In Birgit’s own words
Birgit Nilsson loved to tell stories, both as a child and as an adult. With a strong portion of empathy and full of anecdotes, she gladly spoke of her childhood in Svenstad.
Birgit, 1977. Photo: Staffan Hagblom
One of Birgit Nilsson’s greatest personal interests were the around 40 charity concerts that she gave at the church in her home town of Västra Karup. Before these engagements, she often wrote something for the program pamphlet. Here follows an excerpt from such a program.
At my christening I drowned out both the priest and the organ music
”During interviews I am sometimes asked in what place I have sung the longest, or where I prefer to perform. Automatically, I usually reply that I have sung with the Stockholm Opera for 35 years, in Vienna and Munich for 28, at the Metropolitan for 22, etc. Not until now did it occur to me, that I have sung the longest in my home village of Västra Karup. That is probably a large reason for that place also lying closest to my heart. ”Put her on her stomach and give her ’the dummy!’ ” So said the old pastor Anders Nilsson disrespectfully at my first performance at the church in Västra Karup. But of course I was only a few months old at the time. My mother Justina so often talked about the embarrassing christening that I almost believe that I remember it myself. I was apparently even then gifted with unusually strong vocal cords, for my powerful and insistent screams drowned out both priest, the organ and the congregation. I never thought to ask my mother what the priest meant with ’the dummy’. Maybe she did not know herself. Long afterwards I read somewhere, that before pacifiers were invented, a bit of cloth was rolled up and tied with string. This wad was then dipped in something sweet, like sirup or honey, and placed in the mouth of the screaming child. If this did not work, the wad was sometimes dipped in hard liquor! This probably took the breath away of the poor thing, so that it simply did not have the strength to keep on screaming. Pastor Nilsson, who was born in the middle of the 1800’s, probably retained a belief in the magical powers of the dummy. But pacifiers had probably seen the light of day when I was born, and thus it is scarcely likely that they tried to comfort me with snaps.”
I believe I was 14 years old
My second performance in the church at Västra Karup took place in a more civilized manner. I was 14 years old and newly confirmed. After a time of piano and voice lessons with substitute cantor David Pålsson, he let me begin singing with the church choir. I soon even began singing solo in church. I remember with particular pride that I was given the honor of singing the solo in Beethoven’s Song of Praise at the wedding of my Sunday school teacher Einar Magnusson. To be allowed to sing solo was very flattering, since I was the youngest member of the choir. The church choir took a great deal of time. We rehearsed once a week, and sometimes more. Sometimes the rehearsals took place in the home of one of the choir members, and then there were refreshments in the form of coffee and masses of cakes. These invitations were always much appreciated. Christmas day was the most work of the entire year ... These Christmas mornings full of the smell of pines, lighted candles and churches full of people, are a part of my most wonderful memories, which I would never, for anything in the world, be without. I continued singing solo from time to time, not only in church, but even at other events. I was greatly encouraged by our minister Johannes Thulin. He was also interested in music and had a beautiful singing voice. He often asked me to sing, and I never had to be begged. In this way, I got some experience in performing. Indeed, there were those who called me ”the opera singer” behind my back. I myself had only a vague idea what opera was, and had no idea of doing something I had never seen or heard. On the other hand, I dreamed of trying my wings outside of Västra Karup, and of schooling my voice properly, so that I one day could be a good concert singer.” How that turned out, is something we all know today.... – Edited excerpt from the Birgit Nilsson concert program 1982, in benefit of Bjäre Härads local history society.