Claes Rosendahl

Born: February 27th, 1929, Trelleborg (Sweden)
Died: September 27th, 2013, Partille (Sweden)
Nationality: Swedish

Eurovision record
Claes Rosendahl, a jazz saxophonist of considerable reputation, represented his country as a conductor in the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. The entry with which Sweden participated in the competition was ‘Vita vidder’, a song composed by Håkan Elmquist and interpreted by the formation Family Four. This sophisticated effort finished sixth.

Biography
Claes-Erik Rosendahl was born in the most southern town of Sweden, Trelleborg, but he grew up in Malmö, where his father worked as a police officer. After having finished his primary school, he did several regular jobs for about two years, but his hopes were firmly pinned on a career in music. Rosendahl: “When I was eight years old, I had already started playing flugelhorn in the youth orchestra of the YMCA in Malmö. There, I was taught the first basics of music theory as well. Although the flugelhorn was not an instrument at which I was particularly good, playing became my passion and I realized it was music that I wanted and nothing else. My older brother, who was a musician in the military band in Gothenburg, convinced me to go for it… he recommended me at his old comrades, who were playing in the Air Force Orchestra in Stockholm. I was over the moon when I received an invitation to go up there!”

Second from left, as a music pupil with the Royal Swedish Air Forces in Stockholm, mid-1940s

Rosendahl was only fourteen years old when he moved to Stockholm, living in the caserns of the Royal Swedish Air Forces as a music pupil. There, he studied the clarinet between 1943 and 1948. Rosendahl: “It was only with the military that I changed to clarinet. The air forces were in the habit of taking in young boys to educate them for their band. My tutor was the solo clarinettist in the band, Mr Lindahl – an excellent teacher. The level of training I received was very high indeed; it also included all compulsory conservatory subjects such as harmony and music history. In those years, I practiced eight to ten hours a day. It was a fully-fledged classical music education. Life for a musician was relatively comfortable there; you did not have to cook your own meals, for example! In 1948, though, I was a bit tired of staying with the air forces. I had meanwhile become a member of the band, but the salary was meagre to say the least: 25 crowns a month. When my teacher of music theory was offered the job of conductor of the Östersund Infantry Band, he persuaded me to join him.”

Östersund is the capital of Jämtland County in the thinly populated northern half of Sweden. Although employed as the clarinettist of the military orchestra, Rosendahl’s stay in Jämtland (1948-’50) was dominated by another type of music – jazz! Rosendahl: “Life in Östersund was dull and the level of the other musicians in that orchestra turned out to be quite low, as I found out quickly. I was left with huge amounts of free time to devote to jazz. Although already having discovered jazz music in Stockholm, it was only in Östersund that I really became addicted to it. There were some friends in the regiment who shared my passion and together we listened to the music of Miles Davis, Tommy Dorset, and all our other heroes from the US. It was not long before the whole regiment was infected with the jazz virus… the boys liked that music far more than that eternal bugle which was blown at the revel and the taps! Since Charlie Parker was my idol, I bought many of his records. Listening to his music was very educational, as I tried to copy his style of playing the saxophone. I essentially taught myself to play the alto sax… as it is by no means as complicated as playing the clarinet, I quickly got the hang of it. With four others, I founded a jazz quintet – a little band, with which we toured the Jämtland area during the weekends.”

Rosendahl the young professional musician, +/- 1950

In 1950, Rosendahl left the army service to pursue a career as a jazz musician. He spent short spells with several bands, including the Sven Sjöholm Orchestra in Gothenburg and the legendary Harry Arnold Orchestra in Malmö. Later that year, he teamed up with the legendary Swedish band leader Arne Hylphers. For over two years, he worked in West Germany with the Hylphers Orchestra, which had been hired to accompany the Garmisch-Partenkirchener Eisrevue, an ice dancing show. One of the other band members was Sven-Olof Walldoff. The revue was staged all major German towns. Rosendahl: “We also worked in Berlin… this was in the days before the Berlin Wall was erected and for us, Swedes, it was possible to travel to the Russian zone. I discovered a very nice music instruments shop, where I bought a flute. As it was forbidden to take goods from the eastern zone to the west, it was smuggled over the border for me. Late at night, someone brought it to me – stuff for a spy movie, really! One of the German guys in the band taught me how to play the flute. Originally, there were only Swedes in the band, but one by one they got sick and tired of having to play the same music evening after evening and left for Sweden. I was one of the last left, but then again… I had fallen in love with one of the beautiful Bavarian ice princesses of the revue and we were engaged! When the engagement was broken off, however, I thought to myself: ‘What am I doing here?’ At the beginning of 1953, I moved back to Sweden.”

