About Every Hill and Valley
Swedish songs, broadsides and ballads from medieval to present
Torsten Mossberg (tenor)
Stina Hellberg Agback (harp)
Jonas Isaksson (guitar)
rec. 2018, Grisslinge gård, Ingarö, Sweden
Sung texts with English translations enclosed. STERLING CDA1834-2 [66:44]
Torsten Mossberg, physician, specialist in Anesthesiology and intensive care, is also a devoted singer, both as choir singer and soloist. He has released several CDs with Swedish songs and ballads (review ~ review ~ review ~ review) recorded during a period of about 20 years. His latest, recorded as recently as April 2018, covers a wide repertoire from anonymous medieval ballads to the 1970s. Now in his mid-70s he has preserved his tenor voice admirably. It’s free from disturbing vibrato, is evenly produced and he never presses it beyond its natural limits. His enunciation, so essential in this repertoire, where there often is a story, is pinpoint clear, so clear that one notices that in several places he diverges from the printed text. Call it poetic freedom if you like. What I regularly have pointed out when reviewing the previous discs is his natural approach: he never over-interprets the songs but trusts the texts and melodies that they can make their marks without making a lot of fuss. This doesn’t, on the other hand, imply that his singing is bland and faceless, on the contrary very much alive, but he never exaggerates things. As on the previous disc he is accompanied by guitar and harp, sometimes together but mostly one or other, discreet and lenient.
In the preface to the comments on the songs in the liner notes, Torsten Mossberg distinguishes some types of songs. A “visa” – best translated as “lay” – is a strophic poetry with a strophic melody. It may be a popular “visa” (folksong is an adequate word in my vocabulary), where the author is generally not known and it is often quite simple; then there are literary “visor” where the texts are important and the poets are known. Very often the music is also by the poet – but far from always. In this collection there are texts by important poets to anonymous melodies – and sometimes even to existing music by well-known composers. A “skillingtryck” (“broadside” in English) is “a printed sheet, usually folded into eight pages, with song lyrics and poems”. The background is that they were sold for one or two shilling, which meant that they were fairly cheap and this was from the mid-19th century the most common way of distributing new songs – often with topical contents. “Skillingtryck” had no musical scores but often an indication that they would be sung to a well-known tune. There are examples of all these different kinds of songs in this programme.
The opening is a Swedish folktune – very beautiful – and the only stanza is a tribute to the girl that the singer loves. To this Torsten Mossberg has added a second verse of his own. The humoristic Elin I love rather much is also a folktune but the poet is known, Israel Holmström (1661 – 1708). It was probably written about 1700. There the poet describes Elin in poetic phrases, not all of them very flattering. She is for instance Fat like a wellfed sow --- pretty and small like a mosquito --- Elin is my sugar doll --- but rounds it off with a drastic Elin is my pig steak. Lasse Lucidor, a pseudonym for Lars Johansson (1638 – 1674), was a translator and writer of hymns, drinking songs and funeral poems. His lament (tr. 3) was presumably written while he served a prison sentence, “accused of having been too outspoken in a poem”. The possible melody Lucidor had in mind was a hymn by Danish bishop Thomas Kingo, which still is sung today and is in the official Swedish hymn book No. 269, titled Sorgen och glädjen (The sorrow and the joy).
Anna Maria Lenngren (1754 – 1817) is probably the best known female writer in Sweden during the late 18th century. She was married to J P Lenngren, editor of Stockholmsposten, where she anonymously published daily verses for many years. Pojkarne (The boys) is one of her most famous poems, printed in 1797 and the music is an aria from Gluck’s opera Armide from 1777. Ten years later it was performed in Stockholm, and supposedly Ms Lenngren attended a performance. The satirical text, which begins with the author recalling the lovely time of youth, when innocence and peace followed my trail. But now she doesn’t recognize her friends: They became men in the state, far from boyhood, and now they fight for titles and food. So what has become of them? Cold heart under the star, yellow skin and gorgeous band. Mossberg’s declamation of the text is elegant with ironic twist.
