Author Topic: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)  (Read 141014 times)

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Offline Symphonic Addict

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #700 on: December 20, 2020, 08:24:13 AM »
Happy birthday, Vagn! I was revisiting his Sinfonía boreale. I don't like to seem repetitive, but this is an utterly extraordinary composition. A desert-island symphony for me.
Give us something else; give us something new; for Heaven's sake give us something bad, so long as we feel we are alive and active and not just passive admirers of tradition!

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Offline krummholz

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #701 on: December 20, 2020, 08:29:22 AM »
Happy birthday, Vagn! I was revisiting his Sinfonía boreale. I don't like to seem repetitive, but this is an utterly extraordinary composition. A desert-island symphony for me.

Indeed, he turns eleventy-one today. Here's hoping his star continues to rise!

Offline krummholz

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #702 on: December 20, 2020, 12:47:22 PM »
Some more info: according to their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/nightingalestringquartet/), they're holding a release event for the new CD on 7 January at Holmens Kirke. They claim you can also pre-order a CD at their website, and I filled out the form, expecting to be prompted for payment info, but instead my form seems to have vanished into the aether. No auto-acknowledgement at the email address I supplied. So maybe the website is broken, not sure.

In any case, from that sample movement, I really want to hear the rest of their Holmboe, and will be ordering a copy as soon as it's possible.

Update: my order didn't vanish! I just received an email from "NSQ Sales" giving the available payment options, and just sent mine via Paypal. So apparently it IS possible to pre-order, and hopefully everything will go through smoothly.

Offline MusicTurner

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #703 on: December 21, 2020, 11:43:02 AM »
Good that things function here ... The mentioned CD release event at Holmens Kirke on January 7th is however now characterized as 'udskudt' /postponed.
« Last Edit: December 21, 2020, 11:44:48 AM by MusicTurner »

Offline krummholz

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #704 on: December 21, 2020, 12:46:28 PM »
Good that things function here ... The mentioned CD release event at Holmens Kirke on January 7th is however now characterized as 'udskudt' /postponed.

That was probably inevitable... but it's odd that this information hasn't been posted yet to their Facebook page, and they are still advertising tickets to the event. Out of curiosity, where did you find it?

Offline MusicTurner

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #705 on: December 21, 2020, 01:02:32 PM »
On the church's calendar
https://sogn.dk/holmen/kalender/

February might be an option, but this intensified virus wave isn't expected to die out very quickly.

Offline krummholz

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #706 on: December 21, 2020, 01:09:37 PM »
Thanks. Yes, I would not expect it to abate much until spring or even summer... unless the pace of vaccinations quickens greatly (which is unlikely given the reported supply problems of even the current two).

Offline MusicTurner

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #707 on: December 21, 2020, 01:14:14 PM »
Yes, as a side remark, current estimates here are that just the vaccines for the first group, comprising the fragile people and health workers etc., might take up to 6 months from now. So that things could be more normal at the end of 2021.
But then, the vaccines actually came earlier than expected, and they even cut a bit of the time here in the last few days. And more vaccine types are coming too. So perhaps that is just the 'safest' estimate.

Offline Madiel

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #708 on: December 21, 2020, 01:22:05 PM »
Samples from the new album are up in various places (I’ve spotted them on iTunes and the Presto site). I do like the sound of what I’m hearing. It seems richer than the Kontra.
I am now working on a discography of the works of Vagn Holmboe. Please visit and also contribute!

Offline Madiel

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #709 on: January 11, 2021, 03:59:36 AM »
Thanks to the wonders of streaming I've compared the Nightingale first volume to the Kontra in the same works (quartets 1, 3 and 15).

It's been an interesting exercise. I wouldn't say there are many enormous interpretative differences. My impression are the Kontra are a little sharper edged, and the Nightingale have a slightly warmer and more varied palette.

