Modern Times pp 162-179 | Cite as

The Nordic Countries, 1918–45

  • Knud Ketting
Part of the Man & Music book series (MAMU)


‘The symphony is dead — long live music!’. With these words the Danish composer Knudåge Riisager (1897–1974) sought to summarize the state of Nordic music in 1940, immediately before the German occupation of Denmark and Norway disrupted communications and cultural relations:

I sense an enlightened and courageous release from the conventional scheme which, until now, has been regarded as the only ‘correct’ one: the all too obvious requirement for a ‘symphonic’ structure which is really just somnambulism and indecision or perhaps lack of the will to view a problem afresh. But first we must realize that the symphony is dead. Then music will live.1


Nordic Country Broadcasting System Interwar Period Symphony Orchestra Music Festival 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    E. d’Harcourt, La musiqueactuelle dans les états scandinaves (Paris, 1910).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    K. Larsen, Levende Musik — Mekanisk Musik (Copenhagen, 1931), foreword.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    From letter of 24 August 1923 to the Danish composer Oluf Ring (1884–1946), who had asked Nielsen for advice on where to go for further studies; quoted from Carl Nielsens Breve, ed. I. E. Møller and T. Meyer (Copenhagen, 1954), 227.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Interview from 1934; quoted from Koncertfører, ed. H. Lenz and L. Bramsen (Copenhagen, 1962), 192–3.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Lecture in the Kristiania Music Teachers’ Association; quoted from N. Grinde, Contemporary Norwegian Music 1920–1980 (Oslo, 1981), 13.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    quoted from B. Wallner, Vår tids musik i Norden (Stockholm, 1968), 118.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Quoted from G. Bergendal, New Music in Iceland (Reykjavík, 1991), 41.Google Scholar

Bibliographical Note

  1. Unfortunately the main source for the understanding of Nordic music of the interwar period, B. Wallner, Vår tids musik i Norden (Stockholm, 1968), exists in Swedish only. Starting its thorough survey in the early 1920s, it covers four of the five Nordic countries extensively, with Iceland as the regrettable exception.Google Scholar
  2. Wallner’s book contains a multitude of references to useful source material. Wallner also wrote the chapter on modern Scandinavian music in European Music in the Twentieth Century, ed. H. Hartog (Harmondsworth, 1961), which — because of its brevity — offers a correct but pale reflection of his expertise.Google Scholar
  3. J. H. Yoell, The Nordic Sound (Boston, 1974), is based mostly on what has been available to its author by way of recordings — the result is an informative rather than erudite volume.Google Scholar
  4. Books covering music from all the Nordic countries have been very sparse: one more is worth mentioning, even though all its articles are in Danish, Norwegian or Swedish: Modern nordisk musik, ed. I. Bengtsson (Stockholm, 1957). Out of its fourteen essays, written by the composers themselves, three or four cover works from the interwar period; all are accompanied by worklists.Google Scholar


  1. For literature on Nielsen, readers are referred to Man and Music, vol. vii and M. Miller, Carl Nielsen: a Guide to Research (New York and London, 1987), with English annotations on all available Nielsen research, regardless of the original language.Google Scholar
  2. A brief view of the interwar period can be found in J. Jacoby’s essay in Music in Denmark, ed. K. Ketting (Copenhagen, 1987).Google Scholar
  3. More details can be had from V. Kappel, Danish Composers (Copenhagen, 3/1967),Google Scholar
  4. but a really extensive documentation (though regrettably without source references) can be had only in Danish: N. Schiørring, Musikkens Historie i Danmark, iii (Copenhagen, 1978).Google Scholar
  5. Only very recently has Rued Langgaard’s immense production been properly catalogued, in B. V. Nielsen, Rued Langgaards Kompositioner (Odense, 1991).Google Scholar
  6. This annotated catalogue with a comprehensive introduction in English is the result of years of diligent work. It will probably be too detailed for most readers, but will still serve as a good starting-point until the publication of the same author’s Langgaard biography. Worklists are included in two interesting biographies, both in Danish: O. Mathisen, Bogen om Poul Schierbeck (Copenhagen, 1988),Google Scholar
  7. and F. Behrendt, Fra et hjem med klaver: Herman D. Koppels liv og erindringer (Copenhagen, 1988).Google Scholar
  8. Riisager’s oeuvre is catalogued in S. Berg and S. Bruhns, Knudåge Riisagers kompositioner (Copenhagen, 1967),Google Scholar
  9. and Høffding’s in S. Bruhns and D. Fog, Finn Høffdings kompositioner (Copenhagen, 1969).Google Scholar


