Torsten Nilsson: Crucifigatur

Torsten Nilsson 100 years

  • Peter Bengtson, organ

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The Swedish composer, organist and choirmaster Torsten Nilsson (1920-1999) would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. For this reason, Frivox Ljudbiten and Pär Fridberg are releasing two videos featuring Peter Bengtson performing two of Torsten Nilsson’s central works, “Crucifigatur” and “Magnificat”. (“Magnificat” is here)

“Crucifigatur” (“Crucify him!”) is the overture to Torsten Nilsson’s Good Friday oratorio “Nox Angustiae” (Night of Anguish). It was written in 1968 and was to achieve cult status during the years to come. It was always performed in Oscar’s Church on Maundy Thursday, late at night at 11pm, which is the reason we’re releasing this video at that particular time. Oscar’s Church was an important epicentre for avant garde music for several decades by virtue of Torsten Nilsson’s activities, and Oscar’s Motet Choir under his direction clearly equalled the choirs, of world renown, of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation.

“Nox Angustiae” is meant as a contrast to all the usual pretty, tidy Passion oratorios. Instead, Torsten Nilsson wanted to depict the raw anger, violence and chaos of the original Good Friday. Nox Angustiae is scored for double chorus, vocal soloists and large organ. It spans the whole emotional spectrum from introverted intense grief to wolf whistling, screaming and floor tamping. As usual in Torsten Nilsson’s music, brutality is combined with elevated, sensuously warm atmospheres and rich harmony, resulting in music of rare, ecstatic expressivity and beauty.

Nox Angustiae was always performed in a completely dark church – the chancel empty and dark, the performers on the organ loft reading their music by faint blue light – but except for the projection of a graphical improvisation leaflet onto the ceiling, the rest of the church was in complete darkness, something which of course heightened the sense of shock from the barrage of the initial clusters.

“Crucifigatur” mixes passages in strict notation, such as the Gregorian introit for Good Friday, with improvisational sections. These sections are sometimes to be interpreted literally – the number and the rhythm of the clusters being given exactly in the score – but sometimes describe a passage using a graphical depiction of its intended emotional effect. All in all, the notation is remarkably exact provided the organist knows which is which.

Peter Bengtson, born in 1961 and a composer and organist, has studied Torsten Nilsson’s works with the composer and has recorded and performed them in concert and on radio, including complete live performances of Nox Angustiae in Oscar’s Church. In 1984, Torsten Nilsson suffered a hemiplegic stroke which left half of his body paralysed; Peter Bengtson was his musical assistant for a number of years until Torsten Nilsson by sheer iron will alone had recovered to the point where he was able to play the organ as a soloist again.

Nox Angustiae is undoubtedly one of the most important and original Swedish pieces of church music. This way, at least a part of the work may sound again from Oscar’s, at the time it traditionally was performed, as a homage to centenarian Torsten Nilsson.

Listening using headphones or a full frequency range speaker system is strongly recommended. Make sure to turn up the volume. Don’t miss to also listen to Magnificat, a work which amalgamates the erotic and the transcendent.

Torsten Nilsson: Crucifigatur

Torsten Nilsson: Lamento

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