Allan Pettersson

Gustaf Allan Pettersson (19 September 1911  20 June 1980) was a Swedish composer. Today he is considered one of the most important Swedish composers of the 20th century. His symphonies developed a devoted international following, starting in the final decade of his life.


Pettersson, the youngest of four children of a violent, alcoholic blacksmith, was born at the manor of Granhammar in Västra Ryd parish in the province of Uppland, but grew up in poor circumstances in the Södermalm district of Stockholm,[1] where he resided during his whole life. He once said of himself: "I wasn't born under a piano, I didn't spend my childhood with my father, the composer... no, I learnt how to work white-hot iron with the smith's hammer. My father was a smith who may have said no to God, but not to alcohol. My mother was a pious woman who sang and played with her four children."[2]

In 1930, he began study of violin and viola, as well as counterpoint and harmony, at the conservatory of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music (Royal College of Music, Stockholm). He became a distinguished viola player, but also started composing songs and smaller chamber works in the 1930s. At the beginning of World War II he was studying the viola with Maurice Vieux in Paris.[lower-alpha 1][4] During the 1940s he worked as a violist in the Stockholm Concert Society (later the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra), but also studied composition privately with Karl-Birger Blomdahl, Tor Mann, and Otto Olsson.[5] His production from this decade include the song cycle twenty-four Barefoot Songs (194345) based on own poems and a dissonant[6] concerto for violin and string quartet (1949). Latter work is influenced by Béla Bartók and Paul Hindemith.[7][8]

In 1951, Pettersson created the experimental Seven Sonatas for two Violins. At the same time he also composed the first of his seventeen symphonies, which he left unfinished. This work has recently been recorded in a performing version prepared by trombonist and conductor Christian Lindberg.[9] In September 1951, he went to Paris to study composition, having been a student of René Leibowitz, Arthur Honegger, Olivier Messiaen, and Darius Milhaud.[5][10][11] Pettersson returned to Sweden at the end of 1952. The next year 1953 he was given the diagnosis rheumatoid arthritis.[12] Pettersson about the symphonic output of this decade: "No one in the 1950s noticed, that I am always breaking up the structures, that I was creating a whole new symphonic form."[13]

By the time of his fifth symphony, completed in 1962, his mobility and health were considerably compromised.[14][15] In 1964, the government granted him a lifelong guaranteed income.[16] It took four years to write the conceptual and style-defining sixth symphony (196366).[17] His greatest success came a few years later with his seventh symphony (196667), which was premiered on 13 October 1968 in Stockholm Concert Hall with Antal Doráti conducting the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.[18] The release of a recording of his seventh symphony with same conductor and orchestra in 1969 was a breakthrough, establishing his international reputation (Grammis 1970). The seventh and the eighth symphony (196869) have received more recordings than his other works and are probably his best-known works. The conductors Antal Doráti and Sergiu Comissiona premiered and made first recordings of several of Pettersson's symphonies and contributed to his rise to fame during the 1970s.

Pettersson was hospitalized for nine months in 1970, soon after the composition of his ninth and longest symphony, beginning to write the condensed tenth (1972) from his sickbed.[lower-alpha 2][20][21] He recovered, but rheumatoid arthritis confined him most of the time to his apartment.[22][23] He composed two related works about social protest and compassion, the twelfth symphony for mixed chorus and orchestra (1973–74) to poems by Pablo Neruda with contemporary relevance and the cantata Vox Humana (1974) on texts by Latin American poets. In Autumn 1978, he moved to a state living quarters.[24][23] During the prolific last decade of his life he also wrote a concerto for violin and orchestra (1977–78, revised version 1980) written for the violinist Ida Haendel, a sixteenth symphony (1979) which features a bravura solo part for alto saxophone commissioned by Frederick L. Hemke, and an incomplete, posthumously discovered concerto for viola and orchestra (197980).[25] He also started to write a seventeenth symphony, but he died in Maria Magdalena parish, Stockholm, aged 68, before finishing it.[26] Pettersson is buried in Högalid Church columbarium.


