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Per Nørgård

composer
1932
Lars Skaaning

It is hard to put words to the composer Per Nørgård, because his music and his life’s work are so overwhelming. Nørgård is so free, creative and innovative that he can only be compared to the greatest. Often it is Sibelius who is mentioned. At other times Carl Nielsen. His music does not resemble theirs; this is a matter of artistic stature. Per Nørgård is one of the greatest Nordic composers – for all times. 

Per Nørgård was born in 1932 in Copenhagen. His parents had a shop selling wedding dresses, and there were no artists in the family. Out of the blue, Per Nørgård’s extraordinary ability became appa­rent, and at the age of 17 he approached the most important Danish composer of the time, Vagn Holmboe, for an assessment of his music. Holmboe took him under his wing like a son of the family, and in the 1950s Nørgård expressed himself within what he called “the universe of the Nordic mind”, with Holmboe and Sibelius as models. He even managed to correspond with the old Sibelius, who recognized his rare musical insight.

But Per Nørgård has always sought out new paths followed the sounds he has heard in his inner ear. So for that reason, in the 1960s, he had to stray from the Nordic path to explore the possibilities of central European modernism. He was never to follow the dogmas slavishly, but found his own wholly individual serial technique, which he called the Infinity Series; an endless serial tone row that combines the rule-bound with the natural and which among its many qualities has the feature that it forms fractals from itself. This produces a holistic, almost ‘celestial’ sense of wholeness that culminates in Nørgård’s Symphony no. 2 and not least no. 3, which like a 1970s counterpart to Beethoven’s Ninth ends chorally.

In more than 400 works in all genres Per Nørgård has developed his music, which is based on his inexhaustible ability to invent something new. He has composed operas, string quartets, piano works, solo concertos and eight symphonies which, at intervals of about ten years, stand as pillars in his life with music; from the sombre, Nordic Symphony no. 1 to the intense and chaotic Sympho­nies 4 and 5 and the ethereally beautiful and bright Symphony no. 8.

He is also, quite beyond comparison, the most important teacher and inspirer in Danish musical life; a generous personality who has ensured that several generations of composers and musicians have been given the power to grow for themselves.

Per Nørgård’s compositions are full of technical innovations and profoundly original ideas that make the music very difficult to play, But when it sounds, a magic and a vitality appear that extend far beyond the forms and frameworks of the classical world.

For his more than 60 years of creative activity he has been awarded the foremost prizes a composer can receive, including the Léonie Sonning Music Prize (1996); the Sibelius Prize (2006); the Marie-Josée Kravis Prize (2014); and most recently the Ernst von Siemen Music Prize (2016).

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