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Vagn Holmboe and his chamber concerti

Vagn Gylding Holmboe (December 20, 1909–September 1, 1996) was a Danish composer and teacher who wrote largely in a neo-classical style. Born in 1909 at Horsens in Jutland, Denmark, Holmboe, at the age of sixteen, began formal music training as a violinist at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen on the recommendation of composer Carl Nielsen. The earliest works by Holmboe known today were written the next year, and these include a string quartet. This was the first of no fewer than ten quartets that Holmboe wrote before the age of forty. He studied theory under Knud Jeppesen and composition with Finn Høffding. The years at the Academy were typified by studies of the classics and polyphony, and this colored Holmboe’s music throughout his life. One of his great models was Haydn, whose vitality, elegance, humor, and economy with his resources are reflected in his own works. After finishing his studies in 1929 Holmboe moved to Berlin, Germany, where, for a short period, Ernst Toch became his teacher. At the beginning of the 1930s, during a study trip to Paris, Holmboe met the Romanian pianist Meta May Graf, whom he married in 1933. She introduced him to the folk music of the Balkans.

After moving back to Denmark in 1934, he continued to work as a composer and critic while teaching at various institutions. By the beginning of the 1930s Holmboe had already composed a large number of works, but had given very few of them the seal of an opus number. The First Symphony (1935) is a work of chamber proportions. His breakthrough came in 1939, when he won the Royal Danish Orchestra’s composition competition with his Symphony No 2. With the money prize he bought a country property by the lake Arresø in northern Zealand, where he built his home and lived until his death. The next two symphonies, his third and fourth, a choral work, respectively subtitled “Sinfonia rustica” and “Sinfonia sacra,” are precursors of a later, darker style. International attention came when his Fifth Symphony was performed at the International Society for Contemporary Music Festival in Copenhagen in 1947. Prior to 1950 he taught at the Danish Institute for the Blind, and then he was engaged by the Royal Danish Academy of Music’s Conservatory in Copenhagen as professor of composition and theory from 1950 to 1965, when he retired to devote all his time to composing. His students included Per Nørgård, Ib Nørholm, Bent Lorentzen, Arne Nordheim, Egil Hovland and Alan Stout.

Holmboe composed about 370 works, including 13 symphonies, three chamber symphonies, four symphonies for strings, 20 string quartets, 13 chamber concertos, numerous other concertos, three operas, and the late series of preludes for chamber orchestra, as well as much choral and other music, including Epilogue (1962) and Requiem for Nietzsche (1964), in addition to some early works that never received opus numbers. His earlier works show the influence of European composers such as Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky, Carl Nielsen, Jean Sibelius, and Dmitri Shostakovich. He is considered to be the most important Danish symphonist after Carl Nielsen. His music is characteristically tonal, and musical metamorphosis of thematic or motivic fragments characterize most of his works between the years 1950 and 1970. Holmboe wrote several books, including Danish Street Cries: a study of their musical structure and a complete edition of tunes with words collected before 1960. Another is Experiencing Music. His last work, the 21st string quartet, Quartetto sereno, was completed by his pupil Per Nørgård. He died at Ramløse, Denmark, in 1996.

The following work by Vagn Holmboe are included in my collection:

Chamber Concerto No. 4, for piano trio and chamber orchestra, op. 30 (1942).
Chamber Concerto No. 5, for viola and chamber orchestra, op. 31 (1943).
Chamber Concerto No. 6, for violin and chamber orchestra, op. 33 (1943).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources


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