Certainly there were moments where I thought that the Nightingale were allowing me to hear the music a bit differently, with just a fraction more colour and shape (helped of course by being very nicely recorded), and I guess a lyric quality. Against that are certain moments where I just wasn't as convinced by what they were doing. So, for example, while I found the Nightingale to have lots of nice moments in the first 2 movements of SQ no.1, their finale was a bit disappointing. It's a sort of perpetual motion whereas the Kontra make it a much more pointed 5/4 dance. This was one of the most specific differences between the two ensembles and it's one where I definitely came down on the Kontra side.

Similarly in SQ no.15, there are some really nice moments from the Nightingale, but somehow the 2nd movement just sort of passed me by. As for SQ no.3, well, I guess this exercise demonstrated to me that it's not one of my favourite works anyway, as neither performance enthused me more than the other.

So I'm not feeling a clear 'winner' here. Are the Kontra good? Yes, I generally think so. Are the Nightingale good? Yes, so far I think they're generally pretty good. Not better, just different. Some definite strengths, but sometimes not preferable.
I am now working on a discography of the works of Vagn Holmboe. Please visit and also contribute!

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #710 on: January 11, 2021, 07:46:15 AM »
Thanks to the wonders of streaming I've compared the Nightingale first volume to the Kontra in the same works (quartets 1, 3 and 15).

It's been an interesting exercise. I wouldn't say there are many enormous interpretative differences. My impression are the Kontra are a little sharper edged, and the Nightingale have a slightly warmer and more varied palette.

Certainly there were moments where I thought that the Nightingale were allowing me to hear the music a bit differently, with just a fraction more colour and shape (helped of course by being very nicely recorded), and I guess a lyric quality. Against that are certain moments where I just wasn't as convinced by what they were doing. So, for example, while I found the Nightingale to have lots of nice moments in the first 2 movements of SQ no.1, their finale was a bit disappointing. It's a sort of perpetual motion whereas the Kontra make it a much more pointed 5/4 dance. This was one of the most specific differences between the two ensembles and it's one where I definitely came down on the Kontra side.

Similarly in SQ no.15, there are some really nice moments from the Nightingale, but somehow the 2nd movement just sort of passed me by. As for SQ no.3, well, I guess this exercise demonstrated to me that it's not one of my favourite works anyway, as neither performance enthused me more than the other.

So I'm not feeling a clear 'winner' here. Are the Kontra good? Yes, I generally think so. Are the Nightingale good? Yes, so far I think they're generally pretty good. Not better, just different. Some definite strengths, but sometimes not preferable.

I’ll probably end up just sticking with the Kontras in these SQs. I really like their set and the performances so far have been top-drawer. I need to become more familiar with these SQs.
“My music is best understood by children and animals.” - Igor Stravinsky

Offline krummholz

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #711 on: January 11, 2021, 09:20:02 AM »
Thanks to the wonders of streaming I've compared the Nightingale first volume to the Kontra in the same works (quartets 1, 3 and 15).

Interesting comments, thanks. I've pre-ordered the CD, but I don't expect it to be delivered until maybe March. Tried streaming the album on Spotify, but blaringly loud ads burst in at random times and basically ruined the experience, so I'll have to wait to deliver my judgment.

It doesn't surprise me to hear you say they're not better, just different. I'm still happy for the opportunity to hear different interpretations of these works.  I do love the quartets as performed by the Kontras, but have never assumed that they were the last word in this music.

Offline foxandpeng

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #712 on: July 01, 2021, 12:47:56 AM »

I did go back and listen to all 20 numbered works again.  I got through a dozen of them in just 2 days before taking a bit of a pause.  It's amazing, though, what a bit of familiarity with a piece of music can do to your ease of listening!

This time I made notes on each work as I went (I didn't listen in chronological order this time).  I know I'm not the first person to place my thoughts on each quartet in this thread. It was very interesting at the end to see how much we agreed. The answer was: not very much at all...

