The Danish Music Review
The Danish Music Review
The I. S. C. M.s 21st Festival in Copenbagen
The International Society of Contemporary Musie arranged the first international musical festival ever to be held in one of the Scandinavian Countries from May 29th through June 4th of 1947, in Copenhagen.
A strike in the graphie industry however prevented the eritics of the newspapers to offer their opinion in the colurnns of the newspapers at the time. Thus there is every reason for "Dansk Musiktidsskrift" to review the event.
Frede Schandorf Petersen reviews all the works performed at the festival except works of three Danish composers. Extracts from reviews of these are to be found on, page 110-119. In order to have a elear view of the works the author has not classified them according to nations being of the opinion that the characteristics of contemporary music are apparent more in main tendencies obvious in American as well as in continental music than in a special national feature which, however, by no means has been effaced but only holds a somewhat predominating position.
Thus the works are classified in four groups according to their tendencies. This classification, however, must not be regarded as a sharply separated grouping.
1) a reactionary and a folkloristic group (comprising the smallest number of works)
2) a diverting group (having a small majority)
3) a more serious group (comprising the most genuine musical material), and
4) a modern experimental group (with any kind of musical form- and material-experiments).
To the first group belongs Vitéslev Novák, the Czech composer whose dynamically and harmonically overburdened style is based upon. the Wagner-Mahler late-romanticism; the Swede Gösta Nystroem, whose "Sinfonia breve" - even though it was not by far so antiquated as No,våk's "De profundis" - was written in a conventional and traditional style without any real artistic, substance; Jan Kapr, the young Czech, who, with his chopinlike "Debussy-sonata" obtained a little sympathetic, traditional style-mixture; and as a representative of the folkloristie style the Norwegian Harald Sæverud, whose symphonic, dance and passacaglia "Galdreslåtten", which in spite of its special "Norwegian" atmosphere or perhaps by virtue of it, was a highly original work.
The diverting group comprised ten compositions of which especially those for wind instruments were predominating. The Czech. composer Klement Slavicky's trio for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon, and the Pole Michel Spisak's bassoon concerto, revealed the authors' excellent niusical gifts and their ability to combine the special character of the instruments with a humorous, at the same time serious, and virtuous expression. The Swede Hilding Rosenberg's concerto for string orchestra revealed not only a skilful craftsman but a highly talented artist as well. The Spaniard Roberto Gerhard's ballet suite "Don Quixote", refined in tone and masterly adapted for orchestra, was obviously related to the art of de Falla but was exquisite piece of modern ballet music. The Russian Sergei Prokofiev's violin sonata disappointed by its exaggerated vulgar form (see ex. 2-4 page 94). Tlie Austrian Anton Heiller and the Dutchman Rudolf Escher were highly influenced by French impressionism but their piano works were extremely sympathetie as well in the refined treatment of tone as in the elegant form. The Belgian Camille Schmit's "Préludes joyeux" were interesting as to rhythm, but rather weak as to contents. Gino Negri, the 28-year-old Italian, presented the most original orchestral work: "Spoon River Anthology". Its fundamental character seemed to be utterly modernized romanticism, but the peculiar atmosphere of the work evinced imagination. and ability even though it were better suited to accompany a visual impression (film).
The two Swiss works, the string quartet by Willy Burkhard and "Petite symphonie concertante" by Frank Martin, both. belonging to the third group, were real musical pearls, especially the latter presented itself most beautifully by its abundance of ideas of distinguished musical quality. The English composer Elisabeth Maconchy tried in her clarinet concert to hit the wild character of the instrument, so rarely disclosed. Even if there is botli elegancy and intensity in her material, various defects make themselves felt in the instrumentation. Ernest Bloch's string quartet was synipathetic in its finely disposedstringeomposition but somewhat superimposed in form. Benjamin Frankel was a typical representative of the English "gentleman"; his string quartet displayed distinguished musical qualities, it was restrained in form, contents, and tone-colour, it was sympathetie in the musical work. and by no means exceeded the demands, of gentlemanly convention, perhaps its only defect. (See ex. 5-7 page 96). In spite of a certain relation to Bartók the Hungarian Gyórgy Kosa's string trio suffered from a - might I say - mawkish sweetness. The 31-vear-old Swede Karl Birger Blomdahl is an unusually talented and seriously working composer. The strictly polyphone ideas are worked out with humour and energetic vitality, leaving a sympathetie impression of its youthful charm. (See ex. 8-11 b page 96-97).
