Greta Eriksson was a concert pianist, one of the most eminent in Sweden, and a professor of pianoforte at the music academy in Stockholm: Kungliga Musikhögskolan.
Greta Eriksson was born in 1919 in Stockholm. Her parents were Märta Norgren and Arvid Eriksson, a wholesale merchant. Music was the central interest in their home and their mother and the siblings all played. As early as the age of three, Greta Eriksson showed striking musical gifts, and when she was five, she was accepted as a pupil at Karl Wohlfart’s musikinstitut in Stockholm. She was soon considered a musical prodigy and at the age of eleven she performed Mozart’s Rondo in D major for piano and orchestra with the Philharmonic Orchestra in the Stockholm concert hall. Her real debut, with a solo piano concert, was held in 1935. She continued her piano studies for M André-Peignet in Paris, Anna Hirzel-Langenhan in Zürich and Johanne Stockmarr in Copenhagen. These studies were made possible partly through a Jenny Lind scholarship that she was awarded in 1943.
Greta Eriksson’s real breakthrough as a pianist took place in 1940 when with very short notice, at the age of 20, she was asked to stand in for the international star pianist Claudio Arrau, who was unable to travel to Stockholm on account of the war. With great success, she performed Tchaikowsky’s first piano concerto and was thereafter counted as one of the top level of Swedish pianists. In 1946, she won a prize at the international music competition in Geneva, and showed that her playing was at a highly estimated level even in an international context.
During her almost fifty years as a pianist, Greta Eriksson toured all over Scandinavia and on the continent, in both Eastern and Western Europe, in the Soviet Union in 1953 and the USA in 1972. She performed with most of the professional Scandinavian orchestras and was a guest at many of Sweden’s amateur orchestra societies and music associations. As an accompanist and chamber musician, she collaborated with Swedish musicians like the violinists Leo Berlin and Joseph Grünfarb, the cellists Claude Genetay and Gunnar Norrby, the percussionist Bengt Arsenius and others, and also with international stars like the violinist David Oistrach and the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.
Greta Eriksson’s repertoire was extensive. Music by Beethoven and the early romantics Schumann, Brahms and Chopin was central to her solo repertoire. Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Liszt, Debussy, and Bartók were also included in her solo programmes. When it came to concertos for piano and orchestra, Greta Eriksson performed most of the standard works during her career, among them Beethoven’s five piano concertos, Rachmaninov’s second and third, both the Brahms concertos and Robert Schumann’s A minor concerto.
An important part of her repertoire was Swedish music. She performed among others the piano concertos by Franz Berwald, Wilhelm Stenhammar and Dag Wirén, as well as solo piano music by Stenhammar, Emil Sjögren, Ingvar Lidholm, Gunnar Bucht and others. She recorded a good deal on records and the radio. She gave first performances of works by Swedish composers and also gave works by for example Bartók, Hindemith and Schnittke their Swedish premieres. Her playing was characterised by limpidity and balance in expression.
In the mid-1950s, Greta Eriksson started teaching the pianoforte at the Kungliga Musikhögskolan in Stockholm and thereby started a successful career as a pedagogue. She trained several generations of Swedish pianists and piano teachers. Among her pupils may be mentioned Dag Achatz, Carl-Axel Dominique, Jan Eyron, Mats Persson, Matti Hirvonen, Jacob Moscovicz and Mats Widlund. After her retirement from the music academy in 1986, she continued her pedagogical activities at the Stiftelsen Edsbergs Musikinstitut for a further decade. Apart from giving the students a solid technical foundation on the instrument, the aim of Greta Eriksson’s pedagogy was to let each student develop independently. She emphasised that her instructions were to be seen as good advice, not as orders.
During her successful career, Greta Eriksson received a number of prizes and distinctions. As the first woman in the field of music, she was appointed professor in 1966. As early as 1963 however, she had been elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and in 1974 she had been awarded the royal Litteris et Artibus and the evening tabloid Aftonbladet’s Franz Berwald prize. In 1980, she received the Swedish gramophone prize for her interpretation of Adolf Wiklund’s second piano concerto and in 1987 the Medaljen för tonkonstens främjande from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
Greta Eriksson gave her last great performance in 1995 with a solo piano concert in the Stockholm concert hall. After a longer period of illness, Greta Eriksson died in 2014 at 94 years of age. She lies buried in Norra begravningsplatsen (the Northern Cemetery) in Solna. Dan Olsson