SAGVIK, A Contemporary?

Published: 2001-09-22 by Stellan Sagvik

Interview by Oleg Gotskosik, composer, in connection with a concert on November 17, 1991


"It was a summer day in Nittkvarn, Dalarna. I was 16 years old, and my current girlfriend suggested that I write something for her that she could play on her violin. I lined a notepad and started writing. Since then, composing has been my identity, a manic creation which never rests, a “calling."

Thus relates Stellan Sagvik the first impulse that caused him to begin thinking of himself as a composer. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Stellan is one of the most productive composers of our time. His chronological list of works contains more than 160 opuses, and includes among other things three symphonies, eight (!) operas, twelve instrumental concertos, five string quartets, oratorios, orchestral works, cantatas, and so on. An impressive list, which bears witness to a large sphere of interest, wide practical experience, artistic discipline, effectiveness, and that he apportions his time well.

While most composers from the older generation cut their way, step by step, out of the chains of the 19th century’s idiom, Stellan began his artistic career when all the possibilities already existed.

“To think that you are making something totally new is not only vain and pretentious, it is also a waste of knowledge. We do not need to invent the wheel again… I am a part of a tradition, a chain, to say anything else would be vanity,” he says of his relationship to tradition. And he adds:
“Tradition is to dare work on your own terms (and not everyone else’s), the way artists always have worked.”

Stellan has many interests, and he often writes music to his own texts and librettos to his music-dramatic works. As a writer, he is neither an inward-turning poet, painfully dependent on inspiration, nor a philosophical theoretician who only concentrates on aesthetic problems. With his excellent technique and his practical (in the positive sense) attitude to his art, he is more similar to an architect, using different methods of construction to build a cathedral, a public bath, or a theatre. He uses different possibilities as they fit his plans: dissonant counterpoint, impressionistic effects, polytonality, folk music, the use of several parallel harmonic planes, twelve-tone technique… But the actual building blocks are always chosen strictly according to his personal taste and ability to effectively solve the artistic problem.

“As in all new ages, we have greater possibilities than ever before to find the tools necessary to form our own aesthetic…”

He is not one who lightly throws out the ideals and dictionaries of the preceding generation, nor does he follow the latest trends. His wide vision and great insights make it impossible for him to favor any one “ism,” “stream,” or method. Instead, he moves freely around the “terrain” already won.

“Each individual work creates its own method. Twelve-tone? I have in fact (!) written two completely serial works, the fist Flute Concerto, and Sequenzia for clarinet and piano, as well as some sections of my opera Meneo, and I survived. The Flute Concerto is in addition extremely intense and emotional.”

The prime characteristic of Stellan is his feel for musical drama as well as everything which can be found under the heading “program.”

“My titles are (mostly) intimately connected with the soul of the work… the titles often contain “programs” or codes, and are seldom “only” absolute work titles.”

I cannot find any striving towards purely constructivist goals in his works; he describes himself as an “intuitive feeler.”

“I listen and associate non-abstractly, and can easily transform impulses into music. I am neither a storyteller nor an analyst, but rather a “dialoguist.” And in order to have a dialogue, one needs a partner: in this case, an audience, listeners.”

“Of course one must take the audience into account, anything else would be contempt. Music is communication. I could write a masterpiece, but if it never reaches the ear of a listener, all would be for naught. I (with a capital I) am not at the center of the universe (even if we use the word “I” all the time…)! To simplify things in order to adapt to the audience is in itself an insult and an underestimation of the audience. Respect demands that I give the listener the chance to follow my train of thought. I want to invite them into a dialogue, not insult them or “teach” them from above. "

What advice does he give those who listen to his music?

"Unscrew your mind and open your heart/soul! My music is nothing without a receiver who “wants” something (except for myself of course), my music is my soul, my naked skin and emotional sphere.”

Stellan Sagvik describes his artistic relationships and the compositional process in this way:

“My artistic leanings towards Slavic rhythms and temperament are obvious I think, but I have no direct “role model”—these have changed as I have changed… I work almost always directly, seldom make changes, have a larger form, attitudes, dramaturgy, and goals ready (as far as I know) when I get the idea for the piece. It all comes simultaneously, and easily, like a total concept. The problem is finding the time to catch up with my ideas…When it comes to musical drama, my great passion (eight operas, from 12 to 160 minutes, four of which have been performed), I always utilise a sculpted motivistic method; as a result, I use a metamorphosis technique, the material generates itself, both in real time and in retrograde form… (?) What does this mumbo-jumbo mean in plain language? Well, in effect it means that I use what I have written before to mirror what comes later. And the other way around. I love the “tail-biting” forms… My material is always its own leader and guide, maybe it doesn’t “dictate” everything, but it is so closely tied in with its concept that there is no room for wayward trips, other than from pure spite, or impulse, or due to my aversion to repeating myself.”

After 45 years, the composer’s artistic power, his plans and ideas, are in full bloom. His enormous productivity and self-discipline gives us reason to believe that the coming years will be full of new ideas and discoveries, taking him to virgin territory and a future filled with music.

“My music encompasses both profane works, like a graffiti cantata and settings of love poems, and many sacred works, such as the great Mass Maria Magdalena for soloists, choir, organs, and wind orchestra (on CD nosag 017) and the song cycles Canticum Szeretni Canticum with texts from Song of Songs (CD nosag 008). There is always a spiritual dimension in my work—everyone has some form of “faith, hope, and love.” In my case, these three elements often combine into a feeling; when I compose sacred music, I am always receptive to the value of the words in such a situation. The biblical texts contain so much human knowledge and ethics, and when you weed out all the overinterpretations and those elements used by religious institutions to wield power over people, there is a substance of “pure spirituality” left. That is what I listen to!"

“Words are important: ´Many wise words are said in jest, even more unwise ones are said in seriousness´. And words say either absolutely nothing or wrong, or everything.
Sometimes,
they are missing…”


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