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 compositions have 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.


Nørgård was born in Gentofte, Denmark. He studied with Vagn Holmboe at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, and subsequently with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. 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",[2][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.[3] Later he became interested in the Swiss artist Adolf Wölfli, who inspired many of Nørgård's works,[4] 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.[5] 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,[6] 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,"[7] the first few terms of its simplest form are 0, 1, −1, 2, 1, 0, −2, 3, ….[7]

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"[8] —and Symphony No. 2 (1970) that it provided the structure for an entire work.[9] 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]


  • Symphony No. 1 Sinfonia austera (1953–55)
  • Symphony No. 2 (1970)
  • Symphony No. 3 (1972–75)
  • Symphony No. 4 Indian Rose Garden and Chinese Witch's Lake (1981)
  • Symphony No. 5 (1990)
  • Symphony No. 6 At the End of the Day (1998–99)
  • Symphony No. 7 (2006)
  • Symphony No. 8 (2011)


  • Concerto for Accordion Recall (1968)
  • Cello Concerto No. 1 Between (1985)
  • Cello Concerto No. 2 Momentum (2009)
  • Harp Concerto No. 1 King, Queen and Ace (1988)
  • Harp Concerto No. 2 through thorns... (2003)
  • Piano Concerto Concerto in due tempi (1994–95)
  • Percussion concerto No. 1 For a Change (1983)
  • Percussion concerto No. 2 Bach to the Future (1997)
  • Viola Concerto No. 1 Remembering Child (1986)
  • Violin Concerto No. 1 Helle Nacht (1986–87)
  • Violin Concerto No. 2 Borderlines (2002)


Selected other works[edit]

  • Solo Intimo, Op. 8, for cello (1953)
  • Trio No. 1, Op. 15 (1955)
  • Konstellationer (Constellations), for strings (1958)
  • Voyage into the Golden Screen (1968)
  • Libra (1973)
  • Turn, for keyboard (1973)
  • Nova genitura (1975)
  • Wie ein Kind (Like a Child), for chorus (1979–80)
  • Drømmesange (Dream Songs) (1981)
  • I Ching, for solo percussion (1982)
  • Najader (The Naiads) (1986)
  • Spaces of Time (1991)
  • And Time Shall Be No More, for mixed choir (1994)
  • Terrains Vagues, for orchestra (2000–2001)



  • Nørgård, Per. 1975. "Inside a Symphony". Translated by L. K. Christensen. Numus-West 2, no. 2:4–16.
  1. ^ a b Anderson, Julian (2001). "Nørgård, Per". Grove Music Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.20066. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. ^ Nørgård 1975.
  3. ^ Mortensen, Jørgen. "Uendelighedsrækken (The Infinity Series)". Archived from the original on 10 October 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2010.
  4. ^ "Adolf Wölffli: Wölfli's influence". Archived from the original on 23 October 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2010.
  5. ^ "Ny symfoni af Per Nørgård uropført i Helsinki". DR (broadcaster). 20 September 2012. Archived from the original on 24 September 2012.
  6. ^ Mortensen, Jørgen. "The 'Open Hierarchies' of the Infinity Series". Archived from the original on 21 July 2013.
  7. ^ a b Sloane, N. J. A. (ed.). "Sequence A004718 (Infinity sequence)". The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. OEIS Foundation.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Nørgård 1975, p. 9.
  10. ^ Kozinn, Allan. 2014. "Danish Composer Wins $200,000 Prize from Philharmonic". The New York Times (11 June): ArtsBeat (accessed 17 December 2014).

External links[edit]