Monday, July 23, 2012

Guest Blog Entry: Per-Henning Olsson

Dear Friends,

As always, having guest entries on this blog fills my heart with joy. Those of you in the Swedish Pettersson community most likely know Per-Henning Olsson, if not, you probably are familiar with him from his contributions to the excellent Pettersson documentary that was released with Christian Lindberg's recording of the Symphony No. 1. Mr. Olsson has also provided spoken introductions to each of the symphonies that Swedish Radio broadcasted during Pettersson's anniversary year. Anyways, without further yapping, I am very pleased to introduce Per-Henning Olsson, who has kindly written this entry on some of the available scholarly resources on Pettersson. Enjoy! 

What is left except the music? A comment on the sources of knowledge of Allan Pettersson and his music.

Allan Pettersson was a loner. He was isolated, partly self-chosen. As a younger composer he wanted to keep himself to himself. But later on his chronic rheumatoid arthritis caused him a great deal of pain and made it very difficult for him to move. And living “in an apartment on the fourth floor without a lift” (as it so often stood in articles about him from the 1970’s), made it almost impossible for him to leave his home. But even though he felt imprisoned, and sometimes suggested he was forced to isolation, there could have been ways to socialize. He could have had friends, musicians, fellow composers visiting him frequently, but simply put: Allan Pettersson was not that kind of person. Pettersson was one of the most isolated Swedish composers, but during the 1970’s he became probably the most public Swedish composer through interviews on the radio, articles in the newspapers and TV programmes focusing on his impoverished childhood. Many Swedes probably felt “they knew Allan”. They probably got a feeling they had entered Pettersson’s private sphere in a higher degree than if he had been sitting in a sofa in a TV show talking about technical aspects of his music. But what mainly created the picture of Allan Pettersson was what he wanted to tell in the interviews, since there was no other sources of knowledge.

The situation for a scholar studying Pettersson and his music today is completely different. All the above-mentioned interviews, articles and programmes are of course still available, but there is also an enormous material in the Allan Pettersson personal archives in the Uppsala University Library. The archives came into the library’s custody by Laila Barkefors. When Barkefors wrote her thesis she had borrowed the material from Allan Pettersson’s widow Gudrun Pettersson. And in 2001 Barkefors donated it, on Gudrun’s suggestion, to the library. The Allan Pettersson personal archives consist of 34 volumes and contains letters, material from Pettersson’s studies, notebooks, press cuttings, photos, marks from school, employment agreements, the composers handwritten biography, ideas and corrections to compositions, sketches (mainly of the second symphony) etcetera.

The archives are of course an invaluable source for several areas of Pettersson research. It is possible to see what books he studied and what music he was familiar with since there are lists of Pettersson’s books on music, sheet music and orchestral scores. It is possible to see the way Pettersson studied Hindemith’s “Unterweisung im Tonsatz” and the twelve-tone technique (according to Křenek) with Karl-Birger Blomdahl, the most influential composer in Sweden in the middle of century. It is possible to read Pettersson’s depiction of the classes with Arthur Honegger, the neoclassical composer who was a sixth part of the famous French group of composers “Les Six”, where Honegger criticized Pettersson’s radical “Concert for violin and string quartet”. It is possible to see how Pettersson described the Swedish modernism in his handwritten biography - problematic material if you are investigating what really happened, but enormously interesting if you are investigating his self-image. And, it is possible to see how his second symphony grew up and to see what the germ of the music was. Most of the material is in Swedish, except for some notebooks that are in French (and some notebooks in a wonderful odd mixture of French and Swedish). The archives are also an interesting source for the research on e.g. Karl-Birger Blomdahl, Arthur Honegger or René Leibowitz. All three were teachers to the industrious Pettersson, who wrote vast amounts of notes and exercises during and after the lessons.

In many texts on Pettersson only a few short utterances by the composer are cited, especially this one: “The composition I´m working on is my own life, the blessed and cursed” (Pettersson interviewed 1968 by I. Björksten), which is often taken as the obvious starting point for understanding and interpreting Pettersson’s music. But in the material in the Allan Pettersson personal archives (as well as in interviews) it is evident that Pettersson’s view of music was way more complex than that. I even venture to say that it is misleading to use the above-cited quotation as The Key to the understanding of Pettersson’s music. Pettersson was well aware of technical aspects of his music; his just did not want to talk about it. Possibly technical aspects of his music were more private to him than sitting in his own home talking about his childhood and his illness: “I think you talk too much about technical problems. Is not such a private affair as well?” (quotation from Pettersson’s own presentation of the Concerto for violin and string quartet, 1951)

There are interesting sources also at The Music and Theatre Library of Sweden, located in Stockholm. In the Bo Wallner archives there are letters from Pettersson, mainly from the period when Pettersson studied composition in Paris. The letters give another dimension to material from the lessons in Paris. In Wallner’s work diary there are interesting phone calls between Wallner and Pettersson noted down. Manuscripts by Pettersson are found at Gehrmans Musikförlag and Svensk Musik (both located in Stockholm).

However, there is some material that has not been donated. For example the two scores (in drafts) to Pettersson’s first, unfinished symphony, the score (in drafts) to the seventeenth, unfinished symphony and some of Pettersson’s private notebooks (ten notebooks containing diary notes, aphorisms, opinions on his colleagues, and thoughts on his works and on art). This is of course also very interesting material that hopefully will be available for research later on. But for the moment we have to “put up with” the rich material in the Allan Pettersson personal archives in the Uppsala University Library. See you there!?

Per-Henning Olsson (department of musicology, Uppsala University, Sweden), writing a dissertation on the symphonies of Allan Pettersson.

No comments:

Post a Comment