ANNE SOFIE VON OTTER
Hugo Alfvén · Tor Aulin
Gunnar de Frumerie · Lars-Erik Larsson
Bo Linde · Gustav Nordqvist
Gösta Nystroem · Ture Rangström
ANNE SOFIE VON OTTER
|1984||Début with the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome under Giuseppe Sinopoli; first appears at the Aix-en-Provence Festival|
|1985||Her Covent Garden début as Cherubino leads to appearances in that role in Munich as well as to a series of Berlioz performances, all under the direction of Sir Colin Davis; other important Berlioz appearances during these years include L'Enfance du Christ and La Damnation de Faust with the Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra de Lyon under John Eliot Gardiner; this year marks the beginning of her association with Deutsche Grammophon / Archiv Produktion|
|1987||CD releases on Archiv Produktion this year: Monteverdi's L'Orfeo (role of the Messenger) and Bach's Christmas Oratorio, both conducted by Gardiner with the English Baroque Soloists|
|1990||Named "Recording Artist of the Year" with an International Record Critics Award|
|1991||At Covent Garden, first sings the title role in La Cenerentola; CD releases: three Mozart operas - Idomeneo (Idamante) and La clemenza di Tito (Sesto) with Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists and Le nozze di Figaro in the Metropolitan Opera production under Levine; Brahms lieder with Bengt Forsberg (Grand Prix International du Disque, 1991)|
|1992||Début at the Salzburg Easter Festival in Wolf's Spanisches Liederbuch, which she also sings in London's Wigmore Hall in January 1993; at the Salzburg Festival in summer she appears with great success as Ramiro in Mozart's La finta giardiniera|
|1993||Release of Grieg songs with Bengt Forsberg (Gramophone Award, Prix Caecilia, Brussels, 1993; Edison Award, Record Academy Prize, Tokyo, 1994)|
|1994||Sings in Mozart's C minor Mass at the Salzburg Festival with John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists; tours Japan in October, appearing in Der Rosenkavalier with the Vienna State Opera company; CD releases this year: Speak Low (The Seven Deadly Sins & songs by Kurt Weill) with Gardiner and the NDR Symphony Orchestra and Bengt Forsberg; Handel's Marian Cantatas with Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert (CD Compact Award, Barcelona, 1995); lieder by Berg, Korngold and Strauss with Forsberg|
|1995||Honoured as "Singer of the Year" at the Cannes Classical Awards and at Germany's Echo Awards; CD releases: Berg's orchestral lieder with Abbado and the Wiener Philharmoniker; lieder by Schumann with Forsberg (Grand Prix de la Nouvelle Académie du Disque, Prix Caecilia, Brussels, 1995); Berlioz's Les Nuits d'été with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Levine and Mélodies with Cord Garben at the piano; lieder by Haydn and Mozart with Melvyn Tan at the fortepiano|
|1996||First recital at the Salzburg Festival (Strauss lieder); extensive tour of Europe and North America during which she performs songs from her Deutsche Grammophon recording of Swedish songs, Wings in the Night; named "Artist of the Year" at the Gramophone Awards; CD releases this year: La bonne chanson and other French chamber songs with Forsberg and instrumental ensemble (Edison Award, Grand Prix du Disque, 1997); Wings in the Night with Forsberg (Echo Award, 1997); orchestral lieder by Mahler and Zemlinsky, and Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea (Ottavia), both under Gardiner|
|1997||Enthusiastic press acclaim for her interpretation of Handel's Ariodante (under Marc Minkowski) throughout Europe in January; tour to Japan in the autumn with the Opéra de Lyon and Kent Nagano marks her début singing Carmen, performed again that same year at the Berliner Philharmoniker's New Year's Eve concert, conducted by Claudio Abbado, recorded for Deutsche Grammophon and telecast live throughout Europe; awarded a Diapason d'or in France as "Artist of the Year"; CD releases this year: Ariodante (title role) with Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre (Classic CD Award and Cannes Classical Award, 1999); Schubert lieder with Forsberg; arias by Mozart, Haydn and Gluck with Pinnock and The English Concert|
|1998||Creates the role of Sorl in Ståden by Sven-David Sandström at the Royal Swedish Opera; CD releases: La Damnation de Faust (Marguerite) with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Myung-Whun Chung; The Berlin Gala: Salute to Carmen (selections from Bizet's opera in the Berliner Philharmoniker's 1997 New Year's Eve concert); and Lamenti (Baroque vocal works) with Reinhard Goebel and Musica Antiqua Köln|
|1999||Performs works by Korngold in New York and several European cities, including Paris and Vienna; appears in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea in Aix-en-Provence and in a programme of works by Bertali, Vivaldi and Ferrandi together with Musica Antiqua Köln in Canada and the USA; CD releases this year: Rendezvous with Korngold with Bengt Forsberg and Friends; Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn with Thomas Quasthoff, the Berliner Philharmoniker and Abbado (Grammy, 2000); Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (Baba the Turk) with the London Symphony Orchestra under Gardiner (Grammy, 2000); and Home for Christmas - a compilation of Christmas carols and songs|
