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Knudåge Riisager   (1897 - 1974)

composer

Knudåge Riisager was born on 6th March 1897 in Port Kunda, Estonia, where his father had built and at that time managed a cement factory. On the death of F.L. Smidth in 1899 Riisager's father was called home to work in Copenhagen for F.L. Smidth Company, and the family then moved to Frederiksberg, where Riisager lived for the rest of his life. After his school leaving exam in 1915 he began studying political science at the University of Copenhagen, and in 1921 he took the cand. polit. degree. From 1925 until 1950 he worked as a civil servant - for the last eleven years as a Departmental Head in the Ministry of Finance. Knudåge Riisager died on 26th December 1974.

Alongside this straightforward administrative career Riisager was prolifically active as a composer, music writer and organizer. He had his first training in theory and composition from Otto Malling, and after the latter's death in 1915 from Peder Gram. It was a study trip to Paris in 1923 that were to open the young composer's eyes in earnest to the new currents in contemporary music. In Paris Riisager became a pupil of Albert Roussel and Paul Le Flem, and the French influence can be clearly felt in his compositions from the mid-1920s. While the works of the years up to 1921 have a Nordic, lyrical, sometimes Carl Nielsenesque tone, the compositions of the years up to the mid-thirties show the influence not only of the Frenchmen Roussel and Satie, but also of Proko-fiev, Honegger, Bartók, and not least Stra-vinsky. Riisager's highly personal style is already evident in the works of these years, as expressed for example by the almost provocative use of dissonant seconds, his fondness for bitonality, the humorous element of sheer music--making, and especially Riis-ager's own distinctive attitude to orchestral setting.

This whole development can be heard in works like the Overture for Erasmus Montanus and Songs to texts by Sigbjørn Obstfelder, both from c. 1920, Suite dionysiaque from 1924, as well as Variations on a Theme of Mezangeau and T-Doxc. Poème mécanique, both from 1926. The last of these works, subtitled Jabiru, mechanical poetry, is a musical portrait of what was then a brand-new Japanese aeroplane type. The work is quite in the spirit of the ‘machine music' of the period and as such a fine example of the young composer's international orientation and will to experiment. By 1928 Riisager had begun his collaboration with the ballet at the Royal Theatre; that year he composed the music for Elna Jørgen-Jensen's ballet Benzin (Petrol) with stage designs by Robert Storm Petersen. The premiere of this work, as far its reception was concerned, must be described as a resounding flop, and when it appeared in 1930 it only managed a total of three performances. At the end of the 1930s Riisager resumed his work as a ballet composer, supplying the music for Børge Ralov's Hans Christian Andersen ballet Tolv med Posten (Twelve by the Mail). But this was not premiered at the Royal Theatre until 1942, incidentally together with Harald Lander's Slaraffenland (Fool's Paradise) and Qarrtsiluni - also with Riisager's music. Although he composed a number of significant works in the thirties and forties, it was very much these ballet scores that established Riisager's name with the general public as one of the leading composers of his generation.

And for the next few years, too, ballet music was to be Riisager's most prominent field of work. In 1945 he completed the music for Lander's Fugl Fønix (The Phoenix), and in 1947 he reworked and scored a selection of Carl Czerny's piano etudes into his and -Harald Lander's ballet Etude (later called Etudes). With this work in particular -Riisager won international recognition, and although there are precedents for the use of orchestrated piano pieces as ballet music (for example Ottorino Respighi's La Boutique -fantasque (1919)), the combination of the piano etudes and the technical progression of the dance steps has a special dimension which is precisely the point of the work as a whole.

In the 1920s Riisager had been one of the most active champions of the performance of contemporary music in Copenhagen, and was thus one of the founders of Unge Tonekunst-neres Selskab (the Society of Young Composers) (chairman 1922-24) and a member of the judging committee of the society Foreningen ‘Ny Musik'. Finally, in 1937, he became the chairman of Dansk Komponistforening (the Association of Danish Composers) - a post he kept for 25 years.