Among the experimenting composers the oldest of them, the Norwegian Fartein Valen first should be mentioned, in as much as he is the only completely atonal composer. In spite of an almost deterring consequence in the theoretical and technical construction (the work and its constructive principles are thorouglly dealt with and illustrated in the Danish text, see ex. 12-14 page 98- 99), he nevertheless succeeds in creating an expressionistic atmosphere of an exclusive style. The American Aaron Copland's piano sonata was not too well accepted; behind his many tone-blocks and perpetual motive-repetitions no fundamental power made itself felt, and it seemed as though the composer had no really significant ideas on the whole - see explamation with ex. 15-21 page 100-101 in the Danish text). The Belgian David van de Woestyne presented a serenade for piano, twelve wind instruments, double bass and battery, a work felt more willingly original than expressing a spontaneous creative desire. The Italian composer Adone Zecchi was responsible for two orchestral fugas, interesting in some few instrumental combinations but on the whole offering no sympathetic, points in the musical material and its elaboration. Jean Absil from Belgium is master of an effective instrumentation in an impressionistically influenced orchestral composition, but his orchestral variations by means of which he intended to create a symphonical. form were lacking conciseness in the character of the idea of variation itself for which reason the form of the work was chaotic more than synthetic. The only representative of France André Jolivet is an imaginative tone-poet; his highly expressive piano sonata was, not formed quite convincing but comprised delicate Gallic musical art as well as a violent, eruptive power. The sonata tends towards the dangerous border-line area.
The Danish works are dealt with in the third artiele of D.M.R.: "Danish music in the opinion of foreign observers" on page 110-119.
On the whole this musical festival was extrernely interesting with an abundance of musical impressions of any kind. Much inusie was listened to with pleasure or interest. Thus one may conclude that the musical festival led to decidedly positive results.
What is your Opinion ol the works performed at the festival ?
In order to give the Danish experts' opinion of the festival, the D.M.R. has placed the following four questions before twelve outstanding musicians such as composers, conductors, instrumentalists and musical writers:
1) Which works did you appreciate especially and why?
2) Did you find works the style and character of which, you would absolutely reject?
3) Does modern music in your opinion display a coninion tendency which may be said to reflect a special expression of our time?
4) Do you believe that the festival has been of importance to knowledge abroad of new Danish music?
The answers to the first two questions may be found in the Danish text, and the following are some extracts from the answers to the third question:
Finn Høffding (composer):
"Most of the works displayed a tendency in melody, harmony, and rhythm, which may be regarded as common for modern music no matter how heterogeneously it may appear".
Knudåge Riisager (composer) gives an answer to this question by mentioning the work of Adolplie Salazzar, the Spanish author living in Mexico: "Music in our time", maintaining that this author in his conclusions has given a satisfactory answer to this question both from a historical and a real point of view.
Erik Tuxen (conductor of the Copenhagen radio orchestra):
"Two main tendencies can be traced: the composers writing, in the twelve-tone system and related styles - and the composers going back to the tonal system, though certainly with quite new aspects".
Fleinming Weis (composer):
" No - modern music is far too heterogeneous in its means of expression. On the other hand within one country and in certain cases groups of countries there may no doubt there traced a special musical tendency typical for our time".
Herbert Rosenberg (Ph.D.):
"Of course there is a common tendency to be traced in modern music, i.e. the creation of musical organisms which are not based on cadence-harmony".
Sv. Erik Tarp (composer):
"The question can hardly be full answered; however, as to the works performed on this occasion I have come to the negative result that what you might call with , an old-fashioned expression - the modulation apparatus has been treated with a surprising lack of inventiveness, that harmonic clichés influenced by late-romanticisin are employed to a large extent and that - especially - the majority of the works are astonishingly little influenced by the works of Stravinsky.
Johan Bentzon (flutist)
"In my opinion the tendencies of the time are so split - also within advanced circles - that in music you will only find apparently contradictory efforts. However, I believe, that "twelve-tone msuic" dominating the programs until the waar and partly last year, too, has completely lost its importance, and that an expressionistic tendency is developing".
Jorgen Jersild (composer and music-critic) :
"'The time of experiments now mainly seems to be a thing of the past. - A certain reaction may be traced against the intellectualism of the 20ies for the benefit of "music of great mental effect". Strangely enough the influence of Stravinsky seems to be an exception".
Niels. Viggo Bentzon (composer) :
"As day after day I become still more doubtful what the "etiquette" modern music really means I cannot offer any answer to this question".
Poul Rovsing Olsen (composer) :
. "If you will judge from this festival only, it is impossible to trace a common tendency in the many heterogeneous works performed. No doubt, however, all the works are "a special expression of our time", as music is always an expression of the time creating it Possiblv for this reason I was most favourably impressed by neither Holmboe, Heiller, nor Spisak, but by the demonstrations of classical Indian music.
Bengt Johnsson (pianist, mag. art.)
"It is difficult to answer this question; it is always easy to say how you do not want music, but the tendencies are still too vague for saying anything generally".
Danish music in the opinion of foreign observers...
