|Published: 2004-10-21 by Martin Bondeman
She had chosen the libretto and composed the first part of the work. Then came the murder of Sweden’s foreign minister Anna Lindh in a Stockholm department store. The country went into shock. Karin Rehnqvist, who was sitting with the nascent score to ‘Ljus av ljus’ (Light of light) for girl choir and symphony orchestra at the time, took the murder hard; and the fact that Anna Lindh was the same age as her could only have made the tragedy even more tangible.
Although this did not dramatically redirect the composition of ‘Ljus av ljus’, now when she realised that the work she was busy writing would be dedicated to the memory of Anna Lindh, her writing took on new, slightly different overtones.
“I’d been writing for a month when it happened. I decided then to dedicate the music to her memory since the words I’d chosen were also so appropriate. They’re about hope, wisdom, candour. The music is not funereal but light, a response to a world of violence and gloom. I realise these are grand words, but I just wanted somehow to counteract this through the music.”
This sense of lightness dominates purely in terms of the sound too, but the danger that her use of young voices (girls between the ages of 12 and 16) might be considered overly sentimental and heart-rending in this context never seemed to worry Rehnqvist.
“Not a bit! It’s rare to hear such an incredibly bright, crisp sound in contemporary music. And it’s not too cutesy or sweet either, although you do, as a composer, have to tread carefully when writing for these voices. And they sound totally unique.”
“I go by my gut feeling. And I want, have always wanted, to create poignant music. It only gets sentimental if its objectives are insincere. You have to be true to yourself, perhaps even more so when working with children.”
‘Ljus av ljus’ is a three-movement piece, with an overwhelmingly delicate first movement, a darker, more agitated second movement and a third movement whose apparent lightness is troubled by a more sinister strain. The orchestra and the choir are intimately interwoven, and there is a feeling that the transparent orchestra part also acts as a kind of mirror to the voices of the choir. And when the music fades away into lonely, isolated notes, a heavy melancholy settles in the shadows of the optimism of the last lines of the libretto:
Does not wisdom call,
does not understanding raise her voice?
“To you, O people, I call:
Simpletons, learn prudence
Fools, come to your senses”.
(From Proverbs 8:1-5)
Rehnqvist has written music for voice and choir, including children’s choir; Adolf Fredriks Girls’ Choir in particular has many of her works in its repertoire. She has even set teenage poems to music. Unusually, she expresses a desire to write serious works for children’s choir and not simply relegate them to the wings or push them into the background and away from the limelight, as is normally the case.
“It’s wonderful working with children. They have such obvious enthusiasm, such passion for the music that is no less real than that shown by professional choirs. And this was exactly the case with ‘Ljus av ljus’. Sources of inspiration are, of course, important, and in this instance with Adolf Fredriks Girls’ Choir, conductor Bo Johansson has been an enormous impetus to their openness and devotion.”
The love is mutual, for Rehnqvist has also been called “the Choir’s favourite composer” by the girls themselves.
Freelance journalist and music critic for Svenska Dagbladet
English translation by Neil Betteridge
‘Ljus av ljus’ (Lumière, source de lumière, Light of Light) was commissioned by Radio France, Swedish Radio and the Swedish Concert Institute. The work received its première performance in Paris on 31 January 2004 as part of the Présences festival, where it was performed by Adolf Fredriks Girls’ Choir and Orchestre National de France under the direction of the English conductor Jonathan Darlington.
An English ‘adapted’ version is available from the Swedish MIC.