We return to the 17th century for the next two numbers. Lars Wivallius had a lot in common with Lasse Lucidor: the same first name, they were both jailbirds – Wivallius was even sentenced to death – both probably wrote their most famous poems while in prison, both poems are laments and both wrote them to existing hymn melodies. Specific for Wivallius was a deep feeling for nature, rare in his days. Samuel Columbus’s gavotte to a tune by Gustav Düben, conductor of the Royal Court Orchestra and organist, praises the five senses of pleasure, which didn’t rhyme with the prevailing piousness. The accompaniment, with both harp and guitar, sounds almost like the Finnish plucked instrument kantele. Düben was an important figure in Swedish music life during the 17th century. Among other things he collected and brought home to Sweden lots of music by more than 200 composers, during his many journeys in Europe. The Düben Collection is today in the University Library in Uppsala. Two charming pieces based on folktunes (tr. 7 & 8) represent a transition phase leading to works from the mid-19th century and up to the present time. Carl Jonas Love Almqvist, one of the most important Swedish authors of the Romantic era – and a forerunner to Realism – was also a composer and some of his Songes are frequently heard. Originally composed for solo voice a cappella You do not walk alone (tr. 9) is here performed with harp accompaniment – sensitively and beautifully. Elias Sehlstedt many song texts endeared him to the middle classes and some of them have survived to this very day. The moral in the one sung here is: Why do you complain? You were born, isn’t that good enough? One should not sleep by the journalist Levi Rickson, is a yearning love song written in a Central Swedish dialect. The moral is: One should not sleep when the night is deep! Looking at stars one should do … One should be two. It is beautifully sung with deep feeling. Nobel Prize Winner Erik Axel Karlfeldt wrote several poems based on paintings with biblical motifs from the province of Dalecarlia. In the present song Adam and Eve have been expelled from Eden. What are they to do? The answer is laconically: Go west!
Vilhelm Ekelund’s evocative expressionist Star of the Sea is here given congenial musical garb by Evert Taube, who himself wrote and set to music so many memorable songs, which most Swedes, at least from a slightly older generation, knew and could sing. The sea was one of his favourite motifs and so he had the right feeling for the theme. The sea is central also in Ruben Nilsons The true shanty. Shanties were popular in the 1930s when this song was written, they were often waltzes, with dramatic situations – and Nilson enumerates all the possible adventures – but nothing of this happens to this sailor. When he gets old he returns to where he came from, he has saved all his money and marries the girl who had been waiting for him! Then they lived like dog and cat for many years along – but that is another song. Another singer-songwriter – as it is today – was Birger Sjöberg, who in philosophical poems portrayed life in a small town with special focus on his muse, Frida. In the first song Spring night reflections at Frida’s window-pane, Frida has fallen asleep and the poet contemplates a little oval in her curtain, showing an alpine landscape, in the second, Frida’s spring cleaning, we are treated to a poetic description of the most trivial thing imaginable: a young woman cleaning windows, furniture, bric-a-brac, whatever but in his imagination he sees her as an angel. Torsten Mossberg’s story-telling is just as ordinary as the situation but with an angelic aura around Frida’s head. Harriet Löwenhjelm was a painter and poet who died in tuberculosis when she was 31. Her poetry wasn’t published until after her death. Several of her often witty and ironic poems were set to music by Hjalmar Casserman who was the personal physician of King Gustaf V and Gustav VI Adolf. Hunting for a bird is one of Harriet Löwenhjelm’s most famous poems.
Evert Taube had in his youth been a sailor and among other things visited Argentine, where he lived for several years, and many of his songs are located to South America, but also the Mediterranean where he got inspiration. Most of all he was an unsurpassed delineator of the Swedish landscape and in particular the archipelago. The well-known Sea-eagle waltz is an excellent example of this, sung with great insight to harp accompaniment. In Tango in Nizza there are references to both Argentine and the south of France, and again Torsten Mossberg demonstrates what an engaged story-teller he is.
