Björn Schildknecht (1905−1946)

Björn Albert Schildknecht, born on 7 June 1905 in Stockholm and died there on 10 July 1946, was a composer, arranger and orchestra conductor. His composional activities developed primarily within film and theatre music, however he also composed symphonic orchestral music, piano and chamber music, popular schlager music, songs and ballads. His symphony belongs to the more experimental symphonic works written in Sweden during the 1930s. The opera Giorgione is still waiting for its premier.

Life

Björn Schildknecht lived his whole life in Stockholm. His mother Anna (née Schildknecht) married the farm hand David Josef Martin Eriksson in Stockholm in 1904 and on 7 June 1905 their son Björn was born. In 1907 the couple divorced and Anna took back her maiden name, Schildknecht. Some years later she was remarried to Per Axel Wilhelm ‘Pelle’ Nordström.

Björn Schildknecht’s grandfather was the music publisher Albert Schildknecht, whose wife Lina was born with the name Salmson. The actress Maria Schildknecht (1881−1977) was Björn Schildknecht’s aunt. His childhood was filled with musical and theatrical interests and it seems that he become engaged with music at an early age – while also showing an interest in theatre and film.

Björn Schildknecht studied composition privately with Oskar Lindberg and counterpoint with, among others, Ernst Ellberg at the Kungliga Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music) during 1923−26. From 1926 to 1940 Björn Schildknecht received Sweden’s national composer’s grant. During the period 1929−34 he studied orchestration under Nils Grevillius, with whom he maintained a relationship that included several collaborations.

Works

During his close to twenty-year career Björn Schildknecht was a versatile and productive composer. He worked within most of the era’s genres from symphonic orchestral music to schlager, from theatre and radio theatre music to film music.

Incidental music

During the time periods 1929−34 and 1935−44 Björn Schildknecht was employed as the orchestra conductor at the Kungliga Dramatiska teatern (also called Dramaten – the Royal Dramatic Theatre) in Stockholm. While there he composed and arranged a number of theatre works including Stor-Klas och Lill-Klas (1930), Revisorn (1932) and Kronbruden (1944), all for Dramaten. In this context one can also mention his opera Giorgione that was never performed. For Helsinki’s Svenska teatern (a Swedish language theatre) he composed music for the production of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon in 1935.

Schildknecht also composed a number of ‘melodramas’ for the theatres that attracted a certain amount of attention at the time and were even recorded. These included Pan spelar (1926), Ranjana (1929), Dexippos (1932) and Chrysaëtos (1939). In addition he was an actor at Dramaten, playing ten minor roles during 1927−29, and during the same period he was employed as a composer for the entertainer Ernst Rolf’s 1929 revue.

Film music

Björn Schildknecht made limited, but important contributions within Swedish film composing. In addition to film music and popular schlager music for the long films, Säg det i toner (1929) and Den blomstertid, he created powerful orchestral music for two short films by Gösta Werner: Morgonväkt (1945) and Midvinterblot (1946). In the film music for Morgonväkt, which describes an awakening Stockholm, he blended elements of Swedish folk music with streaks of modernism. Midvinterblot, which was released during Schildknecht’s last year of life, received international attention as a controversial experimental film containing both blood and nudity. The pagan sacrifice was depicted in a naturalistic manner, shaped by Schildknecht’s music.

Chamber and orchestral music

If one important emphasis in Björn Schildknecht’s career was on theatre and film music, two other focal points can be found within chamber music and orchestral music. Of note are two string quartets and his only symphony – in G minor from 1937 – which attracted attention at the time. The symphony has four movements and reveals in its symphonic stylistic traits a relationship with Ture Rangström and Hugo Alfvén (especially in the latter’s second symphony), but includes an atypical instrumentation for a symphony orchestra, with organ, gramophone and a speaker system. One specific recording, ‘Polyfon 29500/Kirchengeläute’, has church bells playing in the finale, accompanied by organ. The symphony has been described by the musicologist Lennart Hedwall as a powerful orchestral piece that, in ‘an imaginative and almost visionary way,’ musically depicts a decisive event in the composer’s life.

Arrangements

Björn Schildknecht was often employed as an arranger. There are a relatively large number of contemporary recordings released with his arrangements of several of the time’s most popular genres, including film, theatre, radio, revues and schlager (sometimes adapted for various media and art forms). Together with Nils Grevillius he created the children’s song ‘Sjung med oss mamma’, and the two also jointly arranged Swedish folk melodies. Björn Schildknecht also arranged a number of the singer-songwriter, Evert Taube’s ballads for orchestra and for recording – for example ‘Kom i min famn’, ‘Havsörnsvals’ and ‘Fritiof och Carmencita’. As the author of texts and as a composer Schildknecht sometimes used the pseudonym ‘Schild’ and ‘Boy Grizzle’.

Songs, popular schlager and ballads

Several of Björn Schildknecht’s songs and ballads (also written under a pseudonym) have a pronounced schlager song character and were originally created for films. Some have had a long life within the Swedish repertoire of schlager songs, dance band music and gammeldans (typically schottisches, waltzes and hambos). One of them is ‘Jämtlandsjazzen’, which since its release has been recorded in many stylistically different versions including by: Ewert Granholm and Olle Johnnys dragspelsorkester (an accordion orchestra) (1944), singer Margareta Kjellberg (1952), the folk music group Andrew Walters spelmanslag (1953), popular singer Bertil Englund (1962), Sven-Ingvars dance band (1963), accordionist Roland Cedermark (1987) and the entertainers Östen med resten (1994).

A posthumous tribute and music event, ‘Björn Schildknecht in memoriam’, was organized in 1948.

