Ingvar Wieslander (1917−1963)


Axel Otto Ingvar Wieslander (1917−1963) was born on 19 May 1917 in Jönköping and died on 29 April 1963 in Malmö. He grew up in Borås and belonged to a musical family – his father was a military music director – and he composed from childhood. After graduating from high school and completing his music studies, he became the orchestra leader and resident composer at the Malmö City Theatre. His path as a composer was greatly influenced by the needs of the theatre, but he helped broaden views regarding new trends as a board member of the Ars Nova organisation.

A life in Sweden – with a digression to Paris

Ingvar Wieslander was born on 19 May 1917 in Jönköping, however, the family moved to Borås, where early on the youngster’s fascination for music began to show itself. He played piano and violin and composed ‘a fearful amount.’ The composer disparaged these juvenile pieces using the words, ‘It is forgotten, buried and burned.’ Working independently as an 18-year old high schooler, Wieslander created a fantasy in F-sharp minor for piano and orchestra, which he performed with his father as conductor.

It was clear that Ingvar would go on to devote himself to a career in music. After high school graduation he continued a multifaceted education that included music theory with director musices, Sven E. Svensson, at Uppsala University, and private study in composition with Lars-Erik Larsson. In 1945 he completed his music teaching degree at the Kungliga Musikhögskolan (the Royal College of Music) where he studied conducting with Tor Mann. During the years 1944−47 he was part of the music scene in Sundbyberg as a teacher and leader for the city’s orchestra association. During 1947−48 Wieslander visited Paris, studying both composition with Tony Aubin and conducting with Eugène Bigot.

Upon his return to Sweden in 1949 Wieslander became the orchestra director for the Malmö Stadsteater (the Malmö City Theatre). He continued to be a supporter of the Malmö theatre for the rest of his life. During his final years with the theatre he served as choirmaster but began to suffer from a prolonged illness. Ingvar Wieslander died on 29 April 1963, before he had even reached 46 years of age.

Theatre music in its broadest sense

The theatre’s new home was inaugurated in 1944 when the Malmö Stadsteater was just a few years old as an institution. Wieslander’s time there coincided partly with the theatre’s first, and perhaps greatest period of blossoming, Ingmar Bergman’s era (1952−58). Bergman had a lively interest in music, asking for advice and collaborating with those who were knowledgeable about music within the theatre. Wieslander had the capacity to fill that role. As the house orchestra leader he had to continually deliver musical compositions of all kinds: musical interludes for spoken-word plays, arrangements and orchestrations of operettas and ballet music, and more. Occasionally such theatre music could be made into freestanding musical suites. Music for settings of Shakespearian plays such as The Winter's Tale and As You Like It, and the ballets Nordisk saga and Skymningslekar were particularly appropriate for this purpose.

Wieslander also composed opera. The radio opera, Fröknarna i parken, with text by Erland Josephson has been characterised as a finely tuned piece of intimate dramatic music; in terms of genre, it has a special status. He composed the one-act comic chamber opera, Soppa på en spik (preliminarily called Skålknalle), for the Malmö Stadsteater. The piece had its premiere at the theatre on 13 February 1959 within a mixed program typical for the organization – an evening at the theatre often comprised a ballet and a short opera. The head of the theatre, Lars-Levi Laestadius, wrote the libretto himself, Bengt Peterson directed the piece and the cast was made up of well-known names from the house ensemble (Nils Bäckström, Astri Herseth, Arne Hasselblad, Margaretha Meyerson, Harriet Selin and Olav Gerthel). In an article in the program, Laestadius describes how the play came about: He wrote a story that began to resemble an opera libretto and asked the orchestra leader, ‘[…] whether he thought it would be fun to do music to it […]. He thought so – now, he generally very much likes to create music, and so we got going.’

Nordisk saga is a retelling of the old saga about the river being who, with his demonic fiddle, lures people into the rapids.

Skymningslekar was presented with the following text in the program: ‘A ballet in four tableaus by Carl-Gustaf Kruuse and Ingmar Bergman.’ Wieslander’s music was intended to reflect four aspects: the romance of the medieval period, the 1700s as heard in the songs of Carl Michael Bellman, broadside ballads and university student life – all of which invited an elegant pastiche-like entertainment. The Danish ballet expert, Allan Fridericia, called Skymningslekar, ‘A highpoint in the life of Swedish ballet during the 1950s.’ Unfortunately there was no mention of the music. It should be added that theatre music in general could be characterised by compromises and limitations on the creative imagination.

