Sven Erik Werner (b. 1937)
Sven Erik Werner holds a Master's degree in musicology and Nordic Literature from the University of Copenhagen. He worked for the Danish Radio for six years before moving to the Academy of Music, Odense, where he was appointed in 1970 and became principal in 1974. He retained this post until 1989 and has discharged many other administrative and organizational functions in Danish musical life, in which he plays the unusual role of a critical intellectual who participates energetically in public debate. He is recognized far beyond the ranks of specialists in music as a critic of political compromises in culture, and as an enemy of mediocrity in all its forms. Werner is autodidact as a composer and made a fairly late debut, having been a successful broadcaster for several years before his wind quintet Jubilus was accepted for first performance at a festival in Italy. That was in 1968 when he was 31 years old. Werner thus made his entry on to the new music scene at a time when the Polish avantgarde headed by names like Witold Lutoslawski and Krzysztof Penderecki was exerting great influence on young Danish composers. Polish avantgardism of the sixties was welcomed by many as a reaction to the sterile elitism of the modernist movement, particularly because of the way in which it sought for a meaningful dialogue between various stylistic options. The latter was something with particular appeal in Denmark where leading composers had already begun to practice stylistic pluralism.
Polish avantgardism of the sixties and Danish stylistic pluralism are in fact parallel responses to the same problem. They reject the modernistic notion that it is possible to compose, experiment, and calculate one's way to an absolutely genuine, pure, and unsullied form of musical expression. From now on it was permitted to transgress the various stylistic boundaries and make voyages of discovery into the inexhaustible treasure house of historical forms. Yet at the same time it seems to have been demanded of the works as such that they should ponder the expressive potential of music and the great issues of musical authenticity and truth. This starting-point in the situation around 1970, where younger composers were compelled to think about many of the aesthetic problems that have since been summed up under the title of Postmodernism, may serve as a key to the understanding of Werner's complex musical output.
The opus list is not very long; too much of Werner's time has been devoted to organizational activities for that to be feasible. Nevertheless, he has worked in a great variety of genres - a fact that expresses his cultural political stance from a different perspective. His compositions range from difficult scores for traditional orchestral and chamber combinations by way of music for teaching purposes to innovative and experimental works for television, the mass medium par excellence of our age. Of his four television works, three are operas.
By Søren Møller Sørensen