Recorded Danish music
To many people, especially non-Danes perhaps, Danish recorded music will probably be synonymous with Carl Nielsen recordings. And this is easily enough accounted for, considering the fact that the records with the Danish master's works are distributed most widely and besides amount to one third of the total record production of Danish music by about three score of composers, living as well as dead, and so must be said to dominate the market clearly. This is no new situation, but the result of a development which has increased rapidly since the Second World War.
During the war there was a large-scale attempt to establish a gramophone anthology with Danish music from all periods under the management of Jürgen Balzer, Master of Arts. Not until the success of the long-playing record in the early fifties, however, did production accelerate. These years saw some Carl Nielsen recordings with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, which remained unchallenged until quite recently owing to the very advanced recording technique. On that point, incidentally, they have shared the fate of a few long-playing transferences from the 78 RPM-period, namely Aksel Schiötz' interpretations of Nielsen's songs, which no one has been able to surpass yet, and Thomas Jensen's version of the second symphony, "The Four Temperaments", which is still unrivalled.
But apart from that Carl Nielsen's music, from being a national treasure, has gradually become a permanent item in the international gramophone companies' catalogues.
This is first of all due to such conductors as Leonard Bernstein and Eugene Ormandy, who have made persistent efforts, particularly as to the symphonies; but also the wind quintet has won international fame and is available in some ten recordings the geographical range of which extends from America to Australia.
On two points, however, there are still serious gaps in the gramophone coverage of Nielsen's production, namely the operas "Masquerade" and "Saul and David" and the choral music with the exception of "Springtime on Funen", which, conducted by Mogens Wöldike in a Danish Philips-recording, has achieved a great international sales success. Through a new initiative, see below, we can now hope, however, for these works to find their way to the black grooves within the near future.
With a very few exceptions (chamber and piano music by Niels W. Gade and F. Kuhlau and "The Music of the Spheres" by Rued Langgaard) recordings with works by other composers than Nielsen are purely Danish affairs. They owe their existence to initiatives from a number af quarters and can perhaps most conveniently be considered from the point of view of the producer, not the composer.
The Fona Company is responsible for one of the largest projects till now. After producing some recordings with chamber music on a small scale, Fona plunged boldly into a series of nine records with The Royal Orchestra. These records, too, include a considerable part Carl Nielsen music, but they have besides a wide range: from Edouard du Puy (c. 1770-1822) over Niels W. Gade (1817-90) with three weighty works as far as to Per Nørgaard b. 1932). Although they had to struggle with both technical and artistic difficulties, they succeeded in concluding the series in 1968 with some delay, and it has since via Vox and Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft been brought on the international market, where some of the records have achieved quite good sales figures.
After this effort there has been a certain understandable standstill in Fona's activity, although they have produced some records with romantic chamber music and something so important as Carl Nielsen's piano music complete on two records with the pianist Arne Skjold Rasmussen. This spring, however, Fona reopens the floodgates, and among other things a completion of Vagn Holmboe's string quartets is expected, of which four have been recorded already. This series of ten works in all, which must be said to take a central place in modern quartet art internationally, too, will then appear complete, interpreted by The Copenhagen String Quartet. Also Holmboe's Quintet for Brass Instruments will be available on a record with quintets by among others Kjell Roikjer (b. 1901) and Ole Schmidt (b. 1928). Finally Holmboe (b. 1909) will be represented by the piano suite Suono da Bardo from 1945 and the Flute Sonata from 1942.
In addition to that Rued Langgaard (1893-1952), the neoromanticist who has a distinctive character and who has experienced a tremendous renaissance during recent years, will appear with a vengeance on the record market with both piano and organ music interpreted by the Frenchman Noël Lee and the Dane Jørgen Ernst Hansen respectively. The Danish Quartet, which is employed as a state ensemble, appears with string quartets by N. V. Bentzon (b. 1919), Poul Rovsing Olsen (b. 1922), Svend Westergaard (b. 1922), and Peder Holm (b. 1926). Finally organ works by Franz Syberg (1904-55) and N. V. Bentzon and piano pieces by Kuhlau (1786-1832) are expected. Although working until recently without the economic background which an international mother company can give, Fona has, as has been shown, been able to obtain a central place in Danish record production, and also after the incorporation in the world concern EMI the company seems to intend to keep it.
An important role is also played by "The Society for Publishing Danish Music« which, in collaboration with EMI, has published a number of records recently with music by recent and contemporary composers, among others Jørgen Bentzon (1897-1951), Gunnar Berg (b. 1909), Aksel Borup-Jørgensen (b. 1924), Ebbe Hamerik (1898-1951), Finn Høffding (b. 1899), Herman D. Koppel (b. 1908), Knudåge Riisager (b. 1897), and Flemming Weis (b. 1898). The two latest records from this source, however, contain romantic organ music, namely all that exists for this instrument by J. P. E. Hartmann (1805-1900). Artistically as well as technically this series attains a high standard which ought to secure possibilities on a market larger than the fairly restricted national one. Only on a record with chamber music by Carl Nielsen the interpreters do not give the music its due.