As for purely functional music one can name Wieslander’s single adventure into the film industry, Kenne Fant’s Prästen i Uddarbo, from Axel Hambraeus’ novel, with Max von Sydow in the title role. Wieslander’s contribution was nothing innovative, but rather was confined to a brainstorm of ideas and an arrangement of religious revival songs. Ingmar Bergman was not involved in the production of the film; he did however take part in discussions surrounding it.

With a foothold in tradition – toward new horizons

The stylistic starting point for Wieslander’s private composing consists of neoclassicism in the spirit of Hindemith, as well as the composer’s background as a driven jazz pianist. In several of his mature works from the 1950s and 1960s, he achieved a personal style of twelve-tone technique. However, much like others in this modernist transitional generation, he never lost his feel for creating a singable melody that was rooted in the audience-friendly neo-romanticism. One is reminded of his composition teacher, Lars-Erik Larsson. Wieslander’s last completed composition was a concert piece for two pianos and orchestra, with a title typical for the time, Mutazioni. This was the only representative piece from his collected works that had the honour of being recorded onto a long-play record.

Hans Åstrand, Wieslander’s close working partner around efforts to create a platform for new music in Malmö, emphasises that Wieslander was a very skilled and highly respected by those he worked with. In his artistic bag Wieslander had a solid traditional music education and a higher than usual technical insight and overview: ‘he had it inside of him, he understood scores,’ was Hans Åstrand’s opinion. Wieslander kept his ears open for current trends, which included visiting the International Society for Contemporary Music’s annual World Music Days festivals. In an inspired connection to the festival held in Cologne in 1960, Malmö’s Ars Nova organization was founded with other backers including the director, Folke Abenius, and composer and conductor, Ulf Björlin, as well as Åstrand. Wieslander served as the president during 1960−63 and was able to experience a couple of chamber music premiers within the association’s framework.

It goes without saying that Wieslander as the theatre’s house composer exhibits a diversity of styles and approaches. His personal individuality, however, comes to light in the more demanding compositions. This includes, of course, constellations such as string quartets and symphonies. Lennart Hedwall, who has closely studied Swedish symphony, has reservations about the earlier of the six works, however he attaches great importance to Wieslander’s last two in the genre. About those formulations he admits as well: no. 5, Sinfonia da camera, displays a ‘pleasant chamber music-like’ structure, has ‘a delicate scherzo part,’ and the finale has ‘a jig-like liveliness, that has an original swinging five-measure moderato in the middle.’ The single-movement Sinfonia ecloga culminates in a musical setting of Karin Boye’s poem, ‘Nattskärran’, which ‘[…] rests like a noble recitative in warm, round tones.’ In an overall judgement of the piece he says, ‘There is a saturation of content that seems to be the result of a clearer sense of purpose in the actual compositional process.’

The string quartets no. 3 and no. 4 were interpreted by the Malmö-based Konvicka Quartet. Swedish Radio transmitted the premiers in 1957, respectively 1959. The major works in cantata form have not, on the whole, awakened any lasting interest. However, the solo songs should gain some interest and within the choral works one can certainly find gems with repertoire potential to be had – perhaps a little bit of musical heritage worth reviving?

Carlhåkan Larsén © 2016
trans. Jill Ann Johnson


Connor, Herbert: Svensk musik, vol. 2, Från Midsommarvaka till Aniara, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1977.
Hedwall, Lennart: Den svenska symfonin, Stockholm: AWE/Geber, 1983.
Jonsson, Leif & Åstrand, Hans (eds): Musiken i Sverige, vol. 4, Konstmusik, folkmusik, populärmusik 1920−1990, Stockholm: Fischer & Co, 1994.
Gustafsson, Ragnar (ed.): Thalia 25: Ett kvartsekel med Malmö stadsteater. Sydsvenska Dagbladets årsbok 1970, Malmö: Sydsvenska Dagbladet, 1969.
: Musik i Skåne. Sydsvenska Dagbladets årsbok 1971, Malmö, 1971.
Palmqvist, Bertil: Malmöbaletten, Malmö: Malmö stadsteater, 1985.
Lundberg, Kjell: ‘En spelman och drömmare’, Borås Tidning, 25/1 1972.
Steene, Birgitta: Ingmar Bergman. A Reference Guide, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005.
Swedish Composers of the 20th Century
, Stockholm: Svensk musik/Swedish Music Information Center, 1958.
Åstrand, Hans: ‘Vid sidan av måndagsgruppen’, Musikrevy, vol. 12, no. 8, 1957, pp. 295−298.
−−−: ‘Ingvar Wieslanders Sinfonia da camera’, Nutida Musik, no. 4, 1962/63.
−−−: ‘Wieslander, Ingvar’, in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, Stockholm: Sohlman, 1977, p. 806.

