The Swede Anders Eliasson is a dancer on the volcano of desperation and in
this respect the successor of Allan Pettersson. On the other hand
his structures are extremely vital and concentrated, without resorting
to lengths dictated by atmosphere. The trembling density and shivering
complexity of his elaborated architectonics are always emotionally
accessible, and the incessantly contrasting rhythmic obsessions
never fall into additive isolation; the tearing, torturing tension
is under constant formal control, due to the absolute one-pointedness
in focussing harmonic development. Eliasson interweaves merciless
terror and lyricism from another world.
From the listener Eliassons music demands above all unrestricted
vigilance and devotion, a basically over-sensitive innocence. There
is a complete balance of the intellectual and the emotional aspects,
and being too much involved with one of those aspects always immediately
means losing contact to the essence of the musical process. In other
words, one will not find a minimum of wasted time in Eliassons
music. And it doesnt belong to any avantgarde. Of course in
the handling of advanced sounds one can find traces of composers
like Lutoslawski, Ligeti, Messiaen or Blomdahl. Eliasson must have
studied their works very well. However, concerning attempts to categorize
his style, it is difficult to disagree with Juha Kangas, who says:
"There is no other composer I know where it would be as impossible
as it is with Eliasson to find out essential stylistic influences.
His is absolute originality." Stylistical traces are not more
than a kind of common ground, and in most of the cases they are
rather points of departure than places of real coincidence among
contemporaries. It was more the music of the renaissance, of the
early baroque, of Bach, that left its mark on Eliassons mental
attitude: not stylistically, but energetically, in the way of using
the materials inherent qualities and not forcing the material.
That means: treating the material not in a materialistic, but in
a spiritual way, as all the great masters have done. In this respect
Eliasson is not a modernist but a composer in the traditional sense:
"First you have to be a craftsman". He is always trying
to build up a work as a living unity of divergent thoughts and expressions.
His approach is deeply organic. It might begin as an experiment,
but after having found a beginning it is nothing but the true exploration
of this beginnings hidden dynamics that determines all the
new directions afterwards. The composer is all ears to the musics
underlying forces. "I only try to follow the process of the
music itself. This is an objective process. Beginning and end are
totally interwoven into each other, as is every moment in between.
Nothing can be separated. It is not me who is coming to an end.
It is the music itself. Im trying to keep my fingers out!"
Eliasson never creates sounds for their own sake. He never builts
up so-called soundscapes. From superficial experiencing one can
sometimes get the impression of crossing some static areas. But
if the listener consequently follows the development of the motivic
substance, the way it unfolds horizontally and vertically; if he
really allows himself to suffer with the thematic cells, to be their
companion in misfortune; then he might be able to join the composer
on his journey. A journey where one should be aware of every detail,
but on a road with no place to hide, not a single moment to rest,
where the listeners whole attention is unremittently needed
to correlate all the gesturally impressive occurences, for not taking
them as incoherent events. "There is nothing between me and
the music, the theme, the motiv. There is no 'between'. Therefore
it is so difficult so impossible! to understand what
is really going on. The substance, the form, the 'Gestalt', they
must be a untiy! If you try to divide, if you stay with the analytical
approach, you are lost."
Anders Eliasson was born on the 3rd of april 1947 in Borlänge
in the southern part of the Swedish province Dalarna. His father
was a normal worker in the metal industry. His mother was a hairdresser
and amateur actrice. Eliassons earliest musical recollections
are his own singing: "I grew up in an atmosphere, in a family
with no special preferences, and not at all any sense for classical
music. Only popular dance music and such things. No interest for
literature, for art. Nothing. Even in this very early stage of my
life it was impossible for me to live. Consequently I had to escape
into another world." First he formed his tin soldiers to an
imaginary orchestra, sitting in front of them and singing, imitating
their sound. Then the nine-years-old boy got a trumpet. Soon he
founded his own band, a little jazz ensemble consisting of two clarinets,
trombone, percussion, guitar and trumpet: "I was only ten,
but I already was the leader. In this region were quite many fine
jazz musicians. Some of them became interested in our activities
and taught me the basics. I started to write arrangements."
When he was fourteen years old the respected organ player Uno Sandén,
a member of the Monday-Group (the main modernists circle around
Blomdahl, Bäck, Lidholm and Åke Hermanson), cared about
him. "But in those days I suffered extremely. When I was sixteen,
seventeen, I became very ill. I had to stay in the hospital: psychosis."
Always longing for a conscious approach to his inner problems Eliasson
got over the most dangerous phase of his life. Two years later he
became a private student of Valdemar Söderholm in Stockholm.
For about five years Söderholm taught him classical counterpoint,
mainly Bach, "the highest energy you can come in touch with.
Söderholm showed me the way. I was so happy to study in the
right and true way." In the field of jazz, Eliasson had developed
towards so called musical theatre, kinetic music etc. But the gap
between what he practiced there and what he aimed to do became constantly
deeper. When he joined the composition class of Ingvar Lidholm he
was shocked: "When I met the 'real' composers such people
as Karkoschka or Haubenstock-Ramati I lost any connection
to the music inside myself. The first real piece of music I had
heard in my life was Haydns Symphony no. 104. Very early I
decided to become a composer. I still dont know where the
motivation comes from. It simply was the only possibility to survive.
