Contemporary Danish Music (1950 - 2000)

July 29, 2017 | Author: anvcom | Category: Orchestras, Pop Culture, Symphony, Denmark, Composers
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DA NISH MUSIC 1950 - 20 0 0

Royal Danish Minist ry of Foreign Affa i rs · Danish Music Information Centre




Anette Faaborg Danish Music Information Centre Graabroedre Torv 16 DK-1154 Copenhagen K, Denmark Tel +45 33 11 20 66 Fax +45 33 32 20 16 E-mail: [email protected] MIC homepage:


Jens Brincker


James Manley

Booklet body-text editor: Klaus Lynbech In charge of illustrations and captions: Svend Ravnkilde All illustrations in this booklet are copyrighted and are reproduced by kind permission of copyright owne rs, credited on pages 2-25 and/or page 26 Quotation from the text of this booklet is permitted, preferably with source identification and credit

This booklet is published by Danish MIC in co-operation with the Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Asiatisk Plads 2 DK-1448 Copenhagen K, Denmark Design: design & kommunikation

Printed by

Arne Olsen Offset, Copenhagen

Printed in Denmark, December 2000

The cover shows Per Nørgård's Infinity Series Spiral, a polychrome drawing made by the composer in 1973 and reproduced by kind permission. Beginning with the note G, in the centre of the spiral, the first 96 notes of the infinity series are played out (also see pages 6 and 17 below). In a vertical line straight down from the first note of the series, the notes are also those of the unfolding infinity series. With the second and third notes of the series as points of departure, the notes of the series will appear in their inverted order, whereas descending from the fourth note will produce the series in its original order again. Any one of the first 16 notes of the innermost spiral offers an encounter with the infinity series; each of the four coloured lines traces unisons or

ISBN 87-986907-6-0

major thirds

1945 – 1959


Each generation creates its own history, and out of this history each

This affec ted not only Wagner’s music, whi ch was directly associ-

generation chooses the figures that serve as models and tradition-

ated with Nazism and antisemitism, but also composers like Mahler

founders. Tradition is not something predetermined but an expres-

and Bruckner, who were regarded as followers of Wagner. And it af-

sion of a choice – often unconscious – that is influenced by many

fected Schoenberg, Berg and Webern and twelve-tone music, whose


dissonances and atonality were regarded as symptoms of decline.

This is worth keeping in mind when one is dealing with Danish

This aesthetic tendency lay latent in Danish musical life even before

music in the years a fter World War II. Occupation and resistance,

World War II, when Classicist and Romantic schools struggled for

the escape of the Jews to Sweden in 1943, “alsang rallies” whe re

the upper hand. Composers like Carl Ni elsen (1865-1931) and – in

Danes gathered and sang patriotic community

sacred music – Thomas Laub (1852-1927), and

songs to manifest national solidarity against the

their successors perhaps even more so than them-

German occupation forces, had created a Danish

selves, f ought for their aesthetic views and domi-

nationalism which, after the Liberation and the Jud-

nated o ver the Late Romantic school th at was r e-

icial Purge of Nazi collaborators in 1945, was to

presented by among others P.E. Lange-Müller

show its viability in peacetime as the unifying ideo-

(1850-1926), Louis Glass (1864-1936) and Rued

logy. This nationalism also coloured the develop-

Langgaard (1893-1952). How that struggle would

ment of Danish music at the end of the 1940s and in

have ended if the war had not come is impossible to

the 1950s.

say. But there is no doubt that the war and its strengthening of a Danish nationalism helped the

It was a combative nationalism that stood guard over the soul of the nation and the mental health of

Nielsen-Laub supporters to a definitive victory, and Copyright © Mogens Zielers Fond

ensured that Carl Nielsen above all others was

the country. It was aggressively oriented against influences that

established as the composer of “Danishness” and the positive

might weaken the Danish sense of identity that had been built up

example to whom Danish composers could relate – or perhaps even

during the war – that is, influences associated with the recently de-

should relate.

feated Nazism, or which could be regarded as a sign of cultural decline. In the case of music the nationalism was expressed in a

The spirit of Carl Nielsen and Thomas Laub weighed heavy on the

strengthening of the tendency towards folkelighed or popular sensi-

Danish instit utions of musical educ ation (the Royal Danish Acad-

bility (sometimes in the form of populism) and isolation (someti-

emy of Music in Copenhagen and the musicological degree courses

mes in the form of provincialism), which had already been charac-

of the universities) in the years after the war, and the aesthetics of

teristics of Danish music in the 1930s. As was the case in general in

these two composers became a kind of common denominator for

Europe and the USA, in the 1930s many Danish composers dissoci-

the composers who were to carry on the tradition in the years after

ated themselves f rom r adical expe riments and instead culti vated

the war in the two most important genres: the national song tradi-

classical models – often with a national tone – without evincing any

tion of church and home, and the symphonic music of the concert

responsiveness to the innovations that had typified the new music

hall. This does not mean, however, that there was no room for indi-

of the 1920s. The anti-German feelings left by the war reinforced

vidualism. A number of composers who had been born around

this tendency and had the result that Danish musical life in the post-

1900 or in the first decade of the century and became pace-setters,

war years took a critical attitude to the Central European influen-

combined the national tradition with influenc es from the o utside.

ces that represented a “Romantic” or “Modernist” aesthetic as op-

Knudåge Riisager (1897-1974) was influenced by French Neoclassi-

posed to a Classicism that perpetuated the Beethoven-Brahms

cism in many of his works, among which the music for the Harald


Lander ballets Etudes (1947)and Qarrtsiluni (1938) woninternation3

al recognition. Herman D. Koppel (1908-1998) combined inspirati-

Nørgård at the end of the 1950s called “the universe of the

ons as diverse as Jewish synagogue singing and jazz. Vagn Holmboe

Northern mind” in conscious isolation – with no fear of exaggerated

(1909-1996) combined his composing activity with ethnomusico-


logical studies of among other things Romanian folk music. What was common to these influences was that they were all com-

1994. Left to right: P er Nørgård, Finn Høffding (1899-1997, holding a photograph

chamber music and choral music, songs accompanied by piano)

of Carl N ielsen) and Karsten Fundal. The success of the Danish approach to educa-

which in the spirit of Carl Nielsen and Thomas Laub were the start-

ting composers is be st illustrated by the fact that, at the turn of the 20th century,

ing-point for the art. Denmark turned a deaf ear to the rediscovery of the twelve-tone technique and the experiments with serialism,

every single day of the year saw the world premiere of a newly-written Danish serious-music composition, and the fact that many of these new works had bee n written on demand


The illustration on page 5 is a p hotograph from the Ler-

indeterminacy or electrophony that were on the agenda in the in-

chenborg Archi ve, sh owing v eteran composer Vagn H olmboe (f oreground, right)

ternational music centres like Darmstadt, Cologne, Paris or New

and the young Wilanów Quartet (Poland) at the Lerchenborg Workshop 1974; the

York. Danes cultivated their distinctiveness and explored what Per

first page of the score being discussed is shown in the illustration on page 6 (bottom)

Copyright © Marianne Grøndahl


Four generations of Danish composers, photographed by Marianne Grøndahl in May

patible with the tonal tradition and the classical genres (symphony,


when Holmboe – inspired for e x-

around and after the turn of the

Among the composers

ample by Niels Bohr’s comple-

century, Herman D. Koppel and

mentarity theory and the idea of

Vagn Holmboe set the pace for

the dual nature of light as particle

the years just after the end of

and wave – developed his meta-

World War II. In a sense one might

morphosis technique. With this

even say that the experience of

technique, which de rives all the-

the war directly formed Herman

matic elements in a work from a

D. Koppel’s artistic temperament

given body of basic material,

and development as a composer.

