Chess with Satan

Claude Loyola Allgén – ”
Fantasia for Piano
Alice Music Production, ALCD 020/CDA.
Mats Persson, p. Recorded 1998. Duration: 49:02.

When Claude Loyola Allgén, with his scores, succumbed to the flames of his chilled out, unelectrified house in Täby outside Stockholm as it burned down on 18th September 1990, he was seventy years old and in the midst of his composing. Amongst the works lost was an almost completed saxofon concert, a commission.
Allgén had always had his own position, well outside of the circle of established composers in Sweden. Even though he more or less peripheraly was associated with Måndagsgruppen – The Monday Group; a group of Swedish modern composers, musicians and other culture workers who gathered at Karl-Birger Blomdahl’s apartment in Stockholm in the 1940s, originally to study Paul Hindemith’s ”
Unterweisung im Tonsatz” – he still was considered an oddity by his colleagues – except maybe by Sven-Eric Johansson - and even a free thinker like Karl-Birger Blomdahl expressed that Allgén ”preferred to write nine part fugues in practically unplayable tempi”, that he was a ”hyper intellectualist” and that he ”advocated an absolute objectivity”!

Neither did the spiritual and musical guru of Måndagsgruppen – composer Hilding Rosenberg – have much to say in favour of Claude Loyola Allgén’s compositions.

In spite of this stonewalling adversity, and even though his works hardly ever were performed, Allgén – who before he converted to Catholicism was called Klas-Thure Allgén - kept on keeping on, enduring in an intensive act of composing, through the devastatingly - partly selfinflicted – poverty of his manhood, which led to the fire that ended his life.

Many of his works were of long durations, and of a rare complexity, even though there were shorter pieces of a simpler construction in his oeuvre too. I suppose he can only be compared to his luckier composer colleauge Allan Pettersson – whose entire output now has been put onto CD – when it comes to defiance and obstinacy. Not much by Allgén has been released on phonogram. Tore Wiberg recorded the piano piece ”
Ave Maris Stella” in 1964. I should insert here that Bengt Hambraeus - Swedish composer and musician of a rare integrity and stature, living in Canada – who always has had a very open mind, performed Allgén’s organ works very early, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and supported the diffusion of knowledge about these works, to get them performed. Karl-Erik Welin - late Swedish enfant terrible, composer and musician - was the one who finally, in 1973, had Allgén elected a member of Föreningen Svenska Tonsättare; the Swedish Composer’s Union.

The wind changed in 1989. When Ny Musik i Borås - the Society for New Music in Borås – with Björn Nilsson in the lead, gathered some of Sweden’s foremost interpreters of new music on 24th September for a concert solely consisting of works by Claude Loyola Allgén. The composer himself attended the event, which must have been bewildering for this loner, who had grown accustomed to dwelling in his alienation, writing extended and complex compositions that he never expected would be heard. I understand his composing these years as a kind of chess game with Satan, or an introverted game of patience in a spiritual hall of mirrors.

Those parttaking that important September day in the People’s House in Borås (Folkets Hus) were Mats Persson, pianist and composer, Kristine Scholz, pianist and Perssons long-time musical partner, Henrik Löwenmark, pianist, Anna Lindal and Staffan Larsson, violinists, Mikael Larsson, violist, Chrichan Larsson, cellist, Maria Höglind, singer, the Vocal Ensemble of Borås, the Svensson String Quartet and others. In connection with the broadcasts later of the recorded concerts, parts of an interview that Rolf Haglund did with Allgén were aired, and this interview from the fall of 1989 is a true gem. Fantastic tings are uttered, and I hope that someone of the initiated persons who made Allgén’s music their responsibility in Borås may have the will and means to supply us with an extensive biography with a worklist, also containing this shimmering interview.

The occurance of a truly important recording, having implications well beyond the diffusion of the music contained, is a rare incident in the flow of releases, but now one of those inspiring events has taken place. This recording of Allgén's ”
Fantasia for Piano” with the renowned and initiated Mats Persson at the piano, is the phonogram of the decade, I dare say, and I sincerely hope – and expect! – that this is only the humble beginning of a comprehensive Allgén recording- and publication venture. I wish and believe that Mats Persson’s CD on the Alice label will prove to be the battering ram that will break through the Berlin Wall of the establishment, which has imprisoned the music of Allgén for half a century.

Fantasia” is a forty-nine minute solo piano work in a dense but illuminated tapestry – in a sort of direct light through the spider webs of the falls, with all the characteristics of Allgén inherent in the composition. I don’t believe that just any pianist could do justice to this intricate work, but Mats Persson with his pianistic and artistic brilliance and his deep involvement in the music of Allgén is the obvious interpreter.

