Per Nørgård

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Per Nørgård

Per Nørgård (pronounced [ˈpʰɛɐ̯ ˈnɶɐ̯ˌkɒˀ]; born 13 July 1932) is a Danish composer and music theorist. Though his style has varied considerably throughout his career, his music has often included repeatedly evolving melodies—such as the infinity series—in the vein of Jean Sibelius, and a perspicuous focus on lyricism.[1] Reflecting on this, the composer Julian Anderson described his style as "one of the most personal in contemporary music".[1] Nørgård has received several awards, including the 2016 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.

Life and career[edit]

Per Nørgård was born in Gentofte, Denmark in 1932. He studied with Vagn Holmboe privately at age 17, and then formally at Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen, with Holmboe, Harald Høffding and Herman David Koppel. From 1956 to 1957, he subsequently studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, who had taught many leading composers of the time. Nørgård soon gained his own teaching positions, first at the Odense Conservatory in 1958, and then at the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music in 1960.[2][3] His students at the latter included the composer Carl Davis.[4] Between 1958 and 1962, Nørgård had a stint as a music critic for the newspaper Politiken.[3] He left these positions to teach composition at the Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus/Aalborg in 1965.[2] Here he taught many composers who would go on to have major careers, including Hans Abrahamsen,[2] Hans Gefors,[5] Karl Aage Rasmussen,[2] Bent Sørensen,[2]

To begin with, he was strongly influenced by the Nordic styles of Jean Sibelius, Carl Nielsen and Vagn Holmboe. In the 1960s, Nørgård began exploring the modernist techniques of central Europe, eventually developing a serial compositional system based on the "infinity series",[6][page needed] which he used in his Voyage into the Golden Screen, the Second and Third Symphonies, I Ching, and other works of the late 1960s and 70s.[7] Later he became interested in the Swiss artist Adolf Wölfli, who inspired many of Nørgård's works,[8] including the Fourth Symphony, the opera Det Guddommelige Tivoli and Papalagi for solo guitar.

Nørgård has composed works in all major genres: six operas, two ballets, eight symphonies and other pieces for orchestra, several concertos, choral and vocal works, a very large number of chamber works (among them ten string quartets) and several solo instrumental works. These include a number of works for the guitar, mostly written for the Danish guitarist Erling Møldrup: In Memory Of... (1978), Papalagi (1981), a series of suites called Tales from a Hand (1985–2001), Early Morn (1997–98) and Rondino Amorino (1999). One of his most important works for percussion solo is I Ching (1982) for the Danish percussionist Gert Mortensen. He has also composed music for several films, including The Red Cloak (1966), Babette's Feast (1987), and Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1993).

His eighth symphony was premiered on 19 September 2012 in the Helsinki Music Centre, Finland, by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by John Storgårds. Heikki Valska from the Finnish radio described the symphony as "very bright and lyrical" and "approachable". It was well received by the audience at the premiere.[9] It was later recorded by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo.

Nørgård is also a prolific writer. He has written many articles dealing with music not only from a technical but also a philosophical viewpoint.[citation needed]


with numbers=scale steps and 0=A

Nørgård's music often features the use of the infinity series (Danish Uendelighedsrækken) for serializing melody, harmony, and rhythm in musical composition. The method takes its name from the endlessly self-similar nature of the resulting musical material,[10] comparable to fractal geometry. Mathematically, the infinity series is an integer sequence. "Invented in an attempt to unify in a perfect way repetition and variation,"[11] the first few terms of its simplest form are 0, 1, −1, 2, 1, 0, 0, 1, −2, 3, ….[11]

Nørgård discovered the melodic infinity series in 1959 and it proved an inspiration for many of his works during the 1960s. However, it was not until his Voyage into the Golden Screen for small ensemble (1968)—which has been identified as the first "properly instrumental piece of spectral composition"[12] —and Symphony No. 2 (1970) that it provided the structure for an entire work.[13] The harmonic and rhythmic infinity series were developed in the early 1970s and the three series were first integrated in Nørgård's Symphony No. 3.

