“Most people can relate to music”

20 June 2023

Portrait of Mattias Lundberg

Mattias Lundberg will receive H.M. The King’s Medal, 12th size with the ribbon of the Order of the Seraphim for contributions to research and popular education.

Mattias Lundberg’s area of research is liturgical music from the Renaissance. However, as a professor of musicology, he is used to covering the history of music in its entirety, and in recent years he has done precisely this in radio broadcasts from Sveriges Radio.

Mattias Lundberg has attracted a lot of attention for his research outreach contributions, notably in Sveriges Radio. The most recent sign of this is a royal medal that will be presented on 13 June, for his contributions to research and popular education. 

It all started in 2015 with the series “Den svenska musikhistorien” (“The history of Swedish music”), produced by Sveriges Radio. This was followed by the series “Fråga musikprofessorn” (“Ask the Music Professor”) in the channel P2.

“Working with Radio Sweden is almost the same thing as teaching, but for the general public. I generally get more or less the same questions from students as I do in the programme,” Lundberg says. “Though some questions are unusual, for example: which composer is best, Brahms or Haydn? That’s a rather irritating question, but of course I have to answer it, otherwise it wouldn’t be radio.”

Part of the job

From his point of view, working with radio programmes has become part of the job, alongside research and teaching. This might not have been possible in other fields, he points out.

“Most people can relate to music. People in Sweden are exposed to music every day, so it feels approachable to them.”

The Department of Musicology is one of the smallest at Uppsala University and one of the few departments of musicology in the Nordic region. The subject exists at other universities but often at a combined department with other disciplines.

“As musicology is such a small subject, one has to teach and supervise across a broad range, one ends up being a generalist. Specialisation has not gone as far as in modern natural sciences, which makes it easier when we’re in touch with the general public.”

Daily questions from the public

Almost every day, he and his colleagues receive questions from the general public, for example in connection with plans to perform relatively old musical works. The radio work has also had an impact on student recruitment.

“Some years, several students have said they began to study musicology after listening to the programme. And sometimes listeners get in touch and ask about our educational offerings.”

Without musicology, we would not be able to listen to older music at all, he points out.

“Without musicology we couldn’t listen to Beethoven today. A musicologist is always the first link in the chain, the reason that we know who wrote what music. It’s musicologists who read the manuscripts and transfer the music to modern notation.”

Music from the 15th century

Mattias Lundberg has personally participated in the discovery of music in dusty archives that has then been performed by musicians for the first time in modern times. His area of specialisation is liturgical music from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

“One special thing about this is that the music was used in a ritual context that still exists. There is music from the 15th century that churchgoers still recognise today. And this is music from the time when Uppsala University was founded!”

He started out as a church musician. Alongside music, he studied classical languages and was attracted towards earlier and earlier music. Like some members of his radio audience, he wondered: “What can we actually know about early music?” It all started from there.

“It’s been one surprise on top of another. First that it’s possible to do this as a full-time occupation, that’s reward enough in itself. Then that Sveriges Radio thinks it’s interesting, and now a medal from the King.”

Facts: Mattias Lundberg

  • PhD in Musicology from the University of Liverpool 2007. Became docent in musicology at Uppsala University in 2013 and professor two years later.
  • Known to the general public from TV appearances and a long string of educational radio programmes on music theory and music history.
  • Member of Drottningholms Barockensemble, which has translated musicological research and archive discoveries into performances and reconstructions of works that had not been played since the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.