How and when did the idea of producing a sheet music book to accompany the album come about?
Benny called me in the beginning of April 2017 and asked if I could transcribe some piano music for him. I did not know then that it would be a real piano book of the entire album.
What made it extra interesting was that he wanted everything written as he played it, with no chord symbols to make it “easier” to read. In this case he wanted an exact reproduction of what his hands were doing. Real ‘Beethoven-scores’, so to say, playable even if you have never heard the piece before.
How did you receive the tracks from Benny?
He sent them to me by mail and ftp.
Can you describe the transcription process, i.e. your method?
Firstly, I put the piece in my sequencer for easy access and for the possibility to loop sections. And then I started listening and test playing. Over and over repeatedly. When I began to understand what Benny was doing, I input the notes in my scoring software, hopefully as correctly and readable as possible.
Did the project differ from anything you have done before? If so, how?
I have never transcribed classical solo piano with this level of accuracy before. As it is a rather time-consuming process you don’t get the opportunity to do it very often.
How long did the transcriptions take to complete?
All in all, with editing, proofreading and layout, around three months. I got great help from Naomi Cook at Music Sales as it is very hard – close to impossible – to proofread your own work. Luckily there weren’t that many errors in the material, but there is an old saying that when you open a new book, fresh from the printers, the first thing your eyes are drawn to are any errors, so…touch wood!
Which track(s) proved most challenging and why?
I would say some of the Chess pieces (Ice: we see what you did there Göran!), like Mountain Duet and You and I primarily because they are rather complex musical pieces to begin with.
Did you enjoy the process? You told us at the studio that it was an almost “psychedelic” experience at points?
Haha, I was referring to the fact that the work process sharpened my ears to a level I did not think was possible. For example, I had to very carefully remember not to put my mobile phone near my work space, because if it rang, I would jump three metres in the air (and almost have a heart attack!). Seriously – a very scary experience!
And what I mean by “psychedelic” is that when I closed my eyes I could mentally zoom in on the different frequencies and envision a gigantic keyboard on which I could clearly see what Benny’s fingers were doing there at any given moment.
This may sound like total mumbo jumbo, but it is very hard to explain it any other way.
Towards the end of the work period I sometimes could be uncertain if plain, ordinary major triads were not actually major seventh chords (until I realised that my ears had become so sharp that I started to hear overtones as chord notes). Luckily this has gone away now!
All in all, I must say that I enjoyed the work very much and that I learned an enormous amount from it. Also, it has been a great opportunity to really immerse in these beautiful melodies.
In addition, it gave me an even greater respect for Benny as a piano player – his pieces are quite a challenge for any pianist in both the technical and musical sense but also very rewarding. Well worth a try!
Göran, thanks so much for this interview, and as we say in English, it’s in the bag!
The tracklist to Benny Andersson’s new album Piano released on 29 September on Deutsche Grammophon/Universal is now revealed on icethesite in its entirety.
To accompany the release of the album, which will be available on CD, vinyl and digital download formats, a book of sheet music will also be released.
1. I Let The Music Speak
2. You And I
4. Thank You For The Music
5. Stockholm By Night
7. The Day Before You Came
8. Someone Else’s Story
11. I Wonder (Departure)
12. Embassy Lament
14. My Love, My Life
15. Mountain Duet
16. Flickornas rum
17. Efter regnet
19. En skrift i snön
20. Happy New Year
21. I gott bevar
On Sunday 18 June 2017, Benny Andersson and Orsa Spelmän marked the 30th anniversary of their musical partnership with an appearance as guest artists on the long-running Swedish television programme Moraeus med mera.
As in previous years, the filming took place in front of a live audience, under a big top tent on a lakeside campsite in Orsa.
With Benny joining them on accordion throughout, Orsa Spelmän played three tracks; Monas vals, Underbart (which reached the semi-finals of Melodifestivalen in 2010) and the traditional piece Rättvikarnas Gånglåt, on which they were joined by a 50 strong group of local folk musicians.
Afterwards, Benny explained to icethesite why he had chosen that particular tune:
“When I was just 19 or 20 years old and had my first flat in Stockholm, I used to play RättvikarnasGånglåt on a small plastic gramophone first thing every morning, day in-day out,” he said. “It’s wonderfully uplifting music…but not very rock’n’roll!”
