The Music Room > Composer Discussion

Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)

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In my opinion Holmboe is the most distinguished Scandinavian composer of the post Nielsen and Sibelius generations, a finer composer than Saeverud in Norway or even Rosenberg in Sweden. I would put him as one of the greatest symphonists of the 20th century.

Again..there is a good deal about Holmboe in the Scandinavian composers' thread already but he does fully deserve a thread of his own :) Johan(Christo) has written about Holmboe in that thread too and has had the huge honour and pleasure of actually meeting Holmboe.

I can't think easily of a finer set of symphonies than Holmboe's thirteen(fourteen if you include the Sinfonia In Memoriam of 1955) which, fortunately, received quite fantastic treatment from BIS with a provincial Danish orchestra(the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra) under the Welsh conductor Owain Arwel Hughes absolutely excelling themselves in marvellous performances which brought great joy to the composer(No.13 was dedicated to Hughes and Holmboe heard it performed shortly before his death). They are indisputably Nordic works, intense, brooding, often quite dark but with a spirituality and integrity which reminds me of British composers like Rubbra or Simpson. In other words, one knows immediately that this is a composer of real purpose who knows exactly what he wants to do-regardless of fashion-and whose work has a dignity which is hugely impressive.

I wouldn't want to single out a particular Holmboe symphony-but I would say that from No.5 onwards we are able to hear the mature Holmboe voice and that each symphony after that is a masterpiece using the technique of metamorphosis to continuously develop initial ideas. Sometimes, therefore, one has to listen to a Holmboe symphony with a lot of care and attention. Individual passages may not jump out at the listener, but the whole is undoubtedly much greater than any single part of the work.

The huge set of 13 Chamber Concertos(all of them recorded by Danacord) for all manner of instruments is well worth collecting as well. Nor should Holmboe's marvellous set of twenty-one string quartets be ignored. One of my favourite discs is the BIS recording of the Four Symphonic Metamorphoses(Hughes again but this time with the Aalborg orchestra)-tremendous, pithy examples of Holmboe's orchestral technique.

Guido has mentioned the Cello Concerto and the Requiem for Nietzsche but there is actually a lot of Holmboe which-amazingly-is still to make it to disc. I am utterly amazed that neither Dacapo in Denmark nor BIS in Sweden have recorded the four Chamber Symphonies or many of the concertos:

Violin Concerto (1938), Concertino No.1 for Violin, Viola and strings(1940), Concertino No.2 for Violin and strings(1940), Violin Concerto, op.127(1976), Violin Concerto No.2, op.139(1979), Viola, op.189, Concerto for Two Violins, Viola and Cello, op.195

are all still awaiting recording!

I am delighted that Guido started this thread and allowed a further opportunity to sing the praises of one of the 20th century's greatest composers(and that is NOT hyperbole ;D)

Thanks Colin - this is what I expected (and as I feared! ;D) - Another great composer to explore then!

Hmm... that complete symphonies box might have to wait a bit longer (it's a bit more expensive than the Atterberg...) Maybe I'll get it as a treat for myself for my birthday!  ;D


--- Quote from: donaldopato on March 18, 2009, 02:26:46 PM ---I always find his symphonies worth a listen. However for me the 8th "Sinfonia Boreale" stands out and is the one I tend to listen to the most. Compact, dramatic, organic, powerful and not a note wasted or out of place.

--- End quote ---

Thanks for prompting a revisitation!

Tapio Dimitriyevich Shostakovich:
Some landmarks to start with?

Archaic Torso of Apollo:

--- Quote from: Wurstwasser on March 20, 2009, 03:59:59 AM ---Some landmarks to start with?

--- End quote ---

The only thing close to a "landmark" I can think of is his 8th Symphony, already mentioned by others. Great piece.

He wrote a lot, so it's hard to know what's really good and what's not.

Not a landmark, but I'll put in a rec for his two brass 5tets - serious brass music is unfortunately quite rare.


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