Gösta Nystroem is usually counted among the first generation of Swedish modernists, i.e. among those who debuted around the First World War and who after the war felt a strong need to open the doors to Europe and the rest of the world. Nystroem, Hilding Rosenberg, Moses Pergament and others strove to air out the stale romanticism and take part in the new. They traveled to the continent and absorbed the optimism of peace and faith in the future, the new mechanical zeitgeist, the brashness and freshness of the glamor of the twenties.

Nystroem was born in Dalarna, grew up in Södermanland and showed early musical maturity. He played the church organ when he was twelve, and followed in his father's footsteps as he trained as a public school teacher and organist. The father was also an amateur composer (and eventually visited his son in the Paris of art). Gösta's brothers also became good musicians, but he himself was not satisfied with being an amateur. In his twenties, he gained his basic knowledge of composition at the Music Conservatory in Stockholm for the old conservative Wagnerian Andreas Hallén. No wonder he sought out the world early on, and was very close to knocking music out of his mind.

The painter - in 1915 he ended up in Copenhagen to study painting. He became a successful portrait painter, had a few exhibitions and was able to get by financially on this. The art of painting then came throughout his life to become his great interest alongside music, and his cubist oil paintings can be compared to the best of their kind by a Swedish painter. For a change, he went to football matches with Carl Nielsen, whose music he admired. Nielsen has "set sail on the entire old Scandinavian music ship, which had been leaking and inept for decades and bobbed in dead water". There was also some music playing in Copenhagen, among other things he accompanied the singer Nina Hagerup-Grieg, Edvard's wife, at a concert.

The years in France - While in Germany he was sniffing around in what he experienced as Arnold Schönberg's dead end with twelve-tone music, he received an oft-quoted telegram from composer colleague Pergament in Paris: "what the hell are you doing in Germany stop this is where everything happens stop come here stop Moses". Nystroem therefore spontaneously went to the French capital, not knowing that he would stay there for twelve years, years filled with studies for Vincent d'Indy (who advised him to start every morning with a prelude and fugue from Bach's Wohltemperierte Klavier, a piece of advice he then followed for most of his life) and the exiled Russian Leonid Sabaneyev, who mediated the contact with both Stravinsky's and Honegger's music. Prokofiev and Ravel were also among the household gods. It was the Impressionists who taught Nystroem to listen, but his own music became harsher. Perhaps it was his Nordic melancholy that made itself felt. Truth be told, he didn't spend much time in Paris, although that was the fixed point. Often he was on a trip, not infrequently to the Mediterranean, be it the Greek islands or Spain - and he himself said that 75% of the time he spent out at sea with the fishermen in Brittany. In any case, he had a studio on the left bank of the Seine and socialized in the Swedish artist circles. He also studied painting with Legér and met both Braque and Picasso. In the small town of Savary-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean, he completed his first symphony, Sinfonia breve, in the early 1930s.

The sea - His interest in the sea was awakened early, and he had gotten to know Greenland connoisseur Knud Rasmussen and polar explorer Roald Amundsen in Copenhagen. Already in 1916, he had the opportunity to accompany them on an arduous journey to the Arctic Ocean. In 1928 he traveled by boat around the whole of Africa and up through the Suez Canal. The sea has also come to play a very large role in Nystroem's compositions. It began in 1925 with the symphonic poem Ishavet, of course with icy memories from the trip. It was supposed to be a ballet for the Swedish Ballet in Paris, but the cubist costumes would not be danceable in, so the project was 'put on hold'. Instead, the sheet music was sent to Stockholm's Orkesterförening, where it languished until the Czech conductor Vaclav Talich saw it and premiered the music a few years later. It was a great success and Musical Times, among others, poured superlatives over it, because they found "the characteristic Scandinavian spirit" in the music. The sea then took a firmer place in Nystroem's work than with any other composer, whether it concerned piano pieces thatWaltz navy, choral songs such asThree sea visions, solo songs likeSongs by the sea(which like so many other of his songs exist with both piano and orchestral accompaniment),On the revel,Three songs from Stormenor orchestral works such as the scene music for Shakespeare's The Tempest or the third symphony, as it has been calledSinfonia del mare(1947) and which is "dedicated to all sailors on the seven seas" - and which contains a setting for solo singing of Ebba Lindqvist's sea poem Det enda. Here we are dealing with one of the absolute greatest masterpieces of Swedish symphonic art. His only opera is based on Selma Lagerlöf's Herr Arnes penninger and is set in the Bohusland archipelago.

There are two completely different sides he shows in the beautifully shaped, loving solo songs and in the magnificent orchestral works. Few Swedish composers have shown such logical power and such a rhythmically driving will in their orchestral works. INSinfonia espressiva(1937), the orchestra constantly grows from chamber musical fragility to symphonic bravura. The complete opposite of the grandiose orchestral works is found in the heartfelt romances. He composed the most songs to the texts of Ebba Lindkvist and Pär Lagerkvist. The whole cycleAnxietyhas recently also been featured in the Musica Sveciae anthology with Gabriel Suovanen as baritone. The most important song collections must also be countedSoul and landscapeandThree love songs.

It was not until 1932 that Nystroem returned home to Sweden. He was 42 years old and settled for good on the Swedish west coast in Marstrand and on Särö - near the sea. He mainly supported himself by writing music criticism in Gothenburg's Handels- och Sjöfartstidning between 1932 and 1946. After that, he could devote himself entirely to composing. WithSinfonia concertante(1944) Nystroem's definitive breakthrough came at home. As the title suggests, the work's cellist must not excel with virtuosity, but rather be included as an integral part of the whole. But even if the work may be considered to represent the absolute music, one can still feel the presence of the sea in the wave motion that grabs hold of the listener already early in the first movement. And in the baroque pastiche of the finale, the sea rocks still, like a siciliano, before the maelstrom grabs the listener and tosses him around in storm waves.

By his disposition, Nystroem was one of the last cavaliers, a man of honor and aristocrat, who was very secretive about his own music. When he wrote his memoirs, "All I remember is lust and light", (published posthumously in 1968) he devoted his shimmering prose not to telling us about the music or the career, but mostly to teaching us something about the sea, the food and the desire to live.

Stig Jacobsson

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