Wilhelm Peterson-Berger


Born: February 27, 1867 Died: December 3, 1942
Esteemed during his lifetime but relegated to the tertiary ranks of music figures thereafter, Wilhelm Peterson-Berger was a significant Swedish composer and critic in the early decades of the twentieth century. He studied organ and composition at the Stockholm Conservatory (1886-1889), then traveled to Dresden for further instruction in composition and orchestration. He returned to Sweden in 1890 to teach music and languages in Umeå (1890-1892), but the years 1892-1894 found him back in Dresden teaching music. In 1895 he finally settled in Stockholm, supporting himself mainly as music critic of the Dagens Nyheter from 1896 to 1930, aside from brief periods when he served as stage manager at the Stockholm Opera (1908-1910) and traveled extensively in Italy (1920-1921).

As a critic, Peterson-Berger upheld the notions of Wagner. He did little to advance his composing career through his work as a music journalist, which was prone to highly negative remarks regarding new music that was not his own. As a composer, he was a Romantic nationalist. He wrote many large works -- his quasi-Wagnerian Arnljot is considered to be the Swedish national opera, and his third symphony and violin concerto are still highly regarded in his homeland -- but Peterson-Berger is best remembered for his miniatures, particularly the piano pieces Frösöblomster, and perhaps the song collection Swedish Lyrics. These are highly lyrical pieces whose apparent simplicity has put off critics who wrongly assume them to be fluff. When choosing texts, or programs for his large orchestral works, Peterson-Berger was particularly attracted to topics of nature, another aspect that rooted his aesthetic in the nineteenth century.
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