Haupz Blog

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Kurt Atterberg

2020-06-28 — Michael Haupt

I want to introduce you to Kurt Atterberg, Swedish composer, early and mid-20th century. The man is fascinating because he wrote most of his compositions (nine symphonies, operas, concertos, songs, you name it) in his spare time. Atterberg was an electrical engineer, and worked in the Swedish patent office. He must also have been quite a character, because they had to force him into retirement at the age of 80.

What I - lover of late romanticism - admire about Atterberg's music is that it is a perfect blend of naturalistic impressions (read: paintings in music), Swedish folk tunes, and perfect large-scale orchestration that would have put Richard Strauss to shame. Well into the 20th century, he never gave in to the avant-gardistic revolution and serialism, so that his music is actually endurable.

I'll give three examples.

Älven (The River) is a symphonic poem describing the journey of a river from its source to the sea. In this programme, Älven is much like Smetana's Vltava, but set in more recent times. This becomes apparent when the river passes through a harbour, with ships sounding their horns.

The Second Symphony has a special place in my heart, because it perfectly combines all of the aforementioned characteristics. A majestic first movement, a dreamlike second that evolves into a troll dance, and a final third movement the main theme of which is like a composed exclamation mark. Excellent stuff.

Atterberg's Piano Concerto does, in its opening, bear some semblance to Tchaikovsky's first, but hold on, those wan colours all over the opening movement ... that's specific.


Tags: music