A picture of ANDERS ELIASSON

Published: 2001-10-10 by Stellan Sagvik

By Torsten Byggdal (Transl. Sven Borei (Published in Nutida Musik no. 2, 1986/87)


He sits there musing about the new superstring theory in quantum physics, a seemingly avant-garde particle physics existing in the borderlands between particles and energy. But no, he isn’t seeking support for some sort of anti-intellectualism. On the contrary, he avers. He only wants to get behind things, to learn their innermost secrets, to touch their inner spaces. Then he pulls back and laughs, saying:

“Oh, what the hell! I’m not really sure about that yet. But I’ll get it – sometime.

He splits his time between a modest apartment with a piano in Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old city, and a residence in the Bergslagen mining district, also with a piano. And he can compose in both places. Still, he is deeply tied to his language, his dialect. Time and again he draws parallels between his spoken language and his musical one, saying the “the language is really his own. But perhaps it’s best to emphasise that we’re not talking about some romantic dream about a country speech.”

It’s nearly twenty years now since he wrote his first piece, called Exposition and performed at a UNM festival in Åhus, Denmark. Since then there have been almost 50 compositions, many of which he views with a strongly self-critical eye.

As we sit, we talk about currents in time, about trends, about his time as a student at the University College of Music in Stockholm and of his relatively short time as a wild-eyed leftist. But the sharing also includes descriptions of a rather problematic childhood in a culturally impoverished, if not directly anti-culture boyhood home.

I ask if something happened to him during recent years, specifically around 1980 or so. “How would I know?” he says. But on thinking it over, continues pensively: “I think I understand what they mean when they say that. By now I probably do shape my statements somewhat differently. But it’s still the same musical language, my musical language, in the same way that the Bergslagen dialect is my own. Everyone grows up with one’s experiences, they move along and their idiom changes somewhat. But nothing of the original is lost. My musical building blocks remain the same as they always have. Don’t ask me how. It isn’t all clear to me, nor do I want it to be. I want to be free, free to flog whatever I find interesting. But you’re right: I did begin to formulate myself differently around 1980.”

“How?” I ask.

“There were currents which prevented my building blocks from functioning. Currents which blocked parts of what I considered essential. I’ve become less linear now and no longer ignore the running harmonics. I also think that I was more shallow earlier. At least I don’t think I was able to create the complexities I want and which I now have found during the 80s.”

And after a moment’s silence the question returned:

“But, if something happened … “

Still, I want to go further back in time and so I ask him which composers have meant the most to him.

“Bach with his fugues and Beethoven with his simple, superb themes”, comes the immediate reply. “And then Bernstein with his skill and brilliance … and lovely lullabys of course, to fall asleep to and then wake up with.”

Among more recent composers his quite natural choice is the traditionalist György Ligeti. Anders Eliasson met him at the College of Music when he was a guest professor in composition there during the 60s and 70s. Ligeti brought with him a central European musical tradition and it has been said that he re-established the supremacy of compositional determination. Eliasson is methodic, self-disciplined and intellectual as a composer. His scores are wonders of clarity. There is no space for chance.

“However,” he adds. “There must always be space for the musicians since the notation contains a measure of inaccuracy. The resolution lies in a joint effort between the composer and the musician. But the composer must not interfere, not disturb the work of the orchestra.”

“Well, then, what about this new symphony, symphony no. 1, which he has been working on for about a year, now?”

“It has a simple, almost meagre theme: an ice-cold theme with Doppler-effects.” (A Doppler-effect is the name of the frequency alteration which is perceived when a sound source and a listener are in motion relative to each other. A common illustration of the effect is that when you are sitting on a train and you approach a ringing bell, the pitch seems to rise, while once the train has passed the source and is moving away, the pitch seems to fall.)

“Perhaps it can be called heathen. It moves from zero, from something, like a glacier. It is a journey through a melting warmth, through freezing cold and heat. You sense a human voice. A human is born,” is how Anders describes it.

But it is very difficult to use words to translate – no not to translate music but to simply exist as loose associations without bonds.

“The work of the composer is lonely,” says Anders. “You can’t go to the local Social Services office and ask and get an immediate answer, saying ‘This is how it is.’ It just isn’t that blasted easy. In the world of music you can’t be in control, making decisions the whole time. You can try. I have on a number of occasions, thinking ‘now damn you music, now you’re going to do what I want.’ But in the end it’s always so that I have to do what the music says. Still, as I’ve said, it has to be channeled after my language.”

Anders Eliasson thinks a lot about the conditions laid down by life and by music. There are no alternative occupations for him. It’s all or nothing, not just bits and pieces. And he’s quick to use pictures to describe our existence.

“We live enclosed in a sphere or a balloon. Inside is the trivial world, the wear and tear. It is a world without context. The real world lies outside the sphere. There in the light, in the ether you can perceive moments of harmony when all concepts are erased, instants when one can perceive an indescribable joy, almost a euphoria. This is where the artist and the composer find their inspiration. This is music’s high sea. And it is the job of the artist to try to blow some light and renewal into the sphere.”

“Sweden’s musical life is narrow,” says Anders. And when I ask him which foreign composers he would like to hear played here, he starts by naming two Norwegians.

“One is Kettil Hvoslef. I’d like to hear his Antigone. By the way, Hvoslef is Harald Saeverud’s son. The other is Olav Anton Thommessen who has written a number of symphonies. But there is also a West German by name of Wolfgang Rihm who’s written an exciting orchestral piece called Was aber. I have also read an important orchestral score by Beat Furrer which I think should be performed.”

“No, open the borders and let some new, fresh music in!”

Anders Eliasson has no problem keeping himself occupied. He has received a commission for a symphony from the Stockholm Philharmonic and he’s discussing a third symphony abroad.

Any picture of this composer must be ambiguous. Inside the sphere he lives a nearly bohemian life. But outside on the musical high seas he is a careful, deeply serious searcher, one with both a brain and a heart.


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