This article contains a collection of recensions from the foreign press on Danish music both from the six official concerts and from the concerts arranged by the Danes with Danish music. Here will now he cited part of these:
In the 'Musical Courier," July 1947 P. Glaizville-Hicks writes under the title
Dark Horses in Denmark:
"Of the sixteen countries included in the festival, the three Scandinavian countries were represented by eight composers, Holmboe, Bentzon and Koppel of Denmark; Blomdahl, Rosenberg and Nystroem of Sweden, and Saeverud and Valen of Norwav.
Outstanding among these, indeed outstanding in the whole concert series were the three young Danes, each brilliant and exciting in his entirely differing way.
Vagn Holmboe is clearly a born symphonist, and one of considerable force."
- After a special, detailed explanation of Holmboe's style the author continues as follows:
'His melody in the Symphony No. 5 is restricted and stylized, as though typed by a folkelement. The first movement with its effect of "harmony worn at an angle of 45" is intense, rhythmically interesthig without being restless. Though there, is a reference here and there to the Stravinsky of Sacre, it is in method rather than style. The Andante, highly poetic, and again with a related asymmetry in the harmonic sphere, possesses long beautiful melodic lines."
Of Herm.. D. Koppel's Wind Sextet Glanville-Hicks writes:
"Herman Koppel is a composer of an entirely different kind. The Alla Marcia, Pastorale and Gaja of his Wind Sextet are neo-classic, being gay and alert rather in the manner of Jean Francaix. He lacks Francaix's neatly turned formal planning, but is muchi more varied in color and rhytlimic aspects. A "blues" seetion in the first movement, with piano and horn, punctuated by oboe interjections brings a smile, and even the Pastorale remains quietly vivacious. The Finale seems a little long, for the nature af the material, but the work is charming and successful."
Under The title
Partita Wins Ovation
The Author ivrites:
"The 28-year-old Niels Viggo Bentzon gave a performance of his own Partita for Piano, which brought him one of the three or four ovations of the festival."
- and later on he continues:
"Bentzon has a tremendous flair for piano writing, and takes in a large span of the instrument's possibilities in this woirk. The composer, already recognized as perhaps the first pianist of Denmark, should certainly make an international reputation as virtuoso and composer."
"National Rotterdamsche Couraid", not sign.:
... Mascarade" by the Danish nestor Carl Nielsen is an opera, written in the old style with perfeet technical, superiority (based on a story by Holberg, the Danish Moliére). The composer shows a remarkably fine sense of humourous and parodic melody, and he uses the forces of his musical flow with much refinement. It is well worth thinking of a performance in a Dutch adaption. ...
"Algemeen Handelsblad" (Amsterdam), not sign.:
... At this concert Niels Viggo Bentzon, the Danish composer, presented a Partita for piano. He has already on earlier occasions manifested himself as a highly talented musician.
"Het Vrije Volk" (Amsterdam), sign.. Karel Mengelberg:
... At this concert above all Niels Viggo Bentzon, the young Danish composer, had a great success with his Partita for piano, played by himself. Bentzon has a primitive force combined with a positive and precisely working intelleet, musicality and individuality of style. No doubt Denmark and the world expect much, good from his hand.
"Het Parool" (Amsterdam), sign. Guillaume Landré:
... Let me say at once that as soon as possible we must stage "Mascarade" in the Netherlands. Of course it was not possible for us to understand the jokes in Danish - "Mascarade" is a comic opera - but nevertheless we followed this first act with the greatest pleasure, and were longing for the rest.
... The Sextet for piano and windinstruments by Herman D. Koppel was also extremely well received by the. audience. His music is kind and charming, and especially the finale is fascinating in its rhythm. ...
' 'Algemeen Handelsblad" (Amsterdam), not sign.:
... The symphony by Holmboe has a very fine structure; it is rhythmically strong and excellent in tone.
... It is a pity that we do not know Carl Nielsen's opera - very melodious and moreover cheerful music. In short, it is to be regretted that we saw but one act of this opera. We recommend this work to the opera of Amsterdam. ...
... It is enviable that with her three million inhabitants Denmark is able to found an operatic culture of her own and to uphold a ballet of such a quality. The Danes are justly proud of it, and we can but look to them as an example. ...
"Volksgazet" (Antwerp), not sign.:
... The concert was opened with the Symphony no. 5 by the Danish composer Vagn Holmboe conducted by Lavard Friisholm. No doubt this symphony with its rhythmical. and monumentally plastic first movement and its great and tragical Andante is a masterpiece in modern Danish music, although in no way national in its musical expression. Layard Friisholm's conducting was of a high musical and technical quality; the artistic seriousness of the symphony as well as its clear style, and its most balanced, striking rhythmical form were very fascinating ...