Back in Sweden, Rosendahl settled in the town of his early youth, Malmö. He stayed with Harry Arnold for two years. When this orchestra was disbanded, Rosendahl moved to Stockholm again. Between 1955 and 1964, he played as a saxophonist, clarinettist, and flautist in a multitude of jazz ensembles, including the orchestras of Seymour Österwall, Simon Brehm, Olle Nilsson, Putte Wickman, and Ernie England. Especially the Wickman band, with the adventurous pianist Reinhold Svensson penning most of the arrangements, was known for its experimental approach to jazz music. With Brehm’s orchestra, Rosendahl worked in the dance hall in Stockholm’s Kungsgården, whilst also roaming Sweden on summer tours. Meanwhile, he started writing arrangements for different bandleaders, most notably Carl-Henrik Norin. “Arranging was again something I taught myself”, Rosendahl explains. “I learnt the basics by studying Glenn Miller’s handbook to arranging. After a while, I began listening to records and writing down the parts of all instruments separately. This was most educational, as it trained my ears and at the same time made me aware of how others wrote their arrangements.”

Claes Rosendahl (front row, second from left) as a member of the Olle Nilsson Orchestra, 1950s

From the mid-1950s onwards, Rosendahl was much in demand as a session musician for recording sessions in Stockholm’s studios, playing the saxophone, flute, or clarinet. Later onwards, he started writing arrangements for pop and occasional jazz records as well. “My first arrangement for a studio session was while I was in the Seymour Österwall Orchestra”, Rosendahl recalls. “There was an English singer in the band, Charles Judah, who recorded an EP for which I penned one score. For that same session, I had been commissioned to write an arrangement for a Brita Borg song… so that was my first job. I must have been recommended, because in Stockholm’s jazz scene, my arrangements were quite well-known. In the 1960s, I was what can be described as a chameleon… it often happened that I conducted a set of my own arrangements in the early morning, whilst returning to my place among the other session instrumentalists in the same studio later that day with another conductor taking my place!”

In the 1960s and 1970s, Rosendahl worked as an arranger and conductor in the record studio with many Swedish light entertainment music icons, including Anna-Lena Löfgren, Bibi Johns, Thore Skogman, Lena Hansson, Jan Sparring, Sune Mangs, and Artur Erikson. He has the scores of many hit records to his credit, including Siw Malmkvist’s ‘Gulle dej’ (1963) and ‘Amore scusami’ (1965), as well as ‘Regniga natt’ by Anna-Lena Löfgren (1962) and ’34:än’ by Per Myrberg (1964). Especially his collaboration with Malmkvist proved a lasting one, resulting in several LPs. In the late 1960s, Rosendahl regularly teamed up with the versatile Svante Thuresson, for whom he wrote the arrangements to ‘Har ni hört’, ‘Regn i min själ’, ‘Jag tror att jag är kär i dej, Maria’, ‘Nyanser’, ‘Vill hellre ha en sommar (El condor pasa)’, and many other songs. In 1971, Benny Andersson commissioned Rosendahl to pen the scores for his fiancée Anni-Frid Lyngstad’s first LP ‘Frida’. With Hector (Heikki Harma) from Finland, he recorded a cover version of ‘Wichita lineman’ entitled ‘Tie jatkuu äärettömiin’ (1969).

As an arranger, Rosendahl worked on several recording projects with Anni-Frid Lyngstad, including her cover version of ‘A simple song of freedom’ in 1970

As Rosendahl’s experience in jazz music was known to producers, several interesting projects in that genre came his way. He recorded an album with the American jazz vocalist Freda Payne, who stayed in Stockholm in the summer of ’65. Much praise was heaped on Rosendahl for his 1969 arrangement to one of Monica Zetterlund’s signature tunes, ‘Gröna små applen’. Moreover, he worked with Doris Svensson and Cornelis Vreeswijk as well as writing the scores to an album of Brazilian singer Elis Regina featuring the acclaimed Belgian mouth organ player Jean ‘Toots’ Thielemans in 1969.

