The Girl with the golden hair
Already during ABBA’s heydays Björn and Benny had been interested in stage musicals. As part of ABBA’s 1977 world tour they had written a mini-musical called ‘The girl with the golden hair’. Agnetha and Frida played two different sides of a girl who left her hometown searching for fame and success, the story describing her problems and loneliness when she finally succeeds. Songs featured are: ‘Thank you for the music’, ‘I wonder (departure)’, ‘I’m a marionette’ and ‘Get on the carrousel’. It can be heard in an adapted form on their album ‘ABBA – The Album’.
Also on their last album ‘The Visitors’ it is clear that Björn and Benny were heading in this direction. ‘I let the music speak’ is a fine example.

Meeting Tim Rice
In December 1981 Björn and Benny had their first meeting with Tim Rice about a possible collaboration. Björn and Benny were still working with ABBA but the New York theatre producer Richard Vos knew about their desire to write a musical. He is the one who brought the three together. Tim Rice, lyricist of musicals like ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Evita’, turned out to be the lyricist and dramatist Björn and Benny needed to realise their new musical challenge.
Tim Rice had several potential subjects for a musical, but Chess was the idea which most appealed to Björn and Benny. Inspired by a chess match between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fisher which took place in Iceland in 1972, Tim had written a fictional love story about a Russian chess champion who fell in love with the female second (and lover) of the American player. This all with the underlying suspence of the East-West conflict typical of the cold war period.
Three Knights Ltd
In November 1982, when ABBA were in the UK to promote their album ‘The Singles’, a deal between the three was signed.

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A company ‘Three Knights Ltd’ was formed to handle the Chess project. One of the first things they did was to go on an excursion to Moscow in February 1983, to sample the atmosphere of the world’s Chess capital. Then the commuting between Stockholm and London started. The Chess project had to be fitted into a busy schedule connected to the ABBA commitments that Björn and Benny still had. They had long sessions with Tim Rice during which Tim’s synopsis was worked out in more detail. It was decided where the principal songs should occur and what emotions and plot development they were intended to convey.
Now Björn and Benny started to write the music following this pattern. Dummy lyrics were written by Björn in order to be able to emphasise the rhythmic patterns of the music. Sometimes Tim found them so good, that he decided to leave bits and pieces unchanged.
Album release and concert tour

