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BLOW by Arne Otto Birger Mellnäs (Sweden, 1933-2002)

[#197] May 01, 2023

1974 | Wind Ensemble | Grade 6 | 10'-15' | Contemporary

Swedish composer and conductor Arne Mellnäs

Blow, by Swedish composer and conductor Arne Mellnäs is our Composition of the Week.

Blow is scored for: Flute, Oboe, 3 Clarinets, Bassoon, Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, 4 Horns, 3 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Euphonium and Tuba, as well as Double Bass and 2 Percussion.

It was written in 1974 and has duration of 12 minutes.

The recording proposed here is provided to us thanks to the initiative of conductors Brian Priestman and Osmo Vänskä, who recorded it with the Stockholm Wind Orchestra. Blow was originally published by Edition Reimers. It is now available on rental by Gehrmans Musikförlag, Sweden.

Arne Mellnäs studied at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm 1953-1961, where he first passed the Music Teacher Examination in 1958 and thereafter studied composition with Erland von Koch, Lars-Erik Larsson, Karl-Birger Blomdahl and Bo Wallner.

Mellnäs then studied music theory until 1963. He travelled abroad during this time, and studied composition with Boris Blacher in Berlin in 1959, Max Deutsch in Paris in 1961 and György Ligeti in Vienna in 1962. The latter proved to be of decisive influence on Mellnäs. He also studied electronic music during the following years.

Mellnäs visited Gottfried Michael Koenig at Bilthoven in Holland 1962-1963 and worked at the Tape Music Center in San Francisco in 1964. He taught music theory at Stockholm Citizens’ School 1961-63 and in 1963 he was employed at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm where he taught orchestration 1972-86. He was chairman of the Swedish section of the ISCM 1983-96, and a member of the Board of the Society of Swedish Composers 1979-89. He was elected Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1984. President of the International ISCM 1996-2002.

Some of his documents remain in the family’s possession. Mellnäs’ program commentaries on his own works have been submitted to Svensk Musik. Recordings will be submitted to the Department of Audiovisual Media at the Royal Library. As a rule, printed editions of Mellnäs’ works are not included in the archive but are available in other collections in the Music and Theater Library. The archive was donated in 1996, 2003 and 2014 and is freely available for research.

The important position that Arne Mellnäs holds as a technical innovator and introducer of avant-garde styles to Swedish music can hardly be overestimated. The breadth of his understanding of the capabilities of different instruments is quite astonishing. The results of his explorative energy during the expansive 1960s crystallized into a personal musical language full of diverse moods. Nocturnes is one of his best works as far as chamber music clarity and perfect sentiment is concerned. The choral work L’Infinito is characterized by a strong radiance and vibrating beauty, rich in nuance.

The writer Rolf Haglund has exquisitely described Mellnäs’ art: “Synthesis – so obvious that one almost does not notice it – that (as Kandinsky said) replaces the words ‘either-or’ with the determining and qualifying words ‘both-and’; music that can be enjoyed, regarded, studied, imbibed and digested lying on your back in the hammock looking at the clouds, in total relaxation and, therefore in total concentration—this is the great synthesis that I so often experience in Arne Mellnäs’ music.“ (Notes from ISCM website)


Other works for winds by Mellnäs:

  • Tombola, for Trombone, electric Guitar, Piano and Winds (1963)

  • Sianfoni, for Trumpet, Horn and Trombone (1964)

  • Ceremus, for Flute, Clarinet, Trumpet, Trombone, Double Bass and Percussion (1973)

  • Incantations, for Wind Orchestra (1978)

  • Apertura, for Brass ensemble (1982)

  • Rendez-vous, for 2 Flutes and Percussion (1983)

  • Stampede, for Saxophone quartet (1985)

  • No roses for Madame F, for Saxophone quartet (1991)

  • Hommages (1993) for horn


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