Composer and conductor Johan Svendsen 1840-1911
One October evening in 1867, a 27-year old Norwegian composer arranged a soirée in Oslo, at which he played his own music.
The following day an anonymous critic praised him highly and predicted that the young man would have a great future. The critic
was Edvard Grieg, the composer Johan Svendsen The two great names in Norwegian musical history. This was the beginning of a
friendship based on mutual admiration and fruitful cooperation.
Johan Svendsen also had other close friends who were to influence his development. He did not stay in Norway; he traveled to the
great musical centers in Germany, France and Italy. ‘The happiest years of my life. he writes, for example, about his years in Leipzig.
Here he met many of the great musicians and composers of the period, and lived for a year with Cosirna and Richard Wagner. At the
Leipzig Conservatory of Music, he impressed his teachers with his skill.
With this musical grounding, he became Norway’s first great composer of symphonies, but Norwegian folk music was always present in his
works, Along with Grieg, he created Norwegian music on the foundations of folk music.
Their practical cooperation was also to have significance for the development of Norwegian musical life, particularly
in the capital, where Grieg had founded the Music Society in 1871. Johan Svendsen appeared as conductor. In 1874 he was given composer’s stipend,
but his living conditions were still miserable in spite of his success both In Norway and on sporadic visits to other countries.
Thus, when he was offered the position of conductor with the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in 1883, he could not say no. He worked there
until his death in 1911. However he never relinquished his Norwegian citizenship and he wished his remains to be returned to his country.
For this reason, you will find him buried with other persons of distinction in Our Savior's Cemetery in Oslo, the city where he was born on
September 30, 1840 and where he soon distinguished himself as a child genius. His father started giving him violin lessons at the age of five;
at eleven he was composing dances and marches, and he was only twelve when he was taken on as a clarinetist by the military band,
During his years in Copenhagen, he gained a reputation as a great conductor. He was a driving force in Danish musical life and with his help the
Royal Theatre orchestra attained a high standard of excellence. His reputation as a great conductor spread far beyond the country’s boundaries and
led to a triumphant succession of guest performances in musical centers all over Europe.
A conductor’s genius in a concert hall is magic of the moment. Only historians can preserve this for us. A composer can live on through his work.
Johan Svendsen does so. He will always be a part of Norwegian musical history because he created music based on Norwegian folk music, because he
was our first composer symphonies, because he left us Norwegian Rhapsodies, his lively Norwegian Carnival in Paris, and many other compositions,
including his Grand Polonaise that still delights listeners in this day of noisy sound media,