  1. For literature on Sibelius, readers are referred to Man and Music, vol. vii. A short, informative survey of the interwar period is by P. Helistö, whose article can be found in two different English translations in Music of Finland (pubd. Finnish Music Information Centre, Helsinki, 1983)Google Scholar
  2. and Music in Finland (pubd. Finnish-American Institute, Helsinki, 1980).Google Scholar
  3. The late Walter Legge was not late in discovering the unique songwriter Kilpinen, as can be seen from his The Songs of Yrjö Kilpinen (London, 1936).Google Scholar
  4. More recent views on Kilpinen can be had from articles on the occasion of his centenary in Finnish Music Quarterly, iii (1992),Google Scholar
  5. and Nordic Sounds, i (1992).Google Scholar
  6. For an overview of Kuula, it might be useful to combine T. Elmgreen-Heinonen and E. Roiha, Toivo Kuula: a Finnish Composer of Genius (Helsinki, 1952),Google Scholar
  7. with J. Kokkonen, Toivo Kuula: sävellyshuettelo [worklist] (Helsinki, 1953).Google Scholar
  8. Two catalogues, Uuno Klami: Works, ed. T. M. Lehtonen (Helsinki, 1986),Google Scholar
  9. and Leevi Madetoja: Works, ed. K. Tuukanen and P. Hako (Helsinki, 1982), have introductions in English and discographies.Google Scholar


  1. Compared to their Nordic colleagues, Norwegian musicologists seem to have been more willing to produce good introductory volumes in international languages on the music history of their country. The most informative is N. Grinde, Contemporary Norwegian Music 1920–1980 (Oslo, 1981), including a useful bibliography.Google Scholar
  2. K. Lange, Norwegian Music: a Survey (Oslo, 2/1982), provides a much shorter survey,Google Scholar
  3. whereas German-speaking readers will find interesting details in H. Herresthal, Norwegische Musik von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (Oslo, 2/1987).Google Scholar
  4. Grinde calls Valen ‘the most prominent Norwegian composer after 1900’, and rightly so, but the only English book on Valen, B. Kortsen, Fartein Valen: Life and Music (Oslo, 1965), clearly leaves the field open to more detailed research.Google Scholar
  5. A handsomely illustrated introductory article on Saeverud by R. Storaas, written in connection with the memorial service held in Bergen on 6 April 1992, has found its way into 25 Years of Contemporary Norwegian Music ed. K. Skyllstad and K. Habbestad (Oslo, 1992).Google Scholar


  1. Bo Wallner’s unique combination of impeccable scholarship and mastery of the Swedish language, mentioned above, can also be found in his Wilhelm Stenhammar och hans tid (Stockholm, 3/1991), where the Swedish composer and his oeuvre is put into the perspective of Swedish musical and cultural life.Google Scholar
  2. Another important source, also in Swedish, is L. Hedwall, Den svenska symfonin (Stockholm, 1983), with fine descriptions of Swedish symphonies, even those forgotten since their first appearance, and a detailed bibliography.Google Scholar
  3. Apart from the odd article in music magazines, almost no literature in English is available, Swedish musicologists having used their own language extensively. Nystroem has been treated once by a non-Swedish musicologist: P. K. L. Christensen, The Orchestral Works of Gösta Nystroem: a Critical Study (London, 1965) [includes list of works].Google Scholar
  4. Rosenberg’s music is catalogued in P. H. Lyne, Hilding Rosenberg: Catalogue of Works (Stockholm, 1970).Google Scholar
  5. A list of Atterberg’s works can be found in Musikrevy, xxii (1967), 327,Google Scholar
  6. and Alfvén’s compositions are catalogued in J. O. Rudén: Hugo Alfvén: Musical Works (Stockholm, 1972), which includes an introduction in English and a thematic index.Google Scholar
  7. A list of Peterson-Berger’s works and writings accompanied the articles in Wilhelm Peterson-Berger: festskrift den 27. februar 1937 for his 70th anniversary.Google Scholar


  1. Hjálmar H. Ragnarsson in his useful Short History of Icelandic Music to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century (Reykjavík, 1980) stated that ‘scholarly research in the sphere of Icelandic music has lagged far behind the otherwise rapid growth of musical activities’.Google Scholar
  2. We are still waiting for Icelandic musicology to produce large-scale studies and are therefore indebted to the Swedish writer G. Bergendal for having compiled a small leaflet in Swedish, Musiken på Island: om isolering och internationalism (Stockholm, 1981) and later continued his research, published in various articles and finally, through the initiative of the Iceland Music Information Centre, as a handsome volume in English, New Music in Iceland (Reykjavík, 1991).Google Scholar
  3. As the title suggests, Bergendal is mainly interested in contemporary music. The first third of the book, however, contains much useful information on the development of Icelandic musical life until the end of World War II. Catalogues of works by living Icelandic composers are easily available from the Iceland Music Information Centre. Precise information on Icelandic music from the interwar period is much more difficult to obtain, with the notable exception of Jón Leifs, whose compositions are listed in Jón Leifs: Tónverkaskrá, edited by his widow, Thorbjörg Leifs (Reykjavík, 1976).Google Scholar

Nordic cooperation

  1. On its centenary, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, in collaboration with the Society of Swedish Composers, produced a very useful survey, Nordic Music Days: 100 Years, ed. S. Hanson (Stockholm, 1988). Its articles are not all relevant to this chapter, but the detailed analysis of the first 50 years of cooperation, by H. Schwab (in German), and the thorough documentation of every concert (during the whole period) should prove interesting.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Knud Ketting

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations