Swedish Music in Canada

Natives of this kingdom in the eastern part of the Scandinavian peninsula settled in Canada as early as 1812, as members of the Red River Colony (Winnipeg). It was not until 1890, however, that significant numbers arrived in the prairies from the USA.

Natives of this kingdom in the eastern part of the Scandinavian peninsula settled in Canada as early as 1812, as members of the Red River Colony (Winnipeg). It was not until 1890, however, that significant numbers arrived in the prairies from the USA. In 1986 there were 203,875 people of Swedish origin in Canada.

Musicians of Swedish birth or origin who have lived in Canada include the baritones Peter Barcza (born in Stockholm to Hungarian parents) and Ingemar Korjus (born in Stockholm to Estonian parents); the pianist and teacher Clarence Dahlgren and the violin builder Sid Engen, both of Dauphin, Man; the composers Bengt Hambraeus and Richard Johnston; the country singer Nels Nelson, of Sleepy and Swede and the Tumbleweeds; and the Winnipeg violinist Alma Wahlberg.

Swedish visitors to Canada have included Jenny Lind, who created a sensation in Montreal and Toronto in 1851, and Kristina Nilsson, who toured North America in the 1870s and appeared in Montreal with the Theodore Thomas orchestra in 1884. Jussi Björling sang several times in Canada as did his son Rolf Björling, also a tenor. The Wagnerian tenor Set Svanholm also made appearances. The composer Karl-Birger Blomdahl visited Canada in l954 to investigate contemporary composition, and again in 1960 as the Swedish representative to the International Conference of Composers at Stratford, Ont. The mezzo-soprano Kerstin Meyer sang at the 1959 Vancouver International Festival, and the soprano Elisabeth Söderström has appeared in Canada numerous times.

The illustrious dramatic soprano Birgit Nilsson, who has sung in Canada as a member of the Metropolitan Opera and often in concert (notably with Jon Vickers, William Wilderman, and the TS conducted by Zubin Mehta), performed at the Montreal World Festival during Expo 67 with both the Vienna Opera (as Elektra) and the Royal Swedish Opera (as Isolde). Sixten Ehrling conducted the latter company and also led the MSO in a Scandinavian gala. Ehrling also has been a guest of the TS, the NACO, and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

Other visiting performers from Sweden have included the Fresk Quartet, which toured for the JMC (YMC) in 1970-1, 1972-3, and 1974-5; the Kyndel String Quartet; the pop group ABBA which in 1979 was seen with the Swedish pop singer Ted Gardestad in 'Listen to the Music/Lyssna Till Musiken,' a joint production of CBC TV and Swedish Television TV-2; the Malmö KFUM (YMCA) SO, which toured southern Ontario in 1979; and Håkan Hardenberger, who was trumpet soloist with the NACO in 1988. Several notable choirs have toured Canada including the Mikaeli Chamber Choir in 1988 and the Orphei Drängar (Sons of Orpheus) male choir, which under its director Erik Erikson gave the broadcast premiere of Schafer'sMagic Songs on CBC radio 25 Oct 1989. The University of Lund Student choir performed in Vancouver in 1990. In 1991 Skottes Music Theatre took part in the International Children's festival at Toronto's Harbourfront.

Swedish jazz performers who have appeared in Canada include the Per-Henrik Wallins Trio (1983), NEXUS (1986), the singer Alice-Babs (1990), the guitarist Rune Gustafson, and groups led by Arne Domnerus, Putte Wickman and Joachim Milder (1991).

Emma Albani performed in Stockholm in l888. Canadians who have visited Sweden in the 20th century include the Hart House String Quartet, the Hart House Orchestra, Gertrude Newton, Ida Krehm, the Orford String Quartet (co-winner of first prize in the l974 European Broadcasting Union's String Quartet Competition in Stockholm), Arthur Ozolins, and Patricia Rideout with other members of Toronto's NMC group. Both Armas Maiste and Glenn Mossop have studied in Sweden, the latter with the assistance of a Canadian-Scandinavian Foundation award. Robert Aitken has given master classes in Ingesund and at the Swedish Radio Music School in Stockholm. He and the Norwegian flutist Per Øien recorded a three-record set of the complete flute music by the brothers Doppler for the Swedish company Bis in 1978-9. The pianist Paul Bempéchat appeared in Stockholm in 1979, the Toronto Consort performed in Göteborg in 1980, and the TS performed in Stockholm in 1986. Helix has made several appearances in Sweden.

Swedish folk music relies mainly on two instruments - the accordion and the violin. In Canada 'Swedish violins' are produced by a few luthiers including Leif Karlsson of Calgary. Swedish folk music has been performed by the singing Bellman Quartet (named for C.W. Bellman, 'the Robert Burns of Sweden') which appeared at the CPR's New Canadian Folksong and Handicraft Festival in Winnipeg in l928, and by Selma Johanson de Coster who sang at the Great-West Canadian Folksong-Folkdance and Handicraft Festival in Regina in l929.

Scandinavian-Canadian composers of old-time dance music include Olaf Sveen, Agnar Tollefsen, Quintan Spitzer, and Edwin Erickson, all of whom have used Swedish themes and forms in their compositions. In addition to Sveen, Tollefsen, and Erickson (all accordionists), outstanding performers of Swedish old-time dance music include the violinists Graham Townsend, Frankie Rodgers, and Andy DeJarlis, the clarinetist Veikko Saarista, and the groups the The Emeralds, the Cottonpickers, Quinton and the Polka Dots, and the Calgary CBCN Oldtimers.

Traditional Swedish music is heard in Canadian cities in the annual celebrations of the Swedish festival of Santa Lucia, held l3 December.

Further Reading

  • Landström, Sven-A°ke. 'Radio, our best dissemination vehicle,' Hello Out There! ed John Beckwith and Dorith R. Cooper, CanMus Documents 2 (Toronto 1988)