Marie Samuelsson (foto: Mats Bäcker)
Marie Samuelsson (foto: Mats Bäcker)

Marie Samuelsson

Marie Samuelsson's works are often physical and contain virtuosic parts. For the listener the music is exciting in its rhythm and at the same time beautiful in an almost impressionistic way, without ever abandoning her strong creative conviction and consistency, which have become her hallmarks.

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It can start with a sound. A seed. Marie Samuelsson (born 1956) is all ears for everything that makes a noise round about her. Who knows what sound might chance to stick in her mind, germinating and becoming the source of a large-scale and imposing compositional structure. This has occurred a number of times. Once she happened to bang on a big ventilation shaft made of galvanized metal and discovered the wealth of sounding possibilities it had. The result was Air Drum III  (1999), premiered on Swedish TV by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. It is a frequently performed orchestral work in which three percussionists play on the unusual instrument - at the disposal of any interested ensemble. The instrument has to date been on tour throughout Sweden and even as far as France.

When she was a composition student with Sven-David Sandström and Daniel Börtz at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm (1987-95), she was given a basic run-through of all the saxophones´ possibilities and she discovered “slap tongue”. The sound stayed with her and inspired her to make something big of it: her breakthrough, Signal, (1991) for saxophone quartet. This piece has also been played in many places, and is a veritable orgy in these demanding and technically difficult tones, at the same time as it requires maximum concentration in a polyrhythmic texture with accents and a sixteenth-note pulse. The little seed had grown into a thicket, at the same time remarkably disciplined and – dare one say – beautiful. 

She was fascinated by recordings of wolves and processed their howling electronically. In the completed piece, saxophonist Jörgen Pettersson plays together with the recorded wolves – with roots in ancient times and at the same time a step into the future. As always when it comes to Marie. In the Wolf´s Eye (I vargens öga) has been performed in more than ten European countries, as well as in Turkey and South Africa, and was selected for the Nordic Music Days in 1998. Electronic sonorities are featured in a number of her works, and she learned more about this kind of composing when she studied with Pär Lindgren and was chosen to attend an exclusive course for professional composers at IRCAM in Paris.

Since the turn of the millennium her creativity has meant that the boundaries have been extended and the content has been deepened. She has, with imposing vigour, presented one masterpiece after the other with ever varied structure and expression. But something that has so far been a general feature is the one-movement form. And the durations have rarely exceeded 20 minutes, which makes the music easy to insert into a concert programme.

 Her pieces have been heard in many countries. Rotations is a work for string orchestra that Musica Vitae took with them on their tour of Italy. In Sweden and Finland, Anna Lindal has performed what some critics have maintained is Samuelsson´s best work to date: the violin concerto Bastet the Sun Goddess. It was premiered by the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra and depicts, with ambience and timeless, moving beauty, the ancient Egyptian legend about Bastet, who every night must slay the snake Apep so that the sun can rise again the next morning.

 In 2007 a four-day-long composer festival at the Stockholm Concert Hall was devoted to her music, during which nineteen of her works in various genres were performed. Singla , a commissioned work for orchestra, was given its premiere performance at the festival. Once again her creative spark was aroused by an accidental sound phenomenon when a large plate fell spinning to the floor. And the title suggests something light, snow flakes or leaves that float down, twist and turn, whirl and swirl, just like the music, which explores tempo changes and motion.

 Samuelsson´s tone language is always richly varied in rhythm as well as in sonority, and often gains strength from the depth and the darkness – preferably with contrasting effect. This is sometimes also hinted at in the titles of the works: Airborne Lines and Rumbles  is such a piece for orchestra. Layers of airborne flageolets in the strings or quick trills in the winds are combined with powerful, thundering chords that propel the music forward. The Stockholm New Chamber Orchestra premiered the music in 2009 and took it with them to a festival in Beauvais, France, and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra performed the work in 2010. 

 Stig Jacobsson, 2011

2013 -

In 2013 the opera Jorun Snake Eye, to a libretto by Kerstin Ekman, attracted great attention when it was staged at the Vadstena Academy. It is a deeply moving drama, inspired by the women of the Poetic Edda. 

During 2015 Marie Samuelsson began working on her Love Trilogy, three orchestral works connected by different themes of love. 
The opening work, Aphrodite - Fragments by Sappho for mezzo soprano and orchestra, is dedicated to the erotic, sensual love, and was jointly commissioned by the Swedish Radio SO and Gothenburg SO.
The second work, A New Child of Infinity - To My Two Sons, is a clarinet concertino, commissioned by the Malmö SO, and here, the focus is on the love of a child and it’s growing. The third part of the trilogy, The Eros Effect and Solidarity, was inspired by George N. Katsiaficas article 'The Eros Effect', the themes here are solidarity in collective movements and man´s yearning for freedom. It was premiered by the Nordic Chamber Orchestra under Sarah Ioannides, who also brought the piece to the USA and the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra in 2018.
The Love Trilogy was recorded and released on CD in March 2019. 

Marie Samuelsson has a great engement for environmental issues, which is also reflected in her music. 
Five Seasons (2017), for string orchestra and sound file, to poems by Mimmi Palm, was commissiond by Musica Vitae and reflects the climate changes. It was also perfomed during the Baltic Sea Festival. The double concerto The Crane's Beak (2019) for guitar, violin and orchestra, was inspired by a small blue plant whose seeds only germinate when heated, as after a forest fire. The concerto was awarded the Big Christ Johnson Prize in 2023.

In 2021, Marie Samuelsson was given the honorable task of composing a jubillee overture for the Norrland Opera Symphony Orchestra's 30th anniversary, Calls for New Times.

2008: Kurt Atterberg Prize
2011: Hilding Rosenberg Prize
2016: Ingvar Lidholm Prize
2023: The Big Christ Johnson Prize for the double concerto Brandnäva (The Crane's Beak)

Selected works: 

  • Bastet solgudinnan (Bastet the Sun Goddess – Concerto for Violin and Orchestra)
  • Lufttrumma III (Air Drum III for three air drums and orchestra)
  • Rotationer (Rotations for string orchestra)
  • Singla for orchestra
  • The Love Trilogy (Aphrodite – Fragments by Sappho, A New Child of Infinity, Eros Effect and Solidarity)
  • The Crane's Beak – concerto for guitar, violin and orchestra