Bo Wallner

Captain of Swedish musicology and author of a magnum opus on Stenhammar
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Bo Wallner was a captain of Swedish musicology and a towering figure in Swedish intellectual life. Any music-lover with a CD of Swedish music will almost certainly have read some of Wallner's prodigious output: for decades it seemed almost axiomatic that any recording of Swedish classical music would come with a text by Wallner.

Bo Wallner, musicologist: born Lidköping, Sweden 15 June 1923; married 1949 Britta Schönning (one daughter); died Nacka, Sweden 17 November 2004.

Bo Wallner was a captain of Swedish musicology and a towering figure in Swedish intellectual life. Any music-lover with a CD of Swedish music will almost certainly have read some of Wallner's prodigious output: for decades it seemed almost axiomatic that any recording of Swedish classical music would come with a text by Wallner.

After an impoverished childhood (his father died at an early age) which left him with lifelong socialist convictions, Wallner first trained as a cellist but put the instrument aside to study musicology, with Carl Allan Moberg at the University of Uppsala. He worked as a newspaper critic but was soon active as a promoter of new music - as president of Fylkingen, an independent society for new music, and editor of the periodical Nutida Musik ("Contemporary Music").

From 1956 until 1974, he was an adviser to Swedish Radio. Per Skans, a producer there, likened the effect of his insistent passion for contemporary music to that of William Glock at the BBC:

I am well aware that he was, unlike Glock, not the Head of Department; sometimes, however, we who were working there won-

dered whether he really was aware of this, too. His words, especially on repertoire distribution between the centuries, tended to be (and maybe were intended to be) rather imperative, and it is certain that we broadcast more avant-gardist music with Wallner than we would have had without him.

Skans felt that Wallner's influence led to the relative neglect of non-modernist contemporary composers (another parallel with Glock). But he had proof of Wallner's open-mindedness in the form of

the one and only letter that I ever received from Bo. It was a hand-written praise of a broadcast that I had done on the " Mathis der Maler" crisis in Germany in 1934 [when Hindemith's opera was banned by the Nazis]; Bo urged me to do more similar broadcasts in the future.

Wallner, said Skans, evidently

enjoyed music from various stylistic periods. And he also enjoyed it when people presented different opinions, provided that they were honest. This was one of his most important properties, maybe the best.

His academic career began in 1962, with an appointment as a lecturer at the Stockholm Conservatory; a professorship followed in 1970. Meanwhile, he was producing a constant stream of writing - his prose itself displaying a natural musicality - on Swedish composers, among them Romantic composers like Wilhelm Stenhammar, the leading Swedish late Romantic, a friend of Sibelius and Nielsen. He also wrote about the Danes Carl Nielsen and the eccentric Rued Langgaard, whom he memorably described as an "ecstatic outsider". But he was especially occupied by the leading figures of Swedish music of his own day - Karl-Birger Blomdahl, Ingvar Lidholm, Lars-Erik Larsson, Sven-Erik Bäck and Hilding Rosenberg.

Those essays led in 1968 to his encyclopaedic Vår tids musik i Norden: från 20-tal till 60-tal ("Music of Our Time in the North: from the 1920s to the 1960s") which, in the words of Robert Layton, Britain's leading authority on Nordic music, "showed an imposing command of the Scandinavian scene and an impressive objectivity".

Wallner's most monumental publication was to come in 1991: Wilhelm Stenhammar och hans tid ("Wilhelm Stenhammar and his Time"), almost 1,900 pages in length, over three volumes; it examines Stenhammar's music in exhaustive detail. Unsurprisingly, this massive labour of love has not yet found an English-language publisher.

Martin Anderson

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