Riisager's great initiative and his talent for identifying and solving problems made him an obvious candidate for membership of innumerable society boards, committees, councils etc. not only in Denmark but also outside the country. And as we have seen, alongside these activities he kept up his work at the Ministry until 1950, when he retired as Head of Department. But Riisager refused to rest on his laurels as a senior citizen, so in 1956 he took up the challenge of becoming director of the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen. This is quite thought-provoking, since he had never himself attended the institution. And in fact as director he devoted himself to the administrative work and never taught in the eleven years he was at the Academy.

After finishing Etude Riisager went to work on his only opera, the one-acter Susanne, to a libretto by his close friend Mogens Lorentzen. It was no great success: it only saw 17 performances, and when it was revived in 1957 - for Riisager's sixtieth birthday - it was only on stage six times. Several major works now followed, including a concerto for the violin virtuoso Wandy Tworek, but as before it was to be ballet music that brought Riisager success. In the fifties his compositions included two ballet scores for the -Swedish choreographer Birgit Cullberg: Månerenen (Moon Reindeer), premiered at the Royal Theatre in 1957, and Fruen fra Havet (The Lady From The Sea), first performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in 1960. Worth singling out from Riisager's last ten years are Sangen om det uendelige (The Song of the Infinite) from 1964 to a text by the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, and the orchestral works Trittico from 1971 and To Apollo, composed in 1972.

Knudåge Riisager combined a full-time job as a civil servant with extensive activities as a composer, and besides making an important contribution to many of the organizations of the musical world he was an extremely prolific writer; in his younger years especially in music articles, but later as an essayist, as is evident for example from the fine books Tanker i tiden (Thoughts in Time) (1952) and Det usynlige mønster (The Invisible Pattern) (1957). In these lucidly formulated literary works, too, we experience Knudåge Riisager as a cultural personality with thorough training in the humanities and a broad cultural perspective.

As a composer Riisager had no pupils or successors, but with his unmistakable personal tone he succeeded in enriching Danish music with an extra dimension of spirituality and pithiness.

Live Dates

30/11/2012   Koncert og release: 2 x Søe spiller Riisager
Kom til koncert og CD-release med Johannes Søe Hansen, Anne Søe Iwan og Christina Bjørkøe mandag d. 10. december
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29/11/2012   New video: Søe & Søe plays Riisager
Violinist Johannes Søe Hansen and his sister Anne Søe Iwan talk about their new Riisager recording, also featuring pianist Christina Bjørkøe
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10/11/2011   10/10 for Riisager on Classics Today
Dacapo's new Riisager series gets top marks 10/10 on Classics Today.
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18/10/2011   New video: Riisager Symphonic Edition
Video trailer for Dacapo's new series featuring the world premiere recording of Riisager's complete symphonies
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10/10/2011   From the Gramophone blog: Send in the Danes
As Dacapo's new Knudåge Riisager cycle launches, Andrew Mellor surveys Danish music's long affair with the funny
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07/04/2014   Audiophile Audition

KNUDÅGE RIISAGER: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 3
4/5 Stars

"The Aarhus Orchestra, led by Bo Holten, is fully in control of these difficult works ... an excellent recording."
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25/02/2014   Classica

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 3
4/4 Stars

"Le label Dacapo a engagé un Orchestre symphonique d'Aarhus impliqué, aux pupitres remarquables, correctement stimulés par le chef et compositeur Bo Holten qui, d'année en année, accumule de fines performances."
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25/02/2014   MusicWeb International

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 3
"The performances by the Aarhus Orchestra, ably directed by Bo Holten, sound fine and enthusiastic."
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25/02/2014   MusicWeb International

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 3
"Riisager might be said to have a very 19th-century 'sound', yet in fact the neo-Classical, even neo-Baroque, textures that characterise large sections of these scores hark back further still."
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05/02/2014   Kristeligt Dagblad

KNUDÅGE RIISAGER: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 3
4/6 Stars

"Det er en væsentlig cd, der her er kommet på markedet."
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01/10/2013   American Record Guide

