LUDVIG IRGENS-JENSEN (1894 - 1969)
Ludvig Irgens-Jensen was born on 13 April 1894 in Christiania (as Oslo was then called) and died on 11 April 1969 during a trip to Italy. Many Norwegian composers have had close connections with folk music and have aimed to create a national musical identity. Irgens-Jensen on the other hand could be described as European, with more of a focus on form and other musical elements in their own right. He was powerfully influenced by German and French culture, and spent extended periods in Berlin and Paris. He learnt the piano, but never tried to study composition at a conservatory. Nevertheless he was regarded by his composer-colleagues as one of the most skilful among them. He was something of a humanistic philosopher, with an all-embracing vision of art. Throughout his life’s work he grappled with the big questions about human existence. He also wrote poetry, and was accomplished at drawing and watercolour painting. Friends tell of a quiet man, wise and deeply empathetic. He loved nature and the outdoor life, and often went climbing in Norway’s highest mountain range, Jotunheimen.
Much of Irgens-Jensen’s music has a characteristic elegiac melancholy. As well as being a sensitive lyric poet he was also a sceptic and rationalist: ‘there are no shortcuts in art’, he said. When asked which earlier composers he admired, he replied: ‘I have my heroes, Bach and Palestrina, Chopin and Brahms, everyone who wrote music of real importance’. He said that his goal was a universal, classical art, growing not from an ‘individualistic state of mind’ but from a mentality like that of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), ‘where humility and a desire to serve were profound realities’. When young, Irgens-Jensen was viewed as one of the modernists, together with composers such as Fartein Valen (1887–1952), Pauline Hall (1890–1969) and Harald Saeverud (1897–1992). Later some saw him as a conservative classicist.
© Bjarte Engeset