Atterberg's Cello Concerto: An Overshadowed Masterpiece


I won't beat about the bush, this piece is the reason that this blog came into existence. I have no idea why I left it this long to do a post about it, but I feel like now was a good time.

Atterberg - more like 'who?'. You might not have heard of this composer, and neither had I until recently. I can't work out why (as I think his music DOES travel well and is great), but Atterberg inspired me to write this blog to get more people finding previously overlooked music, because, quite frankly, this piece is not one to overlook.

So, just as a bit of background, Atterberg was a Swedish composer who rose to compositional fame when his sixth symphony won him a lotta dolla (it's actually called the 'Dollar Symphony' as a nickname) in a competition. He only wrote one cello concerto, and here it is.

As a cellist myself, I may be slightly biased, but this piece showcases the cello in probably a more sophisticated way than Elgar's very famous cello concerto, and in its use of returning themes and lyrical lines, I would argue that it is just as good as, if not better than, any standard cello concerto repertoire. Just take the first movement, for example, with its extremely varied character and loving use of instrumentation (the orchestra is not sidelined in any way), yet with the cello taking a thoughtful spotlight. 4.45 in this recording showcases Atterberg's melody writing, drawing our attention to the epic yet melodic motif which runs throughout this movement (listen out for the different ways in which it features).

The second movement is actually the first movement that I heard of this piece (don't ask) and is what drew me to it. It's very mysterious and atmospheric and made me want to hear more. Normally, with second movements, the composer opts for a calm feel - here, however, I'd say it was more mysterious and epic, with sly bassoons and sudden cello outbursts. We're then taken into a vast, sweeping melody which, for me, rises and falls as a landscape might - could this movement be pastoral?

The third movement actually surprises me a little, its tone is very different to the previous two movements as it is a lot more jovial, yet still expertly showcases the cello through both fast and more lyrical, subdued sections. Here, the melody from the first movement returns (again, try to spot it when you're listening to it), providing an almost nostalgic break from the interspersed frantic motion elsewhere in the movement.

Benjamin JacksonComment