Atterberg's 6th Symphony: Originality, Inspired


I have written about Kurt Atterberg before on my previous blog. In fact, Atterberg was one of the main reasons I started blogging in the first place as I believed composers such as him had the same musical gravitas as some of the more popular ones but were vastly underrated. Today's piece, his 6th Symphony, nicknamed the 'Dollar Symphony', is perhaps his most famous, with it winning a composition competition, giving him a fairly large cash prize, and putting his name (at least sort of) on the map.

If you give this piece a listen, you'll probably hear many familiar musical tropes. There are elements of Sibelius in the modality and pastoral/nature-inspired parts of the music (for example, the second movement) and even elements of sardonic chromaticism akin to that of Shostakovich in the third movement. What really interested me about this piece, though, was that the competition Atterberg won first prize in with this symphony was actually to commemorate 100 years since the death of Schubert and entries were expected to either complete or be inspired by his 8th 'Unfinished' symphony. There are certainly elements of Schubert to be heard, but I don't think I'd have noticed them had that not been pointed out to me.

The point is, then, that Atterberg has composed a popular work which is, as an holistic piece, entirely original and his own. Yet, in the smaller detail there are detectable influences from other sources to a greater or lesser extent. This poses the very interesting question of whether all composition is, in some way, like this. Why would anybody be composing music if they hadn't been inspired to do so by something in the first place? Even if that thing is to create something different than has ever been before. Perhaps then, this symphony is a good example of how all originality is inspired by something. Originality, inspired, certainly underpins the musical world and can create great success and enjoyment. Perhaps using someone else's ideas to create something new isn't a bad thing at all, rather, maybe those ideas are out there in the first place in order to contribute later down the line in exciting and unexpected ways. 


Atterberg's 6th 'Dollar' Symphony, Op. 31 (1928)

Benjamin Jackson