Karin Rehnqvist is awarded the 2019 Järnåker Prize


Established by benefactor Erik Järnåker, the Saltö Foundation has been rewarding important works of chamber music written by Swedish composers since 2009. The 2019 Järnåker Prize is award to composer Karin Rehnqvist for her work entitled Blodhov [Bloodhoof] (2019).

Sweden’s largest chamber music scholarship of 100,000 SEK was handed out on 5 January 2020 at the annual Järnåker concert at Musikaliska Concert Hall in Stockholm, and the work was performed on 5 February 2020 with Lena Willemark and ensemble recherche at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.

Giving its reasons for choosing Karin Rehnqvist’s work of chamber music Blodhov, the jury explained: 

‘The 2019 Järnåker prize is awarded to Blodhov, a work that weaves contemporary chamber music together with Nordic folk music into a unique, dramatic composition in both its form, content and expression. The work is a highly charged monodrama for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble that, thanks to its emotional depth, never lets go of the listener.

From the Old Norse Edda

The thematic, dramatic and poetic origin can be found in Gerður Kristnýs’ poetic story Blodhov, which is based on a fable from the Old Norse Edda about power, threat and abuse. By setting the poems to a responsive and empathic musical score, an intensive and touching image emerges of the maltreated woman’s pain, loneliness and memories. The music has a rich timbre that varies between dynamic extremes and expressions; from the painful cries and earthly tones to the naturally lyrical and beautiful melodies that are occasionally brought out in a mere whisper.

Ties together the old with the new

By allowing the exploratory sound worlds and playing techniques of contemporary art music to blend with the rich, ornamental lines of folk music, the old fable’s violent message is neatly fused together with burning issues of our day. The work thus ties together the old with the new, musical traditions with auditory innovations, and ancient mythology and modern poetry with painful human endeavours and burdens through the ages—all conveyed by means of an outstanding application of the intimate, dramatic and magnificently expressive possibilities allowed by the chamber music format.  

The work was composed for folk singer Lena Willemark and German ensemble recherche, absolutely world-class musicians, whose performance conveys every nuance and quality of the work down to the minutest detail.’ 

A monodrama for mezzo-soprano and eight instruments

The award-winning work Blodhov (2019) was written for Lena Willemark, the central figure in Swedish folk music, and one of Europe’s premier ensembles in modern music, ensemble recherche, based in Freiburg. The 40-minute work—a monodrama for mezzo-soprano and eight instruments—was composed over five years and was first performed at Point Music Festival at Gothenburg Concert Hall on 24 May 2019, staged by Svante Grogarn.

In Blodhov, Icelandic poet and author Gerður Kristný (born 1970) develops a story from the Poetic Edda that tells about how the god Freyr falls in love with a female giant called Gerður. Blodhov is the name of the mighty black horse upon which Freyr sends his servant Skirnir to fetch Gerður. Using threats, Freyr has her brought to him and forces himself on her. But Kristný brings a new angle to the story by telling it from the perspective of the woman Gerður. ‘Across the heavens crept fangs of darkness. Into the extremities of terror I was hurled down.’

‘I am very happy that this piece is being given attention now. It has been a long process, in which I have had the best possible basis to work from musically, but with a theme that has been incredibly difficult to shape. I began with Kristný’s matchless, raw text (Swedish translation by John Swedenmark) and realised that every single second had to be emotionally credible. Receiving the Järnåker prize is greatly encouraging, and I hope that the attention might help the music further, so that Blodhov finds its way into many concert halls.’—Karin Rehnqvist, recipient of the 2019 Järnåker Prize. 

Karin Rehnqvist accepted the award and was interviewed by the Saltö Foundation’s chair Anna Lindal at the annual chamber music concert to the memory of Erik Järnåker on 5 January 2020 at Musikaliska in Stockholm.


About Karin Rehnqvist

Karin Rehnqvist is one of Sweden’s most prevalent composers on the international stage. With her love of folk music, she has created a unique tonal language in which elements of the ancient kulning vocal technique used in herding calls has become one of her trademarks. Her broad spectrum of chamber, orchestral and vocal music has been the subject of international composer festivals and portrait concerts. Using her powerful and precise expression, she has made an innovative and important contribution to the repertoire of choirs, especially children’s and youth choirs. She is Sweden’s first female professor of composition, member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and originator of KVAST (Kvinnlig Anhopning av Svenska Tonsättare [Women’s Assemblage of Swedish Composers]). Per F Broman wrote her biography, which was published in 2018 in the Royal Swedish Academy of Music’s Svenska Tonsättare [Swedish Composers] series—the first one about a female composer. See here for more information.

About Järnåker 

The Järnåker Prize is Sweden’s largest chamber music scholarship. Established by benefactor and music lover Erik Järnåker, the Saltö Foundation has been granting its Järnåker scholarships to reward important works of chamber music written by Swedish composers since 2009.

Each year, a composer is awarded 100,000 SEK in scholarship grants for a work of chamber music composed during the previous decade. The composer prize aims to span the entire breadth of the chamber music genre. The jury this year consisted of Kent Olofsson, Cecilie Ore and Suzanne Giraud, who made their selection from amongst anonymised nominations and applications. 
The Saltö Foundation is run by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and the Swedish Society of Composers.