Karl-Birger Blomdahl

Remembered most vividly for his 1958 "space opera" Aniara, composer and educator Karl-Birger Blomdahl was a leader in the Monday Group, a gathering of Swedish composers who met regularly to discuss contemporary music. Well trained, Blomdahl moved from a style rooted in traditional Scandinavian music to a Hindemith-derived contemporary approach to composition, encompassing extended melismas, choral motives, electronic music, and even elements of jazz. At age 18, Blomdahl traveled to Stockholm intending to major in biochemistry. An abiding interest in music derailed his original purpose, however, and he began studies with Hilding Rosenberg, whose interest in motivic composition is reflected in Blomdahl's Woodwind Trio from 1938 and both the Symfoniska Danser and String Quartet No. 1 from the following year. Following service during World War II, Blomdahl resumed his training at the Royal Academy of Music, studying conducting with Tor Mann and pursuing work on music of the Baroque period with Danish conductor Mogens Wøldike, an early specialist in that field. Even before his work with Wøldike, Blomdahl conjured the essential character of the Baroque age with his 1944 Concerto Grosso, and from 1945, his Three Polyphonic Pieces for piano and his String Trio. His Symphony No. 2, written in 1947, is further evidence of this interest. During the 1940s, Blomdahl's participation in and eventual leadership of the Monday Group fed his growing interest in contemporary music. Meeting in Blomdahl's apartment, the members -- composers, musicologists, and players -- were intrigued by Paul Hindemith's compositional theories as outlined in his Unterweisung in Tonsatz. Aside from compositional techniques, topics of interest ranged from instructional methodologies to the popular media and its role in the country's musical life. A focused and proactive core from the group later assumed leadership of the chamber music association Fylkingen and, once more following Blomdahl's lead, moved to positions of controlling authority in the Swedish contingent of the International Society for Contemporary Music. The 1950s brought in new directions to Blomdahl's music, one of them encircling mythology. With choreographer Birgit Åkesson and poet Erik Lindegren, Blomdahl composed two striking ballets, Sisyphos and Minotauros, in 1954 and 1958, respectively. At the same time, he was writing Aniara, an opera set in space and described by the composer as "a revue of man in time and space." Like the aforementioned ballets, Aniara represents the first phase of Blomdahl's mature period. Here, shifts occur within a diverse collection of musical forms, moving among choral music, extended wordless arioso, the so-called "Mina tapes," (electronic interjections), and jazzy moments conjuring mindless frivolity. Undoubtedly the work's novelty attracted the attention of the popular press after its Stockholm premiere in 1959 and afforded it a notoriety beyond that given other modern works, but its examination of man's prospects in a cold and distant new environment remains compelling and Blomdahl's musical language entirely apt for the text. A second opera, Herr von Hancken, first heard in 1965 at the Royal Opera House, was a mind-twisting tragedy couched in opera buffa form; it failed despite a credible libretto by Lindegren. The lyric interest of Aniara and the earlier operas' variety of expression were replaced by continuous recitative punctuated by a few moments of arioso form. A professor at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music from 1960 to 1964, Blomdahl was director of music for Swedish Radio at the time of his death in 1968.

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