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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Helena Munktell - Chamber Works (Various Artists)


Composer: Helena Munktell
  • (01) Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op. 21
  • (05) 10 Mélodies
  • (15) Kleines Trio
  • (18) Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op. 21: II. Scherzo brusco (original version)

Tobias Ringborg, violin
Sofie Asplund, soprano
Kristina Winiarski, cello
Peter Friis Johansson, piano

Date: 2021



Helena Munktell (1852-1919) studied singing and piano in Stockholm, Vienna and Paris, was elected to the Swedish Royal Academy in 1915 and was a founder member of the Society of Swedish Composers. At the start of her career she got on better in France than at home. The Gallic influence on her 1905 Violin Sonata, the most significant work included here, is obvious. Franck’s famous Sonata was the model but there is a more fin de siècle mood to Munktell’s piece.

The Scherzo second movement (of four) has the most memorable theme, built on a snappy rhythm. The version known before inexplicable cuts were made by the composer is included as an appendix. The reprise of the Scherzo’s theme in the finale is the sonata’s moment of triumph. Beyond that, the piece is never less than fluent but a residual feeling prevails of plenteous figuration and transition at the expense of actual material. More fire, charisma or willingness to seize the music by the scruff of the neck in Tobias Ringborg’s refined playing might have helped argue otherwise.

The preparatory Kleines Trio can be similarly fey and lacking a signature, but for a slow movement that reveals Munktell’s ability to derive something of interest from subtle structural devices such as overlapping. More of that is found in Dix Mélodies, to poems by Amédée-Landély Hettich or her translations of Swedish ones. Again, the slower, emotionally heavier songs have most impact and allow Munktell to demonstrate her propensity to mine something multilayered from something simple. That’s particularly true of the two cradle songs but there are further examples in ‘Si tu le voulais’. ‘Fascination’ has something of Grieg’s Nordic fantasy realm about it, opening with anti-metropolitan cragginess. ‘Cantilène’ comes from Munktell’s comic opera I Firenze, the first by a woman to be staged at the Royal Swedish Opera. Sofie Asplund’s pearly tone and innocent simplicity suit them well, as does Peter Friis Johansson’s knowing accompaniment.

-- Andrew Mellor, Gramophone


Helena Munktell (24 November 1852 – 10 September 1919) was a Swedish composer. Munktell studied music at the Stockholm Conservatory with Conrad Nordqvist, Johan Lindegren, Ludwig Norman and Joseph Dente, in Vienna with Julius Epstein, and in Paris with Benjamin Godard and Vincent d'Indy. Her debut as a composer took place in Sweden in 1885, and in the late 1890s, she began to compose music for orchestra. Munktell was also the first Swedish woman to write an opera. In 1915 she became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and in 1918 she co-founded the Swedish Society of Composers.


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