Moraeus med mera is hosted by Orsa Spelmän founding member, Kalle Moraeus and Benny can still recall the occasion when he and Kalle first met in 1986:
“We were celebrating photographer Anders Hanser’s 40th birthday here in Dalarna,” he said. “Anders and Kalle were old friends and Kalle had brought his fiddle along to the party.
“We played a few tunes together and I asked him if he had any pals that would like to be on my next record.”
When the pair met up again the following year, they were joined by Kalle’s brothers, Per-Erik (Perra) and Olle Moraeus along with Nils-Erik (Nicke) Göthe and Leif Göras.
“When they took out their fiddles and played the first few bars of some tunes I had sent them, it was such an incredible feeling. A magical moment I shall never forget,” Benny said. “It was as if they had given my music life.”
After involvement in Benny’s Klinga mina klockor and November1989 solo albums, Orsa Spelmän went from strength to strength, recording several albums of their own and performing at many prestigious events around Sweden.
And of course, perhaps most significantly, it was the Benny Andersson/Orsa Spelmän union which in 2001 formed the basis of a new Swedish dance band, Benny Anderssons Orkester.
In 2010 the group joined Benny on the specially commissioned Benny Andersson/Kristina Lugn song Vilarglad. I din famn, during the royal wedding of Crown Princess Victoria.
Benny told us that he has so many happy memories from working with Orsa Spelmän over the past 30 years, however, there is one occasion that truly stands out for him:
“Bringing them to the UK to play old Swedish folk tunes in front of 50,000 people at the Thank You For The Music concert in Hyde Park was a once in a lifetime event,” he said. “It was such an overwhelming experience and I am so happy that we were able to do that.”
Sunday’s recording of Moraeus med mera, which also featured Lisa Miskovsky, girl duo Good Harvest and hip-hop star Linda Pira, is scheduled to be broadcast on SVT in the autumn.
News recently surfaced of a sequel to the movie smash Mamma Mia!. And yes, ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus have given the project their seal of approval and will also serve as executive producers.
The sequel Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again will be set once more on the Greek island of Kalokairi, and reunites the producers from the original film, Judy Craymer (who created and produced the stage show) and Gary Goetzman.
New this time around is Ol Parker, who has written the new movie and will also direct.
Ol is best known for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) and Now Is Good (2012).
The new Universal Pictures movie will feature ABBA songs that weren’t included in the first film and also reprises some of the most popular.
Mamma Mia! The Movie, which was released in 2008, was a huge worldwide hit, making $609.8M in global box office sales. Until this year’s Beauty And The Beast, Mamma Mia! was the biggest grossing live-action musical ever.
The original cast, including Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper are all expected to return for the second outing of the musical.
The news of the new movie has divided ABBA fans, much like the original stage show and movie did. One thing that no-one can deny is how phenomenally successful those two showcases of ABBA’s music went on to become.
Look out for much more news about the new film which is set to hit the silver screen in July 2018, ten years after the original was released.
‘Writing The Tunes’ is an essay from the eagerly awaited, revised and expanded book ‘ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions’ by ABBA historian and acclaimed author Carl Magnus Palm. It is a fascinating account of the roles and responsibilities that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus take on during the songwriting process. Here is an exclusive sneak peak…
The start of a songwriting period was always the hardest for the team: getting over the initial threshold. “After we release an album we don’t write for two or three months,” Björn explained at one point, “so when we start again it’s really hard and nothing helps but hard work.” The discipline of working day after day, hour after hour, Monday through Friday during office hours, was crucial for these particular writers; it was their method for getting the creative juices flowing. Björn was very firm about it in a 1982 interview. “There is nothing bohemian about [writing songs]. It’s a job that requires good character and discipline, like every other profession. That thing about writing when inspiration hits you, and usually in the middle of the night: both Benny and I quickly realised that it’s just a myth.” Like most songwriters, then, Andersson and Ulvaeus had concluded that if they would just wait for “inspiration”, they would never get any work done: the magic feeling of being possessed by something of an almost spiritual nature would emerge only through the work itself. “Inspiration comes at the exact moment when you hear that you’re on to something that’s good,” as Benny once phrased it.