"Morgontidningen" (Stockholm), sign. Folke H. Törnblom:
... The Partita for piano by Niels Viggo Bentzon was played by himself in Stockholm last autumn. The rehearing confirmed my former impression of a work of great primitive force and weight, all outburst of a direct, primitive art, at the same time Pathetic and cheerful. However, the work gives evidence of an artistic soil of great fertility; future fruits are looked forward to with great expectations. At the concerts in Tivoli this summer a new symphony of him will be played for the first tinie. How long are we going to wait for it ill Stockholm? The third Danish work was the first to be presented at the festival and in my opinion geatest, i.e. the fifth symphony by Vagn Holmboe. I listened and wondered. This was a scandinavian composer who had allready written five symphonies, ten concerts for one or more instruments and orchestra, one opera, one ballet, amd much chamber music. This work had a gloomy first part in the minor key with an unusually strong dramatic pulse, swelling into a volcanic, intense outburst, speaking about dark and hard years, evident even without the explanatory words of the program. The second movement with same intensity and individualism, a work of an evident greatness, though the last movement in some way broke the fundamental melody in too much contrasting flickering and buffoonery. And in Stockholm hardly anything has been heard of this composer!...
"Svenska Dagbladet" (Stockholm), sign. Kajsa Rootzén:
... On the other hand the fifth syniphony by Vagn Holmboe had an intensity that was simply fascinating, it grew in force and excitement, seized the audience almost like a grasp in the throat, and left the impression that this very work was the greatest and deepest experience of this week. This impression lasted throughout the symphony, and when Danish experts assured us that Holmboe had written more powerful works than this impressive fifth symphony, it is even more surprising that our most distinguished concert institution has not paid any such attention to a composer from a neighbouring country. ...
... (Of Koppel's Sextet Kajsa Rootzen writes): This rhythmically vivacious and diverting work was a bright point in the rather monotonous program. ...
Svenska Dagbladet (Stockholm), sign. Kajsa Rootzén:
(Herm. D. Koppel's Sextet).
"Here, as at the first concert, a Danish work made the most spirited impression
Without any strikingly deep impressions, but in high spirits he had written really amusing music, characterised by an imagination, partly ironical, but equally fresh in lone as artistic in form."
"Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning", sign. Gösta Nystroem:
"Of the Danish contributions, Vagn Holmboe's Fifth Symphony was one of the sunshine-bringing moments of the entire Music Festival. As a whole it was an imposing work, musically convincing and extremely well designed for the orchestra. One could, howewer, have wished for a more varied rhythm in the music. Herman D. Koppel, perhaps, was not so well represented. He has both a new symphony and a new string quartet which are more revealing than was the Sextet for Wind Instruments and Piano which was actually performed, although this is an exquisite piece of music-, with all the fineness and culture which this composer possesses to such a high degree. Niels Viggo Bentzon is already well regarded. His much dicussed Partita for Piano had a rare strength, living its own ardent life with an almost fanatic rhythmic energy. The composer played it with insight and an intensity that put both him and his audience out of breath."
"Ny Dag" (Stockholm), sign. Sven Erik Kick:
... The Partita for piano by Niels Viggo Bentzon (Denmark) at first rouses admiration on account of its brilliant composition technique. But gradually its grand imagination and inspiration fascinates, and the question is whether this is not a new creation in the strictest sense of the word. However, no doubt Bentzon is one of the really great Dames in Scandinavian music. ...
Lunds Dagblad (Lund, Sweden), sign. Å. S.:
"Without any further ceremony one must admit that Bentzon, both as a composer and as a pianist, is to be considered of world-class. His Partita has been called a symphony for piano, and in view of the grandiose lines, good ideas and vigorous harmonic colours of it, one is inclined to agree, though at the same time one must praise the work for its true pianistic style."
"Dagbladet" (Oslo), sign. Pauline Hall: ... In Norway we have not yet heard any orchestral work by Vagn Holmboe; when this lack is remedied, we shall get acquaintanced with a composer of high ability. The symphony (no. 5) was written during the war; it is daring in its, form, but rather easily accessible because of its very pregnant material and its clarity in instrumentation. Sometimes the orchestra may seem a little overburdened, but usually the powerful expression is justified. The composer knows when to save his power and when to lavish it according to his musical ideas. The work has a thrilling rhythmical pulse and an irresistible energy, forcing its rhythm upon the listener. Vagn Holmboe uses all colours of the orchestra, he mixes them in his own way, and he masters the play of the melodic lines without difficulty. ...
... Of Niels Viggo Bentzon's Partita for piano Pauline Hall writes in "Dagbladet", Oslo: His music slides over the piano, but under the colourful surface, behind the somewhat rough effects, the immense accumulation of technical difficulties you may catch a glimpse of a unique talent, and a creative imagination which is sure to be reflected in valuable future works ...