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Emil SJÖGREN (1853–1918) Songs
Katarina Pilotti (soprano) Kristina Balstedt Tyrenius (piano)
rec. 2009/2010, Concert Hall, School of Music, Theatre and Art, Örebro University
Sung texts with English translations enclosed STERLING CDA1669-2 [71:37]
Emil Sjögren was a generation older than Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, Wilhelm Stenhammar and Hugo Alfvén, who set the tone for the development of the Swedish music scene from around the turn of the century. Of those three Alfvén was the orchestral virtuoso, Stenhammar wrote a couple of symphonies, some other great orchestral works and two piano concertos as well as a couple of operas, while P-B had five symphonies, a violin concerto and a handful of operas on his conscience. All three wrote songs and piano music and Stenhammar’s six string quartets are among the most central works in the genre in Swedish music history. Sjögren never had any inclination to produce large-scale music. He was a man of the intimate format: five violin sonatas (review ~ review), a cello sonata, large quantities of piano music and around two hundred songs. The songs have been recorded occasionally and some of them are quite frequently performed in recital. In the late 1980s Musica Sveciae issued two LPs with his songs and at about the same time Nicolai Gedda recorded a number of them for Bluebell. I can’t recall any all-Sjögren records after that, until the present disc was first issued some five or six years ago.
Sjögren was born in Stockholm and studied at the Conservatory there. Later he went to Berlin and he also visited Vienna and Paris. In the early 20th century he regularly visited Paris. His influences came less from his Swedish predecessors and more from the other Scandinavian countries. Peter Heise, Halfdan Kjerulf and Edvard Grieg were his most significant inspirations, but he also assimilated French music.
The songs on this disc are from his earliest period, from 1873 to 1884, when he had just turned thirty. It is interesting to note that none of them sets Swedish poems. Sjögren explained this in a letter from 1884: “Our authors are only concerned with social issues and these are not at all suited to being set to music.”
This was true at the time of writing but in the 1890s giants like Heidenstam, Levertin, Strindberg, Fröding and Karlfeldt entered the lyric Parnassus and in due time he set several of them. Long before that, when he was still at the Conservatory, he set Swedish poems by Topelius, Runeberg and Gellerstedt and copied them to his “little black book”. In other words he composed songs several years before 1873, when his “première” and “deuxième” songs were written, but these two (trs. 1 and 2) were the first he approved for publication. They are cute, simple songs with some folk-song character. One can hear in them the embryo of something that would develop into something of importance. The first, Holder du af mig (If You’ll Love Me) was published in 1874, while Det første Mødes Sødme (The Sweetness of the First Meeting) had to wait until 1888 before publication. Both poems were by Norwegian Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. In the next group of songs (1876), which was allotted Opus 1, he continued on his Norwegian path, adding the other giant from the neighbouring country, Henrik Ibsen. Actually Sweden and Norway were in a union at the time. Here Sjögren has already found a personal voice, and the second song in the group, Jeg giver mit digt til våren, has remained one of his most popular.
Before the Opus 1 songs he composed several others and after Opus 1 more followed, including “Three songs for bass voice” Opus 2 from 1877. Then in 1880 arrived what must be seen as Sjögren’s definitive breakthrough: Seven songs from Holger Drachmann’s 'Tannhäuser', Opus 3. Drachmann (1846 – 1908) was a Danish poet, dramatist and novelist. In 1877 he published Tannhäuser, a novel based on the medieval legend but located in a modern middle-class milieu. It is a love story with inserted poems, sometimes being sung by the characters in the story. In the story there is also a kind of song contest. The songs are a combination of love and nature poetry, and this obviously inspired Sjögren to some of his most emotional creations. These songs are real gems and the famous Swedish baritone and later manager of the Royal Opera, John Forsell, thought that Hvil over Verden (Float over the Earth) was ‘the most beautiful song ever written by a Swede’. It is difficult to deny that, but Du sidder i Baaten (tr. 8) is also very beautiful, the oft-performed Og jeg vil drage (tr. 9) goes directly to one’s heart, Jeg ser for mit Øje (tr. 10) is youthfully ebullient and the final song, Sover du, min sjael?(Are you asleep, my soul?) (tr. 12) is touching and inward. The lovely independent Vug, o Vove (Rock, o Waves) (tr. 13), composed three years later, is also a Drachmann setting, and it serves as an introduction to Sjögren’s ‘song year’ 1884, when in rapid succession he created three groups of songs.
