Photo Anders Hansson

Composer of the Month #9 is Ulrika Emanuelsson

“I like the voice as a rhythmical instrument”, says Ulrika Emanuelsson, our Composer of the Month #9. She is a composing choral conductor with a background in Dalcroze eurhythmics. An ensemble singer with an unquenchable thirst for new music and a composer who challenges herself and her students by linking up ideas to the extramusical – a tone series based on the speed of light, for instance. She has received awards from, among others, Sacred Music Festival in New York and Cambridge Madrigal Singers, Boston.

Interview with Ulrika Emanuelsson, November 2019

How does your own voice sound?
An exciting thought, as you often hear yourself from within. I probably sound something like a flute or a violin or possibly a hummingbird, if it existed in human form. A high soprano with a rapid vibrato which I have to smooth out sometimes. 

How would you describe your tone language?
I like to try out different angles of approach, so I don´t think my pieces are so very similar to one another. But my music has both polyrhythm and polyharmony, and a great deal is going on simultaneously. I also toy with letting the voices be percussive, but without releasing the sound. I like the voice as a rhythmical instrument. 

I try to link up my ideas to the extramusical and create something that carries me away from my ordinary self. In any case, that is what I´m striving for! If, for instance, I write music to the Latin word for light, ”lux”, I could base it on the speed of light, 299,729,458 metres per second. I would get an awesome little tone series from this, and then there will also be a reason for just those tones to be there. I challenge myself to find something that creates a limitation for my point of departure.

What in your life has influenced your choral music the most?
That I sing and have sung so much myself, I think. I have gone through such an enormous amount of music of all kinds, and especially choral music. I have a great thirst, a fervour that never seems to die. I love to get a new score and become absorbed in it, and to get the opportunity to make music with so many other composers´  works. I want to experience what they have done and then do just the opposite, or at least make it my own.

What kind of choral music do you want to write in the future?
I want to write the kind of music that I would like to sing myself. It is that thirst to try out new ideas, to find that special something that just says ”Ping! This is it!”. 

My music is almost exclusively vocal: oratorios, Requiems, operatic works, sometimes for choir and orchestra but most often a cappella. Singing is my instrument, there´s no escaping this. And I never seem to tire of it.

What do the words ”Swedish choral music” mean to you?
The soundscape that we have our origins in, the heritage of Ericson and our long tradition of Romanticism with Stenhammar and Peterson-Berger in the background. This is not only about the music but also about how we sing it. It is about conductors of all generations, those who have performed music and those who have collaborated with the composers. Lidholm and others who have renewed the art of choral composition in the 20th century; they didn´t exactly think about being kind to the singers… And this has really led to the development of the choirs! So I think that you don´t need to be afraid to pose a challenge. 

What has been your greatest experience in choral music?
When I was quite young I started to sing in a girl´s choir with Eva Bohlin in Lund. Then I had lived out in the country my whole life. I had, of course, sung in all the church choirs there, but I didn´t know that this world of choral music existed. I remember my first rehearsal with Korallerna (a women´s choir in Lund): a sea of like-minded, dedicated singers my same age. We sang Verdi´s Laudi alla vergine madre at the school Katedralskolan in the soft glow from its bright wooden floors, and I was completely sold.

Then I remember a concert during Europa Cantat in Tallinn a few years back. The Estonian National Male Choir sang Pärt´s De profundis and I wasn´t prepared for the power in it. I was knocked off my feet! The basses dug themselves up from the depths and it just carried. They stood on the platform far off but it was still so forceful! 

Three choral works by Ulrika Emanuelsson 
Där livet klingar ut. For SATB divisi and percussion, to a text by Swedish writer and Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld. Medium/advanced level. In Swedish, with phonetic transcription. Listen to Där livet klingar ut with the Vocal Art Ensemble. 

Arctic Yule & Arctic Elements. Dreamy medley of Swedish Christmas songs and yoiks with rhythmical improvisations. SSAA a cappella. Medium level. Listen to Arctic Yule with Carolinae Damkör conducted by Ulrika Emanuelsson!

Rösten ur mörkret sjunger. Rhythmical and playful sections in combination with homophonic ones. Text by Swedish poet Göran Sonnevi. In Swedish. SATB divisi. Medium/advanced level. Listen to Lund's Vocal ensemble singing Rösten ur mörkret sjunger.