must never be a matter of inventing strategies to achieve success: that would force him to play a part, to submit to market-oriented promotion and other things that would threaten his integrity. Music is about nothing less than the whole of life, and it takes place in a complicated field of tension between its ability on the one hand to establish a deep and lasting form of belonging – and on the other a feeling of estrangement in the face of the world that we live in. Anders Eliasson has mentioned his feeling of permanent exile, “of never being at home anywhere except perhaps in my work.” He is convinced that there is a power in nature (expressions of culture are projections of this) that in a rare dimension can overcome the limits that time and space set up in our “normal” reality. Art, music can provide a path that can connect us to this all-embracing, different and truer reality. “Actually, all the time it’s been about God. I feel so strongly influenced by a force that drives me in a certain direction... It creates an inner pressure to work – yet at the same time it has no connection with all the other things that are happening in the world.”

Quo vadis? Where are you going, Master? The question is directed inwards of course, to this non-denominational concept of God, to the ultimate force that drives him onwards and which is both security and torment at one and the same time. But it is also directed outwards, to the society to which we all belong, whether we like it or not. Eliasson is a well-functioning member of society who punctually delivers a steady stream of commissions: increasingly he is gaining recognition in the international music world; at times he has worked as an inspiring composition teacher. He is no anarchistic rebel but he feels a strong kindred bond with “Dante Anarca” in Giacomo Oreglia’s great poem, which Eliasson used as the basis for a magnificent oratorio (first performed in the Berwald Hall in Stockholm in 1998). Dante the Anarch and his six masters say that power must be crushed; spiritual and ethical values that are in danger of disappearing in this age of commercialism and globalisation must be re-established. With Eliasson the inner compulsion to go on and his reverently perceptive listening coalesce with a strongly critical view of civilisation. “In a world that is beginning to fall apart totally we lack a norm that is valid for all human beings – God, for example. (...) ‘Overthrow the haughty’, in short. But it must be done with a gentle hand.”

Bengt Emil Johnson
Author, musician and radio man

Selected awards:

The Christ Johnson prize 1977 and 1983
The Hilding Rosenberg Prize 1991
The Nordic Council Music Prize 1992
The Swedish Music Publisher's Prize 2007 (for Symphony No. 4) 

Selected works:

  • Dante Anarca  
  • Ein schneller Blick...ein kurzes Aufscheinen
  • Ostacoli
  • Quo Vadis
  • Sinfonia per archi
  • Symphony No. 4