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Herman D. Koppel   (1908 - 1998)

composer, pianist

Herman D. Koppel (1908-98) was one of the greatest Danish musical personalities of the twentieth century. Hard-working as a composer, pianist and teacher, he was the patriarch of a musical dynasty that has become a Danish counterpart of the Bach family in Germany.

In Denmark the name of Koppel has become synonymous with musicianship of highest standards ranging over three generations and innumerable genres. The Koppel family put down its roots in Denmark in 1907 when Herman D. Koppel’s parents, a Jewish couple, moved from the Polish village of Blaszki to Copenhagen. This was an age of emigrations when one in ten Danes emigrated, but when Denmark also received new blood from abroad, including thousands of poor Eastern European Jews.

Herman David Koppel was the eldest son, and the family bought a piano even before he was born, so that Herman could become a pianist. He began playing at the age of five. In 1925, at 17, he was admitted to the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, after an admission test with the Danish national composer Carl Nielsen on the adjudicating committee.

From 1929 on Koppel became closer to Carl Nielsen, for example playing all Nielsen’s piano works for the composer. In return Nielsen looked through a number of Koppel’s early compositions, and Koppel came to regard Carl Nielsen as an artistic and human ideal. Koppel became the last major Danish composer to take his point of departure in his direct contact with Carl Nielsen. Koppel’s teachers were Emilius Bangert in theory and Rudolph Simonsen in piano, and later he studied the piano privately with Anders Rachlew. Koppel made his debut as a pianist in 1930, and the same year had one of his works played in public for the first time.

Apart from instrumentation theory, he was a self-taught composer. After the death of Carl Nielsen in 1931 Koppel became increasingly preoccupied with modernism from abroad – especially Stravinsky and Bartók – and not least with jazz. He became part of the ‘cultural- adical’ environment of the inter-war years in Denmark that included composers like Finn Høffding (1899-1998), Jørgen Bentzon (1897-1951) and Knudaage Riisager (1897-1974). In the 1930s Koppel worked with genres as different as educational Brauchsmusik, jazz, theatre, ?lm and revue music, and in many ways he distanced himself from older ideals, including his family’s Jewish tradition. In those years Koppel made his living as among other things an accompanist, for example for the famous Danish tenor Aksel Schiøtz, with whom he also made many recordings.

Koppel’s career was amatically interrupted in 1943 when he had to escape with his wife and two small children to neutral Sweden because the German army of occupation had launched persecutions of the Jews in Denmark as elsewhere. The family lived in Sweden until the end of the war, but the exile was to leave deep marks on Koppel’s life and music.

After the war Koppel grappled with new genres. He had hitherto mostly written instrumental music, but he now composed quite a few vocal works – those to Old Testament texts are particularly telling. His position in Danish musical life was strengthened in the post-war years, both as a piano teacher at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen (he was a professor there from 1955 until 1978), and as a leading instrumentalist and a representative of the contemporary Danish music of the period, a moderate, neoclassical modernism.

In the 1960s Koppel composed three of his largest works. Of these, the oratorio Moses (1964) and his Requiem (1966) both have roots in his wartime experiences. The opera Macbeth (1968) was given a poor performance at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen and was not a success. It was to be the last new Danish opera the Theatre was to stage for over thirty years.

In the 1960s, too, the Koppel family made a strong impact with Herman’s two sons, Thomas and Anders, who enjoyed sensational success in the experimental rock group Savage Rose, his daughter Therese, who became a pianist, and his daughter Lone, who became the new star soprano of the Royal Danish Opera.

Herman D. Koppel continued to compose and perform busily in the 1970s and 1980s, and was an active concert pianist who continued at an advanced age to extend his repertoire, for example with Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto. His last compositions are from the mid-1990s, and as a pianist he played his last concert about a year before he died.