Holmboe approaches the “permanent variation” which forms

The child of Polish-Jewish immi-

the basis of Schoenberg’s twelve-

grants, he began his career as a pi-

tone technique, but without ac-

anist and studied piano at the

cepting its atonal foundation. On

Royal Danish Academy of Music in

the contrary, Holmboe stuck to

Copenhagen, where without ac tually being a pupil of Carl Nielsen

tonality as a condition of melodic recognizability, which for him was

he came under his influence and later became one of the leading in-

essential if music is to function as a medium of human commu-

terpreters of Nielsen’s piano music. The influence of Carl Nielsen


can also be traced in Koppel’s compositions, but in this case supplemented by inspiration from the inter-war period’s German neue

In Symphoni es N os. 5 (1944), 6 (1947) and 7 (1950) and the first

Sachlichkeit, Prokofiev’s and Bartók’s rhythmically marked piano

string quartets Holmboe developed the metamorphosis technique

music and elements of jazz. The German occupation of Denmark,

into a unifying element that ensur es coherence in the individual

which forced Herman D. Koppel – like most of the Danish Jews – to

works and expressive contrast and dynamics in the formal develop-

flee to Sweden in 1943, brought a darker tone and a consciousness

ment, without making metamorphosis a formal principle that pre-

of Jewish roots into his music, in which vocal works with among

vents the individual shaping of each work. At the same time he in-

other things Biblical texts became an important element, from the

corporated the lyr ical expressive qualities (manifested in the early

Three Psalms of David for solo, choir and orchestra (1949) to the mo-

works especially in the vocal music) in the instrumental works,

numental works of the 1960s: the oratorio Moses (1963-64) and the

enabling him to express himself fully and strongly in the classical

Requiem (1965-66) as well as the opera Macbeth (1967-68).

genres symphony and string quartet.

Vagn Holmboe was quickly recognized as one of the leading talents

From the 1950s until Holmboe’s death in 1996 the metamorphosis

and his generation’s bearer of Carl Nielsen’s symphonic tradition

technique remained a consistent stylistic feature of his output: so-

with works like Symphony No. 2 (1938-39), which won the Royal

metimes strongly stressed as in Symphony No. 9 (1967-68, rev.

Danish Orchestra’s Anniversary Competition (1939), and Sym-

1969) and the four one-movement orchestral works (1956-72) that

phony No. 4 Sinfonia sacra (1941, rev. 1945), which had its first per-

bear the common designation “symphonic metamorphoses”; in

formance at the inauguration of the Danish Radio Concert Hall in

other cases more in the background as a stylistic foundation that


does not preclude the use of unmediated elements of contrast or occasional approaches to more avant-garde-oriented forms of ex-

The influences on the ear ly works, from among others Bartók and

pression – for example in the great Requiem for Nietzsche (1963-64)

Stravinsky, receded into the background, however, ar ound 1950,

to texts by Thorkild Bjørnvig (b. 1918). With the string quartet and 5

the symphony as the bearing genres, but also with a substantial output of chamber music and choral m usic, this became the point of departure for a wealth of important works that placed Vagn Holmboe among the leading symphonists in Scandinavia and drew attention to his music outside the Nordic countries too – for example in the USA, where the Detroit Symphony Orchestra commissioned and premiered his Symphony No. 10 (1971-72). In Danish musical debate of the 1960s and 1970s the metamorphosis technique was associated with the classical-romantic tradition and major-minor tonality. A factor that may have contributed to this was the slogan that the composer Niels Viggo Bentzon coined in connection with his own Symphony No. 4 Metamorphoses (1948-49): “Metamorphosis is the form of our time”. In the light of history, however, it is just as important to dwell on the very spacious definition of the metamorphosis technique that Vagn Holmboe himself offers: The metamorphic [is] based on a process of development that transforms one material into another without it losing its identity, its fundamental qualities. Metamorphic music is therefore essentially stamped by a unit y, which means among other things that oppositions, however strong they may be, are always created from the same material substance, and that contrasts may well be complementary, but not dualistic. With a starting-point in a complex of motifs, rhythm and sound, or in a series whose individual elements are musically recognizable, the transfor mation of elements that takes place may be regarded and understood as a metamorphosis. (Translated from Vagn Holmboe, Mellemspil. Tre musikalske aspekter. Copenhagen 1961, pp. 43f. Published by Edition Wilhelm Hansen AS, Copenhagen)

If one builds on this definition, there are grounds for considering whether the metamorphosis technique lives on in a serial version in the “infinity series” that Holmboe’s pupil Per Nørgård developed in the beginning of the 1960s. Which is to suggest that beneath the break with the tradition there run certain hitherto undervalued currents of continuity that elucidate the importance of Vagn Holmboe for the generation of composers that was to become dominant in Danish music throughout the last third of the twentieth century.


Per Nørgård (1969) · Copyright © Edition Wilhelm Hansen AS, Copenhagen

The 1960s


Renewal came late to Danish musicallife; considerably later than to

and a frontal attack on the three citadels of musical conservatism –

Sweden, for example – one had to waituntil the years 1959-60be-

the Royal Danish Academy of Music, the Danish Broadcasting Cor-

fore the real rupture withtradition tookplace. Yet this was not due

poration and the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen – before one

to any lack of innovators before this. Several composers – first and

could speak in earnest of a showdown with the Carl Nielsen tradi-

foremost Niels Viggo Bentzon

tion in Danish music.

(1919-2000), Gunnar Berg (19091989)and Jan Maegaard (b. 1926)

The inspiration came from Darm-

– were well aware that Danish

stadt and the ISCM Music Days in

music was heading for a provincial

Cologne in 1959, and works like

cul-de-sac, and soughtinspiration

Stockhausen’s electronic Gesang

from the German-Austrian music

der Jünglinge or Boulez’ Le marteau

(Hindemith, Schoenberg and We-

sans maître. They questioned at

bern) that had been anathemati-

one and the same time the stub-

zed by the Nazis, and from the

born adherence to major-minor

young composers who with Karl-

tonality and the classical concept

heinz Stockhausen at their head

of the work, and showed new

traced out the line in German

ways towards serial composition

music that was called “post-We-

technique, open-ended forms and

bernist” and was basedin Cologne

aleatory m usic that exploded the

and Darmstadt. As a pianist Niels

Northern tonal universe centring

Viggo Bentzon made a great effort

on Carl Nielsen and Sibelius in

to spread knowledge of Hinde-

which the young compo sers had

mith’s and Schoenberg’s music

otherwise found themselves.

and also wrote the first Danish book on twelve-tone technique

The assault was launched by the

(1950). Gunnar Berg was the first

generation born immediately af-

Danish composer to attendtheho-

Gunnar Berg, Gaffky's No. 1 (from Gaffky's: assortiment 1, March 1958) for piano

liday courses at Darmstadtandde-

ter 1930 and had Per Nørgård (b. 1932), Ib Nørholm (b. 1931) and

votedhimself to the serial composition technique. As chairman of

Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (b. 1932) as its standard-bearers.

Det unge Tonekunstnerselskab (DUT, the Society of Young Compo-

They challenged the aesthetic principles that they had upheld in

sers) Jan Maegaard put music by Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, but

their earlier works, and which were taught by their teachers at the

also for example by Varèse, onthe society’s concert programmes in

Academy (first and foremost Vagn Holmboe), and in the course of

the 1950s, helped by enthusiastic ensembles.

the 1960s they plunged into a series of experiments that aroused a furore and split Danish musical life into belligerent camps of traditi-

Why these and similar attempts at renewal never really made much

onalists and modernists. Det unge Tonekunstnerselskab and the

of an impact is a question that can hardly be answered on the basis

Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen were transformed into party

of musical aesthetics alone. Perhaps the forces of cons ervatism in

headquarters. The music department of the Danish Broadcasting

Danish musical life were too strong. Perhaps the attempts were not

Corporation (with the Danish National Radio Symphony Orche-

convincing enough. Perhaps the time was simply not “ripe”, as they

stra), the press and the Royal Danish Opera became the battlefields.

say, in the 1950s. However this may be, it took a new generation

And when the smoke had cleared so much in the middle of the 7

1960s that one could get an overview of the sit uation, it emerged

Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus, Jutland. With him he had taken

that the modernists had won. The Broadcasting Corporation had a

the composition students in Copenhagen.

new Head of Music, the declared modernist Mogens Andersen, with the nickname “Our Time’s Mogens Andersen”. The opera had a new

The latter move was perhaps the most decisive factor in the longer

Artistic Director, the pianist John Winther, who used his influenc e

term, for it continued the decentralization of Danish musical life

among other ways to place opera commissions with the modern

that formed part of official cultural policy, and which led to the con-

composers. And although the Royal Danish Academy in Copenha-

version of the academies into s tate institutions and the establish-

gen was at least formally in the hands of the traditionalists, and the

ment of five state-supported regional orchestras and the Danish

tonal composer Svend Westergaard (1922-1988) succeeded Knu-

National Opera in Aarhus. In the long run this meant that Denmark

dåge Riisager as principal, it was at best a Pyrrhic victory that the

gained two musical capitals – Aarhus and Copenhagen – where in

traditionalists had won there: the leader of the modernists, Per

some periods Aarhus has been the leading centre, for example for

Nørgård, had resigned in protest from the Copenhagen academy in

opera and contemporary music.

