Music and the Nordic Breakthrough

  • Rebecca Day (Speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


Between (Nordic and Germanic) Romanticism and Modernism: Kurt Atterdberg's Folkloric Nationalism, Structural Conservatism, and Fin-de-siècle instrumental colour

Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974) - a Swedish composer with a catalogue of nine symphonies, five concertos, ten orchestral suites, five operas, and numerous incidental scores - has been categorised within the surprisingly limited scholarship on his output as an 'incurable Romantic' of a 'lower class than Sibelius and Nielsen' (Smith 2002). His works are described as classical in form, characterised by statements of folk material and evocative orchestration, and often condemned as over-scored to the extent of being banal. Yet it is arguably such a lack of literature that has led to these derogatory claims; in much the same way that Dahlhaus complains of a Zeitgeist that tempts historians to apply labels to German music as a matter of expediency, notions of Romanticism are perpetuated within Atterberg's reception as a result of ignorance toward the former's co-existence with Nordic modernism.

Atterdberg's treatment of folk material and instrumental colour, misunderstood as banal within the context of German Romanticism, echoes that of Adorno's characterisation of timbre in his Mahler monograph; the use of rhetorical extremes and topics (such as folk song, marches etc.) are here seen as aspects of fin-de-siècle instrumental colour that simultaneously draw attention to themselves whilst insisting upon the appropriateness of traditional form. This paper takes the example of Atterdberg's Third Symphony - 'Västkustbilder' ('West Coast Pictures') 1914-1916 - and considers the ways in which such treatment of these elements complicates what has previously been seen as a conservative use of form, where folkloric nationalism can here be contextually understood as part of the advent of Nordic Modernism.
Period31 Aug 20152 Sept 2015
Event typeConference
LocationOxford, United KingdomShow on map