Knudåge Riisager: Violin Works
"Superbly performed and recorded."
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01/10/2013   International Record Review

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 2
"The performances are very fine.", "The recording is excellent.", "Well worth your time."
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16/09/2013   Concertonet.com

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 2
"Bo Holten brosse le portrait d’une personnalité musicale d’une grande diversité."
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01/09/2013   Gramophone

Knudåge Riisager: Violin Works
"Rewarding", "Warmly expressive", "No less impressive are the artistry and dedication lavished on the programme by all the performers."
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01/09/2013   Gramophone

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 2
"There is something about Riisager's habitual short-windedness that suggests an individual sensibility and invites one to persist.", "As usual with Dacapo, recording and documentation are exemplary."
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03/08/2013   Audiophile Audition

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 2
"I enjoyed Volume 1 in this series; I really dig Volume 2. What’s next, Dacapo?"
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01/08/2013   Classics Today

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 2
"Snappy, spirited, and full of energy. The Aarhus Symphony and Bo Holten capture the rhythmic ebullience of Riisager’s inspiration effortlessly." Artistic Quality: 9. Sound Quality: 9.
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10/07/2013   classicalmodernmusic.blogspot.dk

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 2
"I am glad to have it and will continue listening with absorption."
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03/07/2013   Infodad.com

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 2
"A chance to hear just how varied his productions could be.", "The Aarhus Symphony Orchestra under Bo Holten plays all the works idiomatically and with fine attention to detail".
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01/07/2013   WFMT (Chicago)

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 2
"Highly original and imaginative."
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13/05/2013   MusicWeb International

Knudåge Riisager: Violin Works
"With first class notes and recorded sound Riisager is in the finest of hands here."
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09/05/2013   Århus Stiftstidende

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 2
"En oplevelsesrig lytning værd."
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01/05/2013   David's Review Corner

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 2
"As a disc of world premiere recordings, I much commend it."
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25/03/2013   Audiophile Audition

Knudåge Riisager: Violin Works
"The sound on this recording is extremely warm and enveloping, a model of how chamber violin should be captured in surround.", "Rarely have I heard such an engaging and thoroughly rousing set of sonatas."
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13/12/2012   Kristeligt Dagblad

Knudåge Riisager: Violin Works
"Det er en berigelse for dansk musikliv, at en række musikere i vores førende symfoniorkestre også giver sig tid til at dyrke kammermusik med kolleger og venner - og at anstrengelserne kan bære så smukke frugter."
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30/05/2012   American Record Guide

Riisager: Orchestral Works
"It has a rich, full-bodied sound."
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29/02/2012   OPUS

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 1
5/6 Stars

"Helt oemotståndlig cd. Bo Holten och århusianerna är strålande, upptagningen utmärkt. Nog den viktigaste av Dacapos alla fina Riisager-utgåvor hittills"
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02/01/2012   International Record Review

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 1
"...very good fun, with occasional depths, and some roller-coaster handling of the orchestra. Worth your time"
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02/01/2012   Gramophone

Knud Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 1
"The Aarhus Symphony Orchestra acquits itself bravely under Bo Holten's firm direction and, as usual from this source, recording quality and documentation are first-rate"
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12/12/2011   MusicWeb International

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 1
"Playful, chivalrous, impulsive and ending in a grand symphonic glow ... a most impressive and sensitive portrayal of pastoral beauties."
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28/11/2011   Klassisk

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 1
5/6 Stars

"Riisager blander respektløshed med kærlighed og viser sig dermed som den ægte arvtager fra Carl Nielsen."
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28/11/2011   Cinemusical (amerikansk blog)

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 1
4/4 Stars

"This first volume is easily recommended to the curious and those who appreciate the art of the 1920s."
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10/11/2011   Classics Today (10/10)

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 1
"I can only welcome this release with great enthusiasm and high hopes for the series as a whole."
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12/09/2011   Classics Today France

Knudåge Riisager: Benzin
"L'interprétation est parfaite..."
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01/09/2011   Fyens Stiftstidende

