I don’t often get to review the music of tonal composers who are completely unknown to me, but the name of Lundquist has come to my notice two or three times over the past year so, when it appeared on the list of CDs for review. I thought, therefore, that I would broaden my horizons and give his music a try. I am rather pleased I did.
I was surprised to find that Lundquist was almost a late romantic composer and that he died as recently as 2000. As the name suggests, he was Swedish, born in Stockholm. He had a fitful association with music in his youth and was making his living as a jazz pianist when he was called up for military service after his graduation, during the war. It was during this service that he decided to dedicate his career to music so, after the war, following an abortive start at a college composition course, he sought out and enrolled for a range of studies at the University of Uppsala in musicology, with Issay Dobrowen, and composition, with Dag Wiren. He also studied counterpoint with Hans Leygraf and later, in Salzburg and Vienna, conducting with Otmar Suitner. He founded a chamber orchestra and this led to a post as conductor and artistic director of the Drottningholm theatre between 1949 and 1956. Subsequently, he took guest conducting posts with orchestras in Sweden and throughout Europe.
In terms of composing, one of Lundquist’s principal works, the First Symphony, was premiered in 1956, but this was followed by a period of experimentation. Like many composers in the fifties and sixties, particularly not keen to follow serialism, Lundquist honed his orchestration skills by writing film music. Between 1954 and 1965, he wrote the scores for no fewer than twenty-five movies. According to the booklet notes for the present release, the influences that the composer acknowledged included jazz, blues, and Swedish and non-European folk music. Of the classical composers, Sibelius – “particularly with the symphonic form used from the Fourth Symphony onwards” – was apparently a major influence. The composition of Lundquist’s own Second Symphony began around the time of the First Symphony’s premiere, but it took him a long time to complete it and it finally appeared in 1970 - to be premiered in 1971. It seems that the success of the symphony encouraged Lundquist to focus on symphonic work, although he faced financial difficulties and the personal chaos that followed the death of his first wife, Maud, in the summer of 1970.
The inspiration for the Third Symphony, recorded here, came to Lundquist in 1971 during a mountain walk. He recalled: “…in stillness an imperceptibly whispering wind far away from nowhere which grew into tremendous power and also disappeared to nowhere”. Following this inspiration, and despite his personal situation, the composer threw himself into the compositional process and the new symphony was finally premiered in 1976. It was named Sinfonia Dolorosa, dedicated to Maud and, according to the booklet notes, represents “a kind of grieving process for her death”. In spite of this background, the music does not seem to me to display any particularly dolorous characteristics. It is written in one movement of almost half an hour and the booklet notes indicate the relationship of each episode of the music with a stage of the mountain walk, not unlike the programme for the Alpine Symphony of Richard Strauss. Apparently, three “blocks” of material can be distinguished – together with a concluding “reminiscence” that dies away to nothing at the end – but the “blocks” each appear to consist of smaller linked units.
Of the influences already mentioned above, my feeling is that none of these is suggested in the Third Symphony – least of all Sibelius. In his review, Rob Barnett has suggested that there are similarities with Rubbra’s Fourth Symphony – and I can see where he is coming from. However, I have another suggestion. From the opening tremolando on the strings, Bruckner springs to mind. Indeed, the motivic theme that follows – repeated several times during the course of the work – bears more than a passing resemblance to one of the great themes from the first movement of Bruckner’s own Third Symphony, composed almost exactly a century before. I rather doubt that this is a coincidence, although there is no mention of it in the booklet notes. That said, despite some Brucknerian features, the music also sounds to me to be recognisably Scandinavian. I can hear a debt to both Alfven and Wiren, and possibly also to some of the more approachable output of Jon Liefs, whom I think of as a sort of Icelandic Havergal Brian. At any rate, there should be sufficient textural variety to maintain most listeners’ interest.
This symphony marked Lundquist’s breakthrough, achieving several performances, including the present one, recorded under the composer’s direction. This success was probably responsible for the Swedish government’s decision to award Lundquist a state income guarantee – a so-called “artist’s salary”. This allowed him to restart composing his Fourth symphony, begun in 1974. This work was inspired by nature and the composer’s anger at man’s destruction of it – hence the name it was originally given: Sinfonia Ecologica. It was mainly written in the Bohuslän archipelago and was finally completed in 1985 in the countryside at Uppland, where the composer had settled with his second wife. By good fortune, it appeared in time to satisfy a commission to compose a contemporary symphony for the 50th anniversary of the Gothenburg Concert Hall in that year. The present recording was made by the same forces that gave the premiere performance – probably just after that performance, to judge by the lack of audience noise and applause.
Again, the work is in one continuous movement – taking rather longer than the Third at over 45 minutes. I have to say that I think this is too long and the rambling architecture and level of invention doesn’t really justify the length. Also, quite what the music owes to ecology or nature, any more than in the Third Symphony for example, is anybody’s guess. The principal interest for me is in spotting apparent allusions to the style of other composers – and I suspect many listeners will find this.
The work uses a big orchestra with a battery of percussion – including a vibraphone, which achieves prominence in several places. It starts with a heavy tread and marching tympani, interspersed with tam-tam and bells, reminiscent of the opening of Brian’s Gothic Symphony. The soundscape soon veers into something closer to a Martinu symphony, however. The overwhelming sense of direction is soon compromised but, after allusions to a seascape, the work gradually gains momentum again. I subsequently noticed moments that could have come from Holst and the Vaughan Williams of the Sixth and Seventh symphonies. At about 28’30” and towards the end of the work there are moments of pure Hanson and a vaguely Waltonesque episode at 37’. The work gets noisier and more percussive after this, deflating occasionally, before coming to an abrupt hammering end. Lundquist subsequently went on to complete nine symphonies – a tenth being unfinished at his death.
The performances here are unimpeachable – as one might expect,
given that the composer is conducting the Third Symphony and Sixten
Ehrling the Fourth. The fine ADD recordings date from the 1980s and
were made by Swedish Radio for broadcast. Whilst not quite demonstration
quality, they sound perfectly serviceable and give no cause for complaint.
Booklet notes provide a relatively comprehensive biography of the composer
and an essay on his credentials as a symphonist. These run to 18 pages
in Swedish, followed by a further 17 pages of slightly clunky English
translation that veers between past and present tense narration. A helpful
list of the composer’s works and a discography are also provided.
Evidently Symphonies 1 and 7 have also been recorded – I wonder
if they will appear again.
A worthwhile discovery, then. Lundquist is not a particularly individual voice, but his music is none the worse for that and I shall return to this release. Whether I could sustain that enthusiasm over a further seven symphonies remains to be seen.
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