FINN HØFFDING (1899-1997) by Michael Fjeldsøe
Finn Høffding was one of the great figures of Danish musical life in the twentieth century. He never became a student at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, but studied privately with Knud Jeppesen and Thomas Laub, and in 1921-22 with Joseph Marx in Vienna. In the 1920s he wrote a number of works in the classical genres, including two string quartets and three symphonies. His first symphony from 1923 is for a large orchestra and was given its first performance in the Tivoli Gardens in 1925, while the second, Il canto liberato, is for large orchestra and a choir singing phonetic text.
The Third Symphony exhibits the incipient influence of the New Objectivity of the 1920s: it was written in 1928 for 40 musicians in four distinct movements on a classical model. With the use of the piano in a prominent role and a transparent soundscape with audible contrapuntal part-writing he distanced himself in it from the Romantic orchestral sound. The symphony was given its first performance in 1930 and was published in 1931. Of chamber music, he wrote Dialogues for oboe and clarinet, op. 10, and the interesting Chamber Music for Soprano, Oboe and Piano, op. 11. In this period he also wrote two operas: The Emperor's New Clothes (after Hans Christian Andersen, premiered in 1928) and Kilde-rejsen (The Journey to the Well) (after Holberg, composed in 1931, premiered in 1942).
A crucial experience was the meeting with Paul Hindemith and the leader of the Jugendmusik movement Fritz Jöde in Baden-Baden in 1927. This sparked off a life of educational work in music, and in 1931, along with Jørgen Bentzon, he founded the Copenhagen Folk Music School. In 1929 he also became chairman of the Danish Association of Music Teachers and one of Copenhagen's leading upper secondary school -music teachers. For this work he published a series of choir and school songbooks and two textbooks: one on harmony and one on ear training with accompanying exercises. He also wrote cantatas such as Ein musikus wollt fröhlich sein, the Holte Upper -Secondary School cantata, and Das Eisenbahngleichnis. His largest educational work was his school opera Pasteur to a text by Otto Gelsted, which was premiered in 1938.
After a single chamber symphony in 1934, at the end of the decade he returned to the major instrumental forms with the orchestral works Evolution (1939) and Det er ganske vist (It Is Perfectly True) (1943). He called both works symphonic fantasies, and they marked a change in focus towards organic melodic growth in one-movement structures. In this sense Evolution can be seen as a precursor of Vagn Holmboe's thinking with his metamorphosis technique. In this period Høffding also wrote a wind quintet, and from the mid-forties a number of choral works and songs with texts by poets like Nordahl Grieg and Otto Gelsted.
After the war, in 1949, Høffding became a professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, where he had taught since the end of 1920s, and in 1954-55 he was its principal. This gave him great influence on the next generations of Danish composers, not least Vagn Holmboe. In this period the intervals between works were somewhat longer, but he continued to compose - especially songs, cantatas and piano pieces for educational use. Nor did he abandon the large formats, for example composing the symphonic fantasy The Arsenal at Springfield (1953) and the Sinfonia concertante (1965).
FINN HØFFDING, the great danish symphonist by Per Nørgård
Alongside Knudåge Riisager (1897-1974) Finn Høffding enjoyed the central position between Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) and the ‘three great symphonists' of the post-war period: Herman D. Koppel (1908-1998), Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996) and Niels Viggo Bentzon (1919-2000). Since Høffding was a friend of Carl Nielsen and a teacher of Holmboe, the connections between them are so strong that it is reasonable to regard them as one chain with Høffding as the central link. In addition Høffding shared a special sense of humour (dare one call it ‘Danish'?) with Nielsen - and the role as Holmboe's music theory teacher ties the three generational figures even closer together.
First and foremost, though, Høffding must be regarded as "his own" (as in Piet Hein's grook: "Little cat, little cat, walking so alone. Tell me whose cat are you? I'm damned well my own!").
Finn Høffding's humour is particularly evident in Det er ganske vist (It Is Perfectly True), based on Hans Christian Andersen's tale of a hen who makes a rash, coquettish comment on the innocent loss of a single feather. As this event is passed on through the flock it is inflated by gossip and ends up growing beyond reason, so when it comes back to the hen herself, not even she can recognize it! This little fable about the nature of gossip is told in the music with disarming humour: Carl Nielsen's chicken-language and Cockerel's Dance were not wasted on his younger colleague Høffding - whose uncle, Harald Høffding, incidentally wrote a treatise on the nature of humour.
In the second short orchestral piece on this CD, Evolution, it is not humour that bears up the course of events, but the phenomenon of growth - evolution. It Is Perfectly True takes a little clucking motif to almost ecstatic heights: evolution can also be expressed in the garb of humour.
The third orchestral work on the CD is Høffding's Third Symphony from 1928. Now, 80 years later, I am still impressed by how powerfully and personally Finn Høffding perpetuates the symphonic tradition: the four movements of the work unfold, growth-like again, on the basis of striking, catchy themes. I can only wish this release will arouse new interest in Høffding, this neoclassical classic! In the three works there is at any rate a basis for valuable additions to the repertoire of the orchestras.