Anne Sofie von Otter was born in Stockholm and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London with Vera Rosza. She also attended classes in lied interpretation with Geoffrey Parsons in London and Erik Werba in Vienna. In 1980 she began her collaboration with the pianist Bengt Forsberg. Two years later she joined the ensemble of the Basle Opera, where she made her mark as an interpreter of Mozart (Cherubino, Dorabella, Sesto) and Richard Strauss (Composer). One of the finest singers of her generation, the internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano works with the pre-eminent conductors of the day, has triumphed at the world’s major opera houses and is a regular guest at leading festivals. Anne Sofie von Otter has also achieved great success as a lieder interpreter, mostly in collaboration with Bengt Forsberg.
“Always searching for new and challenging repertoire, Anne Sofie von Otter herself came up with the idea for this album: “I wanted to do something for Swedish contemporary music, and so, following the intense work preparing and premiering Hans Gefors’s Lydia’s Songs, I asked Anders Hillborg if he would also compose a work.” Complementing the two recent cycles by living composers in this collection is one from the mid-20th century by a lesser-known figure, Laci Boldemann.
Hardly any other Swedish composer’s biography can match the drama of Laci Boldemann’s. Born in Helsinki, he grew up in Germany and moved to Sweden in 1939. Forced into the German army during the war, he served in Russia, Poland and Italy before deserting to join the Italian partisans. Eventually he was captured and spent two years in an American POW camp. In 1947 he returned to Sweden, where during the 1950s he had to support himself as a timber measurer. As a composer, Boldemann devoted much of his career to writing stage works and songs for children.
Boldemann’s Four Epitaphs for mezzo-soprano and string orchestra, labelled a cantata by the composer, date from 1952. They are settings of poems from Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (1915), 244 free-form tombstone epitaphs for citizens of the fictional town of Spoon River, Illinois, written in the first person. “I find the songs incredibly moving,” says von Otter. “The first one is truly beautiful, both text and music. I am also attracted to their simplicity; there is a streak of folk music in them.”
The four epitaphs offer four different perspectives on love and death. In the first setting, with its almost Wagnerian accompaniment, Sarah Brown implores her grieving lover to tell her husband to accept their illicit affair: “Through the flesh I won spirit, and through spirit, peace.” In the second song, a march, Ollie McGee avenges her cruel and humiliating husband in death. Boldemann’s cantata is significantly more modern than his vocal works from the 1960s, especially the third song, in which Mabel Osborne complains that her tomb’s flowers are drooping from lack of water, a metaphor for her loveless life. Finally, in a tranquil setting, William and Emily sing of the bliss in passing away together.
Hans Gefors composed Lydia’s Songs for Anne Sofie von Otter in 1995-96 to a commission from the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Having produced successful operas dealing with deception, murder and the dark side of the human mind, including Christina (1986) and The Park (1991), he chose here to write love songs that address themes of longing, innocence, lust, desire, jealousy, ridicule, abandonment, and both painful and sweet memories, finding his inspiration in Hjalmar Söderberg’s The Serious Game (Den allvarsamma leken).
Arguably the greatest love story in Swedish literature, Söderberg’s 1912 novel is a complex work containing direct references to specific works of literature, poetry and music. The story, which begins towards the end of the 19th century, is simple. Arvid and Lydia fall in love, but end up marrying others. After ten years they meet again at the opera. Arvid is now a music critic. They begin an adulterous affair. Lydia divorces, but at the end abandons Arvid for another man. Arvid leaves the country.
Gefors’s song cycle is organized in seven sections, with a clear, almost operatic, narrative outline. Only once does he take his text directly from Söderberg, instead turning to poetry mentioned or suggested in the novel – verses by Heine, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Jens Peter Jacobsen.
Gefors first met von Otter when she played him her album “Speak Low: Songs by Kurt Weill,” and he was immensely impressed with her range of expression: “I was fascinated by the fact that the same singer could perform Baroque and cabaret, high Romanticism, Lieder and folksongs with equal sensuality and commitment. That inspired me to aim high.” Later, after having presented von Otter with the final version, he recalled that “she seemed surprised over the work’s scopea 30-minute cycle in which the singer sings virtually the whole time is rare, but she approached the piece with a determination to master it.” Von Otter agrees, and adds that she appreciated the work’s “immense expressiveness and the different character of the individual movements. Although the music most often has a tonal focus, the cycle’s sheer length and the rhythmic complexity of the fifth movement, ‘The Sphinx,’ make it intensely demanding.”
Although sung by a woman, the cycle adopts Arvid’s male perspective on Lydia. In two sections, however, we hear her own voice. In no. 2 she seeks a way out of her confining marriage. In no. 6 the text comes from the final duet in Bizet’s Carmen, in which the heroine (a role von Otter knows well), referring to herself, famously exclaims “Free she was born and free she will die!” shortly before she is murdered by Don José. The concluding cabaret song, a Heine setting, is also the last poem that the disillusioned Arvid reads in the novel before he goes away. Although it has a familiar ring, the song is entirely Gefors’s own. “I take pride,” he says “in writing melodies that seem universal.”
Anders Hillborg is perhaps best known for his orchestral works – among them, Eleven Gates (2003), commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen – although he has also made an astonishing contribution to the choral repertoire with his overtone piece muoaiyouum and has collaborated with Swedish pop singer Eva Dahlgren. Hillborg composed …lontana in sonno… in 2003 for von Otter and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra to texts by Petrarch, the 14th-century Italian Renaissance humanist who channelled his obsessive, unrequited love into poetry. In these settings of Sonnets 250 and 301, expressions of Petrarch’s emotions before and after the death of his beloved Laura in 1348, Hillborg blends the vocal line with highly imaginative instrumental combinations. As von Otter explains: “The vocal part is instrumentally conceived and is most demanding for the performer. Anders asked me to adjust my singing to the sound of the instruments.”
In particular, the dense but clear, vibrato-free, sine-tone sound of string and glass harmonica chords suggests a giant synthesizer, typical of Hillborg’s orchestral writing, as well as the spacious acoustics of a cathedral. The lament unfolds from a slow, static introduction with a Gregorian chant-like melody in the voice – here Hillborg is emulating the medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen. The music builds to an intensively ornamented section in which the poet recalls Laura’s words – “Do you not remember that last evening?” – as Hillborg introduces a violin solo evoking the hurdy-gurdy of Schubert’s Leiermann. …lontana in sonno… ends as it began – in despair. “
Per F. Broman in Swedish Song original Booklet
In This new Recording published on Deutsche Grammophon, Anne Sofie von Otter insist to create one and unique records about Swedish Composers. First one composed by Anders Hillborg, is an absolute unique creation. As a world-premiere recording, this one is very close from György Ligeti‘s work (used in Kubrick’s 2001) in instrumentation and sounds. Hillborg asked von Otter to put her voice the most closest from Strings…Quite difficult i can tell but after one and only one listening, we can see how much Anne Sofie is one of the last greatest Soprano of the last century.
…Lontana In Sonno … (2003_World Premiere Recording)
Feelings during 15’05 are so powerfull…thats why i wanted to share this song with y’all
Don’t doubt about quality of the entire CD, its an absolute master piece just released
You can buy it online on a deluxe 320kbps quality on deutsche grammophon website or as a CD.