Live Dates

03/02/2014   Musik & Theater

Familienverstand
"Das sind originelle Facetten tonaler Koppel-Stilistik, die fürs Repertoire der Kammermusik attraktiv bleiben."
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27/10/2013   Ensemble

Generationen-Musik
4/4 Stars

"Carion-Bläser-quintetts verwandeln alles Notierte kunstfertig und oft solistisch brillierend in berückende Tonmalereien und bescheren grosse Hörfreude."
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01/10/2013   Ensemble

Carion plays Koppel
4/5 Stars

"Die Mitlieder des Carion-Bläserquintetts verwandeln alles Notierte kunstfertig und oft solistisch brillierend in berückende Tonmalereien und bescheren große Hörfreude."
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13/07/2013   MusicWeb International

Carion plays Koppel
"The recordings and the performances by the (nearly) sinister-sounding ensemble Carion are excellent."
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14/06/2013   Fyens Stiftstidende

Carion plays Koppel
4/6 Stars

"Godt gået her!"
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04/06/2013   Bayerischer Rundfunk - BR Klassik (radio)

Carion plays Koppel
"Eine wertvolle Bereicherung des Bläser-Repertoires, gespielt von einem großartigen, spielfreudigen Ensemble."
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14/05/2013   Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten

Carion plays Koppel
5/6 Stars

"De tre aktuelle blæserkvintetter fra Koppel-familien vender og drejer sig mellem intense følelser og bratte opbremsninger, mellem humørsyge og smukke blæserguirlander."
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15/08/2012   ConcertoNet.com

Carl Nielsen: The Masterworks Vol. 2
”La compréhension intime de l’esprit et de la musique de leur compatriote permet une interprétation toujours d’un bon niveau et souvent inspirée.”
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13/07/2012   Flensborg Avis

Carl Nielsen: The Masterworks Vol. 2
"Endnu en fantastisk boks med genudgivelser."
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11/06/2012   Fyens Stiftstidene

Carl Nielsen: The Masterworks Vol. 2
5/6 Stars

"Noget nær det perfekte"
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01/06/2012   OPUS.41

Herman D. Koppel, Benjamin Koppel: Works for cello and piano
5/6 Stars

"Inte sällan lyfter sig tonflödet till storslagen och hänrivande kammarmusik"
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21/05/2012   SØNDAG

Carl Nielsen: The Masterworks Vol. 2
"Fyn er fin, og Carl Nielsen er Fyns fineste."
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21/10/2011   MusicWeb International

Herman D. Koppel, Benjamin Koppel: Works for cello and piano
"Serious, sturdy, blazingly grand and brilliant ... Two Koppels in music that is unflinchingly serious and gripping."
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01/10/2011   Klassisk

Works for cello and piano
5/5 Stars

"Denne cd giver et sjældent blik ind i en familierelation på musikkens egne præmisser. Og til et glædeligt genhør med nogle af Herman D. Koppels mesterlige værker."
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30/08/2011   Politiken

Herman D. Koppel, Benjamin Koppel: Works for cello and piano
5/6 Hjerter

"Der er smæk for skillingen i serier af handlingsmættede forløb i stramme nyklassiske former, og ingen af de to erfarne musikere holder igen med de energiske udredninger"
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19/06/2011   Fyens Stiftstidende

Herman D. Koppel, Benjamin Koppel: Works for cello and piano
5/6 Stars

"Koppels poetiske soloværk fra 1971 ... får takket være Zeuthens formidable spil, der favner instrumentets kolossale spændvidde, en uafrystelig intensitet."
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05/05/2011   Diapason

Holmboe, Bruun, Norgard, Holten, Koppel, Jersild, Ruders Hymn to the Sun - Works for a cappella choir
"Les chemins parcourus tracent la carte d'une modenité subtilement tempérée à l'image des faisceaux de lumière qui traversent une belle matière chantée et parfois parlée dans la pièce de Vagn Holmboe."
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01/05/2011   Ritmo

Holmboe, Bruun, Norgard, Holten, Koppel, Jersild, Ruders: Solhymne - Værker for a cappella kor
4/4 Stars

"Mirado con distancia, este disco es fruto de la tradición coral danesa, una de las más potentes de toda Europa."
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16/12/2010   Fyens Stiftstidende

Hymn to the Sun - Works for a cappella choir
4/6 Stars

"Et homogent og velsammensunget ensemble, med en forbilledlig tekstudtale."
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22/02/2010   Musicweb International

Conversations for violin and piano
"The performances, excellently recorded, are outstandingly good, and evince powerful commitment for the repertoire."
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24/11/2009   Politiken

