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Gustav Allan Pettersson

Symphony #6 (1963-66)

"Someone once said that I compose out of self-pity. Like hell I do! (i helvete heller!) Do you think that I could have composed what I have composed, do you think that one can write a single note with life in it if one sits there and pities oneself? What I convey is not self-pity but pure information." - Allan Pettersson

With the mighty Sixth, Pettersson launched the series of metaphysical symphonies 6 - 9 that are the basis of his reputation. I see the Sixth as very similar in purpose to Beethoven's famous "Heiliegenstadt Testament": a cathartic expression of emotion in the wake of personal crisis. In Pettersson's case, it was the hospitalization and near death from rheumatoid arthritis and disabling side-effects that prompted this utterly personal and yet universal statement. At an hour in length, it is half-again as long as any of his symphonies written before it. It also marks a more harmonic turn in his compositions. If not exactly full of "big tunes", it is somewhat less demanding of the listener than the preceding symphonies. It was begun in 1963, but the completion was delayed by his illness until 1966. The Sixth was premiered on January 21, 1968, by Stig Westerberg conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

The only currently available recording of the Sixth is by Manfred Trojahn conducting the German Symphony Orchestra of Berlin on cpo (CPO 999124-2), recorded in May, 1993. The other was by Okku Kamu leading the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra on European CBS (CBS Masterworks 76553). This latter was recorded live at a performance on April 11, 1976, and some irritating coughs are left intact. Unfortunately, it is also a superior performance. Trojahn allows too many details to become overwhelming at the expense of the overall coherency, and at 60:38, he is over 7 minutes longer than Kamu's 53:20. I suppose that I should be grateful for ANY recording of the Sixth on CD, and Trojahn has his moments, but I urge the reader to try and obtain the Kamu.

Copyright © Mark Shanks, 1996