Summary list of works

2 operas (Fröknarna i parken, Soppa på en spik), 2 ballets (Nordisk saga, Skymningslekar), theatre music (original music and arrangements for some 30 productions), film music (Prästen i Uddarbo), orchestral works (6 symphonies, suites from theatre music, overtures, etc.), works for solo instrument and orchestra (fantasy for piano and orchestra, Att söka sin genius, suite for flute and orchestra, Mutazioni per due pianoforti ed orchestra, nocturne for violin and small orchestra), vocal works with orchestra (Bäckens sång, De fyra årstiderna, Sinfonia ecloga, Som vinden), chamber music (5 string quartets), organ works (Passacaglia och fuga), songs (6 songs for voice and piano/organ), choral music (5 songs for mixed choir a capella, Jag går en stig for mixed choir and string quartet).

Collected works

Fröknarna i parken, chamber opera (E. Josephson), 1959. Broadcast on radio. [The composer arranged three intermission acts separately.]
Soppa på en spik, comic opera (L.-L.Laestadius), 1958−59. Premiered Malmö stadsteater, 13 February 1959. [The pieces is called Skålknallen in the sheet music. The overture was premiered separately by Malmö konserthusstiftelses orchestra, conductor: Sten-Åke Axelson, 7 February 1959.]

Nordisk saga, ballet in three tableaus by C.-G. Kruuse, 1950. Premiered 27 October 1950, Malmö stadsteater, conductor: the composer. [The music for this ballet is connected to material from the orchestral suite Tre danser, 1953: 1. Spelmannen, 2. Flickan och spelmannen, 3. Spelmannen och näcken, and Epilog.]
Skymningslekar, ballet in four tableaus by C.-G. Kruuse and I. Bergman, 1954. Premiered 22 October 1954, Malmö stadsteater, conductor: the composer. [The ballet music was used by the composer in two suites the same year.]

Incidental and ballet music
Wieslander contributed his own works and arrangements for a series of productions. Some examples are: Konungen (P. Lagerkvist), 1950; Kronbruden (A. Strindberg), 1952, Erik XIV (the same), 1956 och Ett drömspel (the same), 1959; Peer Gynt (H. Ibsen), 1957; As You Like It (W. Shakespeare), 1953, and Twelfth Night (the same) 1955; The Good Person of Szechwan (B. Brecht), 1953; Sagan (Hj. Bergman), 1958. In addition he worked on a series of operettas and musical plays and ballet scores. Much of the music is lost, or could not be found in the archive at Malmö stadsteater/Malmö Opera nor at STIM.

Film music
Prästen i Uddarbo, 1957. Based on the novel by Axel Hambraeus. Dir: Kenne Fant. Script: Rune Lindström and Kenne Fant. Photography: Max Wilén. In the starring role: Max von Sydow.

Vocal works with orchestra
Bäckens sång (B. Peterson). Unknown date of composition.
De fyra årstiderna, four songs for soprano and orchestra (G.M. Silfverstolpe), 1959. 1. Vinter, 2. Folkvisenatt, 3. Bålet, 4. Julväntan.
Som vinden, For solo voice and string orchestra/piano (P. Stenstadsvold), 1956. Premiered 26 July 1962, Linnéträdgårdens orangeri, Uppsala. Dorothy Irwing, soprano, Lars Fjellstedt, piano.
Sinfonia ecloga, for soprano, mixed choir and orchestra, 1962. Premiered 9 April 1963, Malmö Symphony Orchestra, conductor: Herbert Blomstedt.

