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Werle, Lars Johan


(b Gävle, 23 June 1926). Swedish composer. During his school years he taught himself to play the piano and led a jazz band. He studied musicology with Moberg at Uppsala University (1948–51), also singing in the Bel Canto choir and taking lessons in counterpoint with Bäck. In 1958 he was appointed a music producer for Swedish radio. With the advice of Lidholm he wrote his first work, Pentagram for string quartet, a rigorously serial composition; it won two Gaudeamus Foundation prizes in 1960. In his next piece, the Sinfonia da camera, he broke away from serialism, and he went on to complete his first opera, Drömmen om Thérèse(‘Dream about Thérèse’). By seating the audience around an arena stage, with the small orchestra in groups behind it, Werle was able to generate a great sense of public involvement; and the opera was dramatically innovatory in its use of recorded material, making it possible for realistic action to be combined with interior monologues. The piece has been successfully performed many times in Sweden and abroad (it reached the Edinburgh Festival in 1974), and it gained for Werle the Nordic Council Music Prize in 1970. Werle continued to use flashback techniques, the use of collages and widely varying types of music in his next opera Resan (‘The Journey’), commissioned by the Hamburg Staatsoper, in which the journey is one through mental hell. Tintomara, his third opera, is a lyrical mystery play around the murder of Gustavus III; the première of this sensitive, subtly shaded work was given on the bicentenary of the Stockholm Opera House. The subject of the chamber opera Medusan och djävulen (‘Medusa and the Devil’) is the power of breakdowns and paralysis. Werle uses his art in the struggle against warfare and pollution, as is exemplified in his later operas, such as the fables Flower Power and Animalen (‘The Animal Congress’) and Gudars skymning (‘Twilight of the Gods’), a burlesque on modern secularization, and Äppelkriget (‘The Apple War’); this is also true of the cantata Ännu sjunger valarna (‘Still the Whales Are Singing’) and the orchestral Vaggsång för jorden (‘Lullaby for the Earth’). In En midsommarnattsdröm(‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’), which lies somewhere between opera and musical, Werle alternates between a traditional operatic style and jazz and rock. Leonardo da Vinci’s life is depicted in Lionardo, in which the artist is confronted by horrors awakened by his pioneering weapon designs. In Tavlan (‘The Painting’), one of Velazquez’s most famous pictures, Las meninas, is brought to life on stage. The colourful, expressive style of the operas is matched in Werle’s orchestral and vocal works. His Canzone 126 di Francesco Petrarca is in a spontaneous modern manner, but with Monteverdian madrigal qualities; in Nautical Preludes, against a backcloth of ocean, ports and maritime life, he created a rich fantasy, culminating in a violent storm.

WORKS


(selective list)

Operas: Drömmen om Thérèse [Dream about Thérèse] (2, L. Runsten, after E. Zola: Pour une nuit d’amour), 1960–64; Resan [The Journey] (2, Runsten, after P.C. Jersild: Till varmare länder), completed 1969; Tintomara (3, L. Söderström, after C.J.L. Almqvist), completed 1973; Medusan och djävulen [Medusa and the Devil] (lyrical mystery play, E. Grave), 1973; Flower Power (T. Danielsson), 1974; Animalen (musical, Danielsson), 1979; En midsommarnattsdröm (2, W. Shakespeare), 1984; Gudars skymning [Twilight of the Gods] (cabaret, 1, Werle), 1985; Kvinnogräl [Women’s Quarrels] (1, K. Forsmark, after F. Schiller: Maria Stuart), 1986; Lionardo (3, C. Fellbom), 1985–8; Väntarna [The Ones who Wait] (chbr op, I. Bergkwist, after W. Aspenström), 1989, rev. 1991; Tavlan: en eftermiddag på Prado [The Painting: an Afternoon at the Prado] (chbr op, Bergkwist), 1991, rev. 1993; Hercules (opera-comedy, Bergkwist, after G. Stiernhielm), 1993; Äppelkriget (2, Bergkwist, after H. Alfredson and Danielsson), 1995-6; Pandora (2, Bergkwist), 1998

