Benjamin Staern (1978-)

Through Purgatory to Paradise: (Symphony No. 2)


1. Isolation
2. Struggling through the Tunnel (Scherzo)
3. Confronting the past (Adagio)
4. Journey to Paradise

  • Year of composition: 2019-22
  • Work category: Symphony
  • Dedication: Cathrine, Julie og Amalie Winnes
  • First performed: 7 april 2022, Konserthuset, Kungliga Filharmonikerna, Cathrine Winnes
  • Duration: Approx. 25-30 min
  • Detailed duration: 26


3*3*3*3* 4331 14 11, str.

Location for score and part material

Gehrmans Musikförlag AB

Description of work

Ett fyrsatsigt verk där alla satser framförs utan avbrott.


Work comment

The basic ideas for Benjamin Staern's Symphony No. 2 were born from Lili Boulanger's orchestral work D'un soir triste. The incentive was an episode about sisters Nadia and Lili Boulanger in the series She composes like a man with conductor Cathrine Winnes as host. But during the pandemic, work on the symphony took a new direction. The music was increasingly shaped
a reflection on our time with Corona, the digital revolution, times of crisis and total silence. Two literary works became another important starting point: Dante's The Divine Comedy with the episode about the road through purgatory to paradise, and Boccaccio's Decamerone where the teenagers are quarantined outside Florence during the plague and read to each other.
The symphony is also a stylistic turning point. "After writing very massively orchestrally for ten years, I now wanted to compose more skirt and chamber music with a focus on melody," says Benjamin Staern. He has also used certain names and keywords that are coded in the music, including Lili est mort, (Lili is dead), Paris, Stockholm, Kris and Corona which form melodic material.

The first movement, Isolation, begins with a high note
– a free transfer from Boulanger's D'un soir triste. The sentence is slow and thoughtful. Clear sounds from high strings, vibraphone, carillon, celesta, harp and solo performances from oboe and violin shape the isolation and emptiness.

The second movement, Struggling Through the Tunnel,
is a scherzo about dragging oneself towards the light
in the tunnel, a kind of inner utopia about the haunting Paradise.

The third movement, Confronting the Past, leads with descending scales and quarter tones down to the abyss. After reaching the bottom,
everything turns up again and the music reaches a peak.

The fourth and final movement, Journey to Paradise, where natural tones symbolize catharsis, the purification. It all ends with a hollowed-out sound in the orchestra that echoes the initial high note of the first movement.

The symphony is dedicated to Cathrine Winnes and her daughters Julie and Amalie.