1965 and was immediately engaged as composition teacher at the


The 1960s was the decade of the avantgarde in Danish music. But it was a short decade when the attempts to catch up with international modernism and confront Danish m usic with the latest expe riments – from prede termined serial com-

Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Eksempler VI (1970) · Copyright © Edition Wilhelm Hansen AS, Copenhagen

positions, electronic music and aleatory music to the Fluxus movement and happenings – drained the

plexity made it impossible for m usic to bear simplistic ideological

energy of the avant-garde. Composers began to gravitate towards

messages like those that had enabled the Nazis to use and abuse

the tradition again, and this at first took the form of a new interest

music in the service of ideology and nationalism. From a German

in simplicity as opposed to complexity.

point of view this was a logical development and a necessary process, if German m usic w as to manifest itself un burdened by a

Complexity was otherwise an important – one might almost sa y

burdensome past.

constitutive – element of international contemporary music. It had


its technical point of departure in Schoenberg’s dodecaphony and

The Danish avant-garde accepted the battle-cry from Darms tadt

Webern’s serialism, which the Darmstadt school expanded to em-

(“One must accept complexity”) as an aesthetic dogma, although it

brace all the elements of music: not only melody and harmony, but

did not have the same historical necessity for them as for their

also rhythm, sound, texts and the placing of the instruments in

Darmstadt colleagues, and they attempted with varying success to

space. This resulted in an aperspectival music where it was difficult

live up to it in a number of works like Ib Nørholm’s Fluctuations

or impossible to tell the difference between foreground and

(1961-62), which won the Dutch Gaudeamus Prize, or Per

background, melody and accompaniment, and where the com-

Nørgård’s – also prizewinning – Fragment VI (1959-61, rev. 1962),

which was given its first performance by the Danish National Radio

seems like a return to an earlier aesthetics where direct lyrical

Symphony Orchestra during tumultuous scenes at the ISCM festival

expression and melodic-harmonic inspiration again assumed a

in Copenhagen in 1964, when some of the musicians of the orches-

dominant role in the composition work.

tra had to be replaced by composition students because they refused to play on sirens as the composer had prescribed.

The music world soon found a catchword for this development: the

But it was not only the musicians who had difficulty seeing the ne -

announced the new music’s self-perception as ‘modern-all-the-

cessity of this development. The audiences did too, and at the end

same’. The simplicity was regarded as a further stage on the route

New Simplicity as opposed to the abandoned complexity; and this

of the 1960s the composers began to feel the same way. The com-

of experiment, not as a return to the anecdotal simplification

plexity dogma was undermined by attempts to compose music

against which at least the Schoenberg school and Darmstadt

that was both modern and so simple that it could be comprehen-

modernism (with Theodor W. Adorno as its aesthetic father-figure)

ded by the ear. The attempts came from the ranks of the avant-

had turned. But the question is whether the composers were not

garde itself: from the young, Fluxus-inspired composer Henning

pulling the wool over their own eyes this way. The simplicity was

Christiansen (b. 1932) whose work for chamber ensemble entitled

not consistently new. It also represented a return to the old and

Perceptive Constructions (1964) pointed out a path that the trend-

abandoned: to tonality, which began to appear in the modern sco-

setting composers followed in different ways:

res – at first as quotations, later as a structural basis – and to the

Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, in his orchestral work Tricolore IV

the rounded work, whose reestablishment was announced with tit-

(1969) uses three simple, easily recognizable blocks of s ound that

les such as “symphony” or “string quartet”.

thematic work, the classical forms and the “op us music” notion of

vary throughout the wor k. The pr ovocative simplicity of the piece aroused a scandal when it was played at the ISCM festival in Basel in

The New Simplicity was neither new nor entirely simple, but should

1970, and for some years the opening of Tricolore IV was the signa-

rather be regarded as an incipient synthesis of the local tradition

ture tune for Radio Sweden’s broadcasts about modern music.

with the innovation that had at last brought Danish music into contact with international musical life.

Per Nørgård de veloped a spec ial form of melodic serialism that permitted him both to use quotations from popular music (in the music from 1964 for Flemming Flindt’s Ionesco ball et The Young Man Must Marr y) and made it possible for the complex polyphony in works like Fragment VI, Iris (1966-67, rev. 1968) and Luna (1967) to be simplified to heterophony in Voyage into the Golden Screen (1968-69). IbNørholm was probably themost radical of thethree : in his works fromthebeginning of the1960she had engagedin extreme experimentswith serialism, stylistic pluralismand Fluxus-like instrumentaltheatre, andhe had confronted twelve-tone music with tonal quotations in his TV opera Invitation to a Beheading (1965). Compared with this his piano work Strophes and Fields (1965-66) 9

TON A L VO I C E S The latitude with which Danish musical life has been credited in the

the French line in Danish music f rom Knudåge Riisager and Poul

1980s and 1990s w as not characteristic of the 1960s. At that time

Schierbeck (1888-1949); it applies to Leif Thybo, whose Neobar-

Danish musical life was still centred on Copenhagen and the m usi-

oque point of departure and inspiration from Stravinsky (the organ

cal institutions of the capital, and in them there was rarely room for

transcription from 1952 of the Dumbarton Oaks concerto from

more than one attitude at a time. This meant that the vi ctories of

1937-38) led to a series of concertos for orchestra and solo instr u-

the modernists in the musical struggle at the same time became

ments, and the Karen Blixen opera The Immortal Story (Sweden

defeats for the traditionalists, whose music was to a great extent

1971); and it applies to Svend Westergaard who, inspired by Italian

ousted from the public arena. Vagn Holmboe and Herman D.

Neoclassicism (C asella) and Bartók, composed few but artistically

Koppel were exceptions in this respect. Their age and earlier output

highly profiled works like the Cello Concerto from 1965 (rev. 1973)

ensured them a place on the concert pro-

and the String Quartet from 1966.

grammes – for both premieres and revivals. The Danish musical world still has to fully reThings looked worse for the generation that

cognize what these composers, despite

was wedged between the Koppel-Holmboe

poor working conditions, managed to write

generation (born a few years before the out-

– both for the sake of justice and as a remin-

break of World War I) and the Nørholm-

der of the dangers that the smallness of the

Nørgård generation (born in the 1930s). It

country involves: now as at the end of the

was characterized by a number of compo-

1800s, when Niels W. Gade and J.P.E. Hart-

sers who persisted in the tonal tradition in

mann dominated musical life, or at the be-

opposition to the signals from international

ginning of the 1900s, when there was no

modernism, but who were not strongly eno-

room for both a Carl Nielsen and a Rued

ugh established to maintain their positions

Langgaard in Copenhagen.

in the public eye when the new departure came. These were composers like Jørgen

Niels Viggo Bentzon, however, was not to be

Jersild (b. 1913), Svend S. Schultz (1913-

ousted. After a period in the 1940s when he

1998), Leif Kayser (b. 1919) and Leif Thybo

was among the earliest pioneers of the new

(b. 1922) or Svend Westergaard. Influenced

music (by among others Schoenberg and

by Neoclassicism, they represented a line in

Copyright © Palle Nielsen and Brøndums forlag

Danish music that wished to renew the local Carl Nielsen tradition f rom which the younger generation with its starting-point in Darmstadt serialism wished to emancipate itself.