Toivo Burlin © 2015
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Bibliography

Hedwall, Lennart: Den svenska symfonin, Stockholm: AWE/Gebers, 1983, pp. 327−328.
Malmberg, Helge: ‘Schildknecht, Björn’, in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 5, 1977, pp. 301−302.
Stjernholm, Emil: ‘Gösta Werners Midvinterblot och fyrtiotalets experimentfilmskultur’, Magasinet Walden, 2015.

Sources

Musik- och teaterbiblioteket.

Summary list of works

Opera (Giorgione), incidental music (melodramas: Pan spelar, Ranjana, Dexippos and Chrysaëtos, etc.), film music (4 films), 2 radio plays, orchestral music (symphony), chamber music (2 string quartets), piano music, vocal music (ca 20 songs and popular ballads), organ music.

Collected works

The following is a presentation of the composer’s works chronologically and in respective categories where the year of composition or publication is known. In those instances there is no year noted, the year is unknown.


Opera

Giorgione (Tor Hedberg), [never performed].

Incidental music
Pan spelar, melodrama (Emil Kleen), 1926.
Holländaren (August Strindberg), 1928.
Ouverture till Rolfs revy 1929, 1929.
Ranjana, melodram, 1929. [Recorded with Nils Grevillius, Kungliga Hovkapellet and Anders de Wahl 1929.]
Musik till Stor-Klas och Lill-Klas: Fairy play with songs and music in 7 tableaux, after old sagas by Gustaf af Geijerstam, 1930. Dramaten 1930, Göteborgs stadsteater 1940.
Revisorn, 1932. Dramaten.
Dexippos, melodrama (Viktor Rydberg), 1932.
Den italienska halmhatten, 1934, Stora teatern.
Frihetsfejden (Ernst Eklund), 1935. Skansen.
Agamemnon (Aischylos, trans. Emil Zilliacus), Dec. 1935. Svenska teatern, Helsingfors.
Chrysaëtos, melodrama (August Strindberg), 1939.
Kronbruden, 1944. Dramaten.

Film music
Hjärtan som brinna (comp. with Nils Grevillius), Hund och katt. Ur Säg det i toner (dir. J. Julius, Edvin Adolphson), 1929.
Måsö-hambo, Sång till Eva. Ur Den blomstertid ... (dir. Alf Sjöberg), 1940.
Morgonväkt (dir. Gösta Werner), 1945.
Midvinterblot (dir. Gösta Werner), 1946.

Radio music
Kronbruden (cir. Olof Molander), Radioteater premiere 15 November 1939.
Prinsessan och svennen, comic opera for radio, 1946.

Symphonies
Symfony G minor, 1937.

Other orchestral music
Andantino for english horn and chamber orchestra, 1946.
Berceuse elegiale.

Chamber music
Fiesco, Courande och gavotte [for clarinet, violin and lute], 1930.
Berceuse [for violin, cello and piano], 1944.
Fugerat förspel for woodwinds and french horn, 1946.
String quartet D minor.
Ballad från havet [poetry reading with string quartet].

Piano
Sonatina, 1921.
Pan spelar (melodrama), 1926 [piano reduction].
Aeolus, blås vind under vingar! Flygarmarsch, 1942.
Sonata A minor, 1946.
Amors triumf. Dans Skizz.
Aubade.
Gulle-Per (Molin–Schildknecht).
Fuga B-flat major.
Den italienska halmhatten [prologue, piano part].
Motto: Sådan ton har tradition.

Songs, schlagers and ballads
Kung Liljekonvalje (Gustaf Fröding), 1930.
Till Eva-Lisa − Vita Nuova (Berit Spong), Good Friday 1940.
Jämtlandsjazzen (Alf Sjöberg).
När alla stjärnor glimma. Tango (form: Den blomstertid), 1940.
Sången till Eva (from: Den blomstertid), 1940.
Klockarens sång. Vals (from: Den blomstertid), 1940.
Sicken en! Schottis (Boy Grizzle), 1944.
Sommarfantasi. Vals (Nils Ferlin), 1944.
Jungfrun i det gröna (Jödde i Göljaryd), 1944.
Får jag lämna några blommor. [Joined with Jungfrun...], 1944.
Det var om aftonen (Dan Andersson). Chronicle of Jämtland by Björn Schildknecht, 1944.
En tackvals i sjuksängen [melody], 1944.
Vårt vita hus i Fontainebleau (Staffan Tjerneld), 1944.
Två dikter av Bo Bergman: Serenade for voice, piano and lute, Du och jag, 1946.
En försommarlek, 1946.
Hallandshambo.
Herr Dardanell och hans upptåg på landet.
Hund och katt (from: Säg det i toner).
Hjärtan som brinna (comp. med Nils Grevillius).

Songs for voice and piano
Och här är dungen, 1913.
Visk mej mit navn (To Margit Ekengren), May 1921.
Hymn from the Swedish hymnal no. 70 [for voice and organ or piano], 1939.
Stillhet [for voice, guitar and piano], 1945.
Vårt vita hus.
När du ser på mej.
Sommarfantasi [for voice with accompaniment].
En liten amulett, Schildknecht−Flyckt.

Organ
Dröm på vägen, 1935.

Arrangements (a selection)
Dryckesballad, 1928.
Gökvalsen (men’s choir), 1936.
Tango i Nizza.
Visor (Anna-Lisa Frykman).
Ping-pong-vals.
En vårvisa (Thomas Morley).
En sjöman älskar havets våg.
Min älskade hon gick sig i min lustgård.
Svenska folk songs part 1, part 2 (Grevillius−Schildknecht).
Bellmaniana: Potpurri part 1−2 (Carl-Michael Bellman, Ragnar Hultén, Nils Grevillius, Björn Schildknecht).