Knudåge Riisager: The Symphonic Edition Vol. 1
4/6 Stars

"Et af Riisagers særkender var hans næsten eksperimenterende orkestrering ... Aarhus-symfonikerne viser det med tydelighed"
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25/02/2011   Fanfare

Knudåge Riisager: Orchestral Works
"Riisager's orchestrations are uniformly brilliant, his lovely melodies charming or nostalgic."
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01/11/2010   OPUS

Knudåge Riisager: Orchestral Works
5/5 Stars

"Underbara bekantskaper!"
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17/06/2010   Audiophile Audition

Knudåge Riisager: Orchestral Music
5/5 Stars

"One of the loveliest ballet selections I've had the pleasure to hear. And the orchestra plays with great savoir faire."
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09/03/2010   Classics Today

Knudåge Riisager: Orchestral Works
“This reissue gives new life to a delightful disc that anyone who loves, say, Ravel and early 20th century French ballet will find absolutely irresistible."
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01/10/2008   Audiophile Audition

Knudåge Riisager: Benzin
5/5 Stars

"The music is a kick"
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25/08/2008   Politiken

Knudåge Riisager: Benzin
5/6 Hjerter

"Lige til at spise (eller snarere sniffe, måske)"
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22/07/2005   Politiken

Knudåge Riisager: Ballet Music
4/6 Stars

”Holtens vitale og billedskabende fortolkning fremsuggererer så meget af eventyrets dynamik og trylleri, at man mener at kunne følge det i detaljer ... orkestret spiller stramt, veloplagt og farverigt"
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07/10/2004   Politiken

Knudåge Riisager: Piano Works
5/6 Stars

”Bjørkøes rige klangfantasi og dristige gestiske udtryksfuldhed smelter sammen med en usvigeligt sikker forståelse af mekanikken og detaljernes betydning”
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Discography

The Symphonic Edition Vol. 3
The Symphonic Edition Vol. 3
Knudåge Riisager

CD 8.226148 (2014)

Riisager’s Fourth and Fifth Symphony and other orchestral works from the 1940s. Witty, provocative and scintillating neoclassicism

The Symphonic Edition Vol. 2
The Symphonic Edition Vol. 2
Knudåge Riisager

CD 8.226147 (2013)

Riisager’s orchestral music from the 1920s and 1930s is a virtuosic jumble of moods. Festive, cheeky and enthusiastic about the future

Violin Works
Violin Works
Knudåge Riisager

SACD 6.220594 (2012)

The violin was Riisager’s own instrument, and in the violin works we hear his inimitable, roguish personality as directly as we could wish

The Symphonic Edition Vol. 1
The Symphonic Edition Vol. 1
Knudåge Riisager

CD 8.226146 (2011)

Orchestral Works
Orchestral Works
Knudåge Riisager

SACD 6.220584 (2010)

A sparkling SACD re-issue of Riisager's most colourful Neo-Classicist works

Benzin
Benzin
Knudåge Riisager

SACD 6.220527 (2008)

First recording ever of the crazy, beautiful scandalous ballet fra 1928

Billedbogen (The Picture Book)
Billedbogen (The Picture Book)

CD 8.224703 (2005)

Piano music for children and the young at heart by among others Carl Nielsen and Fini Henriques

Ballet Music
Ballet Music
Knudåge Riisager

CD 8.226022 (2005)

The Greenlandic orchestral explosion Qarrtsiluni and the masterpiece Moon Reindeer

Piano Works
Piano Works
Knudåge Riisager

CD 8.226004 (2004)

Highly acclaimed CD of Riisager’s emphatic, witty piano music from the mid-twentieth century

Orchestral Works
Orchestral Works
Knudåge Riisager

CD 8.224082 (1997)

Riisager’s music has the same esprit as his French models, not least in his infectious ballet music from the 1930s

Chamber Music
Chamber Music
Knudåge Riisager

CD 8.224081 (1997)

Acute, pointed music from the most sparkling Danish composer of the 1920s


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