Olsson Requiem, Op 13

One of the finest Nordic choral works of the last century

Author: 
Guy Rickards

Olsson Requiem, Op 13

  • Requiem

Relatively little known outside Scandinavia, Otto Olsson (1879-1964) was an ultra-conservative who withdrew from composition as the 20th century progressed; thus the majority of his works date from earlier in his career. So it is with his Requiem, written in 1901-03, possibly to commemorate his father.

Here Olsson’s musical language owes much in general tenor to the styles of Franck and Verdi, though the opening movements look back further to Schumann or even Beethoven. Yet there is a personal voice here, too, and occasional flashes of his contemporaries, as in the Sibelian opening of the ‘Dies irae’. The work’s layout is also unusual, being cast in 10 movements, partly following the Mozartian model with the Kyrie, ‘Rex tremendae’, ‘Recordare’, ‘Confutatis’ and ‘Domine Jesu’ all separate. However, as the work progresses, the movements take on a broader scale. The effect is one of expansion from the sombreness of the opening sections into a light-wreathed expression of hope and prayer for the life to come.

For those looking for a Requiem that eschews both the apocalyptic (Verdi) as well as the saccharine (Fauré), Olsson’s deeply moving work – which deserves to be far better known – can be easily recommended. There have been other recordings (the work was only premiered in 1976, 12 years after the composer’s death) but this reverent 1993 account catches the radiant fervour and humanity of the music.

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