Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Kurt Atterberg

A few months ago I acquired a Naxos CD, “Swedish Orchestral Favourites, Vol. 2.” It's full of delights by one composer I already knew and liked, Lars-Erik Larsson, and several I didn't know. (Naxos' Vol. 1 is equally good.) On first listening, my favorite piece on the CD was the  three-movement Suite No. 3 for violin, viola, and string orchestra by Kurt Atterberg. Here it is, performed by Camerata Lysy at the Enesco Festival in Bucharest in 2007.

For days I kept going back to the Atterberg piece to see if my memory was exaggerating, and there it was, beautiful as ever. This prompted me to grow pensive and ask myself: Who the hell is Kurt Atterberg?

It seems Atterberg (1887-1974) had a long, prolific composing and conducting career, supported by a lifelong job in the Swedish Patent Office. He composed nine symphonies (No. 6 was recorded by Beecham and Toscanini) and enjoyed some international fame in the 1920s and '30s.

So I look on the internet and I see the boxed set of Atterberg's nine symphonies. Thirty-three bucks. Then I start reading the customer reviews: “the best CD purchase I have ever made”... “not even Sibelius had this talent for orchestration”... “astonishing beauty and power”... “truly memorable and moving masterpieces”... “the most ignored 20th century composer”...  "the best box set of classical music I have purchased in the past 5 years..." As I'm reading, I can feel the thirty-three dollars oozing out of my bank account.

I haven't lived with the Atterberg symphonies very long, but I've played them enough to know that each is a rewarding musical journey, dense and eventful, colorfully orchestrated, often richly melodic. For a twentieth-century composer, Atterberg's idiom is what some call conservative; I call it accessible. I already like most of his symphonies more than many late-romantic and modern works commonly programmed in North America.

I've been listening to music all my life – how did I miss him? How many more Kurt Atterbergs are out there?

I see the boxed set of symphonies by Ture Rangström is just $22.18 and the customer reviews are saying, "compelling music-making"... "unjustly overlooked as a major 20th century symphonist"... "truly interesting, inventive and intense music"... "anyone who likes Sibelius or Alfven should really give them a try..."

1 comment:

  1. The beauty and joy you are experiencing are worth more than the dollars sent to Amazon . . . here endeth the sermon! (I will pass the collection plate amongst you in Bay Ridge.)