Anders Eliasson was born on April 3rd, 1947, in Borlänge, in the southern part of the province of Dalarna, central Sweden. His father was a worker in the metal industry, his mother a hairdresser.
His earliest musical experiences originated from within myself: ”they were my own singing, and familiar tunes I heard on the radio”. He used to imagine the sound of an orchestra. Aged 9, he began the trumpet, started up a small jazz orchestra (2 clarinets, trombone, rhythm section, guitar, trumpet), and aged 10 he was writing arrangements for his fellow pupils. A local jazz musician taught him chords. Aged 14, he found an organist, Uno Sandén, to teach him harmony and counterpoint.
Aged 16 he went for private study in Stockholm to ”the wonderful Valdemar Söderholm”, who after years of jazz ”challenged me once more with real music” – music such as he had heard aged about 12 (Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 on a gramophone record). Under Söderholm, he studied counterpoint: five years’ intensive work on Bach, ”the highest form of energy with which it’s possible to come into contact.”
From 1966 he was a student under Ingvar Lidholm at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, and until 1973 a member of the artistic committee of the Electronic Music Foundation, Stockholm.
Anders Eliasson 1972. Photo: Bo-Aje Melin/SVT
There was a growing interest in Eliasson’s music during the 1970s, with new commissions and interviews in music magazines. Pieces like Disegno per quartetto d’archi (1975) caught attention in the daily press, as did the works for orchestra that followed, for instance the televised performance of Turnings (1978).
His first major successes were Canto del vagabondo (1979) for orchestra and female choir, and his Symhony No 1 (1986), for whose ”originality, authenticity and musical clarity” Eliasson was awarded the Nordic Council Music Prize.
By that time, Eliasson’s musical vocabulary had reached its maturity through chamber music pieces like Ombra (1980) for clarinet quintet and Desert Point (1981) for string orchestra, as well as the first solo concerto (of 10 altogether) written for the bassoon, Concerto per fagotto ed archi (1982). Ostacoli (1987) for string orchestra should also be mentioned among the refined works of the 1980s, marking the start of a long-term and important collaboration with the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra and the Finnish conductor Juha Kangas. Yet another important collaboration was initiated at this time, with saxophonist John-Edward Kelly, for whom Eliasson composed Symphony No 3 (1989) – a ”sinfonia concertante” for alto saxophone and orchestra.
In 1991 he was composer in residence at the Lapland Festival in Arjeplog – where Fogliame (1989) for piano and string trio and Quartetto d’archi (1990) for string quartet were first performed. He was visiting professor at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki in the academic year 1993/94.
37 works of Eliasson’s were performed at the 1996 edition of the International Composer’s Festival at the Stockholm Concert Hall.
From 2000 Eliasson composed a monodrama for soprano and chamber orchestra (Karolinas sömn / Karolina’s Sleep, premiered in 2012), a great number of chamber music as well as five large-scale concertos: a Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra (written for Christian Lindberg), a Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra (for John-Edward Kelly, the dedicatee of Eliasson’s Symphony No 3), a Double Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra (for Roland Pöntinen and Ulf Wallin), a Double Concerto for Violin, Viola and Chamber Orchestra (for Ulf Wallin and Lars Anders Tomter) as well as a Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (for Ulf Wallin; Solitary Journey, original title in German, Einsame Fahrt).
Einsame Fahrt was awarded the Swedish MPA Award [Music Publishers Association] for ”best composition 2011” in the orchestra/opera category. So far, Eliasson is the only Swedish composer to have received this prestigious award thrice. In 2007, his Symphony No. 4 had won award in the same category, and in 2014 – posthumously – his very last piece, the string trio Ahnungen, won the award in the chamber music category.
From 2005 until his death on May 20th 2013, Anders Eliasson was composer-in-residence of the New York-based Arcos Chamber Ensemble.