In the compiled volume "Modern Nordic Music" (1957), Ingvar Lidholm introduces his analysis of the orchestral work Ritornell with a quotation from Strawinsky: "Music in its purest form is the spirit's limitless searching." Lidholm begins his commentary by saying that from this starting-point he has decided to devote himself "with complete freedom" to finding the tributary sources that reveal the pure beauty of sound. He also touches upon the relationship between artistic fantasy and intellectual activity, and he talks about the importance of new creative principles, concluding. "Let us turn aside from the cult of 'tradition' - or rather historical convention that is such a strongly restraining factor in the development of music culture. Let us try once again to create music which produces an immediate and powerful reaction from the listener, a music for the people of our time. Even a 'modern' composer expects his audience to have an open mind and heart."
This text can be read as a manifesto: from an artist who is constantly striving towards new aims and techniques which are often, though not always, avant-garde; an artist to whom meticulous attention to form and structure is an ethical necessity; an artist who wishes to be a voice of our time.
Three phases are discernable in Ingvar Lidholm's development so far: phases that can be studied both in his orchestral works and in his works for choir, that is to say, in the two most important aspects of his output.
This development is also reflected in his chamber music, although at times he has written relatively little.
In the first phase, which stretches over a ten-year period from the middle of the forties, his technique is still traditionally modern. Beginning with the language of the Toccata e Canto (1944) which bears the influence of Hindemith and Carl Nielsen, continuing with the Sonata for Solo Flute (1945) and the Sonata for Piano (1947), both influenced by baroque music, and his first large scale a cappella work Laudi, written the same year and inspired by Palestrina and Strawinsky, it leads up to the emotional tension of Klavierstueck 1949 and Music for Strings (1952).
The second phase, from the middle of the fifties, is dominated by expressionism and dodecaphony, as in the Concerto for flute, oboe, cor anglais and cello (1954), in Quatro Pezzi for cello and piano (same year) and above all in the flrst large-scale orchestral work Ritornell. Ritornell was a break-through for his new style and aesthetics, where the cool classicism of his early works has completely disappeared and where the music oscillates between solemn lyricism and orgiastic eruptions. From this point the culminations of expressive tension are a vital part of Lidholm's musical language. This is equally true of his vocal works, as in the grandiose a cappella movement Canto LXXXI, composed in 1956 to a text by Ezra Pound, and in The Poet's Night, an oratorio-like work for solo voice, choir and orcehstra from 1958, to a text by C J L Almqvist.
With each succesive work his methods develop, be coming ever more radical. Structurally, Motus-Colores (1960) is chamber music, yet it is scored for full orchestra, reminding one of Boulez. In Poesis (1963) there is no trace of traditional melodies or harmonies. Using new notation as a starting-point, a tensely dramatic music is developed, full of colours, movement and dynamic developments. Just as the Ritornell has its counterpart in Canto LXXXI, so Poesis has its counterpart in Nausicaa Alone, written in 1963 to a text by Eyvind Johnson, though this is not a purely a cappella work since it requires orchestra and solo soprano as well.
The years from 1954 were especially fertile. After this period works appeared sporadically and the television opera The Dutchman (1967, based on a dramatic fragment by Strindberg) was followed by several years of complete silence. A possible explanation is that Lidholm needed time to readjust and also that his post as professor of composition at the Stockholm High School of Music took all his time and attention. (He had previously been conductor of the Ãrebro orchestra and head of the chamber music section of the Swedish Radio). The effect of pedagogic work on artistic creativity varies - it can be both stimulating and inhibiting.
In the third phase of Lidholm's output the first work one comes across is the large a cappella movement "...a riveder le stelle" (1973) to the last lines of Purgatory from Dante's Divine Comedy, It is a magnificent and deeply moving work and yet very simple, particularly in the soprano vocalise of the last few bars. This simplicity, in comparison with Ritornell, Motus-Colores and Poesis, also characterizes the next two orchestral works that Lidholm wrote, Greetings from an Old World (1976) and Kontakion (1973). Kontakion is an instrumental requiem based on the melodic material of an old orthodox hymn and has in recent years been the most frequently performed of Lidholm's works.
Lidholm's scores are always extremely distinct: he is under a certain obligation as a classicist to be clear and simple. At the same time the music which is subordinated to this creative discipline can often be both intensely dramatic, even impetuous and explosive, and yet also have a poetic and ethereal chamber music quality.
There is another string to Lidholm's bow - he has at times been involved in pedagogic ideas. A String Trio from the early fifties is music for amateurs, and in the orchestral work Mutanza (1959) some of the parts are on a professional level, while others are easy to play, though still within the framework of the new music. He starts out on a third path with the A Cappella Book (1956-59, which is a work in progress) where each movement becomes progressively more difficult, rather like a Mikrokosmos for choir.
During the last few years Lidholm has been working on a music drama on Strindberg's "A dream play".