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Vagn Gylding Holmboe, (20 December 1909 in Horsensmarker, Jutland – 1 September 1996 in Ramløse) was a Danishmarker composer and teacher who wrote largely in a neo-classical style.


At the age of 17, Holmboe began formal music training at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen on the recommendation of Carl Nielsen. He studied under Knud Jeppesen (Theory) and Finn Høffding (Composition). After finishing his studies in 1929 he moved to Berlin where, for a short period, Ernst Toch became his teacher.

In 1934, he married the Romanian pianist Meta Graf. After moving back to Denmark, Holmboe taught at the Conservatoire in Copenhagen.

His students included Per Nørgård, Ib Nørholm, Bent Lorentzen, Arne Nordheim, Egil Hovland and Alan Stout.


Holmboe composed about two hundred works, including thirteen symphonies, three chamber symphonies, four symphonies for strings, twenty string quartets, numerous concertos, one opera, and the late series of preludes for chamber orchestra, as well as much choral and other music, in addition to some early works that never received opus numbers. His last work, the twenty-first string quartet, Quartetto sereno, was completed by his pupil Per Nørgård.

He is considered to be the most important Danish symphonist after Carl Nielsen. His music is characteristically tonal, and musical metamorphosis of thematic or motivic fragments characterize most of his works between the years 1950 and 1970 (similar to Jean Sibelius). His earlier works show the influence of East European composers such as Bartók; his work also shows the influence of Stravinsky, Carl Nielsen and Dmitri Shostakovich.

Major works

(M. — Meta number — for Metamorphosis. Might also be said to be named after his wife, Meta May Holmboe... numbering system assembled by Prof. Rapoport. This information from The Compositions of Vagn Holmboe.)

  • Symphonies
    • sym. 1, for chamber orchestra, M. 85
    • sym. 2, 1938–9, M. 107
    • sym. 3, Sinfonia rustica, M. 126
    • sym. 4, Sinfonia sacra for chorus and orchestra, M. 132
    • sym. 5, 1944, M. 145
    • sym. 6, 1947, M. 155
    • sym. 7, 1950, M. 167
    • Chamber symphony no. 1, 1951, M. 171
    • sym. 8, Sinfonia boreale, M. 175
    • Sinfonia in memoriam, 1954-5, M. 185
    • Sinfonia I for strings, M. 194
    • Sinfonia II for strings, M. 196
    • Sinfonia III for strings, M. 200
    • Sinfonia IV for strings, M. 215 (Kairos)
    • sym. 9, 1967–9, M. 235
    • Chamber symphony no. 2, 1968, M. 240
    • Chamber symphony no. 3, 1969–70, M. 246
    • sym. 10, 1970–2, M. 250 (premiered by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Sixten Ehrling)
    • sym. 11, 1980–1, M. 304
    • sym. 12, 1988, M. 338
    • sym. 13, 1993–4, M. 362

  • Concertos
    • Several (about twenty,) including especially
    • Concerto for trumpet and chamber orchestra, with the orchestra consisting of two horns and strings- written in 1948, M. 157. Eleventh of a series of 13 concertos with chamber orchestra originally called "chamber concertos"
    • Cello concerto, 1974–9, M. 273
    • Recorder concerto, 1974, M. 275
    • Flute concerto no. 1, 1975–6, M. 279
    • Tuba concerto, 1976, M. 280
    • Flute concerto no. 2, 1981–2, M. 307

  • String quartets
    • Twenty-one written
      • From no. 1, 1948–9, M. 159 to no. 20, 1985, M. 322 (this the last of four works representing the times of the day) (also the completion of a twenty-first, Quartetto sereno)

  • Some other works
    • Notturno for wind quintet, 1940, M. 118
    • Brass quintets - no. 1, 1961–2, M. 212; no. 2, 1978, M.293
    • Requiem for Nietzsche for tenor, baritone, chorus, and orchestra, 1963–4, M. 219
    • Symphonic metamorphoses for orchestra —
      • Epitaph, 1956, M. 189 (premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra)
      • Monolith, 1960, M. 207
      • Epilog, 1961–2, M. 213
      • Tempo variabile (Changeable weather,) 1971-2, M.254
    • Two sonatas for guitar, op. 141-2
    • Five intermezzi for guitar, op. 149

Commercial recordings of his symphonies by Owain Arwel Hughes are still available, as are recordings of his string quartets, chamber concertos, and some other works. His choral or brass music, or his wind Notturno from 1940 may be performed more often than his works for full or chamber orchestra.

Private tapes of performances conducted by him, by Nikolai Malko and by Fritz Mahler exist, but these are rare and difficult to obtain.

External links


  • Holmboe wrote several books, including Danish Street Cries: a study of their musical structure and a complete edition of tunes with words collected before 1960, translated by Anne Lockhart for Kragen, ISBN 87-980636-9-3, published 1988.
  • Another is Experiencing Music. An English translation of this by Professor Paul Rapoport, formerly of McMaster University, published by Toccata Press in 1991 has ISBN 0-907689-16-7 in its paperback release.
  • Paul Rapoport, an expert on the composer’s music, has written for Edition Wilhelm Hansen, Copenhagen, a worklist and discography entitled The Compositions of Vagn Holmboe, ISBN 87-598-0813-6, published 1996.

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