Gehrmans Music Publishing 💛 Swedish choral music = #swedishchoralmusic

The tradition of the "Swedish choral miracle" continues! Swedish choirs and Swedish choral music have received great international interest and acclaim in recent decades. In 2018, Gehrmans Music Publishing decided to celebrate this rich heritage, and in cooperation with Professor Anders Eby and his Mikaeli Chamber Choir, we released twelve films with choral music from the twelve decades since Gehrmans was founded in 1893. We called the project #swedishchoralmusic.

In 2019, #swedishchoralmusic will explore Swedish choral music of today. What is it and where is it headed? We will ask some composers active today to share their view. Please subscribe to our monthly newsletter by emailing swedishchoralmusic@gehrmans.se!

MEET COMPOSER OF THE MONTH #4: AGNETA SKÖLD

Agneta Sköld’s music has a simple ingeniousness that settles close to the soul and evokes thoughts about the great mysteries or our existence: life, death and love”, states the jury of the 2019 Stockholm Music Association Composition Award. Agneta Sköld trained as a solo singer, worked for ten years in the Swedish Radio Choir and has been a respected church musician and choral conductor since the 1970s. But she is perhaps most famous for her beautiful, melodious sacred choral music. Her setting of the medieval text There Is No Rose from 2004 has been performed by choirs throughout the world.

“Now that I am retired I can start experimenting!”
(Interview from May 2019)

What is music to you?
My mother was a church musician and piano teacher. We kids used to wait in an adjoining room while she taught. I have perfect pitch, and when the lesson was finished, I went to the piano and played from memory the music they had worked with. I must have been around three years old when I started doing that.

When I was a teenager, my perfect pitch was a nuisance. I had a hard time keeping up with the choir when we were not in tune. But it’s a question of practice and it’s been very useful to me later in life. When I sang in the Swedish Radio Choir, I was always the one who gave the pitch – without a tuning fork, of course.

Music is the air I breathe – I don’t think anyone can live without music. It affects our whole emotional register, it goes deep and reaches to where words are not enough. It’s awfully important. I can’t imagine a life without music, that would be very strange.

 What does your own voice sound like?
When I was young, I sang in a famous choir in the Swedish town of Västerås for the legendary chorus master Bror Samuelsson. That was a fantastic education. I’m a trained solo singer and I performed quite a lot after finishing studies at the Royal College of Music, and I sang in the Radio Choir and the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir – in the alto section, of course! But then I moved back to my home town with my family and chose to work full time as a church musician. There is a time for everything. Now my voice isn’t really fit for solo singing anymore, but I still sing alto in the choir.

Has your work as a church musician influenced you as a composer?
I have always composed music for my own choirs: children´s choir, female voices, mixed choirs. I am quite practical; I know what the choir needs. My inspiration has come from the musical world I am in as a church musician. I try to develop those musical impulses and make them my own. I don’t write atonal music. My music is harmonious, and I think a lot about timbre, chords and melodies.

What kind of choral music will you compose in the future?
In the beginning, writing music was something I did on the side. But then I started to get a lot of commissions. Now that I am retired from my job as a church musician I can spend all my time composing music, and now I want to experiment, broaden my horizons and find new means of expression!

I have never trained to be a composer. I guess I am too old to apply to a composition class, but it would be fun to have someone to discuss composing with! Most of my music is for choir a cappella or with the organ. I am curious and would like to learn more about different instruments and to try writing for choir and orchestra. That’s a completely new world of sounds! That would be fun.

At the moment I am working on two motets commissioned by Gary Graden for the internationally known St. Jacob´s Chamber Choir. And then, some music for children’s choir and some for female voices.

How do you choose your texts?
That’s tricky, I think! It takes a lot of time to find texts. Writing music for the church is always safe, because there are set texts to use. But there are exciting possibilities in combining sacred and profane poetry. It can open up new perspectives on well-known themes. Two poets that I like to use are the Swedes Harry Martinson and Pär Lagerkvist, both winners of the Nobel Prize. Their texts are existential, bordering on the sacred.

