Internationally acclaimed Swedish composer, Jacob Mühlrad announces new album “Burn all my letters” on Warner Classics
Described as one of the world’s most imaginative contemporary orchestral composers (5-star-BBC Music Magazine Review), Jacob Mühlrad comes back with a new album for a chamber ensemble. Burn All My Letters is the original soundtrack for awarded director Björn Runge’s new film.
When composer Jacob Mühlrad was first contacted by Swedish compatriot Björn Runge, he was of course well-aware of who the director was. Runge has after all collected numerous awards and distinctions for his work, not least an Academy Award nomination for his 2017 feature The Wife, and is often heralded as the Nordics pre-eminent filmmaker, “For me, he’s one of Europe’s most interesting film minds, he has a way of reflecting on very, very delicate emotions,” says Mühlrad. What the young composer was surprised to hear was that his admiration for the filmmaker was reciprocated. “He really understood my work, and in fact saw things in it that I hadn’t myself. That really moved me,” recalls Mühlrad. Their correspondence was followed by a meeting during which came the unavoidable request; Would Mühlrad compose the score for Runge’s upcoming film? Despite having refused to write for film in the past, Mühlrad felt honoured by the invitation and compelled to say yes.
Burn All My Letters is a film based on Swedish author Alex Schulman’s (also known for international bestseller, Survivors) novel of the same name. It throws the spotlight on Karin and Sven Stolpe, Schulman’s grandparents, and on the short love affair Karin had one summer in the early 1930s - a romance for which she got punished her whole life. It is a story of fierce passion, great love and a long-lived, dark anger - all emotions which Runge brings to light with his signature subtlety. To help inspire him on the film’s nuances, the director fed Mühlrad short, poetic excerpts he himself wrote about each character. “Rather than a significant occurrence, they would contemplate on something of the character’s inner world. I wrote the most important themes in the film inspired by these texts,” says Mühlrad. Of the pieces, Karin’s Waltz and In Retrospective stand out for their emotionality, accompanying some of the film’s most memorable scenes. The former a piano and strings piece that’s strangely both uplifting and grieving like a sweet dream that’s constantly dragged down by a harsh reality, and the latter asserting a dark despair with its hard double bass bassline.
The scoring process was extremely laborious, not least because Mühlrad was adamant on creating a fully acoustic score, “There are no synthesisers in it, so every single sound effect you hear is an acoustic sound. It’s an extremely detailed score,” he says. This level of detail and sophistication is of course not new in Mühlrad’s compositions. His last album Time (on Deutsche Grammophon), and piece REMS (premiered by Stockholm Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Pablo Heras Casado) were both lauded releases, acclaimed amongst other things for their depth and complexity and a unique approach to sound design. Likewise, there was plenty of space for the creation of new sonic textures on Burn All My Letters, with Mühlrad carrying out unusual experiments with the instruments that would push and pull at their sound. “We would hit the tubular bells and sink them into water to get this bent pitch. It sounds like a plug in and everyone thinks it’s electronic but it’s not,” he says. The effects created would range from simple experiments such as pushing down the strings on the piano while holding the sustain pedal, to the usage of unorthodox instruments such as Thai Gongs. “A lot of my work is based on microtonal melodies and chords. It’s something that’s more prominent in Oriental music tradition than Western, but I think it creates these very interesting layers,” he says. The end result is a score for pianos and strings, over a rich yet amorphous bed of sounds, “I’m absolutely inspired by electronic music, in the sense that the instrumentation is abstract and you don’t really understand the source of the sounds,” Mühlrad says.
Burn All My Letters is a film that delicately exposes human’s inner conflicts, desires and regrets, and Mühlrad’s score is equally poignant. After a wide-reaching artistic pursuit which encompasses choir, chamber ensemble and orchestra music, and more recently composing for theatre (Tröstrapporter, Royal Dramatic Theatre) too, Mühlrad entered the uncharted waters of music for screen in an accomplished debut.