The Keeper of the Symphonic Flame
Christopher Forbes | Brooklyn,, NY | 03/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It was typical during the sixites and early seventies for critics and composers to decry the "death of the symphony" either with glee or despair depending on the outlook of the speaker. Serialists of the Boulezian persuasion saw in the death of the symphony a similar death of the "old order" exemplified by German Idealism and the romantic spirit which they believed was responsible for the eventual atrocities of the twentieth century. Others of a more conservative outlook saw the rise of serial techniques and it's experimental forms as a rejection of Romantic aesthetics and their emphasis on the emotional content of music and saw this as evidence of the further "dehumanizing" effect of science on contemporary humanity. But unbenounced to either faction, there was a cadre of lone, but powerful voices which determined to keep alive the flame of the symphonic tradition. This cadre was often underrecognized, partly due to geography and partly due to political and social reasons. One of the most powerful of these "new symphonic" voices was that of Allan Pettersson.
Pettersson was one of the great "outsider" voices of the twentieth century. Born in impoverished circumstances in one of the bad areas of Stockholm, Pettersson, like the English Havergal Brian before him, had to suffer the indignaties of class prejudice in a society that had a hard time believing anything good could come from any member of the class which Pettersson represented. The composer was an accomplished violist and in fact made his living as an orchestral musician. But his compositional training was also impressive. He spent several years studying in France with figures such as Rene Liebowiz, the great apologist for the Second Viennese school. Though his studies with such figures didn't not succeed in any traditional way, they left a mark of rigor and intellectualism in the composer's work that has often gone undetected. When he returned to Sweden, Pettersson began a series of symphonic compositions which were unprecedented in the history of 20th century music. His work was modernist, and yet not arid in the way that so many post-war serialists could be. He was not afraid of tonality, and in fact, all of his works, even the most difficult always resolved to some tonal center, even if that center was strained to the breaking point.
Each of Pettersson's symphonies is in a sense an autobiography. Each one also is a statement of protest and of global humanist ideals. In his world, issues of musical language...tonal or atonal...take a back seat to the overall emotional impact that he wishes for his symphonies. The works are cries of grief...of protest...and ultimately cries to God for the working out of justice and peace on the earth.
The 15th symphony is the product of a very great year for Pettersson, which saw not only this symphony, but the beautiful 14th symphony and several smaller works. All of the pieces from this period are characterized by a greater sense of lyricism. In comparison with the astringent 9th and 10th symphonies, or the passionate protests of Symphony No. 12, these works have a core of gentleness to them. Not that they are "easy" by any means. Pettersson's language is always uncompromising. Though not by any stretch of the imagination an atonalist, his music is characterized by a harsh and tragic sense of dissonance. Still this work is infused with song...literally. The basis for the work is several quotes from his semimal and autobiographical cycle the Barefoot Songs. Behind even the most angry and tense music you sense the spirit of these songs always about to break through to the surface. As a result the piece is alternately despairing and hopeful. It is a deeply human document and a profound call for the values of love and respect in a world that seems devoid of both.
The symphony is fairly short from a Petterssonian standpoint, lasting only 38 minutes in this version. The disc is rounded out by a work composed by conductor Peter Ruzicka. This work is developed from the fragments of the projected Symphony No. 17, left incomplete at Pettersson's death. In the best of circumstances it is hard to evaluate the completion of unfinished works by other composers. Questions still linger 40 years later about the "completion" of the Mahler 10th by Derrick Cooke....and even more so about the completion of Turandot by Alfano. So to my mind the only thing I will say about Ruzicka's completion of the Symphony No. 17 is that it works as music, though whether or not it is Allan Pettersson's music I won't say.
The performance on this disc is up to CPO's usual high standard. Ruzicka and the DDRO Berlin deliver a deeply felt and very moving rendering of Pettersson's symphony. The sound is uniformly excellent. The symphony is a worthy addition to CPO's already highly touted transveral of the Pettersson Symphonies. Though this is far from the most representative or moving of AP's 15 finished and available symphonies (No. 17 remained unfinished and No. 1 was withdrawn and presumably destroyed) it is still a wonderful disc and recommended to Pettersson completists and those who are interested in the composer but put off by his more astringent symphonies from 8 to 12.
The last of Pettersson's great
paul best | new orleans | 01/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Symphonic cycle, from sym 2 through 11, then 13-15.
#'s 12 being a choral "sym" and the 16 is a "sax concerto". Both should be considered outside of his sym cycle.
Once again Pettersson shows himself to be the true heir to Shostakovich , along with Schnittke.
I have my favs in Shostakovich, some I find excellent others only interesting. Though obviously Shostakovich worked in death defying conditions, and his work suffered due to that.
With Pettersson , all his syms are masterpieces, which make it hard for me to place any in a row of favs, all represent a single movement in one long symphonic cycle.
Why is Pettersson not more widely known/popular?
Well for circumstances not able to discuss on this review. Issues which I prefer keeping quiet about....
BUT now in this updated review
I will say a few things, since I have the floor and am out of reach of bricks thrown my way over at GMG
Pettersson is The Voice of maderna man in his troubles and anguish. Along with Schnittke we witness how the collective unconscious opens up its voice with these 2 great modern genius.
Pettersson not only suffered immensely on many levels of exsistence , but overcame his darkness by putting into music these voices from the creative depths.
Yes, Pettersson has been a composer I've been waiting 30 yrs to discover, and this is when the wise saying is so true
"Seek and Ye will find"
Are you seeking?
If so with all your heart, you too will find a great treasure.