Eric Bengtson (1897−1948)

Orchestra leader and composer Eric Harald Bengtson was born on 31 July 1897 in Norra Vram, Bjuv’s parish in Skåne, and died in Gävle on 6 April 1948. He was the orchestra leader at the Svensk Filmindustri and composed music for a large number of Swedish films. From 1939 until his death he led the Gävle Symphony Orchestra. He was also the founder of the National Museum’s midnight concerts in Stockholm, which he ran from 1936 to 1946.

Life

From military music to the conservatory

At the age of fifteen Eric Bengtson was employed by Småland’s Hussar Regiment’s band where he, according to common praxis, was first trained as a drummer. Soon he expanded his studies to include several wind instruments and violin; it was also common practice for prospective military musicians to learn both wind and string instruments. Five years later in 1917, he applied for and was admitted to the Kungliga Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music) in Stockholm, where he studied until 1922. During his years at the conservatory he studied harmony, counterpoint, composition and orchestral conducting – among his teachers were some of the era’s most well-known music personalities, such as Ernst Ellberg and Olallo Morales.

Academic years out in Europe

During his time as a student Eric Bengtson had the opportunity to occasionally conduct a symphony orchestra, which awakened his great interest in conducting. At the same time he realised that it would require a vigorous personal investment in both practical and theoretic studies in order to have a conducting career. Consequently, and despite limited finances, in the beginning of 1922 he travelled abroad to continue his studies. His first stop was Vienna where he took private lessons in music theory from the composer Egon Wellesz, one of the early modernists who, together with Anton Webern and Alban Berg, were part of the core group of Arnold Schönberg’s students. At the same time Bengtson also attended open music history lectures that were organised by the University of Vienna.

One year later, in the beginning of 1923, he made his way to Paris and was accepted as a student of Charles Koechlin, then an acclaimed composer and music theorist. Koechlin had studied under Gabriel Fauré and his classmates and friends included Maurice Ravel and Jean Roger-Ducasse. In the autumn of the same year Bengtson received a Vienna scholarship that the city of Vienna had presented to Sweden in gratitude for the support Sweden gave to Austria during WWI. He could now enrol as a student at University of Vienna where he had previously attended the open music theory lectures. He remained in Vienna until the autumn of 1926 when he moved to Berlin to continue his studies.

Return to Sweden

Eric Bengtson returned to Sweden in the spring of 1927, settling in Stockholm. He immediately received a job as a music theory teacher at Kerstin Strömberg’s music school, founded in 1924. Upon Strömberg’s death in 1929, Eric Bengtson and two other teachers, Felix Saul and Gurli Krüger, took over the school. They reorganised the school calling it Stockholms privata konservatorium (Stockholm’s private conservatory) and ran it as a private partnership. Felix Saul was the director of the school until his death in 1942. In 1960, the school became a part of Tjänstemännens bildningsverksamhet (an educational institution for civil servants) under the name Stockholms konservatorium (Stockholm’s conservatory).

Conductor and prolific film composer

In December of 1927 Eric Bengtson took the new position of music director at the Svensk Filmindustri (the Swedish film industry) that was housed in the newly built movie theatre Göta Lejon in Stockholm. Shortly thereafter he founded the Svensk Filmindustri’s orchestra, commonly called the SF-orkestern, which he led until 1939. Under his leadership the orchestra was responsible for the music for a large number of films that were produced by the Svensk Filmindustri. Eric Bengtson wrote the music himself for over sixty films during his years there, including the classic films, En kvinnas ansikte (A Woman’s Face), Anderssonskans Kalle and Pensionat Paradiset (together with Jules Sylvain).

Some of the era’s largest film stars, including Ingrid Bergman, Thor Modéen, Edvard Persson and Gustav Molander took part in many of the films that Bengtson composed the music for. Eric Bengtson was himself in a few films, for example, För hennes skull (1930) with Gösta Ekman (the elder) and Inga Tidblad as well as Hans livs match (1932) with Sigurd Wallén and Birgit Tengroth – always playing the role of an orchestra leader. When Bengtson performed as the conductor with the SF-orkestern, he often used the pseudonym Pierre Leblanc.

