Tomas Tranströmer

Tomas in his Stockholm apartment


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Tomas Tranströmer began playing piano as a child and it became for him in his life a passion matched only by his career as a poet. Musical references and composers often appear in his poems. In 1990, he suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body and affected his speech. Remarkably Tranströmer then trained himself to play piano only with his left hand.

The genre of compositions for piano for left hand evolved from handicaps of pianists. The German Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm during World War I, on resuming his musical career asked a number of composers to write pieces for him which required the pianist to use his left hand only. The Czech Otakar Hollmann, whose right arm was injured in the war, did likewise but to a lesser degree. The results of these commissions include concertante pieces for orchestra and piano left hand by Bortkiewicz, Britten, Hindemith, Janácek, Korngold, Martinu, Prokofiev, Ravel, Franz Schmidt, Richard Strauss, and others. [1]

Tranströmer has developed into a proficient pianist and often performs piano concerts in Sweden. He recorded a compact disc of readings of poetry with his performances on piano of well-known compositions for piano for left hand by notable composers. The recordings below are taken from the Tranströmer compact disc Klangen sager att friheten finns (The Sound is a Declaration of Freedom), Bonniers Forlag, 2002.

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[1] Wikipedia.

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The Sound is a Declaration of Freedom

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Klangen sager att friheten finns, Bonniers Audio 2012

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Zdenek Fibich

Track 02 – “Andante ur Stimmungen, Eindrucke und Erinnerungen op. 47″

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Zdenek Fibich (1850 – 1900)

Zdenek Fibich was a Czech composer of classical music and contemporary of Antonín Dvorák and Bedrich Smetana. In his instrumental works, Fibich generally wrote in the vein of the German romantics, first falling under the influence of Weber, Mendelssohn and Schumann and later Wagner. His early operas and close to 200 of his early songs are in German. These works along with his symphonies and chamber music won considerable praise from German critics if not from Czechs. The bulk of Fibich’s operas are in Czech, although many are based on subjects from non-Czechs such as Shakespeare, Schiller and Byron. In his chamber music, more than anywhere else, Fibich makes use of Bohemian folk melodies and dance rhythms such as the Dumka. Fibich was the first to write a Czech nationalist tone poem (“Záboj, Slavoj a Ludek”) which served as the inspiration for Smetana’s “Má vlast”. He was also the first to use the polka in a chamber work, his “Quartet in A”. Fibich was the original composer of the tune for “My Moonlight Madonna” for which Paul Francis Webster wrote the English lyrics. In 1933 the tune was popularly harmonized by William Scotti. (Wikipedia)

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Frank Bridge

Track 4 – “At Dawn”

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Frank Bridge (1879 – 1941)

Frank Bridge studied at the Royal College of Music in London from 1899 to 1903 under Charles Villiers Stanford and others. He privately tutored a number of pupils, most famously Benjamin Britten, who later championed his teacher’s music and paid homage to him in the “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge” (1937), based on a theme from the second of Bridge’s “Three Idylls for String Quartet” (1906). His early works are in a late-Romantic idiom, but later pieces such as the third (1926) and fourth (1937) string quartets are harmonically advanced and very distinctive, showing the influence of the Second Viennese School. His works also show harmonic influences by Maurice Ravel and especially Alexander Scriabin. (Wikipedia)


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Tomas Tranströmer

Track 07 (poem) – “Allegro (ur Den halvfärdiga himlen)”

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Tranströmer recites in Swedish “Allegro,” one of his best known poems. The CD contains several poetry recitations in combination with his piano performances.


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Manuel Ponce

Track 09 -“Fuga”

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Manuel María Ponce Cuéllar (1882 – 1948)

Manuel María Ponce Cuéllar (1882 – 1948) was a Mexican composer active in the 20th century. His work as a composer, music educator and scholar of Mexican music connected the concert scene with a usually forgotten tradition of popular song and Mexican folklore. Many of his compositions are strongly influenced by the harmonies and form of traditional songs. (Wikipedia)


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Werner Wolf Glaser

Track 15 – “Präludium – tillägnad Tomas Tranströmer”

English translation: “Prelude For Tomas Tranströmer

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Werner Wolf Glaser (1910 – 2006)

Werner Wolf Glaser, born in Cologne, was a German-born Swedish composer, conductor, pianist, professor, music critic, and poet. Glaser studied piano, conducting, and composition at the Cologne Conservatory, and art history afterwards in Bonn. From 1929 to 1931, he worked as a conductor at the Chemnitz Opera and went to Cologne in 1932 to conduct choirs. Persecuted by the Nazis due to his Jewish descent, he fled Germany for Paris in 1933 to Lyngby, Denmark and lectured at the Frederiksbergs Volksmusikhochschule in Copenhagen, before escaping during the rescue of the Danish Jews to Sweden in 1943. In Sweden, he conducted the Södra Västmanlands Orkesterförbund from 1944 to 1959 and also directed the Västerås Musikskola, where his colleagues included Ivar Andrén and Gunnar Axén, until 1975. Glaser left an extensive oeuvre which spanned many different genres. His tonal language revealed the influence of Hindemith, but he also developed his individual style. He died in 2006 in Västerås, Sweden. (Wikipedia)


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Tomas Tranströmer

Klangen sager att friheten finns, Bonniers Audio 2012

1 Audio CD, Booklet in Swedish

69:31:05 minutes

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Track Listing

1 “Morgon och infart (ur 17 dikter)”, 0.40 2 Zdenko Fibich: “Andante ur Stimmungen, Eindrücke und Erinnerungen op.47″, 2.52 3 Federico Momou: “Preludium nr 6″, 5.10 4 Alexander Skrjabin: “Prelude op. 9 nr 1″, 3.18 5 “Balakirevs dröm (ur Hemligheter på vägen)”, 2.59 6 “C-dur (ur Den halvfärdiga himlen)”, 1.04 7 “Allegro (ur Den halvfärdiga himlen)”, 1.01 8 Manuel Ponce: “Preludium”, 3.00 9 Manuel Ponce: “Fuga”, 4.02 10 “En konstnär i norr (ur Klanger och spår)”, 1.43 11 “Östersjöar V (ur Östersjöar)”, 5.41 12 Frank Bridge: “At Dawn”, 4.57 13 Frank Bridge: “A Vigil”, 2.41 14 “Schubertiana (ur Sanningsbarriären)”, 4.47 15 Werner Wolf Glaser: “Präludium (tillägnad Tomas Tranströmer)”, 2.41 16 Maurice Karkoff: “Fantasy on a Fantasy (tillägnad Tomas Tranströmer)”, 7.58 17 “Introduktion till Sorgegondol nr 2″, 1.20 18 “Sorgegondol nr 2 (ur Sorgegondolen)”, 4.35 19 Lennart Hedwall: “Pastorale (tillägnad Tomas Tranströmer)”, 2.43 20 Arne Mellnäs: “Nocturne ostinatisorhytmique (tillägnad Tomas Tranströmer)”, 1.52 21 Erland von Knoch: “Nocturnal Etude”, 4.07