Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist, born in 1920, grew up in the Södermalm district of Sweden. He was of poor background, and an early interest in nature and films would bear fruit later in life. From early on he took piano lessons. His musical gifts enabled him eventually to form a jazz orchestra at high school, and to earn some money as a jazz pianist. Military service followed, and in 1945 he enrolled in a musicology course at Uppsala University. Dissatisfied with the teaching methods there, he sought out his own teachers, including composition with Dag Wirén, counterpoint with Hans Leygraf and conducting with Otmar Suitner. Lundquist compositional output, fairly substantial, includes an opera, nine symphonies, four concertos, orchestral works, chamber music, vocal and choral works. He also wrote music for twenty-five films. He died in 2000, with an unfinished tenth symphony in progress.
Eight of Lundquist's symphonies have subtitles, but they are not programmatic. Rather, the title gives the listener an indication of the source of inspiration for each piece. The music is basically tonal but embraces many diverse elements, resulting in a synthesis of traditional structures, avant-garde elements and jazz-inflected influences. Though the works are firmly rooted in the European orchestral tradition, the composer was not averse to drawing from other cultures. The percussion effects of Indonesian gamelan are just one example.
The Symphony No. 3, Sinfonia dolorosa, cast in a single movement, was four years in the making between 1971-1975, and was premiered a year later. It marked Lundquist's breakthrough as a symphonist. The work bears a dedication to his wife, Maud, who passed away in 1970. He initially got the idea for the work from a mountain hike. Architecturally, it is drafted in three distinguishable sections – a mighty triptych echoing nature. As the walker makes his journey, he comes face to face with the forces of nature. There are calm mountain streams and gleaming sunshine on the one hand. On the other, darkening skies transform into stormy interludes. The notes aptly describe the music as a ‘symphonic fresco’. The orchestration is colourful and skilfully handled, with some exquisite woodwind writing along the way. Towards the end there is a jazzy section. In the closing bars the music dies away to nothing.
Ten years elapsed before the Symphony No. 4, Sinfonia Ecologica. Written again in one movement, at 45 minutes, it is twice as long as its predecessor. There are more powerful forces at work here. They assert themselves from the opening bars with a series of ominous drum beats which have an air of portent about them. Throughout, generally, there is more heightened tension and drama. Basically, it is an undulating narrative of contrasting emotions, and this performance contours the ebb and flow remarkably. The orchestra is the Gotenburg Symphony Orchestra under the work's dedicatee Sixten Ehrling, and the recording is the premiere in October 1985. Ehring injects plenty of rhythmic gusto into this compelling reading.
I must single out for special praise the booklet notes, in Swedish with English translation; they are substantial by any standards. They include a fascinating biographical sketch by the composer's son, Dag Lundquist, and a detailed discussion of the music by Curt Carlsson. The performances have been well recorded and fully do justice to these rich, imaginative scores.
I am immensely grateful to Sterling for releasing these two live performances, taped in the 1980s. I note that there is a dearth of recordings available of the composer's music, so this release should go some way to redressing the balance.
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