As so many of his contemporaries, Rosendahl had never received any formal education in conducting. Rosendahl: “Of course, I worked with many conductors and you learn something from all of them. Especially William Lind was an important factor; such a wonderful gentleman! We often discussed conducting techniques. He helped me mastering the basics – the things you have to get into your spine, so to speak. Most of the times, I did not find it difficult to conduct a studio orchestra. I usually worked with the string players from the SR Symphony Orchestra and they were very kind to me. One time, I was really nervous… we were recording an album of Burt Bacharach repertoire with Siw Malmkvist. Many of Bacharach’s songs have such a complicated melodic structure… somehow, I managed to scrape through! It goes without saying that I loved the jazz projects best. When working on pop music, my main goal was to get the sound exactly right. My ambition was to write good and sophisticated arrangements, whereas many of my colleagues were just in it to make as many as possible – for obvious reasons.”

Rosendahl (third from left, with flute) during a radio recording with the Arne Domnérus Sextet and a choir conducted by Birger Öjebo, 1970s

His work in the recording studio did not impede Claes Rosendahl to keep on playing in jazz groups. In 1964, he joined the newly formed Arne Domnérus Orchestra. Domnérus (1924-2008) had been a saxophonist and clarinettist in the bands of Thore Ehrling and Harry Arnold and was widely recognized as one of Sweden’s most prolific jazz musicians. Domnérus’ orchestra included what newspaper journalist Anders Hammarqvist described as ‘Sweden’s jazz elite’, most prominently – except for Domnérus himself and Rosendahl – Bosse Broberg (trumpet), Bengt Hallberg (piano), Georg Riedel (bass), Rune Gustafsson (guitar), and Egil Johansen (drums). The band toured extensively in Sweden and specialized in crossover projects, teaming up with church choirs and chamber orchestras. Between 1967 and 1978, Domnérus and his men were employed by the Swedish national broadcaster (SR) and performed in countless radio programmes under the name Radio Jazz Group. The members of Domnérus’ band often joined the SR Big Band as well, whilst they played in the orchestra in each and every edition of the Swedish Eurovision heats, the so-called Melodifestival. “Other musicians in Stockholm called us the jazz mafia”, Rosendahl recalls laughingly, “because they thought of us as a sort of clique which managed to get all the well-paid jobs: we were the first choice as instrumentalists in studio recordings, we were in all jazz projects on the radio, and on top of that we did the most lucrative TV projects, most notably the Melodifestival. We were everywhere, no matter if it was jazz or pop. Of course, we were envied for that!”

As an employee of SR, Rosendahl was often commissioned to arrange pieces of music for radio programmes. His scores were played by the broadcaster’s light entertainment ensemble, William Lind’s SR Underhållningsorkester, as well as by the Radio Jazz Group and the SR Big Band. Rosendahl conducted the Underhållningsorkester himself for several radio broadcasts. Apart from his work with pop artists, he was involved as an arranger in many recording projects with jazz musicians, most notably his friends of the jazz mafia, including a Rune Gustafsson solo album with instrumental re-arrangements of Stevie Wonder’s best-known songs. Away from the recording studios and radio broadcasts, Rosendahl toured Sweden with several jazz combos, most notably the Bengt Hallberg Trio. In 1979, he performed with the legendary American trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in a radio broadcast.

Rosendahl playing in the SR Jazz Group flanked by two of his colleagues (1970s)

In his own words a victim of self-criticism, Rosendahl never truly made his mark as a composer, although he contributed to some film soundtracks, including ‘Dunderklumpen!’ (1974) and ‘Picassos äventyr’ (1978). For ‘Dunderklumpen!’, an animated film, Rosendahl again worked with Jean ‘Toots’ Thielemans: they composed the music to this movie together. In the 1970s, Rosendahl’s expertise was also called upon for several theatre projects; he re-arranged the music to Kurt Weill’s opera ‘Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’ when it was staged by the Uppsala State Theatre. For the Swedish Theatre Society, he reworked the music of the operetta ‘The White Horse Inn’.

In 1981, Rosendahl gave up working as a professional musician in the recording studio and with Swedish Radio, because – as he puts it himself – he was “fed up with the music industry and with work in the recording studio in particular”. This also meant he quit the Arne Domnérus orchestra after eighteen years of faithful service. He remained employed at Swedish Radio in Stockholm, however, working in its music library between 1981 and his retirement in 1991. As a hobby, he played the saxophone in the Thore Ehrling Big Band. Occasionally, he also wrote arrangements for Ehrling, as well as for the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Helmer Bryd Big Band. After having been pensioned off, Rosendahl moved to Sweden’s south-western coast. In the 1990s, he worked as a conductor and arranger with several amateur bands, such as the Westcoasters and the Varberg Big Band.

