Georg Riedel – mixing the genres

Published: 2006-11-30 by Sebastian Tiger

Georg Riedel is the composer of many successful Swedish children’s songs, such as "Idas sommarvisa" and "Sjörövar-Fabbe". But there was a time, he says, when he couldn’t stand ballads.

“I hated ballads, children’s songs too. That all changed when I met Astrid Lindgren and realised how seriously she took children’s culture. She also taught me the importance of making sure that what you write for children appeals to adults as well.”

Since then, he has put this knowledge into practice in his many productions for children. He has written music for a series of Astrid Lindgren films and for lyrics by Barbro Lindgren (Nu sjunger näktergalen), Gunilla Bergström (Alfons Åberg) and Lennart Hellsing (Bananvisor), to name a few.
Both jazz and art music

But Georg Riedel’s music extends far beyond children’s songs. His original domain was jazz, but art music is now also part of his musical identity and has long been a natural medium of expression for him. Because of this double musical habitat, he is now one of the select few authors who are members of both SKAP (the Swedish Society of Popular Music Composers) and FST (the Association of Swedish Composers). His success in both areas was confirmed last summer when he was awarded the Lars Gullin Prize and the Hugo Alfvén Prize.

Georg wrote his first composition in his early teens. At that age, he also discovered jazz and as a result switched instruments, from violin to double-bass. In the mid 1950s, he started playing with Lars Gullin and Arne Domnérus, and it was in this period that he also made his serious debut as composer and arranger. Later he played with artists such as Jan Johansson, Stan Getz and Radiojazzgruppen.

Self-taught composer
As a composer, Georg Riedel is self-taught. It was while attending music college, where he was studying double-bass, that he decided to learn composition on his own.

“I studied musical scoring and then I actually took two lessons with Karl-Birger Blomdahl, but didn’t continue. I thought the lessons were far too tough.”

There have been moments when he has regretted not having formal education in composition – times when he has wished that he possessed greater manual skill.

“If I had continued, my work would probably have been more structured than it is today. On the other hand, it is quite likely that I would have been engulfed by art music. Then I might not have had the jazz or the ballads or the success that has come with them.”

Likes mixing the genres
But it didn’t turn out that way. George says that he finds it difficult to imagine composing without mixing the genres. He has never wanted to choose one genre instead of another but has always tried to make them enrich and colour each other. He enjoys writing for orchestrations that mix types of ensembles, for example a symphony orchestra with a jazz group.

Working that way used to be difficult, he says. There were often no obvious openings between jazz and art music. The boundaries are not at all as clear today – it’s considered quite acceptable to bring jazz music to a symphony orchestra. In the 1960s, you had to take other routes if you wanted to mix musical expressions. Other kinds of stage music and film music were areas where the genres could meld. Georg Riedel was drawn to these areas.

His first opportunity to write music for ballet came in the early 1960s. He had long been fascinated by dance and now had the chance to write longer pieces than the three-minute pieces that had been standard for jazz.

“It was liberating to have the chance to write longer pieces and mix expressions from different genres.”

Since then, ballet music has been an integral part of his career. His TV ballet "Riedaighlia" (1967) was awarded the Prix Italia. His most recent ballet was "Pippi Longstocking" which was staged at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm in 2006.

But it was through film music that Georg Riedel experienced his major public breakthrough in an area other than jazz. One of the first films for which he composed music was Stig Dagerman’s "Bröllopsbesvär" (Swedish Wedding Night) (1964) directed by Åke Falck. Since then, he has composed for some fifty films, the most famous of which are naturally the Astrid Lindgren films about Pippi, Emil and Bullerbyn.

Lyrics and language most important
Today, nearly all the music that Georg Riedel writes is commissioned in advance. That means that he usually knows which musicians will be performing the music. This provides him with important impulses while composing, but he is inspired even more by the written word.

“The lyrics and language are my most important source of inspiration. I consider the lyrics to be at least as important as the music and I would really like the performance of my songs to border on the theatrical.”

Georg Riedel has written music for a number of Swedish poets, including Karin Boye, Gunnar Ekelöf and, most recently, Tomas Tranströmer. He dreams of making a CD of children’s songs based on the poems of Kristina Lugn. If he turns this dream into reality, the chances are good that it will be yet another success story for Riedel.

Mattias Franzén


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