Elfrida Andrée (1841-1929, Swedish)

It is because I found the one CD of Elfrida Andrée’s music which I had in my collection for almost two decades (and which didn’t leave a strong impression back then), Elfrida Andrée: Fritiof-Suite, Symphony No. 2 in A minor. Stockholm SO, Gustaf Sjökvist. Sterling CDS-1016-2 (1995), sandwiched between CDs that I had reviewed, of Barry Anderson on the left side and Louis Andriessen on the right-side, that I decided to pull it out and give it a new try and review.

The younger sister of a famous opera singer, Fredrika Stenhammar (married to the uncle of the composer Wilhelm Stenhammar), Elfrida Andrée was a feminist figure “avant la lettre”, becoming the first cathedral organist in the history of Sweden (the law even had to be changed for her to be authorized to be a professional organist, and another one had to be changed to allow her to be a telegraph operator, a profession until then reserved to men) – and the only one for the next 120 years, for a short time the pupil of Niels Gade, writing symphonies and operas at a time when it wasn’t even conceived that women could write anything else but Lieder and chamber music. She had to hire the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra to get her works tried out. Her catalog of works numbers about a hundred.

Well, I must have mellowed over the years. Listening to so much music by the towering giants AND the “minor” composers has made me more tolerant to the latter, and open to the beauties that even their works have to offer. They may be minor beauties, but they are enjoyable nonetheless. The symphony, completed in 1879, is cast in a style that derives from Mendelssohn – hardly cutting-edge at the time, but heard 150 years later those chronological niceties don’t matter so much. The Fritiof-suite is the offshoot of an opera project Andrée had in 1894 with writer and later Nobel prize winner Selma Lagerlöf, and it offers moments of beautiful lyricism and epic sweep which rise above the generic and even point to Sibelius.

Given the great vogue these days of everything “feminist”, I am confounded that there isn’t more music of Elfrida Andrée on CD, and that so little has been added since this 1995 publication from Sterling: a little bit of her piano music, a little bit of her organ music, a little bit of her chamber music, and that’s about it. Andrée’s ordeal at getting her symphonic music performed and recognized seems to continue. You mean, she wrote an opera with Nobel prize Selma Lagerlöf, and it hasn’t been recorded yet? What are the Sweedes doing with their national heritage?

Comments are welcome