Lars Johan Werle (photo: Mel Mills)
Lars Johan Werle (photo: Mel Mills)

Lars Johan Werle

It was when Werle began to work with texts and the human voice that his creativity bloomed in full. Today he ranks among the foremost Swedish opera composers, with works as The Dream about Therese, Die Reise, Tintomara, The Animal Congress etc in his oeuvre.

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LARS JOHAN WERLE  as a composer was self-taught, though he studied counterpoint with Sven-Erik Bäck. He also studied musicology with Carl-Allan Moberg at the University of Uppsala. During this period Werle also sang in choirs, including the Bel Canto Choir, and worked as a jazz musician. From 1958 to 1970 he was music producer at the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation. He then taught at the Royal College of Opera in Stockholm from 1970 to 1976, which was followed by an appointment as teacher of composition at the Gothenburg College of Music.

His earliest works in the field of Western art music were avant-garde in style. Pentagram for string quartet was awarded first prize at the Gaudeamus festival in Bilthoven in 1960. The work is a kind of composition study influenced by the post-Webern style of those times. However, it was when Werle began to work with texts and the human voice that his creativity bloomed. Important works in this context are Drömmen om Thérèse (The Dream about Therésè) and Canzone 126 di Francesco Petrarca for mixed choir which has been performed by several Swedish and international choirs.

For the most part Werle continued in a modernistic direction until he wrote the opera Tintomara. However, both in this opera and in the earlier opera Resan (The Journey) Werle introduced a kind of allusion technique which since became a feature of all his music. With his extensive knowledge of different styles he made use of this technique in a congenial and dramatically effective fashion, with frequent references to the world of classical opera. In the late 60s this technique caused bad blood in certain quarters, but for Werle it was simply a way of communicating with his audience: by means of references to the whole register that a modern listener is familiar with he can establish immediate contact with the dramatic development. Although nowadays Werle is above all known for his vocal music, he in fact also wrote the film music to Ingmar Bergman’s Vargtimmen (Hour of the Wolf) and Persona.

“Modern classics“ that bear Werle’s signature include the musical Animalen (The Animal Congress) to a libretto by Tage Danielsson and the Folk Opera’s highly successful production of the opera Lionardo. His concern about the environment is also apparent in Vaggsång för jorden (Cradle Song for the Earth) and the opera Äppelkriget (The Apple War). At the end of his life Werle mainly worked at the Gothenburg College of Opera and Drama – he preferred working in close contact with singers, actors and musicians. The three operas Väntarna (Those who Wait) Tavlan (The Picture) and Herkules were composed in these surroundings in collaboration with Iwar Bergkwist.