In the beautiful Then I am waiting at the roads, playwright Rune Lindström and the popular singer Anders Börje jointly created one of the finest depictions of Swedish summer, sung here with delicate nuances. Olle Adolphson was a prolific and inventive singer/songwriter, in particular in the 1960s and -70s, who certainly has a place in the canon of important artists in these genres. Now I have the one I wanted is quite typical with its beautiful poetic description of everyday life, permeated by melancholy. Possibly the most virtuosic word-equilibrist within the lighter song repertoire was Povel Ramel, show writer, comedian, singer and pianist. His witty and poetic Wonderful is short is performed sensitively and with a light blues feeling and Jonas Isaksson plays an elegant solo guitar interlude. For the finale we get a classic of Swedish art song: Nobel Prize Winner Pär Lagerkvist’s beautiful It is fairest in the gloaming air, set in 1942 by Gunnar de Frumerie.
In this 67-minute-long traversal of songs from medieval time until late 20th century we encounter a kaleidoscope of poems from some of the most important linguistic masters of the period in attractive settings. The readings are tasteful and civilised with no histrionics, and anyone with an interest in Swedish vocal music in the lighter vein will find many a gem here.
Contents Swedish folktune
1. Om alla berg och dalar Lyrics verse 2: Torsten Mossberg [1:34] Folktune
2. Elin älskar jag rätt mycket Lyrics: Israel Holmström [1:44] Nordic folktune
3. Skulle jag sörja då vore jag tokot Lyrics: Lasse Lucidor [2:51] Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714 – 1787)
4. Pojkarne Lyrics: Anna-Maria Lenngren [3:26] Swedish folktune
5. Klagevisa över denna torra vår Lyrics: Lars Wivallius [4:43] Gustaf DÜBEN (1628 – 1690)
6. Lustvin dansar en gavott med de fem sinnena Lyrics: Samuel Columbus [4:03] Broadside (publ 1825)
7. Som en eld [2:44] Vernacular singing game
8. Jag såg åt öster [2:34] Carl Jonas Love ALMQVIST (1793 – 1866)
9. Du går icke ensam Lyrics: Composer [1:46] Carl Gottfried Reinhold LITTMARCK (1842 – 1899)
10. Vackert så Lyrics: Elias Sehlstedt [1:57] Gustaf WENNERBERG (1856 – 1928)
11. En borde inte sova Lyrics: Jeremias i Tröstlösa (Levi Rickson) [2:49] Nils B. SÖDERSTRÖM (1894 – 1956)
12. Eden västerut Lyrics: Erik Axel Karlfeldt [1:56] Evert TAUBE (1890 – 1976)
13. Havets stjärna Lyrics: Vilhelm Ekelund [1:11] Ruben NILSON (1893 – 1971)
14. Den sanna sjömansvisan Lyrics: Composer [2:16] Birger SJÖBERG (1885 – 1929)
15. Vårnattstankar vid Fridas ruta Lyrics: Composer [6:04]
16. Frida i vårstädningen Lyrics: Composer [3:40] Hjalmar CASSERMAN (1891 – 1967)
17. Jakt på fågel Lyrics: Harriet Löwenhielm [1:56] Evert TAUBE
18. Havsörnsvals Lyrics: Composer [3:30]
19. Tango i Nizza Lyrics: Composer [3:50] Anders BÖRJE (1920 – 1982)
20. Då väntar jag vid vägarna Lyrics: Rune Lindström [2:58] Olle ADOLPHSON (1934 – 2004)
21. NU har jag fått den jag vill ha Lyrics: Composer [3:10] Povel RAMEL (1922 – 2007)
22. Underbart är kort Lyrics: Composer [3:37] Gunnar de FRUMERIE (1908 – 1987)
23. Det är vackrast när det skymmer Lyrics: Pär Lagerkvist [2:22]
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