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Mogens Pedersøn   (1585 - 1623)


Christian IV’s vicekapelmester or Deputy Master of the Royal Chapel, Mogens Pedersøn is the first composer in the history of Danish music from whom we have a large, collected body of work, and about whom we have, if not a complete biography, at least a number of items of biographical information. In addition – and crucially – he emerges as a composer of international format, perhaps the most significant Danish composer before the breakthrough of bourgeois musical culture in Denmark in 1800 with names like Kunzen, Schultz, Weyse and others. Finally, he is the earliest Danish composer whose music has been the object of detailed musical analysis. Although, as we shall see, he did not hold the very highest musical post at the court of Christian IV, he was the most important Danish composer at the court and a composer whose light does not dim in comparison with the many big names who had been brought in from abroad.

The first time we hear of Mogens Pedersøn is in 1599 when, as a young apprentice in the King’s cantori, he was sent on a one-year study trip to Venice accompanied by the fifteen-year-older Melchior Borchgrevinck, who had already by that time achieved a certain status among the King’s musicians, and who was later to rise rapidly in the hierarchy until, in 1618, he reached the top as the King’s kapelmester – incidentally the same year as his presumed former pupil Mogens Pedersøn became vicekapelmester.

Around 1600 Venice had lost some of its onetime political and commercial importance, but in musical terms the city by the lagoon was still a musical powerhouse, not least as a result of the prestige associated with the offices of organist and maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s. The great master of this period, who was visited by innumerable composers from different parts of Europe, was Giovanni Gabrieli, known for his vocal and instrumental works which uniquely exploited the special architecture of the basilica with the many galleries around the building.

The study period of the Danes with Gabrieli in Venice was the start of a succession of such visits to the Venetian master, making him almost the permanent tutor for talented Danish composers at the court of Christian IV. Just five years after coming home in 1605, Mogens Pedersøn again went to Venice, this time to stay there for four years.

There is much to indicate that Gabrieli’s pedagogical method was to have his pupils put music to set texts, either sacred texts in the form of motets or secular ones in the form of madrigals. Once the pupil was fully trained, he ensured that, to set the seal on his achievement, he printed a collection of his madrigals. And so in 1608 Mogens Pedersøn too could proudly read the printed title page of his debut work with 21 madrigals: Madrigali a cinque voci. Libro Primo ... di Magno Petreo Dano, Musico ... . Already here he appears, with the optimism of youth, to have assumed that there would later be a Libro Secundo – that is, a “Second Book”. If such a book ever appeared it has at all events been lost (cf. below).

In the course of his last year in Venice Mogens Pedersøn may have met another composer who was later to win European fame, for in that year Heinrich Schütz too was studying in Venice. He too had published a collection of madrigals, and Pedersøn and Schütz may well have wandered around along the canals of Venice eagerly discussing some difficult detail in one of Gabrieli’s exercise madrigals. Many years later, when Schütz came to Copenhagen, Pedersøn had long since died.

Just two years after his return from Venice, Mogens Pedersøn was again sent out into the world, this time with his fellow composers Jacob Ørn and Hans Brachrogge to England. It is unlikely that this was for training – perhaps it was rather to make contact with the King’s sister, Queen Anne, who was married to the English King James I, and who perhaps missed a little Danish conversation and culture. There is some suggestion that Pedersøn worked there on his previously promised second book of madrigals. At all events we find a source with ten Pedersøn madrigals, copied by an English convict, dated 1611 with an added remark that this was a kind of second collection of Magno Petreio Dano.

Safely returned from England, Mogens Pedersøn must have gradually risen through the ranks of the musicians, for in 1618, when Melchior Borchgrevinck’s work as kapelmester had grown too much for him, the King decided to appoint a deputy chapelmaster to relieve him, and Mogens Pedersøn became the first to hold this office, the duties of which are meticulously recorded in a Royal licence dated 6th February 1618 – he held the post until his early death in 1623.

Mogens Pedersøn’s principal work, which is also a major work of Danish musical history, was printed in Copenhagen in 1620 under the poetic title Pratum Spirituale (“The Spiritual Meadow”). The collection consists of 21 Danish hymns in five-part settings, a mass in five parts, three Latin motets and a number of Danish and Latin choral responses. The collection was intended for use by the professional choirs in the larger churches, and parts of it provide evidence that in the Danish church, almost a century after the Reformation, there was still room in the liturgy for certain remnants of Catholicism. Performances in concerts in our own time and recordings on CD show that the pieces in Pratum Spirituale are fully up to the standard of better known composers of the age in the rest of Europe. It shows Mogens Pedersøn as the master he is.

Live Dates


Mogens Pedersøn

CD 8.990101 (2002)

Mogens Pedersøn

CD 8.224219 (2002)

Denmark’s first international composer wrote his madrigals in 1608 as a pupil of Gabrieli

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