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Samuelsson, Marie

Samuelsson, Marie


At first glance, the Swedish composer Marie Samuelsson might appear hopelessly eccentric and atypical. She has found inspiration in howling wolves; her topics encompass theoretical physics and Magica de Spell (the flamboyant witch from the world of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge); her background includes dance, improvisation, multimedia exploration, and rock 'n' roll. Yet Samuelsson is a poet and visionary, a composer whose spellbinding music redefines the experience of listening to music. Indeed, critics have described her work as powerful, irresistible, mysteriously physical, profound, spiritual, suggestive, and richly descriptive. But Samuelsson's powerfully individual and meticulously sculpted works set her apart from most contemporary composers: not only are they accessible and appealing, but they engage the listener in an inner dialogue in such a way that the memory of a Samuelsson composition remains in the listener's consciousness as a secret garden, a magical place to visit and revisit.

With her extraordinary mastery of acoustic and electronic techniques, Samuelsson effortlessly, it seems, translates her deep creative impulse into finely wrought sonic masterpieces, in which irresistible labyrinths lead the listener to unexpected dimensions of moods, inner landscapes, illuminating visions, and profound insights. Exemplifying her brilliant exploration of inner worlds is I AmAre You?, a piece for French horn, voice, and tape based on a haunting text by the poet Magnus William-Olson. In this piece the words and music effectively become one, as the listener, slowly descending into the mysteriously infinite world of the psyche, first discerns a dialogue of two souls painfully asserting their individuality, only to enter an enigmatic zone where the idea of personal separateness assumes a spectral aura.

Unlike many composers who reach artistic clarity only after many struggles, Samuelsson, it seems, asserted her personality as a composer early in her career. Thus Signal, a work for saxophone quartet and electronics composed during her student days, brought instant international fame. Indeed, the manic, nervous, obsessive energy of this brief composition easily seduces the listener into searching, through obsessive listening, for the elemental source of this explosion of genius. However, what ultimately captivates the listener is not the sonic surface, despite its remarkable charm and fluency, but the composer's inimitable spirit. Regardless of style, structure, instrumentation, mood, and color, any work by Samuelsson provides a glimpse of this extraordinary artist's rich inner world.

As remote as the sonic trajectories may seem, the listener, even when the music seems to be moving in strange directions, always feels the composer's reassuring presence. Often astounding, enigmatic, unsettling, and even overwhelming, Samuelsson's world is reassuringly human: her astonishing originality is strangely familiar. While classical music has often been defined in terms of dichotomies between the intellect and a resistant physical element, Samuelsson prefers an approach based on the idea that human beings exist in a unified world where spiritual and material energies do not oppose each other. Neither cerebral nor physical, her music reflects profound creative impulses that transcend intellectual categories.

With her natural openness to movement, poetry, and the spoken word, Samuelsson redefines music, abandoning the classical idea that music, unlike language, refers only to itself. Indeed, the differences between music and poetry are undeniable, but in a work such as That Night, for example, a choral composition inspired by William-Olsson's poetry, the very idea of clear meaning becomes irrelevant, as Samuelsson's music explores the mysterious ambivalence of presence and absence, prompting the listener to confront the paradoxes of life at an experiential level, without resorting to preconceptions and ideas.

Released in 2003, Samuelsson's album Air Drum received immense critical and popular acclaim. The title piece is, in fact, Air Drum III, for orchestraand three large metal drums that Samuelsson found at a ventilation company. At first glance they threaten to overpower the orchestra, as eerie reverberations quickly invade the composition's sonic space. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Samuelsson had something else in mind. The elemental force in this piece is air, which reduces the drums to simple instruments. Interestingly, she named the work Air Shaft, perhaps wishing to expand the image of a column of air. Although not quite accurate, the English translation has been accepted, apparently even by the composer herself. Works included in Air Drum have been performed in Sweden and abroad, and they represent the full range of Samuelsson's genius

For the Record . . .

Born on February 15, 1956, in Stockholm, Sweden. Education: Studied piano and improvisation at Birkagården College, 197981; studied musicology at the University of Stockholm, 198283; studied composition at the Royal College of Music in Stokholm, with Daniel Börtz, Sven-David Sandström, and Pär Lindgren, 198795.

Worked as a singer and pianist in various ensembles, including improvisation and rock groups; composed music for dance productions; radio host, 1996-97, music magazine editor, 1997-99; vice-chairman of the Society of Swedish Composers, 2000; general secretary of the Nordic Composer's Council, 2001; editor of Tonsät taren (The Composer), journal of the Swedish Society of Composers, 2001.

Addresses: E-mail [email protected] Website Marie Samuelson Official Website:

Selected compositions

Andra platser (Other places), for alto voice, cello, and percussion, 1989.

Katt: Nio liv (Cat: Nine lives), for woodwind quintet, 1989.

Från Indien till Mars (From India to Mars), dance music for string quartet with guitar improvisation, 199091.

Den natten (That night), for choir, 1991.

Signal, for saxophone quartet, 1991.

Ahead, for orchestra, 1992.

La luna, for cello and tape, 1993.

Lufttruma I (Air shaft I), for alto saxophone, piano, and percussion, 1993.

Troll, for orchestra, 1993.

Krom (Chrome), for brass quintet, 1994.

Lufttruma II (Air shaft II), for flute, clarinet, percussion, harp, and double bass, 1994.

Magica de Hex (Magica de Spell), for orchestra, 1994.

Pingvinkvartett (Penguin quartet), for flute, violin, cello, and piano, 1996.

I vargens öga (In the eye of the wolf), for solo saxophone and tape, 1997.

Rotationer (Rotations), for string orchestra, 1997 (revised, 2003).

Lufttruma III (Air shaft III), for orchestra, 1999.

Flow, for chamber orchestra, 2000.

It Takes Two, for two violins, 2000.

I AmAre You?, for French horn and tape, 2001.

Ö (Island), for solo violin.

Selected discography

(Rydberg, Enström, Samuelsson, Parmerud, Lindwall, and Feiler) Links (includes Signal ), Caprice, 1997.

Air Drum, Suecia, 2003.



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


Gramophone, February 2004.


"Marie Samuelsson," Music Web, (March 29, 2004).

Marie Samuelsson Official Website, (March 29, 2004).

Zoran Minderovic

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