Quartet No.1 - The style of the first two movements is a lot more consciously rhetorical in style than later quartets. It reminds me of Shostakovich (NB I don’t actually know any other 20th century quartets besides Holmboe and Shostakovich, so other frequently cited reference points like Bartok are not going to come up for me).  The third movement, after its grand introduction, becomes a fairly energetic 5/4 dance.  It’s good fun (the slow down before the finish is quite amusing), but thanks to the recording it gets a little shrill!

Quartet No.2 - This quartet opens with a delicate pastoral mood, with dark grey clouds moving across the landscape as the 1st movement progresses.  The finale returns to much the same feeling, albeit now in the form of a gentle 5/4 dance.  In between there is frequently a sense of open air and perhaps inclement weather – the central scherzo is full of feints and hesitations as well as rustic passages.

Quartet No.3 - The 1st movement is bleak and sombre music with a relentless tread.  The 2nd injects a lot of motion but, to me, no real sense of progress, before the 3rd movement chaconne inevitably creates stasis.  The 4th movement has a lot more energy and seems like it brings matters to a strong conclusion, only to be completely undercut by the true finale which gradually drags the work back to its bleak beginning.

Quartet No.4 - This is a quartet with a strong sense of the dramatic, whether in the opening andante appassionato, the tremolo rush of the presto espansivo (an extraordinary title when you think about it) or the eerie restraint of the largo e semplice.  It’s somewhat surprising, then, that the finale is quite bright in mood and ends peacefully with a clear major chord.

Quartet No.5 - This is a relatively straightforward work. The moody and forceful opening motif permeates and sets the tone for much of the 1st movement, but towards the end there is a sense of peace. The central Adagio (which opens and closes with a version of the same motif) is gentler, but still has an air of resignation. The finale is more energetic, but no happier in mood than its predecessors until it, too, finds peace just at the end.

Quartet No.6 - The fast sections of the 1st movement have an air of chaos about them, even violence in the first of them. The second movement isn’t any calmer. There is a sense of unease in the 3rd movement. The finale is more straightforwardly rhythmic but still full of a wild collection of sounds.

Quartet No.7 - The 1st movement travels through a wide variety of textures, but keeps returning to its earthy beginnings. The 2nd movement begins in complete contrast, with airy pizzicato and elusively pulsing rhythms. It grows in substance before dissolving again.  The long final movement successfully fuses numerous sections into a satisfying conclusion to this complex quartet.

Quartet No.8 - To me, this is the most consciously ‘modern’ quartet, full of strange sounds: harmonics, bent notes, weird fluttering, surprising leaps and abrupt changes.  It represents Holmboe pushing his musical language farther than normal. The 4th movement stands somewhat apart, dominated by dramatic solos, and functions as an introduction to the finale.

Quartet No.9 - The dominant impression of this music is austerity. The long opening andante sets the tone – not especially dark or tragic, just moving forward steadily.  There is some passion, and the 4th movement injects a sense of greater drama, but then the finale returns to the pacing and rhythm of the beginning before fading away peacefully.

Quartet No.10 - This is moderately severe and intellectual music. There are some fairly clear sections within these 2 long movements, but the structure enables reprises of previous sections. Each movement begins slowly before gathering pace later on. The 2nd movement in particular seems to become a major battle between different tempos… and with no clear winner at the end.

Quartet No.11 - The opening of the ‘Rustico’ (which is quoted in both the 2nd and 4th movements) really does sound like it’s full of birdsong. Everything has a wonderfully light and transparent texture.  Even in the minor key tonality of the andante movement there is slight sadness rather than tragedy.  The faster movements are full of rhythmic bounce, especially the finale.

Quartet No.12 - There’s a certain roughly comical vein in the faster movements, particularly in the first but even in the finale which begins in a scherzo-like way before turning more serious and ending sourly.  The slow movements are entirely serious and inward-looking; the 2nd movement andante is easily the longest of the five and also one of my favourite things in any of the quartets.

