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Hammarskjöld set to music

Anders Widmark, the Swedish pianist, jazz musician, and composer widely known in Scandinavia, has accomplished something of a miracle by daring to set lines from Dag Hammarskjöld’s Markings in a jazz-pop idiom. Who would have thought, but it works brilliantly well, gives unexpected voice to the passion quietly present in many pages of Markings. True, there are choral passages, beautifully performed by the Stockholms Musikgymnasium Chamber Choir. They offer a traditional, collected counterpoint to the breakout music of Widmark on piano and Zoie Finer’s powerful vocal performance couched in an endlessly interesting synthesized sound environment. Finer is a Swedish Adele, singing with equal ease in Swedish and English. She can belt out a song, or whisper. The composition as a whole, called Vägmärken or Markings, was commissioned by Hammarskjöld’s native city, Uppsala, for a memorial concert in fall 2011 on the 50th anniversary of his death.

Widmark’s music insists that Hammarskjöld belongs to our own time—to this moment, not only his own. What Hammarskjöld felt and thought is restated and even amplified in our own musical language; its meanings are our meanings, its intensity also our own. We learn from Widmark’s vision or audition something more about Hammarskjöld, something of heart and longing and courage. He found its sound. Hammarskjöld often listened to classical music—Bach, Beethoven, and much else, opera on stage when time permitted. But he also cared for the music of his time. Early in the UN years he sponsored a performance at UN headquarters of a Paul Hindemith symphony that had debuted only a year or two earlier. I don’t know whether he would have appreciated Anders Widmark’s wonderfully daring and creative approach to his words; probably not. It remains true that Widmark has captured the passion of Markings with ferocious honesty. An admirable and compelling work of art. For us here, the composer has generously supplied three mp3 tracks from his Hammarskjöld memorial.

Nigh is the Nightfall
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Here and Now
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So Rests the Sky Against the Earth
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