Pettersson's writing is very strenuous and often has many simultaneous polyphonic lines; earlier works are close to tonality in their melodic approach, later works less so. His symphonies all end on common chords—major or minor chords—but tonality, which depends on some sense, however attenuated, of tonal progression, is found mostly in slower sections: e.g., the openings and endings of his 6th and 7th symphonies, and the end of his 9th. The musical argument seems to be determined, in faster sections, by motivic requirements far more than by harmonic resolution, as exemplified by the study score of the 7th symphony, pp. 2044. Most of his symphonies are written in a single movement, making them all the more demanding. Overwhelmingly serious in tone, often dissonant, his music rises to ferocious climaxes, relieved, especially in his later works, by lyrical oases.

Pettersson’s music has a very distinctive sound and can hardly be confused with that of any other 20th-century composer. His symphonies, which range in length from 22 to 70 minutes,[27] are typically one-movement works made up of successive stretches of music of varying rhythms and figurations. The effect is like listening to a gigantic toccata or chorale prelude. Sometimes the effect is predominantly that of dance-music, as in the Symphony No. 9, which sounds for long stretches like a huge Mahler scherzo, sometimes the effect is grimmer, with march rhythms or angry declamation predominating, as in the Symphony No. 13.

Pettersson maintains the listener’s interest by varying the sounds and moods of the different sections, so some are more lyrical, others faster and more angry. The architecture of his symphonies is built on similar thematic material emerging at key points in the work (rather than classical statement-development-recapitulation), by rhythmic vitality and tonal progression. Even though his most symphonies are long single movement orchestral works, they are intensely compelling. The effect they convey is of great vitality and unstoppable momentum. Pettersson quoted songs from his own 24 Barefoot Songs in several of his compositions.[28][29]

Most of his music has now been recorded at least once and much of it is now available in published score.[lower-alpha 3]


In 196869, conductor and composer Antal Doráti arranged eight of Pettersson's Barefoot Songs as full-scale orchestral songs.[30]

Choreographer Birgit Cullberg produced three ballets based on Pettersson's music. Rapport (1976, Symphony No. 7), Vid Urskogens rand (1977, Concerto No. 1 for String Orchestra), Krigsdanser (War Dance) (1979, Symphony No. 9).[31]

The four orchestral sketches "... das Gesegnete, das Verfluchte" (1991) by Peter Ruzicka are a tribute to the life and work of Pettersson.[lower-alpha 4][32]


The selected discography includes the original format of the recording and releasing label. Some of the LP releases have been reissued on CD. A 12-CD pack of the Complete Symphonies of Allan Pettersson has been produced by CPO (Classic Produktion Osnabrück, ) based on recordings of 1984, 1988, 199195, 2004.


Other works


Notes and references


  1. Pettersson won the Jenny Lind scholarship prize in 1938.[3]
  2. Pettersson was admitted to Karolinska Hospital, because of a life-threatening kidney ailment.[19]
  3. Pettersson's works have been published by Nordiska Musikförlaget.[27]
  4. The material has been partly derived from sketches of Pettersson's unfinished last Symphony No. 17.