Hindemith), he was lumped together with the traditionalists. His immense producti-

vity and a decided talent for publicity – combined with the courage to transcend the boundaries between the arts and play the role of “all-round genius” – won him a position in the public eye as the en-

The Danish musical world gave these composers the cold shoulder, and they had few chances to compose major works and have them

provisation-oriented way of working, created the picture of an

performed. Nevertheless, they produced works of quality which,

artist for whom quantity was of greater impor tance than quality.

with their high artistic standards, d iversify the picture of Danish

But the picture lies. The quantity of Niels Viggo Bentzon’s output is

music in the 1960s and 1970s: this applies to Jørgen Jersild, whose

huge, with more than 600 works – no less than 24 of which are

early piano work from 1945, Trois pièces en concert, has become part

symphonies. At regular intervals, however, he wrote music of

of the repertoire, and whose music for harp and harp accompaniment

extraordinarily high quality and originality.

written for among others the Welsh harpist Osian Ellis continues 10

fant terrible of the musical world. And this, along with an often im-

This applies not only to his early period, when besides piano works like Toccata and Partita, orchestral works like Symphony No. 4 Metamorphoses opus 55 (1948-49), or Symphonic Variations opus 92 (1953) are telling examples of his contrapuntal manner of writing and a texture that t owards 1960 became ever more compl ex and chromatically coloured. But it applies equally to his later output, where in particular the thirteen volumes each with 24 preludes and fugues with the general title The Tempered Piano (1964-96) demonstrated his a bility to renew and recr eate the tr adition (in this case J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier) in an original way that combines freedom and imagination with artistic economy and consistency, especially in the elaboration of the harmonic development. Only the renaissance that Niels Viggo Bentzon’s music has seen in the 1990s seems likely to ensure him the significant place in postwar Danish musical history that his originality and tireless creative energy justify.


The 1970s

YO UTH R E VO LU T ION A ND F R AT E R N IZ ATI O N In 1969 the conductor L avard Friisholm celebrated his 25th anni-

posers in The Group for Alternative Music, which held its own con-

versary in a concert with his chamber orche stra Collegium Musi-

certs without censorship – that is, in principle everything that was

cum. The programme was devoted to the contemporary music for

submitted was played with no prior assessment of quality – and

which Friisholm and his ensemble had fought throughout the

went in for a popular, politically leftist music without however asso-

1960s, and among the works performed was one by the very young

ciating themselves with the political folk music that was being

Aarhus composer Karl Aage Rasmussen (b. 1947) with the provoca-

played by rock groups or the popular music which, with the Beatles

tive title Symphonie classique (1968). The title was a quotation from

and the Rolling Stones at the forefront, came to represent the youth

Prokofiev, and the music bore witness to inspiration from Str av-

revolution musically.

insky and his Neoclassical symphoni es of the 1940s – as well as a personal and incredibly mature talent that was to have a crucial in-

But the clear stylistic difference that there had been at the begin-

fluence on Danish music in the last third of the century.

ning of the 1960s between traditionalists and modernists with tonality/atonality as the characteristic dividing-line, never took root

In 1968 Karl Aage Rasmussen appeared so far to be a lone swallow

in the ‘68 generation’s music and that of the Nørgård-Nørholm ge-

whose demonstrative rejection of modernism and adherence to a

neration. The period was typified by a latitude and openness to ex-

new classicism could be regarded as youthful hubris. But he was

periment that meant that there was room for music spanning Karl

quickly followed by other young composers who emerged from

Aage Rasmussen’s Stravinsky-inspired compositions, which soon

unexpected places: from the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music on Fu-

incorporated elements of Ives and Mahler; Ole Buck’s (b. 1945)

nen, where Ib Nørholm was a composition teacher and Poul Ruders

chamber music with its stamp of American minimalism; Hans Abra-

(b. 1949) was his pupil; from the Department of Musicology at the

hamsen’s works, on the surface minimalistically simple, but in

University of Copenhagen, where Niels Rosing-Schow (b. 1954), Bo

structure often serially elaborated; Poul Ruders’ Liszt-inspired piano

Holten (b. 1948) and Carl Bergstrøm-Nielsen (b. 1951) studied; and

music, whose formal world was quickly supplemented with influen-

from the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, where af-

ces from medieval music; Niels Rosing-Schow’s lyr ical song melo -

ter Vagn Holmboe’s departure (1965) as composition professor,

dies; Bo Holten’s Mahler-inspired instrumental music; and Carl

composition teaching had been re-established with among others

Bergstrøm-Nielsen’s experiments with “intuitive music”.

Niels Viggo Bentzon as a teacher, and where Hans Abrahamsen (b. 1952) was one of the students. These became the “‘68 generation”

Fraternization between tradition and renewal became a key con -

in Danish musical life.

cept in the understanding of Danish music in the 1970s. This is clearly manifested when one looks at the genres in which the mo-

It was in the air that the ‘68 generation would be rebellious, but no

dern composers chose to express themselves. Unlike the previous

radical youth revolution appeared in Danish music. There was a

decade’s “fragments”, whi ch signal a departure from the idea of

shortage of “enemies” to revolt against. Darmstadt modernism

the rounded and completed work of art, the classical titles sym-

was of course available as “the enemy”, but on the one hand it was

phony, string q uartet, sonata were now used with e ver-increasing

itself in the throes of a process of dissolution headed by Karlheinz

frequency. Per Nørgård composed his second and third sympho-

Stockhausen, who with a work like Stimmung (1968) associated

nies and began his fourth in the 1970s. Ib Nørholm’s Symphonies

himself with the hippie side of the youth revolution; on the other

Nos. 2, 3 and 4 with the titles Isola Bella, Day’s Nightmare and Mod-

hand there w ere no Darmstadt modernists left in Danish musical

skabelse (Countercreation) come from the same dec ade (1968-71,

life to defend the hard line.

1973 and 1978-79 respectively). Even Pelle GudmundsenHolmgreen – the most consistently modernist of the three leading


The elitist relationship of modern music to the public and society

Danish composers of the 1930s generation – used the designation

was another point of attack, and did in fact unite some young com-

“symphony” in the mid-1960s of a two-movement orchestral piece

(Symphony 1965, 1962-65), although he insisted that the word

Orchestra), Anton Kontra – became Denmarks’s first ‘national en-

symphony was to be understood in the original sense of “sounding

semble’ in 1989.

together”. And the three now older composers w ere followed by young symphonists like Steen Pade (b. 1956), who in 1980 presen-

These ensembles’ outstanding performances of Danish and inter-

ted a 10-minute Symphony No. 1 (1979) for large orchestra with tri-

national contemporary music were crucial in ensuring that the

ple woodwind and full brass complement.

fraternization was not limited to the circle of composers, but also extended to an ever-increasing number of musicians and listeners.

Along with the symphony – the representative orchestral work of the classical-romantic age – the string quartet also rose into favour again. The interest of the 1960s in the mixed chamber ensemble still continued, it is true, but the classical quartet was now cultivated by almost all composers. In this lies not only an assertion of their consciousness of the tradition, but also a signal of a change in the relationship between the modern composers and the musicians. The new music was often met with scepticism or antipathy by the performers in the musical world of the 1960s. It was perceived as anti-instrumental, which some of its more extreme experiments in fact were. It was very difficult to play, and the musicians sometimes had the feeling that its difficulties did not correspond to any precise auditory impression in the composer. This weakened the musicians’ confidence in the seriousness of the efforts that lay behind the written music, and their desire to spend time and energy realizing it. But in the course of the 1970s the musicians began to get a feeling for the qualities that existed in the new music, whi le at the same time the music became less inaccessible. A number of soloists – firebrands like the percussionist Suzanne Ibstrup and the cellist Jørgen Friisholm or the pianist Elisabeth Klein – and ensembles, some manned by the country’s leading orchestral musicians, made playing contemporary music a point of honour and commissioned, premiered and programmed works by Danish composers. Two ensembles took on particular importance in this respect: The Elsinore Players was a chamber ensemble led by Karl Aage Rasmussen and composed of musicians f rom the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra. It functioned as an ensemble-in-residence for the NUMUS festivals which started up in Aarhus in 1978 and quickly developed into the country’s leading festival of contemporary m usic and a festival of international format; and the Kontra Quartet – headed by the leader of the Sjællands Symfoniorkester (the Copenhagen Philharmonic

Hans Abrahamsen (1976-78) · Copyright © Edition Wilhelm Hansen AS, Copenhagen





I N SE A RC H O F LOST BE AU T Y If anyone stands centrally as the dominant figure in Danish musical

between the motivic development that had t ypified the l ate tonal

life in the second half of the twentieth c entury, it is Per Nørgård.

works before 1959 and the serial works from the ‘Fragment’ series.

