Monday, May 25, 2015

Discovery of the Week

To balance out my unkind remarks about Bruckner (and Mahler), let me direct your attention to one of those many interesting composers whose work was completely overshadowed by the relentless march of Modernism. I am talking about Vagn Holmboe. Who? Yes, exactly. Holmboe was a Danish composer who wrote, among other things, thirteen symphonies. A while ago I ran across an appreciation of him by Richard Taruskin that was written, I think, on the occasion of Holmboe's death in 1996. [UPDATE: Actually it was written in 1994, just a couple of years before.] He was born in Jutland in 1909. He is Denmark's second symphonist after Carl Nielsen.

In any case, I finally got around to listening to some Holmboe and, not surprisingly, given the praise from Taruskin, I was quite impressed. Here is his Symphony No. 8, "Sinfonia boreale" conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes with the Århus Symphony Orchestra:

That is pretty good, isn't it? Rather more interesting than Bruckner, wouldn't you say? Perhaps, and I say this very tentatively, even more interesting than Mahler? But the music of people like Holmboe was anathema to the modernists. For one thing it is tonal and makes expressive gestures instead of perplexing the audience with musical structures that have no real expressive content. So it had to be banned, or at least sneered at with every opportunity. They, the modernist intelligentsia, did the same with Shostakovich, but his music seems to have won itself an ever-growing audience despite their best efforts. Maybe it is time to give Holmboe a chance. Here is his Symphony No. 5 with the same performers:

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