After two years of hard work they had written all the music and lyrics for Chess. To be able have a grip on the whole project the idea of releasing an album before the show was followed. Unfamiliar with a musical project like Chess Björn and Benny wanted to hear it all first before it would end up on stage. As neither Benny or Björn can read or write notes the orchestration was done by Anders Eljas, with whom they had worked together already during their ABBA period. On October 31th 1983 they started the recordings of the Chess album in the Polar Music Studios in Stockholm. They took almost six months. Only the contribution of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Ambrosian Singers were recorded in London. Besides the English orchestra and choir a Swedish rock band and rock choir were used. The principal parts were sung by British artists Elaine Paige, Barbara Dickson, Murray Head and Denis Quilley. They were joined by the two Swedish top performers Björn Skifs and Tommy Körberg. The double album was released on October 26th 1984.
To support the album release Chess embarked on a concert tour calling at five European cities: starting in London on October 27th, then Paris, Amsterdam, Hamburg and ending in Stockholm. It featured the huge ensemble, London Symphony Orchestra and all, that appeared on the album. The part of Svetlana was sung by the Swedish singer Karin Glenmark, backing vocalist on the studio album, as Barbara Dickson had agreed on singing the part on the studio album only. The album generated two smash hit singles ‘One night in Bangkok’ and ‘I know him so well’. Both topped the charts in many different countries around the world. Later a compilation album called ‘Chess pieces’ was released.
Stage version
It was then Michael Bennett’s (the director) task to put it up on stage. Sets had to be assembled and cast auditions took place between August and October 1985. Right from the start they had to deal with various problems, especially with the technicalities of the computerised video wall, part of the set, consisting of 128 video monitors. They even had to look for a new director as Micheal Bennett had to withdraw due to health problems. Trevor Nunn took over in the beginning of February 1986 and on 3 March 1986 rehearsals began to put Chess up on stage in the Prince Edward theatre in London. Chess had it’s opening night performance on May 14th. It was received very well and ran for nearly four highly successful years in London’s West End.
Chess on Broadway
In 1988 Chess was staged on Broadway. The storyline was much adapted to the American taste. In addition two new songs were written by Björn and Benny especially for this Broadway production, namely ‘Someone else’s story’ and ‘Lullaby’. Even an original Broadway cast recording was made and released. But despite all the efforts of everyone and advanced ticket bookings of £ 2,000,000 the New York critics panned it. Within eight weeks after the opening night on April 28th 1988 the public lost interest and Chess on Broadway was forced to close. The original concept album is still very popular though and Chess has been staged in different versions throughout the U.S.A. since its run on Broadway. Apparently Tim Rice is planning to bring ‘Chess’ back to Broadway again in 2000/2001. He is partly rewriting the musical to come up with a new version that will replace the several versions that were available for staging in the U.S.A. Check the ‘Latest news’ section for up to date information.
Chess performances
From 1988 onward Chess has often been staged in concert format in Sweden. After Chess had closed in London in 1990, it embarked on a concert tour through the UK. For twelve months it played to sell-out audiences at numerous theatres throughout Britain. Since then similar tours of Chess have also taken place throughout Europe and the U.S.A. with great success, so the musical is still enjoyed by many people.
In August 1994 six Chess performances of ‘Chess in concert’ took place at a Göteborg venue in Sweden. During these concerts Benny himself was playing the grand piano and accordion. One of the performances resulted in the release of the ‘Chess in Concert’ album later that year.

For Doina Cornea
This was also a so called mini-musical, and was written by Björn and Benny for a special occassion. In 1989 a choir consisting of 120 young choristers from all over the world gathered on stage to raise their voices in the common purpose of ‘Global Unity and Future hope’ as sleeve notes of one of their singles read. On August 17th this choir had a concert in the Stockholm arena ‘Globen’. Alongside music of composer like Theodorakis and Schönberg, Björn and Benny’s ‘For Doina Cornea’ was presented. It was a 20 minute work featuring 3 pieces. Only one piece of this mini musical has ever been released officially. ‘The Conducator’ was released on both a live album of the concert in Globen, and Benny’s second solo CD called ‘November 1989’. The lead on this song is sung by Tommy Körberg who also played one of the leading parts in their musical Chess. ‘For Doina Cornea’ is about the Romanian dissident Doina Cornea who fought against the Ceausescu-regime. ‘The Conducator’ refers to the dictator Ceausescu.