On the so far relatively few records published by Wilhelm Hansen it is, on the other hand, the technique that is disappointing. The records contain music by first of all Per Nørgaard in good interpretations whose possibilities of making impact suffer seriously from technical defects.
ASA has brought forth a couple of records, partly with The Danish Quartet in works by among others Aksel Borup-Jørgensen and Ib Nørholm (b. 1931), partly with the pianist Elisabeth Klein in Nørholm's Stanzas and Fields from 1965-66.
While EMI has worked mainly in the field of continuous re-publishing of 78 RPM-material with Aksel Schiötz and the series in collaboration with the "Society for Publishing Danish Music«, Philips has just begun a series of nine records that are to appear in the course of three years to follow up the above mentioned successful recording of Nielsen's "Springtime on Funen" and a couple of records with romances from the 19th century.
On these records, the contents of which will be planned by Jürgen Balzer, one will be able to listen to among others The Copenhagen String Quartet (three records) and the comparatively recently formed Danish Wind Quintet (equally three records). The former ensemble will appear with quartets by among others Hartmann and C. F. E. Hornemann (1840-1906), but also recent compositions, while the wind instruments will deal with music from Carl Nielsen up to our own days. Of the remaining three records the first one is already available, containing piano and flute music by Kuhlau and C. E. F. Weyse (1774-1842) interpreted with much reverence and insight on old instruments by Merete Westergaard and Poul Birkelund.
As is evident from what has been said above there has, during late years, been a great reluctance as to the recording of orchestral music. With the exception of Fona's series with The Royal Orchestra and a few more records from among others The Society for Publishing Danish Music the activity lies on what is economically more feasible, i.e. chamber music, solo works and romances. There seems now, however, to be prospects for this state of things, which is precarious in the long run, to be brought to an end.
When, in 1968, Denmark's National Bank celebrated its jubilee a fund was established which was to support various cultural purposes. Via The Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen it was decided that the part of this sum of money that was to go to music purposes, was to be employed in the publication of a gramophone anthology with Danish music from the Middle Ages to the present time, and by the Ministry of Culture a committee with Professor Asger Lund Christiansen as chairman was appointed to work out detailed lines for such an anthology.
This work has now been brought to a conclusion, and the result is partly a list of the works the recording of which the committee recommends, partly a starting plan to the effect that the first records should be available at the dealers within a year or so. The anthology is intended to consist of on the one hand that part of previously published records which is judged to be of proper technical and artistic quality, on the other new recordings.
As to the latter several possibilities are under consideration. On the one hand money is to be invested in projects which recording companies dare not undertake because of the great economic risk, on the other the fund itself will arrange productions of works which are considered essential, but which cannot engage the interest of the commercial companies. Through collaboration to all sides: the recording companies, Radio of Denmark, The Society for Publishing Danish Music, it is hoped that an anthology of far over a hundred records will come into existence within the next decade.
It is estimated that the expence will amount to four mill. Danish kroner. The expected profits and any future grants and donations are to form the basis for a continuation and bringing up to date of the work.
The committee, which has since then become an independent institution, has imposed on itself certain restrictions in its work. Accordingly Danish interpreters will be employed exclusively, in so far as this is possible at all, in the anthology. Although it is wished that these records will sell as well as possible also outside the borders of Denmark and although it is presumably realized that no great sale will be achieved because no internationally known artists perform, this is nevertheless the fundamental attitude agreed to in a body which, though arisen out of Academy circles, comprises representatives from other branches of Danish musical life, too.
Furthermore no music by living composers will be included, at any rate not for the time being. According to the chairman's statements it is not considered possible to a sufficient degree to form an estimate of what contemporary works should be included to ensure a uniform high level of quality throughout the anthology. So for the time being the recording companies and The Society for Publishing Danish Music, which has been a pioneer in this field, will not be able to get any support from the committee for this part of their activity. As to the first half-dozen of records from "The Society for the Publication of a Danish Music Anthology on Gramophone Records", which, as well as the rest, are to be followed by annotating publications and perhaps note material, they are expected to contain among other things symphonies by C. E. F. Weyse, who has till now only been represented on gramophone by his romances, at couple of piano pieces, and one overture; songs by Hartmann, H. Rung (1807-71), Peter Heise (1830-79), and P. E. Länge-Müller (1850-1926). Furthermore there will be recordings from the ballad operas and vaudevilles of the romantic period and late compositions by Jørgen Bentzon.
It is known for certain that the above mentioned gaps in the gramophone coverage of Carl Nielsen will be filled in, and so, for the first time in the history of Danish gramophone industry, a real basis for a united and coordinated contribution to Danish music on gramophone records, including the first complete opera recordings, seems to have been created.
It is to be hoped that the Danish musical life will prove equal to this exacting task.