  1. Barkefors 1990.
  2. Pettersson, Allan; Hammar, Sigvard (5 March 1972). "Musiken gör livet uthärdligt [intervju]". Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish). cited in Meyer, Andreas K. W. (1994). Pettersson: Symphony No. 3 & 4 (booklet). Alun Francis and Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken. Georgsmarienhütte, Germany: CPO 999 223-2. p. 23. OCLC 33168153.
  3. Kube 2013, p. 11.
  4. Barkefors 1994.
  5. 1 2 Aare 1995.
  6. Pettersson 1952.
  7. Krause 1990.
  8. Keuk 2013, p. 28.
  9. Christian Lindberg and Norrköping Symphony Orchestra (22 August 2011). Symphony No. 1 & 2 (CD). BIS 1860. OCLC 749880192.
  10. Fischer 2013, p. 41.
  11. Nicolin 1994, p. 11.
  12. Leden, Ido (2011). "Reumatisk sjukdom och konstnärligt skapande: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Raoul Dufy, Allan Pettersson". Reuma Bulletinen—tidskrift för svensk reumatologisk förening (in Swedish). 83 (4/2011): 21–23.
  13. Rapoport 1981, p. 21.
  14. Rapoport 1978, p. 114.
  15. Aare, Leif (1994). Pettersson: Vox humana, Rosenberg: Dagdrivaren (booklet). Stig Westerberg, Marianne Mellnäs, Margot Rödin, Sven-Erik Alexandersson, Erland Hagegård, Swedish Radio Choir, and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Djursholm: BIS 55. p. 6. OCLC 705252024.
  16. Kube 1996, p. 14.
  17. Kube 1996, p. 21.
  18. Kube 2013, p. 15.
  19. Meyer, Andreas K. W. (1997). Pettersson: Symphony No. 10 & 11 (booklet). Alun Francis and Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR. Georgsmarienhütte, Germany: CPO 999 285-2. p. 16. OCLC 38871098.
  20. Ollefs 1989.
  21. Pettersson 1989.
  22. Hammar, Sigvard (19 January 1980). "Vår store kompositör". Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish). cited in Kube 2013, p. 19.
  23. 1 2 Berggren, Höglind & Källström 1979.
  24. Kube 2013, p. 16.
  25. Kube 2013, p. 18.
  26. Meyer, Andreas K. W. (1996). Pettersson: Symphony No. 5 & 16 (booklet). Alun Francis, John-Edward Kelly, and Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken. Georgsmarienhütte, Germany: CPO 999 284-2. p. 19. OCLC 638281199.
  27. 1 2 Meyer 1990.
  28. Nicolin 1994, p. 57, 115.
  29. Kube 2013, p. 13.
  30. Doráti 1986, p. 36.
  31. Caron 2006, p. 204.
  32. Meyer, Andreas K. W. (1994). Pettersson: Symphony No. 15, Ruzicka: Das Gesegnete, das Verfluchte (booklet). Peter Ruzicka and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. Georgsmarienhütte, Germany: CPO 999 095-2. p. 22. OCLC 638280608.

Documentary film

  • Berggren, Peter; Höglind, Tommy; Källström, Gunnar (1979). Människans röst [Vox Humana—The Voice of Man] (DVD) (in Swedish and English). Stockholm: BIS 2038 (published 2013). OCLC 907810041. Allan Pettersson, composer. A documentary 1973–78. 