So what would happen during these songwriting sessions? It was quite a simple set-up: Benny would be at the piano, or whatever keyboard instrument was handy, with Björn sitting beside him, armed with an acoustic or electric guitar. Then they’d start playing chords, humming ideas for melodies, throwing riffs and fragments of songs at each other, grabbing hold of the other person’s idea and take it to the next level. “All of a sudden,” Benny explained in a 1974 interview, “one of us will sing something that turns you on and then you play that thing, trying to develop it.”
The melody lines they’d be working on didn’t necessarily originate during the songwriting session: they would bring ideas to the room where they both were sitting, but those ideas would more often than not have emerged when they were alone. Rarely, however, would those melodies pop up while they were out walking or shopping, or were simply busy doing nothing; it was when actively playing music that the ideas would come. “You don’t write a good song in an hour,” explained Benny many years later. “You need to have two months [of] trying out ideas, before writing the good song in that hour. … If you don’t sit there and if you don’t work on it really hard, trying to achieve something and trying to make something good, it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen sitting in the car, thinking, ‘Oh I have this good idea’, nothing like that. I have to sit at a piano or a keyboard and play through the rubbish, and get rid of that, and sometimes things will pop out and I can say, ‘This is good.’”
As many have witnessed and he himself admits, Benny always found it hard to resist playing a piano wherever there was one available and it was through sitting at the keyboards hour after hour, just playing away, that all the music he’d ever heard in his life, combined with his own tastes, temperament, inclinations and feelings, would suddenly result in brand new melody lines travelling from his brain and out to his fingers. “I actually think that this is what ‘composing’ is really about, that the music has to exist before you play it,” he says today. “It’s not about sitting there improvising, as it were, it’s about sitting at the piano and wait for this thing that already exists to arrive. You want to watch your hands play something that you haven’t heard before, but which really is structured, in some way. And that takes time – usually you have to wait a very long time.”
Coming up with melody lines that felt right, that were worth developing, was a completely intuitive process. “I don’t know what it is that makes you choose like you do,” Benny says. “If I’m playing for four hours straight, trying to arrive at something that might be used for something, which I believe that I’ve invented, then I can’t really say why this melody line or these four bars in particular are what I decide to keep instead of all the other ideas that have come up. I just don’t know. The only thing I can say is that it feels right.”
What Björn and Benny would be doing once they got together, was to piece all those ideas together into a coherent song. “We don’t really adhere to any principle when we write songs; we just play around,” said Björn in a 1977 interview. “We both look for something and we both know when we find it and that’s an incredible feeling, the best kick you can get.” Rarely would they try to write a specific kind of tune: whatever came up during the writing, that they liked, they would go with. “Of course,” Benny admitted at the time, “if we’ve written eight songs for an album and we need two more, and all those eight songs are ballads, you don’t aim for writing two more ballads. But they may turn out to be anyway.”
If they were lucky, the process of coming up with a cohesive tune could in itself be relatively quick. The normal course of events, however, was that it took a lot of time, since their quest for the strongest possible melody ensured that at least 90 percent of their ideas for melody lines and song fragments would be discarded. “Sometimes it takes you a week and there is no song at all – or two weeks,” Benny explained in a 1980 interview, “and sometimes it takes four hours and there is almost a complete song there”.
They would be ruthless against themselves: just a catchy chorus wasn’t enough, they wanted the entire song to be solid, in all its parts, from start to finish, “never leaving a song until we feel it’s the best thing we’ve done,” as they once put it. But there wasn’t a fixed pattern as to the order in which the song would be put together: for example, they didn’t necessarily start with the chorus and then build the rest of the song around it. Says Benny, “You start at one end, with whatever you’ve come up with – four bars, or eight, or just a phrase you like – and then you use that as the starting point. And that could be any part of the song.”
Although Benny has always been, in Björn’s vernacular, “the musical motor” in the Andersson/Ulvaeus partnership, supplying most of the ideas for their songs, this does not mean that Björn never contributed anything. By the time his and Benny’s collaboration truly kicked off, towards the end of the 1960s, Björn had already proved himself as a tunesmith, having had a dozen of his songs recorded, several of which were strong, catchy tunes. Clearly, such an ambitious songwriter wouldn’t just sit and wait for Benny to come up with ideas. It is true, however, that as the nature of their collaboration evolved, Björn would take on the role of “editor” of the ideas that flowed from his colleague, essentially being Benny’s sparring partner. Parallel with this development, his interest in lyric-writing grew, and today’s Andersson/Ulvaeus songs are strictly music by the former, lyrics by the latter.