Quartet No.13 - This quartet often has a hushed, ethereal quality to it.  At other times the music is firmer, yet it retains a sense of transparency.  And just when the finale appears to have reached a definite conclusion, it instead carries on with ghostly echoes of earlier music.

Quartet No.14 - Opening with an entrancing Gypsy-like melody, the 1st movement weaves a dreamy atmosphere which persists through much of the quartet (as do the melody’s trills), despite the attempts of the 3rd movement to inject some more urgency. The other fast movements are ultimately light and light-hearted, with the finale skipping along and eventually dissolving.

Quartet No.15 - There’s a certain aggressive and angry air to this relatively short quartet, as the first couple of movements fly by.  And then, partway through the 3rd movement funeral march, it’s as if the fight drains out of it. When the pace eventually picks up again during the finale, it’s still not happy music but some of the aggression has gone, and the coda’s reprise of the quartet’s opening motif somehow sounds as if it can find a peaceful resolution.

Quartet No.16 - A short quartet with a relatively simple structure, held together by a very strong sense of rhythmic pulse (particularly in its first 2 movements) and a fluttering figure.  The flutter is small in the 1st movement, becomes a major feature in the more urgent, brighter 2nd movement, and it also reappears in the background of the 3rd one. The 4th movement Presto is dominated by constant scurrying. The first movement in particular has a bit of a pastoral feel, although this doesn’t have anything like the warmth of the 11th quartet.

Quartet No.17 - There’s a certain pastoral air to the 1st movement, with its sighing opening figure. The next couple of movements maintain a similar mood – not without moments of drama, but on the whole relatively warm and relaxed.  The mood becomes somewhat more urgent over the course of the 4th movement and greyer in the 5th, before the finale fuses all of this together with a rustic, dance-like quality.

Quartet No.18 - This work starts off quietly and uneasily. There is a sense of hesitation, but very gradually (over the course of several movements), the music becomes stronger and more sure of itself.  The 3rd movement starts firmly but then lapses back into more inward music, before a moment of quiet crisis sets it back on the original path. But the music is also tending to get darker, until the finale returns to the lighter textures of the beginning with a new-found confidence.

Quartet No.19 - The opening of this quartet is thick and dark.  From there it gradually lightens – passing through fugue and canon textures in the first 2 movements until reaching a sense of peace in the 4th and the 5th (which is even titled ‘intermezzo sereno’).  That peace is abruptly broken by the superb pizzicato opening of the finale.

Quartet No.20 - The neighbouring movements in this quartet are highly contrasted, which isn’t always the case with Holmboe.  The 4th movement scherzo is particularly entertaining. There seems to be quite a bit of use of silences, and of breaks in an otherwise steady rhythm – the main themes of several movements have this quality.

Apologies for reaching back into the mists of time to pull this forward, but I've found these notes really helpful in the last few days. Thank you.
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #713 on: July 01, 2021, 01:25:33 AM »
Apologies for reaching back into the mists of time to pull this forward, but I've found these notes really helpful in the last few days. Thank you.

Not a problem! You're welcome.

...in some cases I look at the phrasing and think "what, that doesn't sound like something I'd say"  :laugh: :laugh:
I am now working on a discography of the works of Vagn Holmboe. Please visit and also contribute!

Offline foxandpeng

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #714 on: July 01, 2021, 01:47:18 AM »
Not a problem! You're welcome.

...in some cases I look at the phrasing and think "what, that doesn't sound like something I'd say"  :laugh: :laugh:

I love Holmboe very much, but I almost never enjoy anything I hear by him without multiple repeats. His Chamber Concertos and SQs are initially particularly difficult and impenetrable - I put that down to my shortcomings - but once the penny drops, they are compelling. I think that the symphonies are probably my most played of all orchestral music. What I do find, is that reading enlightening and intelligent commentary helps me hugely, so I'm grateful for your incisive words.