Symphony no. 1 (retracted).
Symphony no. 2 D major, 1951.
[Symphony no. 3] Sinfonia piccola, 1953.
[Symphony no. 4] Sinfonia notturna, 1954.
[Symphony no. 5] Sinfonia seria, 1956. Premiered Sveriges radio, Gothenburg Radio Orchestra, conductor: the composer.
Sinfonia da camera, 1962. Premiered 22 January 1963, Sveriges Radio, The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conductor: Sixten Eckerberg.

Other orchestral works
Divertimento, for string orchestra, 1952?
Två poem, for string orchestra, 1953.
Svit [As You Like It], 1954. Premiered 1 July 1957, Norrköping, Norrköpings orkesterförening, conductor: the composer.
Romanza by Irly Morty, 1956. Pseudonym for Ingvar Wieslander.
Serenade by Irly Morty, 1956. See above.
Liten svit, for chamber orchestra. Premiered 1 July 1957 Norrköping, conductor: the composer.
Nocturne for violin and a small orchestra, 1957.
Berceuse, for string orchestra. Published by Busch. Dedicated to ‘Missan’.
Concerto for string orchestra, 1961. Premiered 14 November 1961, Malmö konserthusstiftelse, conductor: Rolf Agop.
Dans i midsommartid: Rapsodi, 1961. Premiered 7 June 1962. Sveriges Radio, The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Stig Rybrant.
Fantasia rustica, for orchestra, 1960-talet?
Pavane över ett tema av Cole Porter. [The composer was involved in two performances of Cole Porter pieces at Malmö stadsteater, Kiss me Kate, 1951, and Silk Stockings, 1957.]
Overtura Giocosa, for chamber orchestra, 1958. Premiered 1 February 1958, Malmö stadsteater, Konserthusstiftelsens orchestra, conductor: Sten-Åke Axelson.
Tre stycken for orchestra, no date.
Svit [from En vintersaga], 1959 or later.
Två danser [from En vintersaga], 1959 or later.
Intrada seria: Uvertyr, 1961. Premiered 20 February 1962, Malmö Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: C.-A. Vogt
Under stjärnorna/Unter den Sternen, for string orchestra, 1962. Published by Busch.

Military orchestra
Ryavallen: Marsch, 1941. Premiered Borås. Conductor: Nils Wieslander.

Chamber music
String quartet no. 1, 1948.
String quartet no. 2, 1953.
String quartet no. 3, 1957. Premiered 4 November 1957, Malmö, Sveriges Radio, Konvickakvartetten.
String quartet no. 4, 1958. Premiered 13 October 1959, Malmö, Sveriges  Radio, Konvickakvartetten.
String quartet no. 5, 1961. Premiered 1 April 1962, Malmö, Salomon Smiths kammarmusikförening.
Missologi. Liten svit, 1962. For two clarinets and two bassoons, or piano. 1. Vals, 2. Visa, 3. Menuett, 4. Polka.

Organ music
Passacaglia and Fugue, 1961. Premiered 25 January 1962, Malmö Sankt Petri Church. Carl Bengtsson, organ.

Bröllopspsalm (anon.), for voice and organ.
Kärlekens visa (P. Lagerkvist), for voice and piano, or small orchestra.
Nattankar (E.J. Stagnelius), for voice and piano.
Trädens svar (A. Nyman), for voice and piano.
Två sånger (P.E. Wahlund), for voice and piano, 1963. Published by Edition Suecia. 1. Liten visa, 2. Budskap.

Choral music
Nattviol (E. Lindqvist), for mixed choir, 1953.
Kunde jag följa dig (K. Boye), for mixed choir, 1955. Gehrmans körbibliotek 447, 1973.
Moln (K. Boye), for mixed choir, 1956. Gehrmans körbibliotek 446.
Integer vitae (Horatius), 1957.
Jag går en stig (G.M. Silfverstolpe), for mixed choir and string quartet, 1960. Premiered 5 June 1961. Malmö, Sveriges Radio; Kammarkören –53, Konvickakvartetten.
En stillhet vidgades (K. Boye), for mixed choir with solo soprano, 1960. Premiered 5 June 1961. Sveriges Radio, Malmö. Kammarkören –53. Soloist: Ethel Mårtensson.
Stjärnorna (E. Södergran), no date SK.

Works by Ingvar Wieslander

This is not a complete list of works. The following works are those that have been inventoried so far.

Number of works: 1