Selected list of works[edit]



  • Symphonies
    • Symphony No. 1 Sinfonia austera (1953–55)
    • Symphony No. 2 (1970)
    • Symphony No. 3 (1972–75), a choral symphony
    • Symphony No. 4 Indian Rose Garden and Chinese Witch's Lake (1981)
    • Symphony No. 5 (1987-90)
    • Symphony No. 6 At the End of the Day (1999)
    • Symphony No. 7 (2004-06)
    • Symphony No. 8 (2010-11)
  • Metamorfosi (1954), for strings
  • Constellations (1958), for strings
  • Iris (1966)
  • Luna (1967)
  • Voyage into the Golden Screen (1968)
  • Dream Play (1975)
  • Twilight (1977)
  • Burn (1984)
  • Spaces of Time (1991), for orchestra with piano
  • Night-Symphonies, Day Breaks (1992), for chamber orchestra
  • Aspects of Leaving (1997)
  • Terrains Vagues (2000–2001)


  • Violin
    • Violin Concerto No. 1 Helle Nacht (1986–87)
    • Violin Concerto No. 2 Borderlines (2002)
  • Cello
    • Cello Concerto No. 1 Between (1985)
    • Cello Concerto No. 2 Momentum (2009)
    • Cantica Concertante (2012), for cello and ensemble
  • Harp
    • Harp Concertino No. 1 King, Queen and Ace (1988), for harp and 13 instruments
    • Harp Concertino No. 2 Through Thorns (2003), for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet
  • Percussion
    • Percussion Concerto No. 1 For a Change (1983)
    • Percussion Concerto No. 2 Bach to the Future (1997), for two percussionists and orchestra
  • Accordion Concerto Recall (1968)
  • Viola Concerto Remembering Child (1986)
  • Piano Concerto Concerto in due tempi (1994–95)
  • Three Nocturnal Movements (2019), for violin, cello and ensemble


  • String Quartets
    • String Quartet No. 1
    • String Quartet No. 2 Quartetto Brioso (1958)
    • String Quartet No. 3
    • String Quartet No. 4 Quartet in 3 Spheres (1969), for string quartet with tape
    • String Quartet No. 5 Inscape (1969)
    • String Quartet No. 6 Tintinnabulary (1986)
    • String Quartet No. 7 (1994)
    • String Quartet No. 8 Night Descending like Smoke (1997)
    • String Quartet No. 9 Into the Source (2001)
    • String Quartet No. 10 Harvest Timeless (2005)
  • Flute Quintet (1953), for flute, violin, viola, cello and piano
  • Solo Intimo (1953), for cello
  • Clarinet Trio No. 1 (1955), for clarinet, cello and piano
  • Whirl's World (1970), for wind quintet
  • Arcana (1970), for percussion, electric guitar and accordion
  • Clarinet Trio No. 2 Spell (1973), for clarinet, cello and piano
  • Cantica (1977), for cello and piano
  • Proteus (1980), for flute and percussion
  • Sonora (1981), for flute and harp
  • I Ching (1982), for solo percussion
  • Clarinet Trio No. 3 Lin (1986), for clarinet, cello and piano
  • Syn (Vision) (1988), for brass quintet
  • Strings (1992), for string trio
  • Scintillation (1993), for septet of flute, clarinet, horn, violin, viola, cello and piano
  • Roads to Ixtlan (1993), for 4 saxophones
  • Wild Swans (1994), for 4 saxophones
  • Dancers Around Jupiter (1995), for 4 saxophones
  • Winter Music (1998), for flute, clarinet, percussion, organ, guitar and cello
  • It's All His Fancy That (2003), for trumpet, trombone and piano
  • Delta (2005), for saxophone, cello and piano
  • Trio Breve (2012), for piano trio


  • Piano Sonata No. 1 (1953)
  • Piano Sonata No. 2 (1957)
  • Partita Concertante (1958), for organ
  • Grooving (1968), for piano
  • Canon (1971), for organ
  • Turn (1973), for piano
  • Trepartita (1988), for organ
  • Remembering (1989), for piano
  • Gemini Rising (1990), for harpsichord
  • Waterways (2008), for piano