Close-up, 2011

Claes Rosendahl in the Eurovision Song Contest
Although Claes Rosendahl only conducted the Swedish Eurovision entry in 1971, his involvement in the competition goes back much further than that. From 1959 onwards, he played the saxophone and clarinet in most editions of the Swedish Eurovision pre-selection, called the Melodifestival from 1967 onwards. Moreover, between 1960 and 1963, he wrote all arrangements for the Göte Wilhelmson quartet (a quintet in 1961 and 1962), which performed alternative versions of all songs in the competition. In the 1960s and 1970s, each song in the Melodifestival used to be conducted by its own arranger; as a result of this, there is a long list of conductors having been involved in the competition domestically in Sweden. Rosendahl made his debut in the Melodifestival as a conductor in 1969, when he led the orchestra for no fewer than three of the ten participating entries: ‘Sommarflicka’ for Svante Thuresson, ‘Du ger mig lust att leva’ for Lena Hansson, and ‘Du ser mig inte’ by Inger Öst.

The 1971 Melodifestival was a complicated TV production, with five semi-finals in which three different acts competed head to head: Sylvia Vrethammar, Tommy Körberg, and the quartet Family Four. These semi-finals, broadcast as part of Lennart Hyland’s popular weekly TV show ‘Hylands hörna’, were all won by Family Four, resulting in a final with five songs performed by the same group. While the semi-finals had been accompanied by a small combo (alternatively led by Putte Wickman and Leif Asp), the grand orchestra in the final was conducted by Claes Rosendahl.

Rosendahl (loosely holding a cigarette in his left hand!) conducting a studio orchestra, 1969

“Lennart Hyland and his producer Allan Schulman were in charge of the Melodifestival that year”, Rosendahl recalls. “In 1970, I worked on a TV series with director Åke Falk which won a prize at the Golden Palm Festival in Cannes. This gave a boost to my career in the world of broadcasting and I presume it was for that reason that Schulman, who was a most peculiar man, wanted me for this Eurovision project. For the semis, I wrote all arrangements for Leif Asp and Putte Wickman, while I also was a part of their bands which accompanied the songs in ‘Hylands hörna’. These five semis were a sorry affair, because Sylvia Vrethammar and Tommy Körberg, who had nice enough songs, did not stand a chance against Family Four. Family Four not only were a popular band in Sweden at that time, but they also were musical guests in all editions of ‘Hylands hörna’… they were the house band, so to speak. This gave them an undue advantage over the other two, because they had the opportunity to impress the TV audience the whole evening, rather than just with one song. For the Melodifestival final, I had a large orchestra to my disposal. My most vivid memory of the competition is that Peter Himmelstrand, whose composition ‘Heja mamma’ came third, ran up to me excitedly a couple of months afterwards and shouted: ‘You know what, the Mills Brothers from America want to sing my song and use your arrangement!’ He was so proud of that. Himmelstrand was a strange character, but he had a nose for writing catchy pop music.”

Playing the flute in the Arne Domnérus Band; picture taken around the same time as Rosendahl’s Eurovision participation

The song which the professional jury chose as most suitable for Family Four – consisting of Agnetha Munther, Marie Bergman, Pierre Isacsson, and Bernd Öst – to represent Sweden in the international Eurovision Song Contest was ‘Vita vidder’, a most sophisticated ballad celebrating the beauty of a Nordic winter. With Family Four and songwriter Håkan Elmquist, Rosendahl travelled to Dublin to represent Sweden – the only time ever in his career to have performed as a conductor outside of his country. Lars Löfstrand, a journalist writing for Expressen, accompanied the Swedish delegation and wrote of Family Four’s first rehearsal with the Irish orchestra: “The members of the orchestra applauded ‘Vita vidder’ after the rehearsal. ‘This was much better than I had expected’, says conductor Claes Rosendahl after the 45-minute-long rehearsal. ‘I expected a high standard similar to English musicians and I was not disappointed in that. On the other hand, I had to calm the orchestra down, because they did not get along well with Dieter Zimmermann, the German conductor.’ Is forty-five minutes enough? ‘It seems that the orchestra has already worked a lot on the piece. They got it right immediately.’ Claes Rosendahl was instantly appreciated by the band. He did not create a fuss such as, for instance, the German conductor, but was polite and did some small talk with the musicians. (…) Arne Bendiksen, who composed the Norwegian entry, entered the theatre just when Family Four was rehearsing. ‘If there are any musicians at all in the jury, this song will do very well’, he said to journalists.”

