Lars-Erik Larsson

1908 1986

Lars-Erik Larsson

Composer

Biography

Lars-Erik Larsson was a 20th century Swedish composer, experienced in an assortment of styles and techniques. He also worked as a conductor and teacher, in addition to being involved with the radio.

Larsson was born in Åkarp in 1908. He took his organist’s examination in 1924 and then followed with studies at the Stockholm Conservatory from 1925 to 1929. While there he studied organ, composition and conducting. For composition he studied with Ernst Ellberg and for conducting he studied with Olallo Morales.

While still a student, Larsson was noticed for his youthful works such as En spelmans jordafärd (1928) and his First Symphony (1927-8). He also received a composing grant from the state in 1929. These works are very Nordic in nature, and follow the style established bySibelius.

The mid-1940s marked Larsson’s return to independent composition. At this time he wrote the First String Quartet (1944) and the Third Symphony (1944-5). Larsson’s music from the late 1940s shows a distinctly aggressive change in style, best represented in the Cello Concerto (1947),Musik för orkester  (1948–9) and the Violin Concerto (1952).Musik för orkester is perhaps one of Larsson’s greatest works. Twelve-tone serial compositions find their way back into Larsson’s writing at this time. This technique is used in hisMissa brevis (1954), the Adagio for Strings (1960), Three Orchestral Pieces (1960) and the Orchestral Variations (1963). Not only did Larsson use 12-tone technique for these works, but after the mass he developed his own system of the technique using ‘interval piles’, which consist of groups of notes separated by specific intervals, such as a major third or minor third. These works are quite introspective, yet severe, and mark the end of Larsson’s involvement with serial composition.

While working on increasingly modern compositions, Larsson also composed the 12 Concertinos (1953-7) which are for the various instruments of the orchestra and very neo-classical in style. With these concertinos, he aimed to compose at a level that amateur string players can achieve together with a professional soloist.

With his state grant, Larsson travelled to Vienna and Leipzig for a year to study withAlban Berg and Fritz Reuter, Respectively. These studies resulted in a major change in the style of his compositions. The Ten Two-Part Piano Pieces (1932) presents the first examples of the modern 12-tone style in Swedish music.

Not one to stick to just one style, or even two, Larsson also composed the neo-Baroque Sinfonietta for strings (1932) during the same period. This work is quite the opposite of Larsson’s natural lyrical style, bearing more of a resemblance to the works ofHindemith. The mid-1930s included many works which went in the opposite direction style-wise, becoming more neo-classical and more approachable. These successful works include the Concert Overture No. 2 (1934), the Saxophone Concerto (1934), the Little Serenade for strings (1934), the Divertimento No. 2 (1935) and the Piano Sonatina No. 1 (1936). Of these works, the Piano Sonatina is the most frequently performed.

The 1930s also included several large-scale works such as the Second Symphony (1936-7) and the operaPrincessen av Cypern (‘The Princess from Cyprus’, 1930-7). However, these two works were met with much negative criticism, to the point that Larsson withdrew them from his output. The Second Symphony would be performed again, after some revisions, in the 1970s.

The 1940s brought about another adventure for Larrson, composing for the radio, theatre and films. He collaborated with poet Hjalmar Bullberg to create a unique programme for the radio called the ‘the lyrical suite,’ which consisted of a mixture of alternating poetry and music. These programmes became very popular and includeDagens stunder (1938), Senhöstblad (1938) and Förklädd gud  (‘The Disguised God’, 1940). The first two programmes resulted in two concert works, thePastoralsvit (‘Pastoral Suite’) and the Intima miniatyrer for string quartet, respectively.Förklädd gud (‘The Disguised God’) is very similar in nature to a cantata. These works all include much of the alluring Scandinavian Romanticism in the slow movements while displaying lively and witty burst of neo-classicism in the fast movements. References to, and influence from, fellow Swedish composerFranz Berwald can also be found in this music.

His wartime work, Obligationsmarschen (1940) contributed to the resistance movement in Norway, in a Norwegian version.

After his venture into modernism, Larsson composed the delightful cantata Soluret och urnan (‘The Sundial and the Urn’, 1966) and the Lyrisk fantasi for orchestra (1966). His use of witty neo-classicism returned for a series of chamber pieces and the orchestral worksDue auguri (1971) and Råå-rokoko (1973). Larsson’s final major composition,Musica permutation (1980), represents a return in style to the early 1960s, featuring much counterpoint but avoiding the use of the 12-tone technique.

Larsson’s output is not vast, but it is all of an equal and high quality, despite the constant shifts in style. His works frequently showcase his Scandinavian roots and the majority also show his lyrical abilities. In addition to being one of the most versatile composers, Larsson is considered one of the greatest modern Swedish composers.

Images courtesy of gehrmans.se, Roger Lindqvist and public domain

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