Debut with the Concert society

In October of 1927, only a few months before he was employed by the Svensk Filmindustri, he made his conducting debut with the Stockholms Konsertförenings orkester (the Stockholm Concert Society’s orchestra) – known today as the Kungliga filharmoniska orkestern (the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra). The program included Mozart’s overture to La clemenza di Tito, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s Symphony no. 3 ‘Scottish’, Berlioz’ Le Corsaire and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in B-flat minor with Knut Brodin as the soloist. Bengtson was a guest conductor at the Stockholms Konsertförening with some regularity until 1946.

Eric Bengtson, together with the director of the National Museum in Stockholm, Axel Gauffin, founded the Midnight concerts in 1936, which took place during the summertime on the museum’s premises. The concerts were aimed specifically at foreign visitors but also attracted a large audience from Stockholm. Their explicit strategy was to not only play the well-known classical repertoire but also to present Swedish works. In an interview in August 1938 for the newspaper Nya Dagligt Allehanda, Bengtson says that during the season’s six concerts twenty-five Swedish works were performed and were well received by the audiences.

During one period of time Eric Bengtson explored the idea of a new art form that would combine music and gymnastics. ‘It is thus an attempt to express the rhythm and essence of gymnastics in the music and not have the gymnastics following the music’, he explained in an interview in 1936. He had just then returned to Sweden after having been at the Olympic Games in Berlin where he appeared in an exhibition together with a German orchestra and Swedish dancers. He had composed the music himself. The Olympic stadium was packed and the then Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, was in the audience.

Significance of his work in Gävle

In 1939 Bengtson succeeded Sten Frykberg as the principle conductor for the Gävle symfoniorkester (Gävle Symphony Orchestra). In order for him to accept the position he required that the orchestra be expanded by seven members, however he had to settle for three new violinists. The orchestra then consisted of 30 people.

Eric Bengtson made a great contribution to the musical life in Gävle. One of his first acts was to create the Gefleborgs läns orkesterförenings symfonikör (the Gävleborg county’s orchestra society’s symphony choir), which meant a great deal for the development of the repertoire. The first work which the orchestra and choir performed was Kurt Atterberg’s cantata, Järnbäraland. Bengtson also had a strong commitment to the musicians’ terms of employment and lobbied for them to receive a salary during the whole year instead of just seven months.

Eric Bengtson’s manner was quite intense and he was jokingly called Gävle’s Toscanini. Public music education was also one his great passions and he worked enthusiastically to attract a younger audience to the Gävle symfoniorkester’s concerts. He is also known for his commitment to the Gävle composer Bo Linde (1933−1970), for whom Eric Bengtson was an important mentor. Besides the fact that Linde could come and go as he pleased to the Gävle symfoniorkester’s rehearsals, he also – in any case, according to Linde himself – was given study books by Bengtson, ‘first Bergenson’s and then Höffding’s harmony lesson books and at the same time the Grundlagen des mehrstimmigen Satzes by Wilhelm Klatte and Hermann Grabner’s Allgemeine Musiklehre’.

Eric Bengtson was active up until his death in Gävle in 1948 at only 51 years of age. He left behind his wife, Göta whom he married in 1924 and their two daughters, Ulla-Britta (b. 1928) and Karin Monica (b. 1944).

Works

The music which Eric Bengtson himself composed for many films often had the function, above all during the opening credits, of reinforcing the film’s theme and atmosphere. Since many of the films were comedies, much of Bengtson’s music consistently has a high-spirited and carefree character. Certain dramatic elements can be discerned in the music to En kvinnas ansikte where one intensive and tension-building theme is contrasted with a romantically pleasing melody line. Since the archive of the Svensk Filmindustri has, on two occasions been destroyed – in 1942 by a fire and in 1974 by flooding – neither recordings nor musical notation from his time there exist.