“That German conductor”, Rosendahl recalls forty years later, “was a terrible guy. He shouted to the orchestra, telling them they were useless. The musicians told me they had had a bad time with him and how unsympathetic he had been. They did not hide their appreciation for me… my approach was more gentle. Rehearsing with Family Four was easy, as all four of them were such skilled singers. I had worked with Bernd Öst and Pierre Isacsson before in the record studio. Håkan Elmquist was a familiar face too, as he worked at Swedish Radio. At that time, I was happy his song was chosen, as it simply was the best piece of music in the Melodifestival that year. Did I expect to win? Ah really, I was not in it to win… that was not my ambition. For me, it was just a job… a very interesting job! The English delegation was extremely eager to take the trophy home. They had a song called ‘Jack in the box’ with singer Clodagh Rodgers. During all of the Eurovision week, they tried to give the impression to the press and the other participants that the only question left was who would come second behind them. It was a huge disappointment for them when they did not do as well as expected.”

“The week in Dublin was most pleasant”, Rosendahl continues, “and we were taken good care of. The organizers invited us to different occasions. I will never forget a reception at the Guinness brewery: I had never seen so much liquor! There was this large room with a desk of perhaps twenty metres long with countless little glasses full of every imaginable sort of gin and whiskey. No, I did not allow myself to get drunk, as I felt that would have created an impossible situation. Moreover, I had my wife with me as a break! On one of the nights, we went out to a place downtown where the Dubliners performed. I love Irish music – it has the right spirit! They gave me one of their records with signatures of all band members.”

Claes Rosendahl in 1971

After having had such a pleasant and relaxed week, the approaching of the live broadcast made Claes Rosendahl extremely nervous. “There was this time limit of three minutes which worried me, for our song was 2.58 at best! At one of the rehearsals, I could not hold it within the time limit and the producer told me so. We faced disqualification if this happened again during the TV broadcast… they were very strict about that! I can still see myself sitting with all other conductors in the front row of that small, cosy theatre where the contest was held. I had a mechanical metronome in my hand. The feeling of standing on the edge was not pleasant at all. Luckily, Ossi Runne was sitting next to me. He was the conductor for Finland. We were pals, as we had met in Helsinki where I had done some radio performances with Arne Domnérus and the Radio Jazz Group. Ossi told me not to worry, assuring me that he was sure I would make it. He managed to calm me down just that little bit. Everything went just fine, we were not disqualified, and even managed to pick up a decent number of votes!”


Rosendahl conducting the orchestra for Family Four in the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin

‘Vita vidder’ was awarded with 85 points and a sixth place on the scoreboard, ex aequo with the Netherlands. “The funny thing was”, Rosendahl concludes, “that exactly the thing which had made me so nervous in Dublin, made newspaper headlines in Sweden after the contest was over. After the festival final, the record version of the song was released. I had not done that version, although Anders Burmann, chief of Metronome Records, had personally telephoned me about it. I was too busy and therefore, I turned the offer down. That is why he turned to Sven-Olof Walldoff. Sven-Olof wrote a new arrangement, which was very similar to mine, although there are some differences in approach… and it is at least fifteen seconds longer. In other words: way over three minutes! One day after the song had been released, Expressen published a big article, stating: ‘With this arrangement, we would have been disqualified in Dublin!’”

Other artists on Claes Rosendahl
Like Claes Rosendahl, Bengt-Arne Wallin was involved in Sweden’s jazz scene from the late 1940s onwards: “I met Claes for the first time in Malmö, in the summer of 1950; he played in a local orchestra and I was on tour with another band. Later onwards, we played together in different setup orchestras for radio and television broadcasts in Stockholm. He is quiet and does not appear very outgoing, but in reality he is a very nice guy and an extremely able musician. At playing the tenor saxophone, he was the best! I am very fond of him, for his qualities as a musician and for his friendly character.” (2011)

Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker interviewed Claes Rosendahl in Partille (Sweden), July 2011.
  • The best source of information about the Melodifestival and probably the best book ever published about the Eurovision Song Contest: Leif Thorsson, “Melodifestivalen genom tiderna. Århundradets svenska uttagningar och internationella finaler”, Stockholm (ed. Premium) 1999 (first edition).
  • Many thanks to Bengt-Arne Wallin for his comments about Mr Rosendahl.
  • Thanks to Tin Španja for his help in translating Lars Löfstrand’s article in Expressen (April 1st, 1971) about the rehearsals of the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin.
  • All pictures courtesy of Claes Rosendahl.

  

Songs conducted
1971: Vita vidder