Although he has formed no stylistic “school”, his influence has been

In this lay the seed of the “infinity series” that was to becomethe

enormous as an artist, cultural debater and forefront figure. This is

recurrent compositional element in Per Nørgård’s music from the

true not only in his own generation, where as primus inter pares with

end of the 1960s.

the composers Ib Nørholm, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Ax el Borup-Jørgensen (b. 1924) and several other slightly younger colle-

The infinity series was described above (page 6) as a serial version of

agues, he accomplished the new departure in Danish music; it is

the me tamorphosis technique. The background of this is that the

also true for the subsequent generations for whom Per Nørgård has

infinity series is a serial development of interval constellations that

been able to stand as an example without setting himself up as an

develop endlessly, and a hierarchical system that reproduces itself

artistic authority.

at d ifferent l evels such that the series reforms when for example

The reason this has been possible – besides a rare combination of

fulfils the conditions that Vagn Holmboe posited for the meta-

one plays every fourth note in the series. Thus the infinity series artistic talent and personal qualities – is that Per Nørgård has been

morphosis: it is new and yet the same, and thanks to its motivic

able in his output both to develop organically towards an incr eas-

character it contains the e lement of recognition that is associated

ingly comprehensive mastery of his art, and to demonstrate an

with the thematic metamorphosis.

openness and self-criticism that have permitted him to incorporate ever-new aspects in his work. This characteristic duality means that

The infinity series became a major theme in Per Nørgård’s works

Per Nørgård’s oeuvre falls into periods that are often demarcated

from the end of the 1960s with Voyage into the Golden Screen and

by crisis-like states in which the composer transforms doubt about

the one-movement Symphony No. 2 (1970, rev. 1971). But in these

what he has achieved so far into productive innovation.

works it emerged that the hierarchical element in the s eries transformed the polyphony th at Nørgård had developed in his earlier

It has already been mentioned how the encounter with internation-

works into a heterophony where the melodic material of the series

al modernism in the years 1959 and 1960 prompted doubts about

permeates all parts in shifting rhythmic lights. The feeling of unity

the sustaining power of the tradition and confinement to “the uni-

became too dominant. During the 1970s Per Nørgård tried to

verse of the Northern mind” that characterized Per Nørgård’s early

counter this problem by involving more elements in his compositi-

works, and at the end of the 1950s culminated in works like Sym-

onal technique: besides the infinity series, also the proportions of

phony N o. 1 Sinfonia austera (1954), Quartetto brioso (1953, rev.

the Golden Section, which guided the rhythmic element, and the

1959) and Constellations (1958) for 12 solo strings or 12 string

natural overtones, whi ch guided the harmony. With these elem-

groups. The result was a series of experiments with new formal con-

ents in play Nørgård w as able to create a music that reconquered

cepts – fragmentary form and collage – combined with serial

the lost beauty of the tonal works, since it ranged in sound from the

techniques that led to sonorically conceived works like the orche-

soft triads of major-minor harmony to modernism’s harsh disson-

stral pieces Iris and Luna and the prizewinning but later withdrawn

ances, as emerged in the opera Gilgamesh (1971-72, awarded the

orchestral work Fragment VI.

Nordic Council Music Prize in 1974) and in the series of works up to and including Symphony N o. 3 (1972-75). The culmination of this

The result of this development was twofold: on the one hand the

compositional development was the opera-ballet Siddharta (1974-

serial way of writing meant that Per Nørgård lost auditive contact

79, premiered in Sweden in 1983), which fully unfolded the potent-

with his music so that he was unable to recognize his intentions in

ial of this “hierarchical” music, but also demonstrated its limits: that

the finished work. On the other hand the study of the serial

is, the impo ssibility of trans cending the boundar ies that surround

techniques led to awareness of a technical compositional link

the totality, and looking at it critically from without. 17

This realization led to a new productive crisis in Per Nørgård’s development around 1980, when his preoccupation with the schizophrenic Swiss outsider artist Adolf Wölffli (1864-1930) inspired him to go beyond the confines of the hierarchical system. Symphony No. 4 Indischer Roosen Gaarten und Chineesischer Hexensee (1981) and the opera The Divine Circus (1982) showed him the way out of the crisis and paved the way for a productive period where the confrontation of chaos and cosmos – often symbolized in the concerto form’s opposition of the lone voice and the collectivity – becomes a central theme for Per Nørgård and is explored in a number of solo concertos for among other instruments violin and cello, up to Symphony No. 5 (1990). With the chamber opera Nuit d es hommes (1995-96, after Apollinaire) a new synthesis is ushered in, culminating so far in Symphony No. 6 At the End of the Day (1997-99), where the new techniques that were created during the Wölffli crisis and the older serial technique based on the infinity series are integrated into a unified complex that sho ws c haos and cosmos as two sides of the same coin, whi ch can be expressed in one artistic individuality. With this Per Nørgård stands as the Danish composer who more than any other has met the classical-romantic challenge of the universality of the symphony on a compositional basis that embraces both the permanent variation mediated on Nordic soil through Holmboe’s metamorphosis technique, and the lessons of serialism. 18

Per Nørgård, from Canon (1970-72). Two notations of the same music. Also see note on page 26 of this booklet. Copyright © Edition Wilhelm Hansen AS, Copenhagen

The 1980s

I N T E R NATI ON A L IZ AT I O N traditional position as the country’s musical capital, and this led to the establishment of specialized ensembles in Copenhagen for contemporary music: first and foremost the vocal group Ars Nova a n dt h e Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen. In the case of contemporary music it was especially the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus and the milieu around it that took on importance at the end of the 1960s and throughout the 1970s. But gradually it was joined by the Funen and North Jutland musical environments, where societies for contemporary music were formed and where new Danish music was included in the s yllabus that the music students read. In the course of the 1980s a generation of young musicians was trained for whom the performance of modern music formed part of their artistic equipment on an equal footing with the classical-romantic repertoire, and this in turn meant the formation of a number of ensembles which were either forced to specialize in contemporary music because of their instrumental configuration (as was the case with Storstrøms Kammerensemble, the Danish Chamber Players), or who on their own initiative gave contemporary music a central place in

Musikhuset Aarhus · Photo: Jacob & Weiland, Århus

their repertoire.

The decentralization of Danish musical life, along with the Act on the

Thus the background had been created for the spread of the new

National Arts Foundation, made up one of the most important

music to a wider public all over the country, and in this process the

music policy measures in the Denmark of the 1960s, and it was fol-

festival of con temporary music was to prove an important instru-

lowed up by the Music Act of 1976. As mentioned before, the de-

ment. Around the country there arose festivals which – typically

centralization meant that the municipally funded city orchestras of

held in the summer – were primarily addressed to audiences of lo-

Odense, Aarhus and Aalborg were made regional orchestras (i.e.

cal residents and visiting guests, and which were based on the usu-

with state subsidies) for Funen and Central and North Jutland

ally voluntary administr ative efforts of individual enthusiasts, and

respectively, while the Tivoli Symphony Orchestra was made the re-

often on modest financial support from district and county

gional orchestra for Zealand and a South Jutland regional orchestra

authorities and local sponsors.

was established. This led in turn to the establishment of modern, well-appointed music houses with large concert halls in a number of

Some of these festivals chose contemporary music as their special

cities – first and foremost Aarhus and Odense. This tendency to sup-

characteristic: first and foremost the NUMUS festivals in Aarhus and

port the local musical environment continued over the next few de-

the Lerchenborg Music Days (at the estate of Lerchenborg outside

cades with the establishment of mixed chamber ensembles in Es-

Kalundborg), which combined workshops for young Danish com-

bjerg, Randers/Viborg and Storstrøm County and with the founding

posers with visits by ensembles from a succession of countries such

of state-supported music schools in a number of local authorities all

as Poland, Holland, Finland or Japan. Along with the Carl Nielsen

over the country. Copenhagen had to make an effort to retain its

Academy’s festival “Music Harvest” and the establishment by the 19

Danish Composers’ Society of a Composers’ Biennale and the open-

began to make a name abroad: first and foremost in Europe, where

ing of an alternative opera (Den Anden Opera, The Other Ope ra) in

works by Per Nørgård, Poul Ruders, Karl Aage Rasmussen, Hans

Copenhagen this meant that the interfaces between musicians and

Abrahamsen, Bent Lorentzen (b. 1935), Bent Sørensen (b. 1958) or

public were substantially increased in number.