And it still is.
But no-one could understand those things. Its from another universe."
Eliasson now acquired not only the classical craftsmanship but also
all the modernists techniques. "It was not too complicated
to understand. For a time I was very interested in the electro-acoustic
possibilities, in group improvisation, in Terry Rileys minimal
music. But at the same time I knew that this is not what I really
want to do. I missed the real depth. And I asked myself: What is
my point of reference in music, from the earliest beginning of my
life? This led to hidden researches inside myself, something I never
gave up. It developed itself continuously inside me: my 'musical
alphabet'. Basically it is simple to the extreme, consisting of
two modes, a lydian and a dorian one, horizontally and vertically.
They are very close to each other. Therefore it is easy to change
between them. For me it is neither lydian nor dorian. But there
are no other combinations with such a spectrum of possibilities,
with so much space. It leads directly into infinity. There is a
strong basical limitation in my music. But if you enter this world
and try exhaust it, you will never push it to the limit. It is a
paradox. The tonal system can move very far from its fundament,
but it will always be related to the fundament. The simpler the
fundament is the more manifold the development can be. There are
so many systems today, but the more complicated they are the more
they restrict us. Many people have been talking and writing about
my works but none of them discovered these basic principles."
From the beginning of the seventies Eliasson began to explore his
'musical alphabet', to trust in his fundaments of orientation. He
became, in the Sibelian sense, a 'slave of his themes'. Since that
time it is very difficult to give a general description of what
we call 'stylistic development'. This doesnt imply any point
of stagnation. Eliasson is always developing but what is new in
his music always seems to be produced by the 'underlying forces',
from inside, and not by thoughtful speculations. His is an exemplary
case of what could be called an 'absolute musician'. His Swedish
breakthrough came with the mighty 'Canto del Vagabondo' for orchestra
with choir, and his name was broadly established outside Sweden
when his First Symphony received the Nordic Council Music Prize
When Eliasson took over the post as guest professor in composition
at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki a respected colleague introduced
himself: "I'm Paavo Heininen, modernist." He got the answer:
"I'm Anders Eliasson, normal human being." Eliasson doesnt
like to impose upon anyone: "Hopefully you can experience my
music as I did myself. If you dont want to get anything special.
I dont write for privileged people." How does a wider
audience react to his art? In november last year Stockholms Konserthus
gave an Eliasson-Festival, where nine concerts in eight days provided
an extensive portrait, presenting 37 works. Many concerts were sold
out, and many people went to every concert. Among them were a lot
of not classically trained listeners once attracted by curiosity
and then magnetized for one week. Eliassons music proves that
accessibility is not a question of too complicated or non complicated
structures. And it shows that a real artist must not care for being
consonant or dissonant on the surface. Eliasson speaks directly
to the listener, being his companion in misfortune. His music is
A comment by the late Sergiu Celibidache might increase the reader's
expectations. Some two years ago I had given him a score of Eliassons
First Symphony. I had little hope that he would look at it. But
some months later he suddenly asked: "What was the name of
this composer?" "Eliasson." "Yes. Not bad at
all. It's a pity but for me it is too late to do it. But probably
you will see the day when this Eliasson will be recognized as a
master as important for our time as Bartók was for his."
Eliasson on CD
So far, no orchestra has managed such a deep, thrilling and self-evident
approach to Eliassons incredibly dense and difficult scores
as Juha Kangass Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra from western
Finland. For them Eliasson is usual repertoire as for others Tchaikovsky
is. They have made fabulous recordings of the string pieces "Ostácoli"
and "Desert Point" as well as the concertos for violin,
bassoon, and horn (Caprice CDs 21422 and 21381). The Tale Quartet
plays the string quartets and the harpsichord quintet admirably
(BIS-CD 603). Another portrait focusses on earlier works such as
the visionary Linné-poem for orchestra with choir "Canto
del vagabondo", or the chamber orchestra piece "Canti
in lontananza" (Caprice CD 21402) with its formidable chiaroscuro
writing. Other recordings of his works for chamber ensembles include
the multi-facetted "Divertimenti" (PhonoSuecia CD 57),
the hauntingly angelic "Sotto il segno del sole" (Caprice
CD 21355), the austere piano quartet "Fogliame" (Caprice
CD 21450), the essentially idyllic "Senza risposte" (Acoustica
CD 1010), and the intense "Poem" for saxophone and piano
(John-Edward Kelly on Col legno CD AU 31817). Songs with saxophone
quartet (Caprice CD 21399) and for voice and piano (Ilona Maros
on PSCD 37), and the suggestive Tranströmer a cappella choral
work "Breathing Room - July" (PSCD 44) are also available.
Some of his key works such as the Third symphony for saxophone and
orchestra, written for the outstanding musician John-Edward Kelly,
the clarinet concerto, or Sinfonia da Camera, still remain unrecorded.
Others, especially the First symphony (Caprice CD 21381), deserve
a better performance.
(A contribution to the music quarterly TEMPO,