Persson says in the booklet – which really is a book! – that the piece at first seems to shoot out in all different directions; CThere is a habanera which sounds as if it came out of Carmen, there are Bartókinspired rhythmically pregnant motifs and there are melodic motifs reminiscent of popular tunes from the 1950s”. Persson at first felt that the piece was a kind of collage, but gradually he became aware of how coherent and complex ”
the Fantasia” really was, and how it all sprung out of the same basic idea, with relationships between the different themes.

Allgén’s music demands a little extra effort from listeners and interpreters alike, but accordingly the bottom line experience, the artistic vitality, becomes so much more intense, so much clearer. ”The piano music of Allgén”, Persson states, ”is much freer than for example his string quartets”. It might be, Persson speculates, ” a mixture of construction and intuition”. It is an adventure to venture into this solo piano music, which at times is so intense that it brings to mind the densest of Conlon Nancarrow’s ”
Studies for Player Piano”, with no further analogies. Persson also points out the method of ”erasing” themes that Allgén applies in this work, by inserting ”fast, virtuos runs”, only to let completely new themes rise out of the ashes of the old ones like the ancient Phoenix. It’s not a matter of a Hegelian thesis-antitheis-synthesis, but a total ”vernichtung”, a complete annihilation, negation, followed by new musical statements, which in turn get negated and exchanged for yet other themes! It is fascinating, and probably unparalleled in it’s monolitic force.

It might be a good preparation to cleanse one’s senses of auditive cinder before descending into the soundworld of Allgén. I listened to Bach’s ”
Well-Tempered Clavier” for four hours, in four different interpretations with respectively Tatyana Nikolayeva, Glenn Gould, Friedrich Gulda and Samuel Feinberg, before I devoted myself to Allgén's ”Fantasia”. Then my senses were clean, virgin, and I was in equilibrium, like a newly calibrated postage scale.

Mats Persson has worked hard with this piece. He has laboured through the original handwritten manuscript, washing out a readable, useable score. This was necessary, since Allgén's handwriting gradually, through the years he kept refining and adding on to the score, had changed, and since the parts had slid apart by each addition. Without this enormous input on the part of Persson, who in just this particular stage of the work set aside a whole month, weekends inclusive, we wouldn’t possess this fantastic CD. I bow to such a dedication!

Alice Records’ recording is soundwise one of the very best I’ve encountered. The display of the sound is clear, transparent, close – overwhelmingly beautiful. It is not at all so sure that you’ll get so fine recordings. Recently I aquired Rachel Podger’s hyped recording of ”
the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin” by Johann Sebastian Bach on Channel Classics. My disappointment was great on discovering that the CD contained as much passing cars and murmur from the air condition as it did Bach music! The same nuisance could be established on a new recoding with pianist Raymond Clarke performing Shostakovich on Athene Records. Yet these CDs drew excellent reviews in The Gramophone, even though the solistic parts, however diligent, on account of the noise, became totally unenjoyable. Very very unprofessional of the recording companies! I had an email exchange with the chief of Channel Classics about the matter, and he said he’d record in an abandoned church in northern Sweden next time, and I hope he does. Probably one should be aware of these things in reviews, for the emergence of car sounds or the deep murmur of ventilation can devastate otherwise excellent efforts by the recording companies. This Allgén recording by Stockholm-based Alice Records score an all-time high, though, in this sense. Here only the music is audible! If the choice of recording facility has anything to do with this great result I must take the opportunity to recommend recording companies to further utilize the concert hall in Nyköping, Sweden – Culturum – where Johan Petri and Niklas Billström of Alice Records recorded the phonogram of the decade!

The whole concept of the release is very stylish, even dainty. The design by Cecilia Frank is so outstanding it has to get a special commendation. The release really is a book in CD-size, numbering more than one hundred pages, featuring an immensly capturing essay about Allgén by Mats Persson, enclosed in beautifully engraved hard covers with the outlines of Allgén’s face. In the back of the book lies the CD in a slip-case. Very tasteful!

I would like to think that this Alice release will pay off financially, which would make more likely a continuation of the Allgén venture. An obvious follow-up would be a double-CD with the long ”
Violin Sonata” played by Anna Lindal. An international presentation of Allgén must follow, and I have no doubts that Claude Loyola Allgén after some time will reach the same international fame that Allan Pettersson now – in the great Beyond – enjoys, and then we Swedes will suffer the shame of the ignorance we’ve showed Allgén and his life’s work.