  • Aare, Leif (1978). Allan Pettersson (in Swedish). Stockholm: Norstedt & Söners förlag. ISBN 91-1-783412-0. 
  • Aare, Leif (1995). "G Allan Pettersson". Svenskt biografiskt lexikon (in Swedish). 29 (1995–97). Stockholm: Riksarchivet. p. 242. Retrieved 2015-04-21. 
  • Barkefors, Laila (1990). "Glauben Sie mir, die Eindrücke aus der Kindheit sind die kostbarste Gabe, die wir mit uns ins Leben bringen. Über Allan Pettersson und Södermalm". In Im Auftrag der Internationalen Allan-Pettersson-Gesellschaft von Michael Kube. Allan Pettersson Jahrbuch. 1990 (in German). Saarbrücken: Pfau Verlag. pp. 25–36. ISBN 3-89727-196-6. 
  • Barkefors, Laila (1994). "Allan Pettersson: der Jenny-Lind-Stipendiat in Paris 1939–40". In Im Auftrag der Internationalen Allan-Pettersson-Gesellschaft von Michael Kube. Allan Pettersson (1911–1980). Texte—Materialien—Analysen (in German). Hamburg: von Bockel Verlag. pp. 71–80. ISBN 3-928770-30-6. 
  • Barkefors, Laila (1995). Gallret och stjärnan. Allan Petterssons väg genom Barfotasånger till symfoni [The grating and the star. Allan Pettersson's path through "Barfotasånger" to symphony] (Ph.D.) (in Swedish). Gothenburg University. ISBN 91-85974-34-X. 
  • Barkefors, Laila (1999). Allan Pettersson: det brinner en sol inom oss—en tonsättares liv och verk (in Swedish). Stockholm: Sveriges Radios Förlag. ISBN 91-522-1822-8. 
  • Bergendal, Göran (1972). 33 svenska komponister (in Swedish). Stockholm: Lindblad. ISBN 91-32-40374-7. 
  • Caron, Jean-Luc (2006). Allan Pettersson: Destin, douleur et musique (in French). Lausanne: l’Age d’homme. ISBN 978-2-8251-3639-3. 
  • Doráti, Antal (1986). "Erinnerungen an Allan Pettersson". In Im Auftrag der Internationalen Allan-Pettersson-Gesellschaft von Michael Kube. Allan Pettersson Jahrbuch. 1986 (in German). Saarbrücken: Pfau Verlag. pp. 35–36. ISBN 3-89727-192-3. 
  • Fischer, Jens Malte (2013). "Con accento doloroso. Eine Annäherung an Allan Pettersson und an die 6. Sinfonie". In Tadday, Ulrich. Allan Pettersson, Musik-Konzepte (edition text+kritik) (in German). München: Richard Boorberg Verlag. pp. 40–52. ISBN 978-3-86916-275-1. 
  • Im Auftrag der Internationalen Allan-Pettersson-Gesellschaft von Michael Kube, ed. (1986) [1986-2004]. Allan Pettersson Jahrbuch (in German). Saarbrücken: Pfau Verlag. OCLC 186170367. 
  • Keuk, Alexander (2013). "Festhalten und Loslassen. Zur Konstituierung einer kompositorischen Handschrift in der Musik von Allan Pettersson". In Tadday, Ulrich. Allan Pettersson, Musik-Konzepte (edition text+kritik) (in German). München: Richard Boorberg Verlag. pp. 23–39. ISBN 978-3-86916-275-1. 
  • Krause, Andreas (1990). "Allan Petterssons Konzert für Violine und Streichquartett: Eine Studie zur Bartók Rezeption im Frühwerk". In Im Auftrag der Internationalen Allan-Pettersson-Gesellschaft von Michael Kube. Allan Pettersson Jahrbuch. 1990 (in German). Saarbrücken: Pfau Verlag. pp. 38–53. ISBN 3-89727-196-6. 
  • Kube, Michael, ed. (1994). Allan Pettersson (1911–1980): Texte—Materialien—Analysen (in German). Hamburg: Von Bockel Verlag. ISBN 3-928770-30-6. 
  • Kube, Michael (1996). Allan Pettersson Symphonie Nr. 8 (in German). Wilhelmshaven: Florian Noetzel. ISBN 3-7959-0708-X. 
  • Kube, Michael (2013). "Då behöver man distansen [Da braucht man Distanz]. Biografie und Werk zwischen Selbstinszenierung und Reflexion". In Tadday, Ulrich. Allan Pettersson, Musik-Konzepte (edition text+kritik) (in German). München: Richard Boorberg Verlag. pp. 5–22. ISBN 978-3-86916-275-1. 
  • Meyer, Andreas K. W. (1990). "Allan Pettersson Werkverzeichnis (revidierter systematischer und chronologischer Katalog)". In Im Auftrag der Internationalen Allan-Pettersson-Gesellschaft von Michael Kube. Allan Pettersson Jahrbuch. 1990 (in German). Saarbrücken: Pfau Verlag. pp. 66–73. ISBN 3-89727-196-6. 
  • Nicolin, Mechthild, ed. (1994). Musik von Allan Pettersson: Konzerte 1994/95 und ein Symposion (in German). Wuppertal: Sekretariat für gemeinsame Kulturarbeit in Nordrhein-Westfalen. OCLC 724739529. 
  • Ollefs, Christian (1989). "Epilog (Subjektive Begegnung mit einem Phänomen)". In Im Auftrag der Internationalen Allan-Pettersson-Gesellschaft von Michael Kube. Allan Pettersson Jahrbuch. 1989 (in German). Saarbrücken: Pfau Verlag. pp. 49–51. ISBN 3-89727-195-8. 
  • Rapoport, Paul (1978). "Chapter V: Allan Pettersson and his Symphony No. 2". Opus est. Six composers from Northern Europe (1st ed.). London: Kahn & Averill. pp. 109–132. ISBN 0-900707-48-8.  (1985). (2nd ed.). New York: Taplinger. ISBN 0-8008-5845-X.
  • Rapoport, Paul (1981). Allan Pettersson. Stockholm: Swedish Music Information Center. ISBN 91-85470-36-8. 

External links

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