Karl-Birger Blomdahl (1916-1968)

Karl-Birger Blomdahl was a Swedish composer and teacher best known for his 1959 prize-winning space opera 'Aniara', his third symphony 'Facetter', his choral work 'I speglarnas sal', as well as other symphonic and chamber pieces.

2019.07.19 | Jenny Rood and Juliette Victor

Scene from the premiere of Karl-Birger Blomdahl's 1959 opera 'Aniara' in Stockholm. Photo: Lennart Olson, Tiofoto (Public domain)

Blomdahl was born in Växjö, Sweden and died in Kungsängen near Stockholm. His first instrumental compositions, dating from the late 1930s, recall Nielsen and Sibelius, while those from the 1940s show influences of Hindemith’s ‘new objectivity’ deriving from Blomdahl’s active participation in the ‘Måndagsgrupp’ (The Monday Group), a gathering of young people involved in writing and playing music and studying its history.

In the late 1940s he began teaching composition, first privately, then later at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music (1960-64), where he was elected a member in 1953. Blomdahl wrote a variety of compositions:

  • Operas. In addition to Aniara, 1959, which won the Grand Prize of the Christ Johnson Musik Pris Fund in 1964 from the Swedish Royal Academy of Music and the Music Prize of the Nordic Council in 1965, he wrote Herr von Hancken, 1962-3.
  • Ballets, such as, Sisyphos, 1954, and Minotauros, 1957.
  • Music for stage, screen and radio.
  • Instrumental music, including Symphony number three: Facetter, 1951.
  • Chamber and choral music. His first large vocal work, I speglarnas sal (In the Hall of Mirrors, 1951/52), was notable for features such as tone painting, of which Blomdahl had previously been critical, and Anabase, 1956.

In general, his music, especially the later pieces, is driven by dynamic cadences and forceful climaxes. Late in his career he developed an interest in electronic musical elements, in Aniara, in the ‘electronic sound-picture’ (and his final work) Altisonans, and the opera he was composing when he died, Sagaon om den stora datan (The Tale of the Big Computer).

In addition to his composition and teaching, he was known for his intellectual engagement with debates regarding the role of new music in modern cultural life and improving the quality of Swedish music institutions. He served as the head of Swedish Radio’s music division from 1965.

Further reading:

  • K. B. Blomdahl, ‘In the Hall of Mirrors and Anabase, in R. Hines, The Composer’s Point of View (Norman, Oklahoma; Univ. of Oklahoma, 1963) pp. 138-150.