 What are your thoughts when you hear the words “Swedish choral music”?
Fifty years ago, when I started studying at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, all choristers just stood up and sang. That has certainly changed! In the choral music composed today other means of expression are being created, and many choirs even work with choreography or scenic projects. But it still has that exquisite sould! Swedish choral music is very pleasant to listen to. Where does the famous Swedish sound come from? I think it has to do with intonation, purity and good vowel sounds. And not too much vibrato.

In Sweden all churches have musicians employed. You can live your whole life in church, through its choirs, from a very young age. I think that has created a very strong foundation for our Swedish choral music. But there is also a strong tradition of choral singing in organisations outside the church. Every company has its own choir. Having so many good choirs in Sweden makes ripples on the water!

Agneta-collage.jpg

Three choral pieces by Agneta Sköld:
There is no rose. Much loved setting of the medieval text. SATB (medium level) a cappella.
Requiem. Agneta Skölds 30 minutes long Requiem from 2015 is a deeply felt, beautiful and skilfully composed work in seven movements. For SATB (medium level), soprano solo and organ.
Sanctus. A lively and spiritual Sanctus for female voices, where every voice has its own melody and individuality. SSAA with piano accompaniment. 

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2018 #swedishchoralmusic films

With our twelfth and last film, Jerker Leijon's Bortom berg och mörka vatten (Beyond mountains and dark waters), we would like to thank all participants and partners for a fantastic anniversary year 2018! Read more about this film below.

We have been publishing Swedish Choral Music since New Zealand introduced female voting rights (Yes, first country in the world to do so - in 1893!). In the 125 years since then, Swedish Choral Music has evolved and expanded. We are proud to be part of this rich tradition.

As a part of our celebrations for our 125th anniversary in 2018, we are launching the project #swedishchoralmusic. In collaboration with Mikaeli Chamber Choir and its conductor, professor Anders Eby, we record twelve short films about choral pieces we love, one for each decade since 1893.

On every last Sunday of the month during 2018 we will release a film on the Facebook page Svensk körmusik / Swedish Choral Music (please like and follow the page!).

The films are concieved and produced by Janna Vettergren and filmed by Pär Fridberg. Do you have questions about the project? Please contact janna.vettergren@gehrmans.se 

If you are interested in Swedish choral music, Gerhmans has a new subscription: SweChoral, with music selected for non-Swedish speaking choirs. The SweChoral subscription presents 3–5 new high quality choral works in two mailings a year and includes works suitable for both the intermediate as well as the advanced choir.

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FILM 1 - january 2018: the 2000s. Mattias Skölds We know not where the dragons fly (Bhu Zhi Long Qu Chu) (2004). A rhythmically challenging but harmonically uncomplicated Swedish choral piece in Chinese! Mattias Sköld is born in 1976 and is one of the most interesting young choral composers today. In the film, the composer Mattias Sköld tells conductor Anders Eby how he came to write a piece with Chinese words. The film is recorded in the Stockholm church Årsta kyrka, a beautiful, interesting and prize winning building from 2011 by Swedish architect Johan Celsing.

More information about We know not where the dragons fly is available HERE.

...and there is more to read in english about the composer Mattias Sköld on his own webpage.

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FILM 2 - february 2018: 1990s. Gabriella Gullins Tyst är det rum, from Tre Miniatyrer (1994). The words by 1951 Nobel Prize laureate Pär Lagerkvist are delicately put to music in a composition built on long pauses. The film is recorded at the Swedish Museum of Performing Arts.

Read more about the composer Gabriella Gullin and see parts of the score for Tyst är det rum.

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FILM 3 - March 2018: 1930s. Hildor Lundvik: Verlaine-Stämning (In the mood of Verlaine) (1937), text Vilhelm Ekelund. “It is raining in the town, raining silently and slowly…” In In the mood of Verlaine, Swedish melancholia meets French 19th century poetic “spleen”. Paul Verlaine’s poem “Il pleure dans mon coeur” (“In my heart it weeps”) inspires Ekelund; thus Lundvik’s music is born. “My heart silently weeps” sing the tenors, accompanied by the sopranos’ and altos’ gentle rain on the roofs. This film is recorded at the Swedish Museum of Performing Arts.

Read more about the composer Hildor Lundvik here!

 

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FILM 4 - April 2018: 1910s. Wilhelm Stenhammar: Vårnatt/Lenznacht (1912), text Oscar Levertin. Piano: Carlos Murakami.