  • The Dommen (Judgement), for vocalists, choir, children's choir and orchestra
  • Libra (1973), for tenor, choir, guitar and two vibraphones
  • Singe die Gärten (1974), for choir and 8 instruments
  • Nova genitura (1975), for soprano and ensemble
  • Fons Laetitiae (1975), for soprano and harp
  • Winter Cantata (1976), for soprano, choir, organ and optional ensemble
  • Frostsalme (1976), for 16-part choir
  • Cycle (1977), for 12-part choir
  • Seadrift (1978), for soprano and ensemble
  • Wie ein Kind (Like a Child), for choir (1979–80)
  • And Time Shall Be No More, for choir (1994)
  • Ut rosa (2000), for choir
  • Mytisk Morgen (2000), for choir and bass clarinet


  • Nørgård, Per (1973–1974). "Gilgamesh – en 5000-årig aktualitet" [Gilgamesh - A 5000-year-old Topicality]. Nutida musik (in Danish). 17 (1): 5–7.
  • —— (1975) [1974]. Inside a Symphony (PDF). Translated by L. K. Christensen. Numus-West 2, no. 2: 4–16
  • —— (1982). Hansen, Ivan (ed.). Per Nørgård artikler 1962–1982 [Per Nørgård articles 1962–1982] (in Danish). Copenhagen: København. OCLC 465831476.
  • —— (1985–1986). "Hastighed og acceleration" [Speed and acceleration]. Dansk Musiktidsskrift [da] (in Danish). 60: 179–186.
  • —— (1986–1987). "Flerdimensionaler agogik" [Multidimensional agogics]. Dansk Musiktidsskrift [da] (in Danish). 61: 19–25.



  1. ^ a b Anderson 2004, § para. 9.
  2. ^ a b c d e Anderson 2004, § para. 1.
  3. ^ a b c d Reynolds 2002, § para. 1.
  4. ^ Kershaw, David (2001). "Davis, Carl". Grove Music Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.49030. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  5. ^ Haglund, Rolf (2001). "Gefors, Hans". Grove Music Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.46501. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  6. ^ Nørgård 1975.
  7. ^ Mortensen, Jørgen. "Uendelighedsrækken (The Infinity Series)". Archived from the original on 10 October 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2010.
  8. ^ "Adolf Wölffli: Wölfli's influence". Archived from the original on 23 October 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2010.
  9. ^ "Ny symfoni af Per Nørgård uropført i Helsinki". DR (broadcaster). 20 September 2012. Archived from the original on 24 September 2012.
  10. ^ Mortensen, Jørgen. "The 'Open Hierarchies' of the Infinity Series". Archived from the original on 21 July 2013.
  11. ^ a b Sloane, N. J. A. (ed.). "Sequence A004718 (Infinity sequence)". The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. OEIS Foundation.
  12. ^ Anderson, Julian. 2000. "A Provisional History of Spectral Music." Contemporary Music Review 19, no. 2 ("Spectral Music History and Techniques", edited by Joshua Fineberg): 7–22. p. 14.
  13. ^ Nørgård 1975, p. 9.
  14. ^ Kozinn, Allan. 2014. "Danish Composer Wins $200,000 Prize from Philharmonic". The New York Times (11 June): ArtsBeat (accessed 17 December 2014).


Further reading[edit]

  • Bjørnum, Birgit (1983). Per Nørgårds Kompositioner: En Kronologisk-Tematisk Fortegnelse Over Værkerne 1949-1982 [Per Nørgård's Compositions: A Chronological-Thematic List of Works 1949-1982] (in Danish). Copenhagen: Wilhelm Hansen. OCLC 894559488.
  • Beyer, Anders, ed. (1996). The Music of Per Nørgård: Fourteen Interpretative Essays. Aldershot: Scolar. ISBN 978-1-85928-313-4.
  • Christensen, Jean (1989). "Per Nørgård – Widening the Framework". Musical Denmark. Danish Cultural Institute (1): 3–5.
  • Rasmussen, Karl Åage; Høm, Jesper (1991). Noteworthy Danes: Portraits of 11 Danish Composers. Copenhagen: Wilhelm Hansen. pp. 29–40. OCLC 464055360.

External links[edit]