Göran Persson © 2016
trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Bibliography

‘Eric Bengtson’, in: Vem är det: Svensk biografisk handbok 1943, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1942.
Lindfors, Per: ‘Eric Bengtsson’, in: Svenska Män och Kvinnor, vol. 1, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1942, p. 210.
Wallner, Bo: ‘Eric Bengtson’, in: Sohlmans Musiklexikon, vol. 1, Stockholm: Sohlman, 1975, p. 402.

Summary list of works

Film music (65 films with original music, including En kvinnas ansikte, Anderssonskans Kalle, Pensionat Paradiset, 27 films with arrangements).

Collected works

Films with original music by Eric Bengtson
Kronans kavaljerer (1930).
Fridas visor (1930).
Röda dagen (1931).
Gamla Stan (1931).
Vi som går köksvägen (1932).
Skåne i bild och dikt, musik och sång (1932).
Landskamp (1932).
Kärlek och kassabrist (1932).
Kronans rallare (1932).
Vi som går kjøkkenveien (1933).
Två man om en änka (1933).
Pettersson & Bendel (1933).
Hälsingar (1933).
Bomans pojke (1933).
Augustas lilla felsteg (1933).
Uppsagd (1934).
Simon i Backabo (1934).
Kungliga Johansson (1934).
Karl Fredrik regerar (1934).
Herrar i storm och herrar i krona (1934).
Arbete! (1934).
Anderssonskans Kalle (1934).
Västerhavets män (1935).
Valborgsmässoafton (1935).
Ungkarlspappan (1935).
På sommarstråt ovan polcirkeln (1935).
Munkbrogreven (1935).
Flickornas Alfred (1935).
Ett minne från Tullgarn (1935).
En nyårsdag om våren (1935).
500 år (1935).
Vi har melodin (1936).
Solliden (1936).
På Solsidan (1936).
Längtan (1936).
Lindkvist och Lundkvist (1936).
Johan Ulfstjerna (1936).
Igloo (1936).
Familjens hemlighet (1936).
Annonsera! (1936).
33.333 (1936).
Ryska snuvan (1937).
Pensionat Paradiset (1937).
Pappa får påökt (1937).
Konflikt (1937).
John Ericsson − segraren vid Hampton Roads (1937).
I kanot till huvudjägarnas land (1937).
Två år i varje klass (1938).
Styrman Karlssons flammor (1938).
Rytmer i sommarsol (1938).
Riddarholmen (1938).
Promenaden genom Hollywood (1938).
Med folket för fosterlandet (1938).
Landet du skall värna (1938).
Knut löser knuten (1938).
Fram för framgång (1938).
En kvinnas ansikte (1938).
Dollar (1938).
Den stora kärleken (1938).
Blixt och dunder (1938).
Mot nya tider (1939).
Följ med till M.F.A. (1939).
En enda natt (1939).
Jag är eld och luft (1944).
Vildhussen (1996) (sic!).

Films with music arranged by Eric Bengtson
Gösta Berlings saga/del I (1924).
Svarte Rudolf (1928).
Norrlänningar (1930).
För hennes skull (1930).
Fridas visor (1930).
Södermanland (1931).
Röda dagen (1931).
En natt (1931).
Dantes mysterier (1931).
Vi som går köksvägen (1932).
Pojkarna på Storholmen (1932).
Vi som går kjøkkenveien (1933).
Sång under segel (1934).
Smålänningar (1935).
Fästet som aldrig föll (1935).
Vi far till London (1936).
Samvetsömma Adolf (1936).
Annonsera! (1936).
John Ericsson − segraren vid Hampton Roads (1937).
I fosterlandets tjänst (1937).
Älven (1938).
Styrman Karlssons flammor (1938).
Solens och vindarnas ö (1938).
Sockerskrinet (1938).
Knut löser knuten (1938).
Figurligt talat (1938).
Mot nya tider (1939).










 


Works by Eric Bengtson

There are no works by the composer registered