Photo: Ulla Lidholm
Photo: Ulla Lidholm

Ingvar Lidholm

Ingvar Lidholm (1921-2017) was a central figure in Swedish musical life. He started out as a bright romanticist and evolved into a noble-minded expressionist, with deep roots in the tradition. He seeked the unique in each work he composed.

Search for works in catalogue »

Ingvar Lidholm was born in 1921 in Nässjö in southern Sweden, and he developed his astounding talent for music in Södertälje, where his father worked on the railway. Like many colleagues of his generation – including Sven-Erik Bäck, Sven-Eric Johanson, Eric Ericson, Claude Loyola Allgén and Åke Hermanson – Ingvar Lidholm grew up in a religious environment, which naturally involved music as well as existential questions.

The Monday Group
During the Second World War he studied at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, among other subjects violin and viola with Axel Runnqvist and conducting with Tor Mann. This was where he met Karl-Birger Blomdahl, who was of vital importance for him as a friend and colleague. He studied polyphony and composition individually with Hilding Rosenberg, who also instilled in him a sense of artistic ethics. From the circle of students around Rosenberg a gathering was formed,  the so-called Monday Group, which in many ways came to contribute to the modernisation of Swedish musical life for the following half-century.

He played the violin in the Royal Opera Orchestra and in Lilla Kammarorkestern, an innovative ensemble of the 1940s.
Thanks in part to the Monday Group the doors to Europe were flung open, National Romanticism was on the wane and young Swedes ventured out into the world to meet the new currents of the time. Lidholm was, together with the conductor Herbert Blomstedt, the first Swedish composer in Darmstadt; he travelled to Italy with Blomdahl and studied the twelve-tone technique with Matyas Seiber in London. Elements from decades of stylistic development – from Hindemith to Ligeti and Lutoslawski – permeated and coloured Lidholm´s music.

Lidholm was in Örebro as conductor of the town´s orchestra 1947-56; after that he became head of chamber music at the Swedish Radio. In 1965 he succeeded Karl-Birger Blomdahl as professor in composition at the Royal College of Music and developed, together with Bo Wallner, the composition seminar, that attracted guest teachers such as Ligeti and Lutoslawski. Folke Rabe, Sven-David Sandström, Daniel Börtz, Miklos Maros and Anders Eliasson were among Lidholm´s students. In 1975 he returned to the Swedish Radio, this time as planning director.

Unique sense for the human voice
Lidholm´s operatic works – above all A Dream Play and the TV opera The Dutchman – were devoted to August Strindberg, whose texts were also set to music in songs and choral works. The drama for male choir The Persians and the dramatic scene Nausicaa Alone were born from Lidholm´s continual proximity to the ancient world. The opera A Dream Play was staged in Stockholm in 1992 and later in opera houses abroad, including Santa Fé and Weimar. Lidholm´s spiritual kinship with the nineteenth-century Romantic poet Carl Jonas Love Almqvist gave birth to the hyperromantic cantata The Poet´s Night, which is a seminal work in the Swedish musical literature of the 1950s. In the orchestral song ”…stund, när ditt inre” he and the poet Eric Johan Stagnelius seek answers to the most important questions in the expanse of space.

Lidholm had a unique, sensual feeling for the human voice. He interacted for sixty years with the legendary choir conductor Eric Ericson. They met as young men in Stockholm in 1943, when the Chamber Choir was founded. In 1947 the 26-year-old Lidholm confronted the Chamber Choir with the greatest challenge a Swedish choir had hitherto encountered: his first choral work Laudi. Latin texts from the Bible were formulated in a musical language that brought together Palestrina and Stravinsky of the Symphony of Psalms. In the series of Lidholm´s large-scale choral works – from Laudi to Canto LXXXI, a riveder le stelle, Libera me and Greek Grave Relief – seminal ideas are articulated that hark back to earlier ages of our cultural heritage.

Orchestral music
In the same way, Ingvar Lidholm´s orchestral works form the backbone of Swedish music, from the 23-year-old´s highly acclaimed debut work Toccata e Canto (1945) to the masterpieces Ritornell, Motus-Colores, Poesis, Greetings, Kontakion and the ballet Rites, which renewed music´s structural technique, timbre, form and capacity of expression. He was especially pleased with Herbert Blomstedt´s interpretations of his orchestral works.

And finally: Ingvar Lidholm stood for an artistic ethics that emphasised the process, the unique in each composition, and the exclusivity of music. Exclusivity here means quality and the unsuitability to be used for anything other than pleasure, enhanced insight and spiritual edification. Nothing in Ingvar Lidholm´s music is industrial, nothing lent itself to be massed-produced in series. Everything is handmade, everything is new.

Göran Bergendal 6 November 2017

Selected works:

  • A riveder le stelle
  • Ett drömspel - Opera (A Dream Play)
  • Grekisk gravrelief
  • Kontakion
  • Laudi
  • Stund när ditt inre
  • Toccata e canto