Listening to Symphony 3 and 6 last night, in the dark and with good black coffee, was wonderful.
"Obsession is what lazy people call dedication"
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #715 on: July 01, 2021, 01:51:06 AM »
I love Holmboe very much, but I almost never enjoy anything I hear by him without multiple repeats. His Chamber Concertos and SQs are initially particularly difficult and impenetrable - I put that down to my shortcomings - but once the penny drops, they are compelling. I think that the symphonies are probably my most played of all orchestral music. What I do find, is that reading enlightening and intelligent commentary helps me hugely, so I'm grateful for your incisive words.

Listening to Symphony 3 and 6 last night, in the dark and with good black coffee, was wonderful.

It's not your shortcomings, or if they are shortcomings then I share them. I feel exactly the same way: hardly anything clicks on the first listen. But the sensation when things do click is somehow wonderful.

I think quite a bit of my favourite music (ie not just Holmboe) is the kind where you can sense that there's something there, but you have to work for it a bit. In the long term that depth is so rewarding.
I am now working on a discography of the works of Vagn Holmboe. Please visit and also contribute!

Offline vers la flamme

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #716 on: July 01, 2021, 02:14:35 AM »
...in some cases I look at the phrasing and think "what, that doesn't sound like something I'd say"  :laugh: :laugh:

That happens to me all the time when I see my older posts here  :laugh:

Offline krummholz

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #717 on: July 01, 2021, 02:28:04 AM »
It's not your shortcomings, or if they are shortcomings then I share them. I feel exactly the same way: hardly anything clicks on the first listen. But the sensation when things do click is somehow wonderful.

I think quite a bit of my favourite music (ie not just Holmboe) is the kind where you can sense that there's something there, but you have to work for it a bit. In the long term that depth is so rewarding.

I feel similarly. Holmboe's music rarely grabs me on first hearing, and some works (e.g. 9th Symphony) have taken many hearings for me to digest and come to terms with. His train of musical thought usually requires a lot of focus to follow, even in those works where the music is superficially attractive and easy on the ear - I am thinking here of some of the Preludes for Chamber Orchestra. It is music that rewards repeated hearings - one characteristic without which I soon lose interest in a work.

Offline foxandpeng

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #718 on: July 01, 2021, 03:01:04 AM »
It's not your shortcomings, or if they are shortcomings then I share them. I feel exactly the same way: hardly anything clicks on the first listen. But the sensation when things do click is somehow wonderful.

I think quite a bit of my favourite music (ie not just Holmboe) is the kind where you can sense that there's something there, but you have to work for it a bit. In the long term that depth is so rewarding.

That's good to hear. It is welcome to hear that I'm not alone in that initial difficulty. It does take me a while to establish a connection with lots of works, but as you suggest, those requiring the greatest commitment are often the most striking and moving. I look forward to revisiting more of the Holmboe SQs using your insights and the website you've built!

PS... I still can't get my head round Kairos, even after several years of occasional attempts. I have tried it both as a complete work, and with the interjected movements. Leaves me scratching my head still looking for the attraction. Never give up!
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Offline krummholz

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Re: Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
« Reply #719 on: July 01, 2021, 04:39:56 AM »
PS... I still can't get my head round Kairos, even after several years of occasional attempts. I have tried it both as a complete work, and with the interjected movements. Leaves me scratching my head still looking for the attraction. Never give up!

Dunno, maybe Kairos isn't your cup of tea, then. It's one of the few Holmboe works that grabbed me immediately, especially Sinfonia II. It's very austere, brooding music, the kind of thing that puts me in mind of a desolate, late autumn landscape. The other Sinfonias have different characters - the first seems sunnier, the third by turns turbulent and mysterious. And the movements of the fourth (the interjected movements in Kairos) seem to inhabit a very different, almost expressionistic world.

But if it doesn't move you, then it doesn't... there's plenty of other Holmboe to explore.