Ernst von der Recke (1848 – 1933) wrote nature poetry full of feeling and many of his poems were set to music by Nordic composers. Agathe Backer-Grøndahl and Emil Sjögren were especially prolific. Others were also drawn to von der Recke and I Vaaren knoppes en Lind saa grön (tr. 14) was also set by J P E Hartmann and, probably most famously, by Wilhelm Peterson-Berger – his version titled Jungfrun under lind – a decade later. Sjögren’s setting can certainly match P-B’s. All four songs are proof that Emil Sjögren was a melodist of standing.
The same year he turned once again to the Tannhäuser theme, this time to Julius Wolff’s (1834 – 1910) Tannhäuser, ein Minnesang, a verse novel from 1880 (though the booklet says 1887). Sjögren set six poems and they have an expressive charge that puts them on a level with the earlier Tannhäuser songs. They have to be counted not only among the best of his works but among the best songs in 19th century Sweden and fully comparable to the best of P-B’s, Stenhammar’s and Rangström’s songs. They are also among the most frequently heard and recorded of his songs. Quite recently I reviewed a disc with an all-Swedish programme entitled Songs of the heart sung by tenor Leif Aruhn-Solén, and it is nice to have an alternative reading with another voice. Sung in German, the original language, they could easily be adopted by international Lieder singers and be heard by non-Scandinavian audiences.
For the concluding group of songs we return to Ernst von der Recke and four excellent further proofs of Sjögren’s greatness. This well-filled disc was a pleasure to listen to for the quality of the music – and the poems – but just as much for the lovely singing. Katarina Pilotti has appeared in twenty roles in operas and operettas and has a career as oratorio singer and recitalist. It seems that it is the latter function that is closest to her heart. Together with Kristina Balstedt Tyrenius she has founded idealistic cultural societies with the purpose of bringing art-songs to a wider audience. Her sensitive and nuanced singing as well as her ability to convey the meaning of the texts are decisive. These characteristics contribute greatly to the impact of this excellent disc. It should win new admirers for the songs of Emil Sjögren and all of us who like first-class ‘romanser’ — the Scandinavian equivalent of Lieder — should be deeply grateful to Katarina, Kristina and Sterling for making this repertoire available. I should add that some of the songs are heard here in world premiere recordings.
Track Listing 1. Première mélodie: Holder du af mig (1873) [1:27]
2. Deuxième mélodie: Det første mødes sødme (1873) [1:55]
From Fyra dikter av Ibsen och Bjørnson, Op. 1 (1876) [6:07]
3. I. Agnes, min dejlige sommerfugl [2:08]
4. II. Jeg giver mit digt til vaaren [1:35]
5. IV. Dulgt kjerlighed [2:24]
Sju sånger ur Holger Drachmanns Tannhäuser, Op. 3 (1880) [20:39]
6. Saa sød var sommernattens blund [3:08]
7. Hvil over verden, du dybe fred [2:36]
8. Du sidder i baaden, som svømmer [2:21]
9. Og jeg vil drage fra sydens blommer [2:24]
10. Jag ser for mit øje som det fineste spind [4:05]
11. Vidt kredsed du, min vilde fugl [3:12]
12. Sover du, min sjael? [2:53]
13. Vug, o vove (1883) [4:26]
Fyra dikter av Ernst von der Recke Op. 11 (1884) [8:34]
14. I vaaren knoppes en lind saa grön [1:52]
15. De röde roser [2:21]
16. Der driver en dug [1:37]
17. Og kan min hu du ej forstaa [2:44]
Sechs Lieder aus Julius Wolffs Tannhäuser, Op. 12 (1884) [16:49]
18. Du schaust mich an mit stummen Fragen [3:48]
19. Jahrlang möchte‘ ich so dich halten [2:41]
20. Wie soll ich’s bergen [3:45]
21. Hab‘ ein Röslein dir gebrochen [1:17]
22. Vor meinem Auge [2:52]
23. Ich möchte schweben [2:26]
Fyra dikter av Ernst von der Recke, Op. 13 (1884) [11:41]
24. Alt vandrer maanen [3:20]
25. Mig tyktes du stod ved mit leie [2:33]
26. Jeg sadled min hest [2:47]
27. Alt falder løvet i lunden taet [3:01]