Anders Nordentoft (b. 1960) were performed and incr easingly recorded on CD, whi le the opera theatres in Kiel and Munich as early

For the generation of young composers who joined the ranks of contemporary

as the 1960s and 1970s had performed Bent Lorentzen’s electronic

music in the





1980s, the festivals became ral-

kommt mir äusserst bekannt vor

lying-points where composers

(1974) and Eine wunderbare Lie-

could on the one hand meet or-

besgeschichte (1979), and lead-

dinary concert-goers from differ-

ing concert-givers such as NDR,

ent parts of the country and on

the Berlin Philharmonic and the

the other hand meet one anot-


her in seminars and workshops.

respectively with Per Nørgård



The feeling of belonging to a

(Symphony No. 4), Hans Abra-

small sectariangroup which was

hamsen (the orchestral work

at odds with the broad, music-

Nacht und Trompeten, 1981) and

loving public was replaced by the

Poul Ruders (Symphony No. 1

sense of growing public accept-

Himmelhoch jauchzend – zum

ance. And the recurring meet-

Tode betrübt, 1989, and the or-

ings with composer colleagues

chestral work Concerto in Pieces

and musicians from other parts

with the subtitle Purcell Variat-

of the country created a broad

ions, 1994-95). But by now the

national environment that coun-

USA and Latin America too were


calling for Danish music and




“schools” and rivalry among the

Danish composers like Bent Lo-

various regions’ academies and

rentzen and Anders Nordentoft,


and attracting composers like Ivar Frounberg (b. 1950), who

The festivals were also to mean

studied with Morton Feldman.

an opening-up of Danish musical

The 1980s was the decade when

life to countries abroad. A num-


ber of prominent international


composers such as Stockhausen, Berio, Ligeti, Xenakis, Takemitsu,

Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Spejlstykke III (1980)* Copyright © The Society for the Publication of Danish Music (Copenhagen)










international company.

Henze or Gubaidulina became the headline names at Danish festivals, and many of them per-


sonally attended the festivals and held lectures and master classes

*Note that th e Spejlstykker score calls for a “prepared” piano; consequently, the

for composition students. At the same time Danish composers also

piano part should not be expected to sound quite as notated in the illustration above

CO NST RU CT I V IS M A N D CL A S SI C IS M Along with the internationalization of Danish musical life one can

developments. This process, which in the 1960s and 1970s was

also note an incipient synthesis of the modernist and the classicist

especially manifested in a breaking-down of the musical tradition

tendencies that had typified Danish music in the two preceding de-

into expressive “slag”, proved at the end of the 1970s and in the

cades. Modernism, which looked set to be ousted by ‘Simplicity’ in

1980s to be a fertilization of newly-cleared land. There was room

the 1970s, made itself felt again as a constructivist element in com-

and potential for larger works with more contrastful and complex

positional technique, revealing its links with serial thinking. The

developments and a wider expressive spectrum.

directly expressive element – whether conveyed by a lyrical melodic line or by quotations and stylistic borrowings from the

Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s breakthrough work in this respect was

music of earlier times – was underpinned by a structural awareness

the two-piece orchestral work Symphony, Antiphony (1974-77),

that integrated expression in the compositional unfolding of the

which was the second Danish work ever to win the prestigious

material in the individual work.

Nordic Council Music Pr ize in 1980, and which demonstrated that Gudmundsen-Holmgreen had now developed his constructivist

One cannot say whether this development was a result of or a pre-

basis so much that he could reformulate the classical genres.

condition of the internationalization. It was very likely both, in a

Symphony, Antiphony was followed up by other “classical” works,

reciprocal process which must be viewed in the context of the im-

with string quartets and a clarinet trio as the most striking, and this

proved working conditions that the National Arts Foundation h ad

development was crowned with Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s new

given Danish composers since the mid-’60s with three-year grants

interpretation of the Baroque concerto form in Concerto grosso

to young composers and working scholarships which provided the

(1990) for string quartet and symphonic ensemble – a major work

potential for in-depth study and inspired competition with compo-

in contemporary Danish music and a work where compositional

sitional quality as the criterion of success.

consistency and expressive freedom unite in an original and characteristic sound-world.

The synthesis of constructivism and classicism left its mark on a whole generation of young composers with names li ke the first to

In 1981 Ib Nørholm took over the chair of composition at the Royal

establish themselves – Karl Aage Rasmussen, Poul Ruders and Hans

Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, vacant since Vagn Holm-

Abrahamsen – and those who arrived in the 1980s – Bent Sørensen,

boe’s departure (1965), and this became an important factor in the

Ivar Frounberg, Bo Holten and Karsten Fundal (b. 1966) – as some of

restoration of the balance between Copenhagen and Aarhus in the

the most striking. And it was characteristic of the further develop-

Danish composing courses. For Nørholm simplicity had involved an

ment of two of the older composers, Ib Nørholm and Pelle Gu d-

element of return to the time before modernism with its direct,

mundsen-Holmgreen, who had both been standard-bearers in the

spontaneous expressiveness. This r eactualized the classical genres

reorientation of the 1960s, but who had reacted quite differently to

and forms that had borne the brunt of modernism’s criticism be-

the turn towards the New Simplicity around 1970.

cause of their claim to a unified, universal expression; and among

In principle Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen was probably closer to

quartet and the symphony.

these especially the two most burdened by tradition: the string the Ame rican modernism of John Cage and the early minimalists than to the Darmstadt school with Stockhausen’s and Boulez’ seri-

With the orchestral suite with the telling title After Icarus opus 39

alism. Simplicity w as not contrasted with modernism, and for him

(1967) as a first attempt, in the years 1968-71 he returned to the

modernism was associated with the grotesque and absurd in a pur-

symphony with Symphony No. 2 Isola Bella opus 50 (1968-71),

gation process that peeled old expressive clichés from the musical

where texts by the Danish poet Poul Borum (1934-1996) surround

material and tried to penetrate to an objective expression that

a symmetrical form whose architec ture is inspired by the experi-

could be elaborated constructivistically in clear, goal-oriented

ence of terraced gardens at Lake Maggiore. Isola Bella was the 21

starting-point for a symphonic output which from the 1970s up to

ivism and postmodern classicism that was to become a major cur-

the end of the 1990s places Ib Nørholm as the perpetuator of the

rent in Danish music in the last decades of the twentieth century.

Carl Nielsen and Vagn Holmboe tradition in tune with the changed post-war ae sthetic and compositional norms in music. Characteristically all these works have titles that suggest a poetic content or a programme, which in Symphonies Nos. 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 is deepened in texts that may be elaborated into large, cantata-like forms as in Symphony No. 4 Modskabelse opus 76 (Countercreation, 1978-79) or may stand as isolated elements of song or recitation in an otherwise instrumental totality as in Symphony No. 8 Tro og længsel opus 114 (Faith and Longing, 1990). It would however be misleading to regard the symphonies as programme symphonies in the Romantic sense, where the music expounds the text. The texts, along with the composer’s programme notes, are an attempt to maintain immediate



through often complex structural developments which combine classical form traditions with inspiration from literary s ources such as Dostoevski’s novels, and incorporate constructivist elements such as twelvetone technique from the modernist universe. In this way both Pelle GudmundsenHolmgreen and Ib Nørholm underwent stylistic evolutions in the course of the ’80s that approached the synthesis of modernist construct22

Karl Aage Rasmussen (1977) · Copyright © Edition Wilhelm Hansen AS, Copenhagen

The 1990s The sense of a Danish musical life that marches – if not together and

T E N D E N C IE S OF THE T IM ES The perc eption of time is an important e lement in Per Nørgård’s

in step, then at least towards a common goal – that might have

opera Siddharta, where Act One is played out in a mythological time

struck the observer in the 1980s cannot be maintained in the

which in Act Two is narrowed down to a realistic time, while Act

1990s. A new generation has arrived, the older composers have de-

Three unfolds in an augmented time where the moment of truth,

veloped in different directions, and this leaves the impression of an

when Prince Siddharta becomes aware of the illusion around him

incipient splitting into different camps. The contrasts are sharpen-

and begins his transformation into the Buddha, is spun into a long

ed between a modernism that becomes more uncompromising in

musical sequence lasting o ver 10 minutes. This immersion in the

its quest for artistic truths and chooses expressive forms that conti-

now, which involves both the memory of the past and presenti-

nue the radical experiments of the 1960s, and a conservative, clas-

ments of the future, was for Per Nørgård the point of departure for

sically minded direction th at seems more interested in consolidat-

the new composition techniques which, with the establishment of

ing the advances that the synthesis of the ’70s and ’80s brought.

the so called “tone lakes”, made the experience of time into a central element in his works of the 1980s.

