Three masterworks by Andreas Hallén
(contribution by Mats Norrman <Mats.Norrman.5795student.uu.se>)
Works by Andreas Hallén are seldom seen, was is a great pity, as it is damned really great music, but fourtunately at least Musica Sveciae has made some recordings with his works. But it is great music. One recording is MSCD2405 which includes:
- Schwedische Rhapsodie nr. 2
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Hans-Peter Frank
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Hans-Peter Frank
- Harald der Wiking
Solveig Lindström (Siegrun), Åke Ljungborg (Harald, Norwegian Wikingchief), Margareta Meyerson (Bera), Sten Sjöstedt (Siegleif Wiking), Kurt Jakobsson (Gudmund & Torgrim Wiking), Members of the Swedish Radio Choir, Stockholm. Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Stig Rybrant
It was during his studies in Germany the versatile and expansive Andreas Hallén bacame a great Richard Wagner enthusiast — as clearly reveald in his first opera Harald der Wiking — Halléns foremost achievements were made in the world of the opera but he also created several neoromantic orchestral works, among them being his Toteninsel and Rhapsody no. 2. Halléns attraction to the Nordic theme and nationalistic tone can be sen here. In an epoch of musical pioneering such as during the 1890’s in Sweden, Andreas Hallén is a reflection of contemporary currents.
"Neo-romanticists" was the description given by the swedish composer Ludvig Norman to his young collagues during the 1870–1880’s Andreas Hallén and Emil Sjoegren being among them. When "neo-romantic" music is at its best it provides an evidence of "the search for new content in a pleasing form, including characteristics both large and small, luxuriance and even most revelling in harmonious delicacies, together with the richness of tone that may frequently be a hindrance to clear thinking".
The "neo-romantic" music implies, not least, an expansion of the framework of composition. Harmony and instrumental colourism, virtouso and effect recieve increased emphasisi. Motif and theme, being the classical characteristics of the musics nucleus and cohesive elements, increasingly became a starting point in what is sometimes a rather free and improvised treatment and form. This is what the classical treated Norman seemed to feel uneasy about. The trend towards expansive composition can be marked already in the young Hallén. In his earliest songs, the vocal and instrument parts may sometimes together carry forward the rises and the falls in long-drawn, sometimes extended, melodic events — the "infinite melody" is tentatively groping its way forward. neither there is any lack of "harmonious delicacies".
Through long visits abroad during the 1870-1880’s Hallén attained an international orientation that was seldom found by contemporary swedish composers. The success met with during his studies in Germany certainly also awoke Halléns ambitions to make a musical career there. However he returned in 1872 to his hometown Gotemburg, where he tried his luck at conducting at a musical society, founded by himself. This enterprise had to be abandoned owing to lack of of interest among the public and economic difficultes. After six years he returned to Germany (1878), this time to Berlin, where he became successful as a song teacher and music critic.
During his visit in Berlin, Hallén met, as it were, his musical fate: he was owerwhelmed by the Wagnerian musical drama as a theatrical and musical creation. Together with Hans Herrig, a german lawyer, authority on Scandinavia, playwright and prominent Wagner enthusiast, he planned the opera Harald der Wiking. As such, the opera was a fairly heterogeneous creation, but it came at the right time. The strident Nordic music in the first two acts and the dance scenes appealed to the Scandinavia-crazy german public of that time and the opera thus became very popular. Already in 1871, Harald der Wiking was staged in Leipzig, through the help on none less than Franz Liszt, and Hallén repaid the favour by dedicatinghis second orchestral rhapsody to Liszt.
When Hallén returned to Sweden he had developed into a devoted Wagnerian and soon found himself in the middle of a Wagner conflict with an entangled mixture of musical and ideological principles. When harald der Wiking had its first performance in Stockholm in 1884 it came to be in its way a fuel to debate. Hallén also stoked the fire with aggressive polemic tone that was characteristic for his time, in several articles where he warmly advocated the wagerian musical drama. He long had to suffer the label Wagnerian.