The spring is a life-giving force that, given enough faith, grants ‘the hearts all that they desire’, but that also contains broken strings and thwarted plans that yearn to ‘be ash in urn’”, writes Erik Wallrup at The Swedish Musical Heritage. Vårnatt (Spring night) by Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927) brings the beauty and pain of the Nordic Spring to life in harmonics that choirs have loved to sing since 1912. Vårnatt was written for choir and orchestra, but it is the piano version that has been performed the most. The film is recorded at Årsta Church.

Read about Wilhelm Stenhammar here!

...and the score is available in piano version at Gehrmans and for orchestra at The Swedish Musical Heritage.

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FILM 5 - May 2018: 1920s. Knut Håkanson (1887–1929): Våhr-Wijsa (Spring Song, 1929) from Four Madrigals. Text: Lars Wivallius (1605-1669). Expert: Mattias Lundberg, Professor of Musicology.

While Knut Håkanson was dying from a kidney disease in 1929, he found himself in an intensely creative period. His sketchbook is full of choral pieces which he has feverishly completed, among others Vårh-Wijsa (Spring Song) with a text by Swedish adventurer and poet Lars Wivallius – a text that is spelled in the strangest 1700th Century way that Håkanson could find. Choristers of 1929 were in for a Baroque treat! Håkanson goes “all-in”, as Professor Mattias Lundberg puts it. The film is recorded in the Swedish Museum of Performing Arts and the Music and Theatre Library of Sweden.

 

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Film 6 – June 2018: the 1950s. Lille Bror Söderlundh (1912-1957): Fritt och ljust and Sov min själ from Tre madrigaler. Poems by Gunnar Björling (1887–1960). With Christina Mattsson, folksong researcher, former Director of the Swedish Radio P2 (classical, jazz and folk music channel) and author of a Söderlundh biography.

One of Sweden’s most famous songwriters and singers throughout the 20th Century was Lille Bror Söderlundh. He was – and is – loved for his clear tenor voice, elegant guitar arrangements and beautiful settings of Swedish poet Nils Ferlin. But he was also a recognized composer of classical music, although his critics thought he was too famous to be taken seriously. His interest for Swedish contemporary poetry led him to Finland-Swedish modernist Gunnar Björling, whose texts Söderlundh lovingly set to music. Christina Mattsson talks to Anders Eby about how the two artists met; a meeting not without complications. Mikaeli Chamber Choir sings two songs (Fritt och ljust, Sov min själ) from Söderlundh’s Tre madrigaler from 1952 with texts by Björling. The film is recorded at the Swedish Museum of Performing Arts (Scenkonstmuseet). We would also like to thank Christina Mattsson for an interesting talk and delicious coffee!

Read Christina Mattsson’s words about Söderlundh here: https://www.gehrmans.se/en/composers/soderlundh_lille_bror

...and more about the poet Björling here: http://www.booksfromfinland.fi/1985/06/poems-7/

The score can be previewed here: https://www.gehrmans.se/en/shop/kor/tre-madrigaler

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Film 7 – july 2018: 1940s. Åke Malmfors (1918-1951): Månsken (1943). Text: Bo Bergman (1869-1967).

Åke Malmfors’ friend from the Royal Academy of Music, legendary Eric Ericson, was especially fond of Malmfors’ choral music and performed his song from 1943, Månsken (Moonlight), many times throughout the years. Thanks to him, it is now among the most loved Swedish choral songs. Åke Malmfors was known for his characteristic sound with a touch of French Impressionist music; this flavour is also present in Månsken, a setting of Bo Bergman’s poem where moonlight bathes nature in a silvery light and Puck hides in the shadows to sneak up on a fairy who has lost her track. In 1951, Malmfors died suddenly, only 32 years old. Eric Ericson has said that he morned not only a friend and colleague, but also all the great music that could have been, had Malmfors lived longer.

http://www.swedishmusicalheritage.com/composers/malmfors-ke/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bo_Bergman

 

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Film 8 – August 2018: music from the 2010s. Ann-Sofi Söderqvist (1956–): What is life? (2014). Text: Malin Hülphers (1964–)

How do you create groovy music without rhythm instruments, with only voices, with a whole choir? What is life? was commissioned by the vocal ensemble Voces Nordicae (now VoNo), whose conductor Lone Larsen wanted an unusually rhythmic piece, but with expressive harmonies.

