Maurice Karkoff

Karkoff has given a voice to his impassioned, very engaged artist’s nature through an impressive array of works. His great capacity for form and constructions has also helped, rather than hindered, his natural sensitivity for the impulsive and spontaneously powerful.

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Born in Stockholm on March 17, 1927. Studies in music theory for Karl-Birger Blomdahl from 1944-46. During this period (1945-46), he also studied piano at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, followed by a degree in piano pedagogy in 1951. From 1948-53 he studied composition (Lars-Erik Larsson), counterpoint, and conducting. He complemented his studies in composition for Erland von Koch, Vagn Holmboe, André Jolivet, Wladimir Vogel, and Jörgen Jersild (instrumentation). He studied piano with Gottfrid Boon (1946-49) and Stina Sundell (1949-51). He was music critic at Stockholmstidningen from 1962-66. From 1965-96, he taught theory and composition at Stockholm’s Communal Music Institute. Karkoff has been awarded several prizes and awards: the Swedish Radio Orchestra Prize in 1962; the Christ Johnson Prize in 1964; the Stockholm City Prize of Honor in 1976; the Atterberg Prize in1983; Litt. et art. in 1993; the Alfvén Prize in 1999 and the Christ Johnson Grand Prize in 2006. He was a board member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1977. 

Maurice Karkoff has himself often spoken of color and expressiveness as the strongest facets of his art, and these characteristics have had ample room to bloom in his many orchestral works and large vocal production. Among his chamber works are several string quartets and many pieces with both a lyrical character and great feel for musicianship. 

Karkoff is one of the strongest and most versatile symphonic composers in Swedish music. The critic Carl-Gunnar Åhlén once wrote that his symphonies, taken together, form a canon in the genre that is comparable to that of Allan Pettersson. His symphonies vary in character from pointed to pregnant drama, a melodic language where the introverted goes hand in hand with a strong feeling for the lovely and beautiful; this is something that also characterizes the rest of his orchestral music, such as the works Sette pezzi and Vision. The symphonies often have an inner strength born of a feel for musicianship, such as in No. 11, Sinfonia della vita. They are sometimes imbued with great seriousness, such as Symfoniska Reflexioner (Symphonic Reflections), and the symphonies Nos. 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, and 9 (also called the Dolorous Symphony, composed for string orchestra). His musicality is complemented by his lyricism; he is a master of vocal writing, the tonal language of which sets up dialogues with poets such as Nelly Sachs, Paul Celan, Gunnar Ekelöf, and Tomas Tranströmer.

Hans-Gunnar Peterson (rev. 2002/2009)
English translation: George Kentros 
Source: STIM / Swedish Music Information Centre