|1999 / 2000||Début as Debussy's Mélisande with Bernard Haitink and the Orchestre national de France; releases in 2000: Folksongs (settings by Britten, Dvorák, Grainger, G. and R. Hahn, Kodály and Larsson) with Forsberg|
|2001||Participates in the Stockholm concert celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize in December before an audience of all living Nobel Prize winners; honoured again at the Echo Awards as "Singer of the Year"; CD releases this year: For the Stars, with Elvis Costello; a recital disc of lieder by Beethoven, Meyerbeer and Spohr with Melvyn Tan; Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos (Composer) with the Dresden Staatskapelle under Sinopoli; and Mots d'Amour (Mélodies by Cécile Chaminade) with Forsberg|
|2002||Appearances include recitals in France, Great Britain, and the USA; concert performances of works by Rameau, Bach and Handel in France, and Handel's Giulio Cesare in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland under the direction of Marc Minkowski; sings Carmen at the Glyndebourne Festival; CD-releases this year: Handel's Hercules with Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre|
|2003||Tours the Netherlands, Switzerland, and France (Lamenti) in January; Berlioz's Nuits d'été with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in Germany and Belgium, recitals in Japan with Bengt Forsberg; Ruggiero in Handel’s Alcina at the Drottningholm Slottsteater; performances in November of Handel’s Serse at Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Elysées under William Christie followed by a performance at London’s Barbican Centre. New CD releases this year: Mahler’s Third Symphony with the Wiener Philharmoniker under Pierre Boulez, orchestrated Schubert lieder with Claudio Abbado and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and Handel’s Giulio Cesare under Marc Minkowski|
|2004||Operatic commitments include Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict at the Châtelet, Clairon in Strauss’s Capriccio at the Paris Opéra-Bastille with Thielemann, and Monteverdi’s Ottavia in Poppea at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées with René Jacobs in a production by David McVicar. Releases this year include a Swedish song recital with Bengt Forsberg, following up their tremendously successful Wings in the Night, and a recording of works by Ravel and Debussy with Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra|
"Over the generations," says Bengt Forsberg, "there have been so many great Swedish singers, all the way back to Jenny Lind [1820-1887], 'the Swedish Nightingale'. Sweden is a singing country, with a strong vocal tradition."
A strong vocal tradition grows, not only from great singers, but from composers able to supply them with a repertoire, and as Forsberg goes on to suggest: "Even if they have generally not been so successful in large-scale vocal forms, every major Swedish composer has written important songs." It may be that not much of this repertoire has reached non-Swedish listeners, but there is clearly a treasure trove available to the inquisitive singer.
It is hardly surprising, then, that Anne Sofie von Otter feels irresistibly drawn to the Swedish song repertoire. With the help of Bengt Forsberg as her pianist and fellow explorer, she set out some of its riches in the 1996 collection Wings in the Night. This new anthology has allowed her to dig further into the repertoire of her native land, and, no less important, her native language, which, she says, "falls into place for me, in my brain, mouth, heart, and soul, in a way that no other language does. I think it is a thoroughly musical language: even spoken Swedish has a singing quality".
Singer and pianist have relished the opportunity to range far and wide in their search for material. As von Otter says: "To begin with, we weren't thinking in terms of any particular era, so we started looking as far back as the early-19th century, where we found some lovely songs that could be accompanied by the fortepiano. Then we came right up to the present day, but didn't find anything that really spoke to us. When we began to select pieces which we felt strongly about, and which it would make sense to record together, we found ourselves looking, for the most part, at music written a few decades later than the songs we recorded on Wings in the Night, from about 1910 up until the 1950s."
The period covers the heyday of expressionism, modernism, and their aftermath following the Second World War. Von Otter suggests that "there is a darker feel to this collection than to Wings in the Night", and certainly the composers represented here were not untouched by modernism. At the end of the 1920s, Lars-Erik Larsson, for example, studied in Vienna with Alban Berg and was one of the first Swedish composers to use 12-tone serialism in his work. Yet by force of tradition and personal inclination, they allowed few traces of modernism into their music. Bo Linde, the most recent composer here, whom Forsberg describes as "a moderate modern", belonged to a group informally labelled "50-talisterna" ("Belonging to the '50s"), but its tutelary deities were Britten and Shostakovich, not Boulez and Stock-hausen.
