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Börtz, Daniel

Daniel Börtz

Composer, educator

As a composer, Daniel Börtz has always been drawn to the great themes of life: the mystery of human existence, the gift of inner experience, the tremendous power of myth, the inexhaustible richness of symbols, and the tragic blindness of fanaticism. In his seminal opera Bacchae, inspired by the famous Greek playwright Euripides, Börtz skillfully adapted his musical idiom to the primal energy of the myth underlying the story. The work creates a soundscape that hauntingly conjures up a world dominated by atavistic forces which threaten the ordered human community. In this tragedy Euripides tells the story of Pentheus, king of Thebes, who dares to stand up to the power of the god Dionysus, son of Zeus and Semele. Pentheus symbolizes humanity's revolt against blind obedience to the dark forces unleashed by certain types of religious fanaticism. The celebrated filmmaker Ingmar Bergman played an important role in the creation of Börtz's opera, and also directed its successful production at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, Sweden.

What made Bacchae particularly interesting was Börtz's ability to create a rare synthesis of three fundamental types of human discourse: myth (the narrative's foundation), language (the spoken segments of the narrative), and music. In Börtz's extraordinary opera, myth, music, and language complement one another, as "missing layers" in one type of discourse are imperceptibly replaced by energies from other sources. The harsh, eerie, austere quality of the music endows the story with a primal aura that enormously enhances the narrative's power. Another distinctive feature of this opera is displayed in the masterful dynamic of dramatic contrasts—the almost viscerally experienced play of shadows, darkness, and light. Göran Bergendal, writing on the Swedish Music Information Centre website, declared that Börtz's opera, as well as his other orchestral music, depicts many "striking contrasts between violently powerful expression in the crowd scenes and disasters, and the chamber-like serenity of the intimate dialogue parts."

Trained at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, Börtz worked in a variety of styles, even absorbing some of the dominant idioms (including electronic music) of the 1960s. Very early in his career he developed a highly personal and accessible style, which enabled him to musically express a variety of personal concerns, ranging from poetic insights to political ideas. He was able to access the great tonality-atonality conundrum of twentieth-century music, and successfully subordinated formal musical concerns to those of his artistic imagination. As Bergendal remarked, Börtz's compositions are "steeped from the beginning in a simplicity and austerity that bring out the lucidity of his emotionally charged declamations." Even Bört'z purely instrumental music, particularly his chamber music and concertos for various instruments, have shown a dramatic quality that comes to the fore in his compositions for voice and accompaniment, including songs, operas, and symphonic works.

Bötz's extraordinary ability to blend poetry and music are exemplified by two of his ten Sinfonias. They are Sinfonia 6, for soprano voice and orchestra, which echoes the timeless quality of Shakespeare's apocalyptic Sonnet 64, and Sinfonia 8, in which the subtleties of Tomas Tranströer's poetry take on added dimension.

From his early operas composed in the 1970s, which included a work inspired by Hermann Hesse's novel Siddhartha, to Bacchae in 1991 and the opulently dazzling Marie Antoinette in 1998, Börtz, has brilliantly illuminated the complex and often mysterious dynamic of music and feelings. He has been able to identify and articulate a variety of feelings, ranging from intimate revelations to soul-shattering outbursts, which listeners can recognize and accept as valid, meaningful experience. American philosopher Susanne K. Langer asserted that, for the composer, "Music is a symbolic form to him through which he may learn as well as utter ideas of human sensibility."

Selected compositions

11 Monologhi (solo instruments), 1966-84.

String Quartet No. 2, 1971.

Nightflies (mezzosoprano voice, clarinet, trombone, percussion, piano, organ, cello), 1973.

10 Sinfonias (orchestra), 1973-92.

Landskap med flod [Landscape with a River] (opera), 1974.

Night Clouds (string orchestra), 1975.

Concerto grosso (2 clarinets, 2 trumpets, piano for 4 hands, violin, cello, string octet), 1977-78.

October Music (strings), 1978.

Winter Pieces (tuba, piano, percussion), 1981-82.

Winter Pieces 2 (wind quintet), 1982.

Winter Pieces 3 (brass quintet), 1982-83.

Summer Elegy (flute and strings), 1983.

Cello Concerto, 1985.

String Quartet No. 3, 1986.

Oboe Concerto, 1986.

Parados (orchestra), 1987.

Backanterna [Bacchae] (opera), 1991.

Mörka sånger om ljset [Dark Songs of the Light] (voice and piano), 1992-94.

Sånger om döden (soprano voice and orchestra), 1992-94.

Canto desolato (organ), 1993.

Strindberg Suite (orchestra), 1993-94.

Trumpet Concerto, 1994-95.

Bilder [Images] (clarinet and string quartet), 1996.

Gryningsvind [Dawn Wind] (male chorus), 1997.

Marie Antoinette (opera), 1998.

Hans namn var Orestes [His Name Was Orestes] (oratorio), 2001-02.

Selected discography

Lacrymosa, Phono Suecia, 1987.

Bakanterna [Bacchae], Caprice, 1995.

Symphony No. 7, Chandos, 1996.

Marie Antoinette, Caprice, 2001.

For the Record . . .

Born on August 8, 1943, in Osby, Sweden. Education: Studied violin with John Fernström in Lund and composition with Hilding Rosenberg; attended Royal College of Music in Stockholm, studied violin with Charles Barkel and Josef Grünfarb; studied composition with Karl-Birger Blomdahl, 1962-65, and Ingvar Lindholm, 1965-68; studied electronic music with Gottfried Michael Koenig in Bilthoven, Netherlands, 1967.

Taught orchestration at the Royal College of Music in the 1970s and 1980s; Royal Swedish Academy of Music, president, 1998-2003.

Addresses: Record company—Caprice Records, Rikskonserter Nybrokajen 11, 111 48 Stockholm, Sweden, website:



Kuhn, Laura, Baker's Dictionary of Opera, Schirmer, 2000.

Langer, Susanne K., Feeling and Form, Scribners, 1953.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Myth and Meaning, Schocken, 1995.

Sadie, Stanley, editor, New Grove Dictionary of Music andMusicians, Macmillan, 2001.


"Daniel Börtz," Swedish Music Information Centre, (November 6, 2004).

—Zoran Minderovic

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