One reason for this stylistic differentiation is the institutionalization and professionalization of the so-called “rhythmic” (i.e. mainly jazz

It was however Karl Aage Rasmussen’s works from the 1980s – first

and rock) music c ourses with the establishment of the Rhythmic

and foremost his string quartets and A Symphony in Tim e (1982) –

Music Conservatory in Copenhagen and the incorporation of

which most strikingly shifted the time dimension into the fore-

rhythmic music in the courses of the provincial academies, where in

ground in contemporary Danish music.

particular the Academy in Aarhus with one and later two rhythmic departments, and in Odense with the development of a special per-

In the 1970s Karl Aage Rasmussen had cultivated the musical com-

former course, were of great importance. This breaks down the

mentary in the form of “meta-music”: musical works that incorpor-

classical academy courses’ de facto monopoly of the training of

ated existing music as quotations of re-composed existing musical

composers, and young people with an education in the rhythmic

works. The immediate inspiration was Charles Ives’ use of quotat-

genres are beginning to work as composers of scored music.

ions and Stravinsky’s Neoclassical works, but the field was expanded to include Berio’s recomposition of the third movement of

However, across the differentiation and contrasts there are also re-

Mahler’s Second Symphony (in Berio’s Sinfonia from 1968/69),

curring tendencies that typify the decade; tendencies that affect

which lies behind Karl Aage Rasmussen’s chamber music work

both the compositional and aesthetic basis of contemporary music,

Berio Mask (1977), or Schoenberg’s reworking of Monn’s Cello Con-

and which make their impact on the composers’ relationships with

certo, which underlies Karl Aage Rasmussen’s cello concerto Con-

their audiences and their choice of genres.

trafactum (1980). This technique released the composer from working directly with problems of form, because the form of the

One of these tendencies has to do with the perception of the con -

musical work was often given by the existing works which were the

cept of time, understood as the basic material of which music is

point of departure for the composition.

formed. The idea that music can be vi ewed as sounding or audible time is well known, and the realization that time can have different

And as early as the beginning of the 1970s Karl Aage R asmussen

intensities played a crucial role in musical aesthetics throughout

had worked directly with the formal problems related to the com-

the twentieth century: fromthe French philosopherHenri Bergson’s

position of larger instrumental works: at first the concept of the

distinction between measured and experienced time up to

rounded work, with its requirement that a work should begin and

Stockhausen’s merging of r hythm and pitch into one time contin-

undergo a development that justifies its ending. The result of this

uum in the article “...wie die Zeit vergeht...” (1959), which was a

was the symphony Anfang und Ende (1970-73), which for Karl Aage

ground-breaking contribution to the aesthetics of serialism.

Rasmussen brought home the issue of what kind of time it is that 23

runs from beginning to end. Is it a dynamic, linear time in which

ominously close. Bent Sørensen, who in 1996 received the Nordic

premonitions become expectations which are fulfilled and create

Council Music Prize, developed this tendency in the course of the

new expectations until the sequence is completed in the classical-

1990s in a series of large works like the violin concerto Sterbende

romantic tradition? Or is it a static time composed of isolated mo-

Gärten (1992-93, the work that won him the Nordic prize ) and the

ments with no internal logical necessity (as is the case in that

piano concerto La Notte (1996-98).

particular modern tradition which, starting with Debussy, culminates in John Cage)?

The other important tendency that should be mentioned here is the increasing preoccupation with musical drama that made a strong

Karl Aage Rasmussen formulated his ans wer to the se questions in

impact in the 1990s. This is hardly a matter of the composers

the orchestral work A Symphony in Time. He chose a split time where

“discovering” music drama, b ut of the surroundings registering a

the dynamic, linear time sequence lies as a precondition, and where

need for newly-written Danish music drama – especially in the form

the possibilities of facing off different and conflicting experiences of

of chamber operas, but also in the direction of more experimental

time against one another in a contrapuntal play are exploited as a

forms of music theatre and even large, institution-demanding full-

form-constituting element, so that parts of different movements

length operas. This need is related to the n ationwide expansion of

are assembled amongst one another like retrospects or prefigurat-

the professional music training courses, as has been mentioned

ions. The timeline is broken so that the listener is time and time

above. The five Danish state academies of music train substantially

again made to doubt where in the sequence he actually is, and

more singers and instrumentalists than the established operas,

experiences that non-simultaneous events are presented at the

choirs and orchestras can absorb, and cannot export talent to a

same time or in the “wrong” order.

European market already overfilled after the economic breakdown

The study of Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920)

mass of talent that has to find new paths and create new institut-

along with a reassessment of Stravinsky’s later, Neoclassical works

ions to make an im pact in the competition, and which is making a

were crucial to this development, which is also found among a

striking mark i np erformances of newly written Danish music drama.

of Eastern Europe. Thus in the m usical area Denmark disposes of a

number of Karl Aage Rasmussen’s contemporaries and younger colleagues. This was reinforced by the feeling that the modern IT age

Thanks to this development Danish composers have been in the en-

with its scope for zapping around among different times and places

viable situation that they have been able to compose operas for li-

via the Internet and satellite TV wrenches the o bserver out of the

mited ensembles with a high professional standard, and have been

accustomed time continuum and confronts him with unman-

able to count on having them performed by enthusiastic artists for

ageable choices.

a public whose interest in several cases has necessitated revivals and new productions of works already performed. One cannot

The time dimension and the compositional work with different


speak of any stylistic or even aesthetic common denominator am-

“time layers” which presents non-simultaneous events at the same

ong these new musicodramatic works, but there is probably a ten-

time became recurrent features in the Danish music of the 1980s

dency for the more conservatively minded and outward-looking

and 1990s – for example in Ivar Frounberg’s computer composit-

composers to be particularly interested in the opera genre. The

ions, which combine inspiration from fractal geometry and spectral

stylistic quotation – sometimes also the quotation proper – has

music; but probably most strikingly in Bent Sørensen’s works – in -

been an often-used characterization resource, whether it has been

spired by Brian Ferneyhough – like the string quartets Adieu (1986)

used in a subtle, artistic collage to express the black humour in Na-

and Angels’ Music (1988) and the chamber music work The Deserted

bokov’s ironic-critical depictions of modern society, as Tage Nielsen

Churchyards (1990), which combine fascination with the past and

has done in his chamber opera Laughter in the Dark(1986-91), or on

decay with time shifts that make the experience of decay seem

a more abstract basis, as Bo Holten does in the music for the Danish

performance theatre Hotel Pro Forma’s abstract retelling of the

“omnipresence of times” dramatically with flashback scenes which

Orpheus myth, Operation : Orfeo (1993), where music by John Cage

break up the continuity of the action. Musically he expresses it with

and the Renaissance composer Hassler is confronted with a quotat-

gospel singing and with stylistic quotations from the Protestant

ion from Orpheus’ famous lament from Gluck’s opera and with B o

hymns and choral settings of the Baroque, which associate the fun-

Holten’s own major-minor-sounding music.

damentalist future regime in Gilead with the religious sects of America’s past, and which stand in unreconciled contrast with the

The culmination of this development, which involves a large num-

clearand expressive idio mt hat makes up theopera’s musica lp resent.