However wedded to Scandinavian traditions, these composers were not narrowly nationalistic. They realized the importance of looking beyond the purely local, and, like Larsson, many of them studied abroad, in France, Germany, and Italy. That, of course, would have been considered a necessity for composers of whatever nationality, but perhaps Swedish com-posers felt the need with a particular urgency: Gösta Nystroem, for example, studied with Vincent d'Indy in Paris, Ture Rangström with Hans Pfitzner in Munich, Tor Aulin with Scharwenka in Berlin. Bo Linde studied conducting in Vienna; Gunnar de Frumerie, besides studying composition in Paris with Leonid Sabaneyev, was a sufficiently virtuosic pianist to become one of Alfred Cortot's students.
Nevertheless a specifically Nordic romanticism courses through the music here. As Bengt Forsberg puts it: "We have developed a kind of Swedish melancholy in the way we express ourselves in song." Anne Sofie von Otter suggests, "However influenced these composers were by what they learned abroad, you sense that Swedish nature, the seasons, the light, stayed with them, influencing them just as much as it did painters and writers."
A love of nature is not restricted to Scandinavian composers, but in von Otter and Forsberg's selection, it is more than a motif, it is almost an obsession amounting to a kind of pantheism. Scarcely a song here does not refer to sea or sky, to wind or sun, to flowers or birds. At times that feeling for nature takes on an almost onomatopoeic quality. The piano lines in Nystroem's På reveln ("On the Reef"), for example, evoke what von Otter describes as "the sea and the eternity of the horizon". One thinks, perhaps, of Debussy, and as Bengt Forsberg reminds us, "Nystroem lived in Paris for a long time. He heard everything that was new while he was there, and his writing is orientated towards a French style. He uses the piano almost in an orchestral way."
In På reveln, just as in songs like Larsson's För vilsna fötter sjunger gräset ("Grass sings under wandering feet") or Alfvén's Pioner ("Peonies"), the piano becomes, not merely an accompaniment, but an integral part of the narrative. Elsewhere the composers adopt an almost naïve simplicity, as in Bo Linde's Äppelträd och päronträd ("Apple-trees and pear-trees"), or in Tor Aulin's more deliberately balladeering Serbiska folksånger ("Serbian Folksongs"). Far from succumbing to false sentimentality, such songs put on a mask, a disguise even, for story-telling purposes.
The most prolific songwriter represented here was Ture Rangström, who, besides composing, was also a noted voice teacher. He wrote well over 200 songs, many of them adopting a kind of naturalistic "speech melody" that gives his work a moving directness. It may not be too evident in En gammal dansrytm ("Old Dance"), with its teasing melody and theatrical gestures, but the sparse piano accompaniment in Den enda stunden ("A Moment in Time") provides the perfect counterfoil to the understated resignation of the vocal line.
There is a similar lack of exaggeration in the four songs by Bo Linde which close the programme. The poems themselves (by Harriet Löwenhjelm, who died shortly after writing them) might invite the most overwrought expressionism. Instead Linde responds with music that is as restrained as it is angry. And there is something oddly affecting in the fact that the final song switches into English, its text all the more devastating for being so starkly simple. It closes the recital in the mood of completely Swedish melancholy to which Forsberg referred earlier, and shows both pianist and singer at their luminous best.
Of all the impulses that made Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804-1877) into the Finnish national poet, the most important was a small book of Serbian folksongs that in 1828 he found lying on the floor at the home of a friend who had recently returned from Russia. In his Swedish adaptations of their epigrammatic acumen and naïve philosophy, he created a poetic art whose perfection became a model for many Swedish-speaking writers and the inspiration for countless musical settings (10, 23-26).
Many years later a student in Lund, Hjalmar Gullberg (1898-1961), was similarly inspired by the poems of Harriet Löwenhjelm (1887- 1918), produced out of her fight against tuberculosis and published posthumously in 1919 (30-33). Sharing with her a basis in Kierkegaard's conception of God's unrecognizable presence on Earth, Gullberg mixes ironically observed realistic details with Christian symbols (1-3).
Whereas Anders Österling (1884-1981) was forced to defend the romanticized worship of beauty of his youth (4) against the criticism of disabused younger poets (6), Erik Blomberg (1894-1965; 12, 21) and Pär Lagerkvist (1891-1974) found common ground in the idea of universal reconciliation, the latter in works including a cycle that represents the high point of Swedish love poetry (14-19). The poems Lagerkvist wrote after winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1951 exude a deep resignation (27).
The popular Karin Boye (1900-1941), who would die early by her own hand, assumes an unyielding attitude in her oft-quoted poem of 1924 "The Amazon" (29), while Ebba Lindqvist (1908-1995) juxtaposes the power of the sea with human smallness (8). Today Jonatan Reuter (1859-1947) is best remembered for his hymn to the sea - immortalized by the tenor Jussi Björling (13) - which is really a paean to Finland's independence.