Finding a story
After Chess Björn and Benny wanted to make another musical. They searched for a consice story, dramatic and full of strong emotions; the perfect story to turn into a musical. They both felt strongly for ‘Utvandrarna’ by the Swedish novellist Vilhelm Moberg, but with it’s little less than 2,000 pages it can hardly be called consice. Furthermore Vilhelm Moberg is an author who is highly respected in Sweden, so using his work as a starting-point was a risky business open to possible criticism.
Still, they decided to give it a try with ‘Utvandrarna’ or ‘The emigrants’ as it is called in English. The musical would be entirely in Swedish, as it was most suitable for this typically Swedish project and as they were able to express themselves best in their native language. The epic story revolves around a hard working and devoted couple Kristina and Karl-Oskar in the south of Sweden in the middle of the 19th century. Because of famine and oppression they are forced to try their luck in the so called ‘New World’, as the United States was referred to at the time. The story is multi-layered; dealing with the love between two people, faith, the search for freedom and a feeling of being rootless. Much of which still applies to refugees and asylum seekers of today.
Difficult start
With Vilhelm Moberg’s daughter, Eva Moberg, they discussed the copyrights. It was through Eva they met the dramatist Carl Johan Seth with whom they worked together for a few years. To narrow the 2,000 pages long epic down, it was soon decided to centre the musical around the powerful main female character Kristina. While working on the plot development they had small pieces of paper fixed on a wall in Benny’s studio ‘Tornet’, each paper representing scenes and emotions that the musical was going to contain. With this as a guideline Benny started to compose the music whereas Björn had the difficult task to transform Vilhelm Moberg’s sacred prose into musical lyrics and dialogue. In the meantime Benny had moved his offices and studio to Skeppsholmen. After one and a half years they reached a deadlock. They had a manuscript and some finished songs but they didn’t succeed in creating a unity out of the different scenes. At times they were close to throwing in the towel.
Inspiring co-operation
It was not before 1994 that director Lars Rudolfsson came into the picture. From this point on the co-operation between Lars, Benny and Björn would be one of constant interplay of inspiration. Things really started to take shape. Ideas, lyrics and music were exchanged between them. Benny worked closely together on the orchestration with Anders Eljas again. At the end of that year the cast auditions took place at which Lars, Björn and Benny as well as Anders Eljas were present. The principal parts went to fairly unknown Swedish talents: Helen Sjöholm was selected for the pivotal role of Kristina and Karl-Oskar was to be played by Anders Ekborg. The two other main parts went to Åsa Bergh and Peter Jöback. Rehearsals then started in the beginning of 1995.
Opening night
On October 7th the 3 hours and 20 minutes long musical Kristina från Duvemåla had its opening night in ‘Malmö Musikteater’ in Malmö. This theatre was the only theatre big enough in Sweden to stage such a large production, in which around 160 people are involved, both on and offstage. Besides that the theatre is subsidized and has its own orchestra and choir, which lowered the production costs trembendously. This enabled the producers to keep the tickets reasonably priced. Björn was so afraid of a scathing judgment by the critics that he took precautionary measures by booking a flight to Rome for the morning after the opening night. But he didn’t need to take refuge in Rome. The musical was received exceptionally well in Sweden, both by critics and audience. A more unanimous acclaim is seldomly seen. Then Kristina från Duvemåla moved to Göteborg on April 13th 1996, after which it alternately played in Göteborg and Malmö.
Kristina in America
To sound out the response of the American public to a musical like Kristina från Duvemåla, a concert version of the musical was performed in Minneapolis and Lindström in the state of Minnesota in October of that year. Many Swedish descendants still live in the state of Minnesota and this is also the state where Vilhelm Moberg, the author of the novel where the musical is based upon, pictured the characters of his books as immigrants. The concert version featured the Swedish principal players. Björn and Herbert Kretzmer, who wrote the English lyrics to ‘Les Miserables’, are reportedly in the process of translating the entire musical into English, after which they hope to eventually stage it in the U.S.A.
Album release
During the same month a triple album called ‘Kristina från Duvemåla, den kompletta utgåvan’, was released in Sweden. Five singles were released from the album, of which ‘Guldet blev till sand/Jag har förlikat mig till slut’ topped the Swedish charts for nine months. The music of Kristina från Duvemåla is best described as a mixture of classical and Swedish traditional music with a tiny flavour of pop music.
Kristina in Stockholm
With Kristina från Duvemåla playing alternately in Göteborg and Malmö, Björn and Benny also wanted to bring the musical to their hometown Stockholm. The only theatre more or less suitable for this large production was ‘Cirkus’, but first it needed to be rebuilt. They needed special permission as the theatre is on the list of national monuments and historic buildings. As soon as permission was given Björn and Benny started to invest their money in staging the musical in ‘Cirkus’. Kristina från Duvemåla had its opening night in the beautifully renovated Stockholm theatre on February 14th 1998. Critics said the show had matured and become better since the opening night in Malmö.
Future plans
After 1 million Swedes had gone to see the musical since its first performance in October 1995, the musical finally closed in Stockholm on June 19th 1999. There are rumours it will re-open in Malmö in the year 2001. There are also plans for having it staged by Lars Rudolfsson in London. Check the ‘Latest news’ section for up to date information.
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