Atterberg, Kurt (Magnus)

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Atterberg, Kurt (Magnus)

Atterberg, Kurt (Magnus), eminent Swedish composer; b. Gòteborg, Dec. 12, 1887; d. Stockholm, Feb. 15, 1974. He studied composition at the Stockholm Cons, with Hallen, and in Berlin with Schillings (1910–12). In 1913 he was appointed conductor at the Drama Theater in Stockholm, holding this post until 1922. In 1919 he began writing music criticism and continued to contribute to Stockholm newspapers until 1957. Concurrently he was also employed at the Swedish patent office (1912–68) and served as secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in Stockholm (1940–53). He was one of the founders of the Soc. of Swedish Composers in 1924, and was on its board until 1947. During all this time, he composed with inexhaustible energy, producing works in all genres in scores marked by precision of form and technique. Atterberg’s name attracted unexpected attention when he was declared winner of the ill-conceived Schubert Centennial Contest organized in 1928 by the Columbia Phonograph Co., with the declared intention to finish Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. The entire venture was severely criticized in musical circles as an attempt to derive commercial advantage under the guise of an homage to a great composer. Rumors spread that Atterberg had deliberately imitated the style of composition of some members of the jury (Glazunov, Alfano, Nielsen) in order to ingratiate himself with them so as to secure the prize, but Atterberg denied any such suggestion, pointing out that he knew the names only of those in the jury from the Nordic zone, whereas the international membership comprised 10 national zones. Furthermore, the sym. he had submitted was written in a far more advanced style than Atterberg’s previous symphonic works and was certainly much more modern than any music by the jury members, using as it did such procedures as polytonality. There can be no doubt, however, that Atterberg was a master technician of his craft, and that his music had a powerful appeal. That it never gained a wider audience can be ascribed only to an unfathomable accident of world culture.


DRAMATIC: Opera (all first perf. in Stockholm): Harvard Harpolekare (Harvard the Potter; 1915-17; Sept. 29, 1919; rev. as Harvard der Harfner and perf. in German at Chemnitz, 1936; a later ver. with new 3rd act perf. in Linz, June 14, 1952); Backahasten (1923-24; Jan. 23, 1925); Fanal (1929-32; Jan. 27, 1934); Aladdin (1936-41; March 18, 1941); Stormen, after Shakespeare’s Tempest (1946-47; Sept. 19, 1948). Ballet: Per Svinaherde (Peter the Swineherd; 1914-15); De fåvitska jungfru-rna, ballet-pantomime (The Wise and Foolish Virgins; Paris, Nov. 18, 1920). ORCH.: 9 numbered syms.: No. 1 (1909-11; Stockholm, Jan. 10, 1912), No. 2 (1911-13; Stockholm, Feb. 11, 1912), No. 3 (1914-16; Stockholm, Nov. 28, 1916), No. 4, Sinfonia piccola (1918; Stockholm, March 27, 1919), No. 5, Sinfonia funèbre (1919-22; Stockholm, Jan. 6, 1923), No. 6 (1927-28; Stockholm, Oct. 15, 1928), No. 7, Sinfonia romantica (1942; Frankfurt am Main, Feb. 14, 1943), No. 8 (1944; Helsinki, Feb. 9, 1945), and No. 9, Sinfonia visionaria, for Mezzo-soprano, Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (1955-56; Helsinki, Feb. 26, 1957); also a Sinfonia for Strings (1952–53); 9 suites, among them No. 3, for Violin, Viola, and Strings (1917), No. 4, Turandot (1921), No. 5, Suite barocco (1922), and No. 8, Suite pastorale (1931); Rhapsody for Piano and Orch. (1909); Violin Concerto (1913; Gòteborg, Feb. 11, 1914); Cello Concerto (1917-22; Berlin, Jan. 6, 1923); 2 Suites for the play Stormen, after Shakespeare’s Tempest: No. 1 (1921; rev. 1962-63) and No. 2 (1964–65); Rondeau rétrospectif (1926); Horn Concerto (1926; Stockholm, March 20, 1927); Piano Concerto (1927-35; Stockholm, Jan. 12, 1936); Alven (The River), symphonic poem (1929–30); Varmlandsrhapsodie for Selma Langer-lof’s 75th birthday (Swedish Radio, Nov. 20, 1933); Ballad and Passacaglia (1936); Rondeau caractéristique (1939–40); Indian Tunes (1950); Ballad utan ord (Ballad without Words; 1957-58); Concerto for Violin, Cello or Viola, and Orch. (1959-60; ver. with String Orch., 1963); Vittorioso (1962); Adagio amoroso for Flute and Strings (1967). CHAMBER: 2 string quartets (1915, 1937); Cello Sonata (1925); Piano Quintet (1927); Variations and Fugue for String Quartet (1943); Trio concertante for Violin, Cello, and Harp (1959-60; rev. 1965). VOCAL: Requiem (1913); Järnbara-land, cantata (1919).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire