Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist: Suites for Orchestra

When Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist in 1962 was asked to compose the music score for the screen adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (Adventures of Nils Holgersson), he was already a well-known composer of film music. Since 1954 he had written the scores for 16 films, and three other movies with his music was premièred the same year as Nils Holgersson.

In 1962, Lundquist was engaged to compose the music for the grandiose and lavish Adventure of Nils Holgersson, an adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf’s novel, directed by Kenne Fant. A film in colour with stunning aerial photographs of Sweden and with music by Torbjörn Lundquist. It was actually the first time a complete soundtrack in a Swedish film was released on LP.

In the 1960’s, Lundquist also started writing music for radio plays and dramatized serial stories. In 1966, he was commissioned by the Swedish Radio to write music for a drama serial directed by Per Edström. Again, a novel by Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf.

One of her most dramatized, Gösta Berling’s saga, the depiction of the major’s wife and the cavaliers at Ekeby Manor in Värmland, adapted for radio by Olle Mattsson. The music for the play became so praised that it was released on LP. The suite consists of eight movements.

After the suite there are three dance movements where Lundquist puts together a number of pastiches on upper-class music from the beginning of the 19th century. They are followed by the caressing Meditation, the lyrical Legend and the swaying Berceuse. It all ends with Kavaljerernas polska (The Cavalier’s Polska). [Curt Carlsson, 2018]

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By 1962, Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist was much feted as a composer of film scores, with sixteen already under his belt dating from 1954. He was to go on to write another twelve. This particular year he was approached to provide a score for the screen adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf's "Adventures of Nils Holerssohn", a best-loved children's classic. The story tells of a naughty boy who tortures animals and never listens to his parents. One day he wakes up as an elf, climbs onto a gander's back and flies away with a flock of geese. On his journey he learns everything about birds, animals, his country and good behaviour, and returns transformed. The film was a lavish production with stunning aerial photography. The music, sixteen episodes in all, accompanies beautiful scenery, such as an enchanted forest and some dramatic episodes such as a musical hunt "The fox and the watchdog". Memorable places crop up along the way, like the naval city of Karlskrona, portrayed by a brisk march, Stockholm, where the tune from the bells of the City Hall's tower is recalled, and Lappland, depicted by its Sami drums.  Lundquist was under time pressure to complete this forty minute opus so did a bit of recycling and also came up with a catchy waltz, which appears from time to time.

The Gösta Berling Saga was a commission by Swedish Radio for a drama serial of another Selma Lagerlöf novel. Gösta Berling, a defrocked minister, finds a home at Ekeby manor, home to veterans of the Napoleonic Wars. A leading and poetic spirit, women fall under his spell. The action takes place in the beautiful wintry landscape of rural Sweden. The suite is made up of eight movements, to which the composer added another seven used in the radio dramatization. I prefer this suite of the two. Lundquist proves himself no mean tunesmith, with a score that is melodically generous and steeped in a beguiling charm. Listeners won't fail to succumb to its appeal. Particularly memorable are the opening piece, which depicts the protagonist, pastorally etched and oozing with rustic charm. Then there's Legend (fifth of the additional movements), music bathed in soothing lyricism.

These early sixties recordings sound very good and benefit from having the composer himself at the helm. The booklet notes in Swedish and English have been supplied by Dag Lundquist, the composer's son, with more detailed discussion of the music by Curt Carlsson. Steffan Ericson provides a biographical portrait of Selma Lagerlöf. For those wishing to explore this composer’s music further, may I point you in the direction of the Third and Fourth Symphonies, released last year by Sterling and which I had the pleasure of reviewing.MusicWeb-International

This is a most welcome return to the catalogue for two very enjoyable and accomplished scores, Nils Holgerssons underbara resa (‘Adventures of Nils Holgersson’) from 1962, and Gösta Berlings saga, written to accompany a radio dramatisation of the novel of the same name by Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940 – winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1909) in 1891. As a supplement to the suite for the latter, Lundquist wrote seven additional movements, also recorded here. Lundquist is one of those Swedish composers whose music is worthy of wider circulation.

In addition to Nils Holgerssons underbara resa, Lunquist wrote scores for 27 other films between 1954 and 1971. One can hear why his work was so popular. From the beginning of Nils Holgerssons underbara resa, we are introduced to a big, memorable and developed theme, with more than a hint of the waltz (I was reminded more than a little of Jerome Moross’ sweeping tunes for The Big Country.) Apparently Lundquist did not take seriously an invitation from Hollywood to work there, preferring to remain in Sweden devoting himself to art music (including nine symphonies) even if at times he was a jobbing composer. The big theme is developed in interesting ways, with some delicate orchestration and variation. Lundquist had a fine ear, with particularly accomplished use of winds and horns. Nils Holgerssons underbara resa, also an adaptation of a novel by Selma Lagerlöf, was designed as a lavish production, with sweeping landscapes and many aerial photographs. The music is tonal and very attractive: it will give much pleasure.

The music for Gösta Berlings saga is no less pleasurable, though perhaps more chamber-like in character. Much is influenced by dance forms, including a bourrée, a gavotte and more than one polska (a Scandinavian dance, usually in 3 / 4 metre). Varied orchestration delights the ear, while not really pushing the boundaries of tonal style. The remastering of the original AAD tapes (from Warner Classics, presumably originally Swedish EMI) is very fine. The occasional inner part is a little muddy, but the clarity of Lundquist’s orchestral style means that any loss is trivial.

A special word of praise for the production values as well as Sterling’s commitment in making this release possible. The notes are a model of their kind, including a lovely biographical essay by Dag Lundquist and an extended study of the music by Curt Carlsson, as well as a brief biography of Selma Lagerlöf. MusicWeb-International

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