While Benny remembers several melody lines for ABBA songs coming to him, today Björn can’t remember any specific parts of tunes that he himself contributed. “Benny provided most of the music even in the early days,” he admits, “but it’s awfully difficult to say exactly where things start and end during the songwriting process.” And, as Benny points out, the Andersson/Ulvaeus partnership has never been about that type of issue. “It’s an interesting question, to pinpoint who does what in a song. It might be that one of us brings along a song that is complete: both of us feel that it’s complete, so that’s what it is. But let’s say that the song is complete, and then one of us says, ‘Wait a minute, what if we do it like this at that point in the song?’ and then we both agree, ‘Yeah, that’s really great!’ Who has written the song then? Is it the work of one person or of two persons? In other words, if we agree on a thing together, then both of us have been equally involved. In that respect there’s a tremendous difference between being alone and being together.”
On Thursday 26 January, Stockholm’s Royal College of Music, celebrated the opening of its new campus with an inauguration ceremony which featured a specially penned piece of music by Benny Andersson with lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus, Vi äger drömmarna (We Own The Dreams).
Benny, who has helped raise the money needed to fit out the new state-of-the-art building through his involvement with the ‘Music For Millions’ fundraising campaign, attended the prestigious event accompanied by his wife Mona.
Görel Hanser was also among the invited guests along with Göran Arnberg from Benny’s band who is an alumni of Kungliga Musikhögskolan (KMH) and wrote the choral arrangements for Benny and Björn’s new composition.
The gala ceremony, attended by luminaries and royalty including His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, began with a champagne reception in the futuristic, atrium style foyer that connects the original brick stables with the glass and steel structure of the new building.
Following the unveiling of a large brass plaque engraved with the names of the project’s most significant donors, KMH students performed a contemporary piece from platforms around and above the room before guests were invited to take their seats in the Royal Hall.
Once inside, the concert continued with a mixture of modern, folk and traditional works by acclaimed Swedish composers including Karin Rehnquist and Jesper Nordin.
The students performed the choral Vi äger drömmarna, towards the end of the performance. Benny took the stage briefly afterwards to acknowledge the applause and thank the conductor and musicians.
Interspersing the evening’s musical programme were a number of inaugural speeches and presentations, one of which included bestowing Benny with an Honorary Fellowship of Kungliga Musikhögskolan.
According to the music school, the title is only awarded to “particularly deserving persons of great artistic and educational inspiration and integrity”.
The inscription on Benny’s certificate translates as: ‘For rich and multi-faceted achievements as a composer, musical arranger, band leader and instrumentalist, a great commitment to younger fellow musicians and the support of KMH and its students.’
Benny is only the 9th person in the school’s history to have received the honour and he joins the likes of opera singer Birgit Nilsson, violinist Isaac Stern, record producer Sir George Martin and choral conductor Eric Ericson.
Speaking to icethesite after the ceremony Benny said in his usual humble manner:
“I have no idea why they think I deserve to receive the Fellowship, but I am extremely honoured and happy that they do. I think it is a very nice collection of names to be a part of.”
Benny also told us that he does hope to record Vi äger drömmarna one day, however, he doesn’t know who will perform it, or when or where it will eventually appear.
Thursday’s concert is scheduled to be broadcast on Swedish radio on 9 February and film from the ceremony will be included on a TV documentary about KMH to be shown later this year.
KMH’s housewarming party continues into this weekend with a packed programme of free concerts, workshops and events open to the public.
When the musicians left the stage at the end of the performance the audience stomped their feet for an encore.
The group obliged with a lively finale of the folk classic, Polska efter Bysskalle, which Benny often performs with his own band BAO.
Afterwards Benny and the members of Systerpolskan remained in the room for some time, chatting with family, friends and fans alike.
Systerpolskan’s new album Randig kjortel, featuring Benny on piano, keyboard and accordion, is available now on CD and digital formats. The release features 10 new compositions plus traditionalsongsfromUppland andDalarna.