Ib Nørholm (1931-2019)

Ib Nørholm is one of Danish music's grand old men and one of the most significant Danish composers of the last forty years. With his ten major symphonies he is, alongside Carl Nielsen, Vagn Holmboe, Rued Langgaard and Per Nørgård, one of the greatest Danish symphonists of the twentieth century.

Ib Nørholm's musical career began early. He has played the piano since the age of nine and the organ since the age of 15. As early as the age of 18 he made his debut with his first major composition, the chamber opera The Snail and the Rose Hedge based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen. Nørholm studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen with Vagn Holmboe, Finn Høffding, Niels Viggo Bentzon and Bjørn Hjelmborg as his teachers. In 1955 and 1956 he took his final exams - including the major organist diploma which marked the beginning of a long life as an organist among other things.

In the course of the 1950s Nørholm wrote a series of works whose style can best be characterized as Nordic-lyrical, and which thus continued in a direct line from Carl Nielsen and later Vagn Holmboe. In 1960 Nørholm - like many other European composers - had a very direct encounter with the Central European showdown with the musical aesthetics of the older generation when he and his colleagues Per Nørgård, Helmer Nørgaard and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen went off in Nørholm's own Volkswagen to the ISCM Festival in Cologne. The four composers, all the same age, were already then greatly interested in the international avant-garde and met regularly, for among other purposes to analyse Boulez' new works and discuss the implications of the new currents; but the meeting in Cologne with first performances of Stockhausen's Kontakte, Boulez' Pli Selon Pli, Kagel's Anagrama and Ligeti's Apparitions was a boundary-shifting experience that was to leave its crucial mark on Nørholm's music throughout the early 1960s. The previous Danish post-Nielsen modernism was superseded by a far more abstract style of writing combined with ever greater openness towards all conceivable forms of musical expression. Ib Nørholm's style, however, changed quickly again: after a few years with predetermined serialism, with structuralism, with graphic notation, with works with aleatory elements and the use of sound sources like mechanical toys, Nørholm moved in the middle of this decade towards the style of composing that was later designated "the New Simplicity". The simpler style was most clearly expressed in a major work of the period, From the Flora of Danish Poetry (1966) for soprano and piano/guitar with texts by Danish poets like Frank Jæger, Asger Pedersen, Johannes Kirkegård and others.

Regardless of leanings (conscious or unconscious) towards named styles and movements, the special Nørholm feel has never been gainsaid in his works. If one were to label his music after 1970, it would have to be something like "integrated bitonality", as expressed most finely and clearly in the Fifth Symphony from 1980 and the Ninth Symphony from 1993; and not least in the hour-long work for soloists, choir and orchestra The Elf-Mirror from 1996, which is based on an old Danish ballad adapted by the Danish poet Poul Borum.

Alongside his work as a composer Ib Nørholm has functioned as a teacher for several generations of Danish composers. As early as 1965 he got his first teaching job at the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music in Odense, and from 1981 until his retirement in 2000 Nørholm was Professor of Composition at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, where as head of the composing course he left his clear mark on the young Danish composers of today. In addition, in the course of his career, Nørholm has held a number of professional posts, and has among other things been a member of the National Arts Foundation (1971-74) and chairman of the Danish ISCM Committee (1973-78).