Hallén’s music is however far too diversified to be covered by labels of that kind. he was a typical representative of his era which makes it difficult to evaluate his position of the musical life of that time - the extent to whioch he contributed to the powerful growth of new ideas in the swedish musical life during the 1890’s. Perhaps he can be counted among the pioneers as regards orchestral timbre and the free orchestral pieces. His great solo ballad Skogsraaet (The Woodspirit) from 1888, with text by Viktor Rydberg, is a poem filled with demonic natural mysticism and piece of "neo-romanticism" which later had its disciples in Wilhelm Peterson Berger and Wilhelm Stenhammar, and still it is not to be said to be a great masterpiece. The winds of change during the 1890s can be noticed in many ways in Halléns music - he sometimes appears almost ecclectic in his openness to new impressions. He composed several lyric and heroical songs, with historical connotations and the historical panorama is spread out in large scale in the opera valdemarsskatten (Valdemars Treasure) 1899. He contributes to the new lyrical orchestral poetry with his tone poem Toteninsel and with series of ouvertures, suites and minor orchestral pieces with willingly reflect national subjects and events, but let me now present three immortal pieces by Andreas Hallén:
Swedische Rhapsodie nr. 2
Halléns Swedische Rhapsodie nr. 2 Op. 23 recieved first performance with great success in 1882. The background to the rhapsody is almost continental: national dialects sounding from the stage were fashion at that time: the Hungarian from Liszt himself naturally, but also the Spanish from Lalo or Saraste or the Norwegian from Grieg etc. As regards to the Swedish folk tale material Hallén had a rich coffer in which to delve, the folky had been manifested in Sweden ever since the early days of the 19th century in numerous notations of music, legends and peasant customs. From the swedish perspective Hallén’s rhapsody is also one of the fisrt in a long row of orchestral rhapsodies and other folkloreistic compositions in Swedish music extending as far as in the 1930’s (the most well known probably the Alfvén’s Midsommarvake - A Midsummer Vigil - from 1903). However Hallén’s rhapsody should not be regarded for a more profound nationalistic manifestation. The two melodies complement each other well: an ancient ballade and a robust hambo allude with two different aspects of Swedish folklore; bewitching natural mysticism and peasant realism. At the same time the two melodies, strongly contrasting musically, naturally provided the experienced composer with space for rewarding for musical contra effects, an opportunity that Hallén does not fail to utilise. It starts with "Näckvisan" in an initial part that has the character of an introduction - unfinished fragments of melody are played as if they are searching for their continuation. In some places the melody is palyed in condense sections. This is followed by the main part of the rhapsody in the form of an effectful and skilfully composed orchestral allegro based on the second melody. Hallén provides evidence that lyrical melodies can have an harmonically rich and robust setting. In contrast we find that the robust rythm and melody of the dance melodies is further empasised by making them even more simple in their connotation - Hallén’s version of the Goblin Song [a goblin is here supposed to look like a miniature Father Christmases, and the melody comes from a popular swedish christmas song "Hej Tomtegubbar!" - "Hey Goblins!"] in the allegro movement of the rhapsody has undoubtely proceeded far from the graceful minuet of the old curtsey polska. However as a counter balance this scherzo mevement also has a contrasting motif, it may perhaps be likened to the humming of a peasant violin.
The next piece is Toteninsel, which has the not so happy subtitle "An inner journey through the land of death". The orchestral piece Toteninsel apperes after the rhapsody. Toteninsel was called by the composer a symphonic poem, although rather inadequately as this music is not particulary symphonic. Instead it is more a puiece of orchestral poetry, sometimes with melodies of modal nature, and with harmony and sound suggestive, almost meditative, introvert attitude. The piece is in close relationship with a work of art and a poem, namely Arnold Boecklins famous painting Die Toteninsel (painted in five versions during 1880-1886) and a poem by Eugen von Enzberg. The poem is dated Friedenau 1898 on All saints day, this christian festival for the dead and for the theme of resurrection, but I am not going to produce it in English here. It is a very beautiful poem, but I would probably destroy it if I tried to translate it anyway, so... not. But in Swedish, ok:
En dyster skymnings ljus sig sprider
Utöver tröga flodens stråt,
Daer blott en rankig farkost glider
Så tyst som en fantom framåt.
Ej årslag vattenspegeln rörer,
Ej vindfläkt krusar böljans krön,
När färjemannen döden förer
Sin baat till klippbeströdda ön.
Cypresser susa! Hör, det klingar
I rymden som av ämglars sång!
Och anden höjs på lätta vingar
Dit uppåt, löst ur stoftets tvång.
I sabbatsfröjd allt ve sig vänder;
Förbi är klagan, sorg och strid,
Och sanning sol till hjärtat sänder
Sin stråle av lycksalig frid.
