Bent Lorentzen - Obituary

With the death of Bent Lorentzen, Danish contemporary music has lost one of its most original and important voices. We asked professor Lars Ole Bonde to write an obituary about the composer.

Photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne

For more than four decades, Lorentzen (1935-2018) had an impact on new compositional music – from 1971 onwards as a full-time composer. He was not only a highly productive and versatile composer but also a proficient organiser and creative man of ideas. Among other things, he was an executive committee member of the Associations of New Music (AUT) in Aarhus and Copenhagen as well as a member of the Music Committee of the Danish Arts Foundation. Together with his wife Edith Lorentzen – whose importance for his oeuvre cannot be overestimated – he created the Ebeltoft festival (1989-93), which in unique fashion mixed new and old music, nature and urban space, professional and amateur music.

Bent Lorentzen was among the pioneers of Danish electronic music and he composed music in practically all the current genres – least in purely symphonic music, which he did not find all that inspiring, more in the chamber music format and most of all in music drama, which he worked with throughout his life – not only in the form of (more or less traditional) operas but also with radio drama, music films, instrumental theatre, carillon pantomimes and dramatic crossover forms, often including amateurs of all ages.

Lorentzen’s music has three distinctive characteristics: firstly humour, secondly a fascination with sound in the broadest sense, and thirdly a preoccupation with the interaction between composer, performers and audience.

The humour can be slapstick or extremely sophisticated, black or effervescent, concrete or symbolical. In his stroke of genius Comics, Lorentzen develops four small comic strip stories in a large format, with an entertainer, music school children and a large symphony orchestra. He revived ‘comic opera’ as a genre, very much in the spirit of Holberg and with The Restless One and Jeppe as highlights.

The ‘sonic’ aspect – the infinite potential of the sound source, no matter whether it is a question of new ways of playing on traditional instruments, the overtone-rich ding-donging of bells or the universe of the human voice, from whispering via recitative and bel canto to screams – plays an important role in many works. Lorentzen had a long-lasting, close collaboration with such musicians as the organist Jens E. Christensen, the singer Aage Haugland, the trombonist Niels-Ole Bo Johansen and the pianist Erik Kaltoft, but also schoolchildren and music school pupils were included in Lorentzen’s musical narratives in a co-creative way.

Lorentzen is also a well-known name abroad. Many of his operas had their first performances in Germany, Pergolesi’s home service made it as far as Memphis, USA, and many works have been performed and recorded by international musicians.

On several occasions I have characterised Bent Lorentzen by the apparently paradoxical term ‘the popular modernist’; others have called him the ‘free-thinker’ of Danish contemporary music. Both epithets say something about a man of music who was deeply involved in creating music abreast of his time while also maintaining the dialogue between composer and audience open and alive. This tricky balancing act Bent Lorentzen often succeeded in – because he was aesthetically speaking undogmatic and chronically curious, and because he always greatly valued collaboration with those performing, no matter whether it was schoolchildren, adult amateur choir singers or professional musicians. The audience could also notice this – there was plenty of space both vertically and horizontally in Lorentzen’s musical awareness.

- Lars Ole Bonde