Kurt Atterberg: Barocco Suite No.5

Context

Composed in 1923 for chamber orchestra, Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg intended to write a suite of music inspired by Baroque music. Although set in the styles of famous Baroque genres, the music is certainly resonant of Atterberg’s homeland, with Swedish folk tunes making their way into the fabric of this wonderful suite of music.

 

The Music

Set into six short movements, Atterberg’s Barocco Suite No.5 takes the listener on quite the historical tour of music trends past.

 

Movement I – Entrata 

The short opening movement is vivacious and full of life. The lower strings add power to the foundation as the upper strings, who play in unison, present Atterberg’s chief theme. The woodwinds add their voices in later on with a short interlude of the main theme which has been developed. Coming together, the orchestra concludes brightly.

 

Movement II – Sarabanda

The slow-moving second movement is set as a stately sarabande, with the oboe taking a solo line for the first half of the piece. Rich in harmony and deep in sound, this movement shows Atterberg’s own style woven within the Baroque style. The fluctuating textures and ever-developing harmony acts as the pinch points for this movement, with Atterberg utilising both to create some very effective phrasing. Small swells within the music lead to the final few quiet bars of this soft movement.

 

Movement III – Gavotta

The playful Gavotta movement is led by an army of woodwind instruments with a peppy theme. The strings accompany with off-beats before a slower, syncopated section ensues. The opening character breaks through near the end of the movement, with the music jumping between bars to create a whirlwind effect. The movement ends with a buzz of excitement. 

 

Movement IV – Pastorale e Gagliarda 

This movement is perhaps the first when we really hear some traditional Swedish folk tunes. Led by a solo cor anglais, the opening theme of the fourth movement is strongly based in a Swedish folk tune. The pulsating strings quietly accompany as the cor anglais explores the theme and begins to develop it. More woodwinds join in with the theme, with the flute and clarinet both taking solo lines. The strings take a back seat in this movement and are mainly used as accompaniments for the woodwinds. Warm textures and a pastoral feel makes this movement one of the highlights of the suite.

 

Movement V – Siciliana

Similarly to the previous movement, the slow pace of the fifth movement is also noticeable. Although the flutes takes a decorative approach, it is now the strings’ turn to lead with the melodic content. Atterberg experiments with different tonalities in this movement, moving seamlessly between the major and minor on a number of occasions. Soon, the flute takes a stronger approach to the melody and begins to showcase it from all angles. The strings accompany, until they take the melody over to conclude this movement. 

 

Movement VI – Giga

The rousing finale is set as a Gigue dance. Full of vitality and life, the strings take the lead at the start of this movement. The memorable theme is measured and balanced, with Atterberg’s flair for melodic writing shining through here. A short woodwind interlude stops the strings in their tracks, however they soon return with the opening theme. Atterberg’s strong use of dynamics adds to the buzz of this movement, concluding the suite with a satisfying resolution. 

 

Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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