The centenary that everyone forgot

He is Sweden’s most important symphonist, its equivalent to Finland’s Sibelius, and he was born 100 years ago next Monday.

Yet hardly any musicians outside his own country have remembered the occasion (his publisher excepted) and within Sweden itself the response is decidedly muted.

Why is that?

Because Allan Pettersson was ultimate outsider, a composer of Barefoot Songs who denounced the nanny state and went his own stubborn way, cradle to grave. Two great conductors – Rafael Kubelik and Antal Dorati – championed his work. Ida Haendel played his second violin concerto. Old recordings can still be found. Only one new release has landed on my desk in his centenary year.

The seventh symphony is an extraordinarily powerful work, and I discussed the rest in some detail in my Complete Companion to 20th Century Music.

‘I am not a composer, I am a voice crying,’ said Pettersson.

‘He started drilling, and it still hurts,’ says an article in Svenska Dagblad.

Sweden’s ambivalence has damaged his legacy.

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  • Thank you for this note about someone whose recordings I wrote about often. What was Kubelík’s involvement?

    Pettersson criticized the music establishment often, although he tended to be general in his attacks. He could be pretty persistent, even harsh. So that probably figures in why his music has become mostly ignored in Sweden. But I don’t think he was against the “nanny” aspect. He knew well how the state helped him after he became almost immobile, including the nine-month hospital care he received in 1970-71.

    (A better translation of “ropandes röst” is a voice “crying *out*.”)

  • I well remember hearing Pettersson’s Symphony Nr. 7 during the LP era…probably mid 70s or so. I had never heard of him before and after Dorati’s performance ended, I thought to myself: “What did I just hear and what does it mean?” So I listened to it again. I’d never heard anything quite like it, and I thought, “Wow, if this guy can write a Seventh Symphony like that, what do the others sound like?” It took many years to find out, but thanks to cpo for the cycle. I’m waiting for the completed Nr. 1 from BIS to appear in my mailbox any day now. Is anyone working to complete Nr. 17?

    Pettersson fans shouldn’t feel so alone. I didn’t exactly hear carillons pealing out last March for Hovhaness’s Centennial…

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