A Survivor from the Teutonic Train Wreck

Richard Taruskin

in The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays

Published by University of California Press

Published in print December 2008 | ISBN: 9780520249776
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520942790 | DOI:
A Survivor from the Teutonic Train Wreck

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This chapter presents an essay on the works of Vagn Holmboe, a Danish composer who despite being regarded as the greatest living traditional symphonist, never had much presence in the international concert stage. He had enormous contrapuntal energy and produced tight, tense musical arguments, based on the manipulation of terse melodic cells composers call motives that demanded and rewarded close attention over lengthy spans. His works demanded active intellectual engagement from his listeners that resulted in their emotional exhilaration. His choral Fourth Symphony, subtitled “Sinfonia Sacra,” and written in 1941 and revised four years later, embodies a staunch response to the German wartime occupation of Denmark in the form of a hymn-like Latin text by the composer. His Sixth and Seventh Symphonies exhibit a virtuosic “metamorphosis technique,” whereas in his Seventh Symphony, written in 1950, the motivic argument takes place in smallish, climax-driven bites at fast tempos, with a refrainlike “intermedio” that periodically and helpfully reorients the listener.

Keywords: Vagn Holmboe; traditional symphonist; Sinfonia Sacra; metamorphosis technique; concerts

Chapter.  1344 words. 

Subjects: Music Theory and Analysis

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