Boecklin — Enzberg — Hallén — here we can really talk about a Gesamtkunstwerk! A poem that develops the motif in a painting and a composition that takes up the same theme. But do the works reallly reflect only the same mood of death and motif? Or do they simply run parallel with each other?
In Boecklin’s painting we can see a calm stretch of water where everything is reflected, a boat will soon reach the shore of an island with luxurient vegetation, and with darks openings in the cliff walls. In the middle the island is dominated by green cypresses, the green plants of death and burial grounds. Behind the dark shadows of the island rises a ray of light "as from the other side".
With a heavy versification, archaic words and to some extent an overloaded imagery, Enzberg rephrases the motif in two contrastic stanzas. The first calls forth pictures of silence and darkness in the journey over the calm waters, the other speaks of harpistry, choral song and visions of light. Darkness and light — the same contrasts appear in Hallén’s orchestral poem. It opens with "primeval music" in empty fifths which gradually deepen into a long woven orchestral song (in A minor) with the rocking motion of barcarolle as a basic rythm, but stylised and far from the picturesque gondola ballads and local Venetian colour.
The verse line in the poem and in the phrases in the music have almost the same distribution, the same breathing rythm. It is not entirely impossible to find space for the first lines of the poem in the opening of the first melody in Hallén’s work — perhaps the music had its outline of a song to Enzbergs poem, but instead developed into a work for orchestra?
The harmony is mainly modal. Further on the second stanza of the orchestral poem is followed by a contrasting motiv (in A major) with long melodious developments lead to lustrous, light orchestrated inteseification. The piece ends - as in Lohengrin - with "heavenly" accord in high strings.
Harald der Wiking
The first performance took place in Leipzig. The composer himself had instructed the choir in the choral parts and considered the production and the roll-list to the best possible. Mrs Sachse-Hofmeister was "a perfect Siegrun type". Mr Lederer sang Harald role with "force and richness". The producer was Angelo Neumann, well known for his Wagner productions, and the conductor was the Leipzig operas own Artur Nikisch, twenty six years old and later a legendary figure in the world of orchestral music at the turn of the century. It did not take long for the opera to find its way to the Swedish national theatre; Harald Wiking was produced in Stockholm less than two and a half year after the first performance.
Subject and Plot:
The subject was taken from the Danish poet Adan Oelenschaegers historical play "Hagberth and Signe" (1815), which in turn is an arrangement of an old Nordic folk-tale. Originally, Hallén’s opera had the same name as Oelenschlaegers play, but when it became known that the Hungarian composer Oedoen Michailovich already used the title for an opera on the same subject, Hallén and Herrig gave the principal figures in their work the names Harald and Siegrun.
The story takes place in Denmark during the Viking era. Queen Bera in her castle on Sjaelland is celebrating the arrival of spring with feast and has invited the norwegian Viking chieftai Harald and his men, who convincently happen to land just then. Harald, and Beras daughter Siegrun, fall in love. Harald challenges Erich, the son of the king in a duel, in which Erich is killed.
In the Act III, the vikings have returned to their ships and Harald has urged Siegrun to come with him. Bera is furious and orders her men to pursue the Vikings and tries to instill hate for Harald in her daughter. Later she discovers that Siegrun has secretly left the castle during the night. Bera forces Gutmund, a singer at the Queen’s court, to reveal the way she fled. We have now come to the closing szene of the opera: An orchestral nocturne, varying in sound, prepares the way for this acts, and in fact the whole operas main section: the great love duet between Harald and Siegrun. This duet is also a somewhat of a summary of the whole opera since many of the main themes are repeated here.
The opera closes with a dramatic finale with an effectful scenic presentation in the romantic style. Harald is stabbed in the back and dies after the conciliatory closing aria "Still, doch still". His body is carried onto the foredeck of his vessel, and is followed by Siegrun with a flaming torch in her hand. She cuts the vessel loose from its moorings and sets it on fire. It glides slowly away while the love/death motif is again heard in the closing bars of the music.
I just say to you; if you get the chance, listen to the masterworks of Andreas Hallén, the charming Schwedische Rhapsodie nr. 2, the astonishing suggestive Toteninsel, and the Goetterdaemmerunglike Harald der Wiking. They are difficult to find, but as I said has i.e. Musica Sveciae made recordings with these works. The rhapsody however is nowadays probably better known under its subtitle… "A Swede visits Germany".
Recorded sound is Lagom.