Orch: Sinfonia da camera, 1961; Summer Music 1965, str, pf, 1965; Zodiak, ballet, 1966; Vaggsång för jorden [Lullaby for the Earth], 1977; Födelse [Birth], sym. wind, 1992; incid music, film scores incl. Persona, Vargtimmen, both dir. Bergman

Vocal: Canzone 126 di Francesco Petrarca, chorus, 1967; Sound of M4 b, children’s vv, 4 rec, pf, perc; Nautical Preludes (Werle), 1970; Now all the fingers of this tree (e.e. cummings) S, a fl, pf, perc, db, 1971; Chants for Dark Hours (D. Parker), Mez, fl, gui, perc, 1972; Lyriska sånger (Grave, M. Rying, L. Englund), 1v, pf, 1973–5; Fabel (Danielsson), 5vv, 1974; A Song of Songs (G. Fröding, trans. P.B. Austin), Bar, pf, 1975; Smultronvisa [Song of Wild Strawberries] (Werle, after G. Brusewitz), 1v, fl, str orch, 1976, rev. 1978; Sonetto di Petrarca 292, SATB, 1979; Är gryningen redan här [Is the dawn already here?] (ballet, E. Taube, after Provençale poems), 6 vv, chbr ens, 1980; Trees, 4 Poems (Cummings), Bar, 2 S, 2 A, 2 T, 2 B, chorus, 1982; Uti Tolosa (trans. Taube), Bar, pf, 1983; 2 trubadurdikter (P. Vidal), 1v acc., 1983; Sonetto trentacinque (F. Petrarch), S, A, T, B, SATB, 1989; Svanstankar [Tail Thoughts] (Danielsson), male choir, pf, db, 1989; Orpheus (Shakespeare), SATB, 1989; En sorgsen sonett i april (Danielsson), male choir, 1989; Sweet Sixties (S. Åkesson), S, A, T, B, kbd, 1990; Krusbär och åkerbär [Gooseberries and Brambles] (Almqvist), A amp., SATB, tuba, 1992; Ännu sjunger valarna [Still the Whales Are Singing] (Bergkwist), S, Mez, T, B-Bar, str qt, db, perc, 1992; Har den äran lille Matti: en födelsedagsfest [Happy Birthday, Little Matti] (K. Lundgren), solo vv, org, wind orch, tape, dance, 1992; Sonetto 292 (Petrarch), S, SATB, 1993

Inst and tape: Pentagram, str qt, 1959–60; Attitudes, pf, 1965; Variété, str qt, 1971; Det himmelska djuret (Rying), tape, 1975; Två miniatyrer, fl, mar, 1988, rev. 1989

Principal publisher: Nordiska

BIBLIOGRAPHY


B. Wallner, L.Runsten and L.J. Werle: ‘Drömmen om en arenaopera’, Nutida musik, vii/7 (1964), 13–15

G. Bergendal: ‘Om Werles Die Reise’, Nutida musik, xii/4 (1969), 34–6

H. Connor: Samtal med tonsättare [Conversation with composers] (Stockholm, 1971)

G. Bergendal: 33 svenska komponister (Stockholm, 1972)

H. Sjögren: ‘Werles Tintomara: en maskerad med ett skott i paradiset’, Tonfallet (1973), no.1, p.1

J.H. Yoell: The Nordic Sound (Boston, 1974) [incl. discography]

P.-A. Hellqvist: ‘Operan lever’, Nutida musik, xxi/3 (1977–8), 41–7 [on Tintomara]

G. Petersén: ‘Tonsättaren Lars Johan Werle’, Operan (1983–4), no.10, pp.11–15 [on Drömmen om Thérèse]

K. Ketting: ‘The Animals Cross the Atlantic’, Nordic Sounds, no.1 (1985), 10–12

L. Hedwall: ‘Lars Johan Werle och hans Vaggsång för jorden’, Musikrevy, xlii/7–8 (1987), 297–300

U.-B. Edberg and I.Bergkwist: ‘Äppelkriget som opera’, Musik (1996), no.3, pp.14–19

ROLF HAGLUND




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