Pettersson, Gustaf Allan

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Pettersson, Gustaf Allan

Pettersson, Gustaf Allan, remarkable sui generis Swedish composer; b. Västra Ryd, Sept. 19,1911; d. Stockholm, June 20, 1980. His father was a blacksmith, and his mother was a devout woman who also sang; the family moved to Stockholm, and lived in dire poverty.Pettersson sold Christmas cards and bought a violin from his meager returns. He also practiced keyboard playing on a church organ. In 1930 he entered the Stockholm Cons., studying violin and viola with J. Ruthström and theory with H.M. Melchers. From 1940 to 1951 he played viola in the Stockholm Concert Society Orch., and also studied composition with Otto Olsson, Tor Mann, and Blomdahl. In his leisure hours he wrote poetry; he set 24 of his poems to music. In 1951 he went to Paris to study with Honegger and Leibowitz. Returning to Sweden, he devoted himself to composition in large forms. His music is permeated with dark moods, and he supplied deeply pessimistic annotations to his syms. and other works. In 1963 he began suffering from painful rheumatoid arthritis; he stubbornly continued to compose while compulsively proclaiming his misfortunes in private and in public print. He described himself as “a voice crying out, drowned in the noise of the times.” The Stockholm Phil, played several of his syms., but when his 7th Sym., originally scheduled for its American tour in 1968, was taken off the program, Pettersson, wrathful at this callous defection, forbade performance of any of his music in Sweden. Stylistically, Pettersson’s music is related to Mahler’s symphonic manner, in the grandiosity of design and in the passionate, exclamatory dynamism of utterance. Most of his syms. are cast in single movements, with diversity achieved by frequent changes of mood, tempo, meter, and rhythm. Characteristically, all, except No. 10, are set in minor keys.


(all 1st perf. in Stockholm unless otherwise given): orch.: 2 violin concertos: No. 1 for Violin, String Quartet, and Orch. (1949; March 10, 1951) and No. 2 (1977–78; Jan. 25, 1980); 3 concertos for Strings: No. 1 (1949–50; April 6,1952), No. 2 (1956; Dec. 1, 1968), and No. 3 (1956–57; March 14, 1958); 16 syms.: No. 1 (1950–51; withdrawn with instructions to perform it only posthumously), No. 2 (1952–53; Swedish Radio, May 9, 1954), No. 3 (1954–55; Goteborg, Nov. 21,1956), No. 4 (1958–59; Jan. 27,1961), No. 5 (1960–62; Nov. 8,1963), No. 6 (1963–66; Jan. 21,1968), No. 7 (1966–67; Oct. 13,1968), No. 8 (1968–69; Feb. 23, 1972), No. 9 (1970; Göteborg, Feb. 18, 1971), No. 10 (1971–72; Swedish TV, filmed Dec. 16,1973, for delayed broadcast of Jan. 14, 1974), No. 11 (1971–73; Bergen, Oct. 24, 1974), No. 12, De döda pà torget (The Dead on the Square) for Chorus and Orch., after Pablo Neruda (1973–74; Sept. 29, 1977), No. 13 (1976; Bergen, June 7,1978), No. 14 (1978; Nov. 26,1981), No. 15 (1978; Nov. 19, 1982), and No. 16, originally Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orch. (Feb. 24, 1983); Symphonic Movement (1st perf. as Poem, Swedish TV, Dec. 24,1976). chamber: 2 Elegies for Violin and Piano (1934); Fantasy Piece for Viola (1936); 4 Improvisations for Violin, Viola, and Cello (1936); Andante espressivo for Violin and Piano (1938); Romanza for Violin and Piano (1942); Fugue in E for Oboe, Clarinet, and Bassoon (1948); 7 sonatas for 2 Violins (1951–52). vocal:6 songs for Voice and Piano (1935); 24 Barfotasãnger (24 Barefoot Songs) for Voice and Piano (1943–45); Vox humana, 18 songs for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone, Chorus, and String Orch., after American Indians (1974; March 19, 1976).


L. Aare, A. P. (Stockholm, 1978); P. Rapoport, Opus Est: 6 Composers from Northern Europe (London, 1978); idem, A. P. (Stockholm, 1981); M. Kube, ed., A. P. (1911–1980): Texte-Materialien-Analysen (Hamburg, 1994).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire