I was invited to have lunch today with Tommie Haglund, one of Scandinavia’s most noted composers. The lunch was hosted by Göran Applegren and his lovely wife, Josephine, in their beautiful home in the Bromma part of Stockholm: outlying to the west of the city centre, towards Drottningholm palace, small streets hugged by brightly colored wooden houses that marble back the sunlight in their old-leaded window glass. Göran is the pastor of the (Swedenborgian) New Church in Stockholm.
Haglund has had a life-long interest in Swedenborg, and some of his most well-known pieces refract engagements with pieces of Swedenborgian ideas. His first big “break-through” in 1988 was Intensio Animi, performed in the royal concert house in Stockholm to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Swedenborg’s birth. I have listened to Haglund’s “Hymns to the Night” before, a set of haunting orchestral pieces that takes its theme from Friedrich von Hardenberg’s (Novalis), “Hymen an die Nacht,” one of my favorite sequences of poems from the early German Romantic period. For the recording of “Hymns to the Night,” Hagelund used the famous Stradivarius 1721 “red” violin that once belonged to Mendelssohn (and more recently inspired the film, The Red Violin). It’s a stunning, haunting piece of music to listen to.
The lunch has prompted me to return to Haglund’s work, and listen to it more. My good friend Aram Yardumian wrote a wonderful review essay of Haglund’s “Hymns” back in 2010 here; the great Swedenborg scholar Anders Hallengren has also written on Hagelund’s use of Swedenborgian philosophy in his Grand Theme and Other Essays (2013).
Swedes eat long and leisurely, taking their time to share words and converse. Today at Göran and Josephine’s house, our conversation ranged the gamut from Wasily Kandinsky, to August Strindberg’s Inferno period, to the current frightening spectacle of American politics. With the candles lit on the dining room table, and a fall chill rustling in the trees outside, turning gold and orange, it was a cozy, perfect way to spend two September hours. After I had shared with Tommie a bit about our kids, and how they are obsessed with the Swedish royal family (especially the princesses, one of whom shares a name with our oldest eight year old), Tommie calmly related how he had just happened to have had dinner at the Drottningholm palace the prior evening, and sat with King Gustav talking about music for many hours — part of Tommie’s getting an honorary knighthood for his achievements in the humanities. This better count high for my kid’s one-degree-of-separation clause (although it should be said, as I then told Tommie, that I did once shake Queen Sylvia’s hand as a little ten year old boy — perhaps a story for this blog, for another time).
Here are some recordings and examples of Haglund’s music.