ULF G. ÅHSLUND
My friend Ulf G. Åhslund passed away in Stockholm on July 23, 2013. Ulf was a key figure in the 20th-century Swedish guitar world, performer, teacher and composer. His guitar suite “Autumn” was one of the first things I learned on the classical guitar over 35 years ago. Autumn in Swedish is hösten. I told Ulf that when I first learned to play it, I was learning Swedish. I confused hösten with hästen, which means “the horse”. And so, when I should have been visualizing snow glittering in a forest clearing, I visualized a horse galloping over a meadow. He said that worked OK too.
Ulf Göran Åhslund was born in 1938 in Brunflobadet in Jämtland, not far from Östersund in northern Sweden. His father was a lathe operator and his mother a housewife. After completing school, he worked as a merchant seaman from 1953 to 1956, traveling over the world. From 1956 to 1961 he worked in the iron mines of Kiruna in the far north of Sweden. Not the most common background for a classical guitarist and composer. He was basically a self-taught guitarist, although his first instrument was the violin.
”There was plenty of imagination, but a lack of teachers,” he told Robert Robertsson (his former pupil) in an interview in Gitarr och Luta, September 2012 (left). A co-worker and welder in the mine showed him different accompaniment rhythms and chords, but for the most part, he was alone with his creativity, for better or worse. He discovered that he had a problem with fingernails that got worse over the years and would be a final and insurmountable obstacle to his continuing as a concert guitarist. Radio was an outlet to the guitar world, where he first heard Andres Segovia, wondering why other guitarists were not being broadcast. Sweden was in many respects a developing country as far as the guitar was concerned.
Ulf gradually came into contact with guitarists Roland Bengtsson, Paul Gerrits, Per-Olof Johnson (”a Swedish Segovia”), and Per-Olof Hedlund, whom he admired, as well as Banjo-Lasse. After several short courses he took a degree in music pedagogy at the Ingesund Music College 1964. He studied classical guitar as the main instrument, as well as piano, recorder, cello and viola da gamba. Along with the standard training he received teaching in composition. His guitar teacher was Per-Olof Johnson (also the teacher of Göran Söllscher). ”I was going to be a teacher. That was the goal. I would be playing nonetheless.” And he did: 235 concerts in 8 months, both solo and ensemble.
Robert Robertsson writes: ”Possibly it is as a teacher that Ulf has made the largest impression. Guitar status in Sweden was low. It was not at the music conservatories nor in the municipal music schools.” Ulf was one of the main people who helped to establish Sweden as a major nation for classical guitar today. He created the pedagogical guitar departments at the Stockholm Music Institute and the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, and held regular classes on Swedish television with a quarter of a million students. Similar televised guitar classes in England had one and a half million viewers. His pedagogical books (which were best-sellers) and sheet music have been translated into several languages.
Years ago I spent a whole day with Ulf and his wife Inger at their home in the countryside outside of Stockholm. It was the week between Christmas and New Year, very cold with much snow. He no longer played the guitar, but worked daily taking care of his sheep and other animals, as well as rebuilding his house and administering the many acres of forestland that he owned. This involved unbelievable physical labor: cutting down trees, deliveries to and from the sawmill, stacking lumber, chopping firewood, cleaning stables, feeding livestock and most astonishing of all, digging an entire cellar room with only a shovel and a pulley system for removing the dirt.
When I was there the cellar room was completed and neatly furnished. I looked up at the ceiling over my head and the dozens of cubic meters of space and was astounded that Ulf did this all alone with a shovel! Here was a real veteran from the iron mines of Kiruna that are over a kilometer deep! Needless to say, his former delicate hands of a concert classical guitarist were replaced with the rough hands of a farmer, stone mason and lumberjack. Downstairs in his studio he took a guitar and strummed it a bit with those workman’s hands. He had gone many years without playing. His sheep were one of his main interests now, seeing to it that they were sheared once a year. All the work eventually became overwhelming and he sold his sheep.
We had sporadic contact over the years. He and Inger visited my art exhibitions in central Stockholm, and were gracious buyers. During Ulf’s final illness, after he had a pace-maker operated into his heart, he told me, “Now I’m running on batteries.” My wife and I were recently in the Canary Islands. We had a special moment alone dreamily watching the intense full moon and its myriads of brightly glimmering reflections on the Atlantic Ocean. I later realized that it was the very day Ulf died.
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Anne Mari Hagen's homage to Ulf G. Åhslund
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