ber of composers such as Lars Klit (b. 1965), John Frandsen (b. 1956) or Andy Pape (b. 1955) and productions, many of them due


to The Other Opera in Copenhagen, was the Royal Danish Theatre’s

contemporaryDanish compositionmusicat theendof thecentury in

commissioning of Poul Ruders’ full-length opera The Handmaid’s

Poul Ruder’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Theopera at once stands as a mo-

Tale, premiered in the year 2000. For the first time since the Danish

numental rounding-off of an eventfuland fruitful epoch in Danish

premiere of Per Nørgård’s opera-ballet Siddharta in 1987 the

musicallife,andwithits socialcommitmentandits stylisticopenness

national theatre produced a modern Danish opera with full orche-

represents a challenge to the compositionmusic ofthe newcentury.

stra, chorus and soloists, which called for and exploited all the modern operatic theatre’s artistic and technical resources. And the composer utilized these resources to give striking musicodramatic expression to the split sensation of time that is characteristic of the most recent Danish music. The Handmaid’s Tale (1997-98) is based on the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood’s futuristic novel of the same name, which, starting with a scholarly conference in the year 2195, provides a historical retrospect of a fundamentalistic republic which was established after a military coup in the USA in the year 2002. The Republic of Gilead is ruled in accordance with the Mosaic Law and a central element is the story in Genesis of the childless Rachel, who asks her husband Jacob to impregnate her handmaid, so that “she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her”. There are thus three different times at play in the opera: the remote past as viewed from the frame story; the close past in the Republic of Gilead itself after the year 2002; and the Handmaid’s own past in the USA, which corresponds chronologically to the present in which the opera is performed. These three times are mixed in the production, where one sees both the handmaid and her younger self with the husband and five-year-old daughter who disappeared during the coup. And they merge together when the Commandant’s bar ren wife plays video tapes from her own past as a revivalist preacher and gospel singer on TV. Poul Ruders represents this 25

Illustrations Also see cover, page 2, and pages 4, 7, 16, 20, and 25

the j oy of children, h ousewives and old-age p ension-

metric version (bottom). Wilhelm Hansen E dition No.

WH: short for Edition Wilhelm Hansen AS, Copenhagen

ers) invites several interpretations

4267 comes with both versions and a long preface. The

Page 3 Mogens Zieler (1905-1983), dr awing (1952).

Page 11 (bottom, right) From a photograph taken by

of ‘golden’ rhythms, whereas the metric notation faci-

Reproduced from the cover of the Zieler book (1960) in

Jørn Freddie at the Louisiana M useum of Modern Ar t

litates practising in solfeggio

the series Grafisk orientering. Reproduced by kind per-

(Humlebæk, Denmark) during a Collegium Musicum

proportional notation is best suited to indicate the use

mission of Hans Reitzels Forlag and Mogens Zielers

concert in May 1960; detail r eproduced by kind per-

Page 19 Musikhuset Aarhus, the ‘House of Music’ in

Fond; original at Horsens Kunstmuseum

mission of Mr Freddie and the Museum. Shown are (left

Denmark’s second-largest city; reproduced from a

to right) the conductor Lavard Friisholm, the composer

colour transparency kindly supplied by Musikhuset.

and pianist Niels Viggo Bentzon, the pianist Georg

Inaugurated on 27 August 1982, this beautiful building

the Inscape entry on page 131 in Per Nørgårds kom-

Vásárhelyi (b.1915), and the composer and pianist

is the home of the Aarhus Sym phony Orc hestra, Den

positioner, the catalogue published by WH in 1983; all

Herman D. Koppel. They are acknowledging the ap-

Jyske Opera (The Danish National Opera, not to be

four instruments use scordatura. String Quar tet No. 3

plause after a performance of Bentzon’s Chamber

confused with The Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen)

Page 6 (top) Per Nørgård's own manuscript incipit for

was premiered at Lerchenborg and is published by WH.

Concerto opus 52 (1948), the first page of which is

and DIEM, the Danish Institute for Electroacoustic

- (bottom) First page of Vagn Holmboe's String Quartet

shown to the left of the photo. - The music shown in the

Music; Musikhuset also p rovides the main venue f or

No. 10 opus 102 (1969), the work being discussed in

upper right-hand corner of the page is the conclusion of

the annual NUMUS Festival

the Lerchenborg photograph shown on page 6. - Holm-

the fir st m ovement of Koppel’s Divertimento p asto-

boe's Mellemspil book, quoted in the body text, is pub-

rale opus 61 (1955; published by Samfundet til U dgi-

Pag e2 0 Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, from Spejl-

lished by WH; Mellemspil means Interlude or In terlu-

velse af Dansk Musik) for oboe, viola, and cello; the

stykker (Mirror Pieces, 1980), the last movement of three

des, and the subtitle means Three Musical Aspects

tempo is Allegro moderato

Page 8 Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, from Eksem-

Page 13 Hans Abrahamsen, from the first movement

Page 22 pler (Examples, 1970; published by WH), six songs for

of Winternacht (1976-78; published by WH); the

script reproduced here is n ot in the composer’s hand.

mixed choir a cappella. The illustration shows the

tempo is Andante flu ente. The first and fourth m ove-

The tempo is quaver = 132

shortest genuine musical composition in Nordic choral

ments are dedicated to Trakl, while the second is dedi-

literature; like the preceding Examples, this sixth and

cated to Escher, and the third to Stravinsky

Cover, page 3 (opposite) Per Nørgård, the concluding two systems of the score for Symphony No. 6 At the

last song may be performed independently, all five-odd beautiful s econds of it. The ba sses s peak, the tenors

Page 14 Per Nørgård, Du skal plante et træ(You Shall

End of the Day, written in 1997-99 with a view to its

whisper, and altos and sopranos sing together on one

Plant a Tree, 1967) for choir a cappella (version for 4-

being premiered on 6 January 2000 at a Danish Broad-

quiet note; the poem thus set to music is by Charlotte

part mixed choir shown here; versions for other config-

casting Corporation Torsdagskoncert in Copenhagen;

Strandgaard (b. 1943) and consists of one simple state-

urations also exist); the poem is by Piet H ein (1905-

these regular Thursday evening concerts, usually

ment to the effect that “On the t re et here hangs a leaf”

1996). This song is dedicated to Finn Høffding and has

played at the Danish Radio C oncert Hall and always

Page 9

Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, first p age of

also made Nørgård’s name known in circles not

broadcast live, maintain their position as the most im-

otherwise familiar with his music

portant series of symphonic-music programmes offer-

Page 15 The first of 4 lydmønstre (4 Sound Patterns,

Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Oslo

ed in Denmark. The work was commissioned by the

the orchestral score for Tricolore IV (1969) Page 10 Palle Nielsen (1920-2000), the last drawing

1971) for speaking choir a cappella: experimental

Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Gothenburg Sym-

of sixteen India-ink drawings constituting the series

music that Borup-Jørgensen wrote for and ever so

phony Orchestra together. The symphony is published

Det magiske spejl (The Magical Mirror, 1950). Repro-

painstakingly and gently r ehearsed with the Kalund-

by WH; the reproduction shown in the illustration was

duced from ‘Palle Nielsen: København’ (Brøndums

borg Kamm erkor (a provincial am ateur c hoir) at the

made from a preliminary print d ating from December

Forlag, 1997); reproduced by kind permission of Mr

very first Lerchenborg Workshop in 1972

1999; the tempo is crotchet = 144. At the very end of this impressive 32-minute symphony, the percussion

Hans Jør gen Brøndum and Mrs Elsa Nielsen. The sign


Karl Aage Rasmussen, from Berio Mask

(1977; prin ted s core a vailable fr om WH). The manu-

on the wall s ays, ‘No music allowed in the courtyard’.

Page 18 Per Nørgård, stages 5 and 6 in Cycle 1 of Ca-

quietly heralds a new beginning, only to be topped by a

In the context of the present booklet, the sad fate of the

non (1970-72; published by WH) for organ, shown in

muttered aside from the first trombone – and then

organ grin der (with his carefree and clear-cut tun es,

the original proportional version (top) and in the

silence, suddenly pregnant with music to come

Per Nørgård (1997-99) · Copyright © Edition Wilhelm Hansen AS, Copenhagen



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