Trumpeter, big band leader and composer Ann-Sofi Söderqvist lets simple elements make a whole that swings; rhythms and frequencies, bright and dark sounds, consonants and vowels. Söderqvist used a poem by Leonard Cohen for the original composition, but after fruitless negotiations about the text rights, decided to instead let Malin Hülphers write the text for the finished music. Malin created an existential and beautiful universe of words:

What is life? a voice.

What is living? the beat of butterfly wings.

Where is life? a lightning spark.

In your heart existence comes alive.

Look at the score HERE and read more about Ann-Sofi Söderqvist HERE!

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Film 9 – September 2018: music from the 1960s. Gösta Nystroem (1890-1966) Havsdagrar och molnflockar from Golfiner (1966). Text: Claes E. Claeson (1920-1991)

Gösta Nystroem was dependent on the sea, both as a person and as artist. He sailed the Arctic Ocean and around Africa through the Suez-Canal, lived by the sea and his most famous symfony is called Sinfonia del Mare. The poems by sea captain and journalist Claes E Claeson must have felt like home to Nystroem, who made three of them into uniquely imaginative, modernist a cappella choral pieces. The title Golfiner alludes to the portuguese word for dolphin: “golfinho”. The third piece is Havsdagrar och molnflockar, set on a tropical island. The text is almost excusively about cloud formations of every shape and colour; heavy storm clouds red from the sunset, cirrus feathers with their thin threads, nimbostratus of cooling rain.

Have a look at the music here: https://www.gehrmans.se/butik/kor/golfiner

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Film 10 – October 2018: 1893. Valborg Aulin (1860–1928): Two choral pieces from 1893 (text: unknow). Valborg Aulin is the featured composer of the Gehrmans Music Publishing 125th anniversary (founded in 1893).

To celebrate our 125th anniversary as limitied company in the music publishing business, we issue two wonderful, long lost, choral gems from 1893: Valborg Aulin’s Min lycka varade så kort (My happiness lasted so short) and Lysen stjärnor (Shine, oh Stars!). Music with a air of turn of the century, with beautiful a cappella qualities and a constant movement forward, by a female composer who in the 1890s was among the most respected in the Stockholm musical establishment, and who was also a brilliant pianist, but who disappeared mysteriously from the limelight in 1903 and was forgotten. This film is recorded in the Eric Ericson Concert Hall in Stockholm in cooperation with the Eric Ericson International Choral Centre. Mikaeli Chamber Choir interprets Aulin’s music under the direction of Anders Eby, who also tells about the composer’s life in her hometown Stockholm.

Read more about Valborg Aulin here!

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Film 11 – November 2018: 1970s. Sven-Erik Bäck (1919–1994): Utrannsaka mig (Search me, O God) (1970). Text: Psalm 139:23-24.

Sven-Erik Bäck is one of the most important and original Swedish Composers of the 20th Century. His close cooperation and lifelong friendship with the legendary choral conductor Eric Ericson resulted among other compositions in his Motets for the Church Year; modernistic in their beautifully austere harmonies. In Utrannsaka mig (Search me, O God), Bäck puts music to two verses from the Book of Psalms. The film is recorded in the Eric Ericson Hall, in cooperation with the Eric Ericson International Choral Centre. Read more about Sven-Erik Bäck here

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Film 12 – December 2018: 1980s. Jerker Leijon (1954–2009): Bortom berg och mörka vatten from Hjalmar Gullberg-svit (1989). Text: Hjalmar Gullberg

Jerker Leijon’s settings of three texts by Swedish poet Hjalmar Gullberg mirrors both the light and the darkness in Leijon’s music. He was famous for opening up choral singing to those who had never dared to sing, but also for his psalms and uncomplicated choral works. In his Gullberg Suite, we meet a more elaborate and detailed composer with a streak of deep shadows. The last of the three pieces, Bortom berg och mörka vatten, ends the suite in shimmering light. The film is recorded in the Eric Ericson Hall, in cooperation with the Eric Ericson International Choral Centre.

 

All films will appear on our Facebook page - follow and like!