Conversations for violin og klaver
4/6 Hjerter

"Dynamisk og inderligt fortolket af violinisten Elisabeth Zeuthen Schneider og pianisten Ulrich Stærk."
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15/06/1995   High Fidelity

Songs
"En liflig plade!"
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15/06/1995   Det Fri Aktuelt

Songs
"En særegen dansk stemning med en fin spænding mellem tekst og musik."
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15/09/1994   American Record Guide

Wind Octets
"This very well performed and recorded batch of Danish wind octets is idiomatic, transparent and likeable music."
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Discography

Carion plays Koppel - Wind Quintets
Carion plays Koppel - Wind Quintets
Herman D. Koppel, Anders Koppel, Benjamin Koppel

CD 8.226107 (2013)

Vital and playful chamber music from three generations of a unique Danish musician family: Herman, Anders and Benjamin Koppel

The Masterworks Vol. 2 - Chamber and Instrumental Works
The Masterworks Vol. 2 - Chamber and Instrumental Works
Carl Nielsen

CD 8.206003 (2012)

All Dacapo’s latest recordings of Carl Nielsen’s chamber and piano works, played by Danish musicians with Nielsen’s absolutely distinctive tone in their blood.

Works for cello and piano
Works for cello and piano
Herman D. Koppel, Benjamin Koppel

CD 8.226088 (2011)

Expressive cello works by the doyen of the great Danish Koppel family of musicians, rounded off with a fantastical tribute work written by his grandson.

Hymn to the Sun - Works for a cappella choir
Hymn to the Sun - Works for a cappella choir
Holmboe, Bruun, Nørgård, Holten, Koppel, Jersild, Ruders

CD 8.226051 (2010)

The Danish National Vocal Ensemble in newer works by some of Denmark’s internationally renowned composers

Conversations for violin and piano
Conversations for violin and piano
Koppel, Nørgård, Ruders, Rosing-Schow, Nordentoft

CD 8.226519 (2009)

One hour of short youthful and charming pieces by five important post-war composers

Chamber Music
Chamber Music
Herman D. Koppel

CD 8.226003 (2006)

Mature, compact works by a master of the art of characterization

Concertos
Concertos
Herman D. Koppel

CD 8.226032 (2005)

Strong works from the mid-twentieth century for cello, flute and piano

Kaleidoscope
Kaleidoscope
The Jalina Trio

CD 8.226503 (2005)

Brilliant, intense piano trios from the second half of the 20th century

Orchestral Works Vol. 4
Orchestral Works Vol. 4
Herman D. Koppel

CD 8.226027 (2004)

Koppel’s two great successes of the post-war era: Piano Concerto no. 3 and Symphony no. 5

Orchestral Works Vol. 3
Orchestral Works Vol. 3
Herman D. Koppel

CD 8.226016 (2003)

Two moving symphonies from the end of World War II

Orchestral Works Vol. 2
Orchestral Works Vol. 2
Herman D. Koppel

CD 8.224205 (2002)

World premiere of Koppel’s first two symphonies, quite unreservedly unheard for over 70 years

Chamber Music
Chamber Music
Herman D. Koppel, Niels Viggo Bentzon

CD 8.224208 (2002)

Klaversekstetter af mellemkrigstidens stærke og stædige klaverkomponister

Orchestral Works Vol. 1
Orchestral Works Vol. 1
Herman D. Koppel

CD 8.224135 (2000)

Den opsigtsvækkende serie begynder med Koppels to sidste symfonier og Koncert for orkester

Piano Music
Piano Music
Carl Nielsen

CD 8.224095-96 (1998)

Reference recording by the composer Herman D. Koppel, who as a young man rehearsed the works with Carl Nielsen himself

Moses
Moses
Herman D. Koppel

CD 8.224046 (1996)

Songs
Songs
Holmboe, H.D. Koppel, Norby, T. Nielsen

CD 8.224010 (1995)

Songs from the post-war era by among others Herman D. Koppel and Vagn Holmboe

Wind Octets
Wind Octets

CD 8.224002 (1994)

Three generations of Danish composers in the hands of a prizewinning wind ensemble


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