Håkan Hardenberger, trumpet
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
Thomas Dausgaard, conductor
March 2010


Knudåge Riisager: Orchestral Works
Dacapo, Claus Røllum-Larsen, 1997 Knudåge Riisager was born on 6th March 1897 in Port Kunda, Estonia, where his father had built and at that time managed a cement factory for the F.L. Smidth company. On the death of F.L. Smidth in 1899 Riisager’s father was called home to work in Copenhagen, and the family then moved to Frederiksberg, where Riisager lived for the rest of his life. After his school leaving exam in 1915 he began studying political science at the University of Copenhagen, and in 1921 he took the cand. polit. degree. From 1925 until 1950 he worked as a civil servant – for the last eleven years as a Departmental Head in the Ministry of Finance. Knudåge Riisager died on 26th December 1974. Alongside this straightforward administrative career Riisager was prolifically active as a composer, music writer and organisational leader. He had his first training in theory and composition from Otto Malling, and after the latter’s death in 1915 from Peder Gram. It was a few study trips to Paris in 1921-23 that were to open the young composer’s eyes in earnest to the new currents in contemporary music. In Paris Riisager became a pupil of Albert Roussel and Paul Le Flem, and the French influence can be clearly felt in his compositions from the mid-1920s. While the works of the years up to 1921 have a Nordic, lyrical, sometimes Carl Nielsenesque tone, the compositions of the years up to the mid-thirties show the influence not only of the Frenchmen Roussel and Satie, but also of Proko-fiev, Honegger, Bartók, and not least Stra-vinsky. Riisager’s highly personal style is already evident in the works of these years, as expressed for example by the almost provocative use of dissonant seconds, his fondness for bitonality, the humorous element of sheer music–making, and especially Riis-ager’s own distinctive attitude to orchestral setting. This whole development can be heard in works like the Overture to Erasmus Montanus and Songs to texts by Sigbjørn Obstfelder, both from 1920, Suite dionysiaque from 1924, as well as Variations on a Theme of Mezangeau and T-Doxc. Poème mécanique, both from 1926. The last of these works, subtitled Jabiru, mechanical poetry, is a musical portrait of what was then a brand-new Japanese aeroplane type. The work is quite in the spirit of the ‘machine music’ of the period and as such a fine example of the young composer’s international orientation and will to experiment. By 1928 Riisager had begun his collaboration with the ballet at the Royal Theatre; that year he composed the music for Elna Jørgen-Jensen’s ballet Benzin (Petrol) with stage designs by Robert Storm Petersen. The premiere of this work, as far its reception was concerned, must be described as a resounding flop, and when it appeared in 1930 it only managed a total of three performances. At the end of the 1930s Riisager resumed his work as a ballet composer, supplying the music for Børge Ralov’s Hans Christian Andersen ballet Tolv med Posten (Twelve by the Mail). But this was not premiered at the Royal Theatre until 1942, incidentally together with Harald Lander’s Slaraf-fenland (Fool’s Paradise) and Qarrtsiluni – also with Riisager’s music. Although he composed a number of significant works in the thirties and forties, it was very much these ballet scores that established Riisager’s name with the general public as one of the leading composers of his generation. And for the next few years, too, ballet music was to be Riisager’s most prominent field of work. In 1945 he completed the music for Lander’s Fugl Fønix (The Phoenix), and in 1947 he reworked and scored a selection of Carl Czerny’s piano etudes into his and Harald Lander’s ballet Etude (later called Etudes). With this work in particular Riisager won international recognition, and although there are precedents for the use of orchestrated piano pieces as ballet music (for example Ottorino Respighi’s La Boutique fantasque (1919)), the combination of the piano etudes and the technical progression of the dance steps has a special dimension which is precisely the point of the work as a whole. In the 1920s Riisager had been one of the most active champions of the performance of contemporary music in Copenhagen, and was thus one of the founders of Unge Tonekunst-neres Selskab (the Society of Young Composers) (chairman 1922-24) and a member of the judging committee of the society Foreningen ‘Ny Musik’. Finally, in 1937, he became the chairman of Dansk Komponistforening (the Association of Danish Composers) – a post he kept for 25 years. Riisager’s great initiative and his talent for identifying and solving problems made him an obvious candidate for membership of innumerable society boards, committees, councils etc. not only in Denmark but also outside the country. And as we have seen, alongside these activities he kept up his work at the Ministry until 1950, when he retired as Head of Department. But Riisager refused to rest on his laurels as a senior citizen, so in 1956 he took up the challenge of becoming director of the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen. This is quite thought-provoking, since he had never himself attended the institution. And in fact as director he devoted himself to the administrative work and never taught in the eleven years he was at the Academy. After finishing Etude Riisager went to work on his only opera, the one-acter Susanne, to a libretto by his close friend Mogens Lorentzen. It was no great success: it only saw 17 performances, and when it was revived in 1957 – for Riisager’s sixtieth birthday – it was only on stage six times. Several major works now followed, including a concerto for the violin virtuoso Wandy Tworek, but as before it was to be ballet music that brought Riisager success. In the fifties his compositions included two ballet scores for the Swedish choreographer Birgit Cullberg: Månerenen (Moon Reindeer), premiered at the Royal Theatre in 1957, and Fruen fra Havet (The Lady From The Sea), first performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in 1960. Worth singling out from Riisager’s last ten years are Sangen om det uendelige (The Song of the Infinite) from 1964 to a text by the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, and the orchestral works Trittico from 1971 and To Apollo, composed in 1972. Knudåge Riisager combined a full-time job as a civil servant with extensive activities as a composer, and besides making an important contribution to many of the organizations of the musical world he was an extremely prolific writer; in his younger years especially in music reviews and articles, but later as an essayist, as is evident for example from the fine books Tanker i tiden (Thoughts in Time) (1952) and Det usynlige mønster (The Invisible Pattern) (1957). In these lucidly formulated literary works, too, we experience Knudåge Riisager as a cultural personality with thorough training in the humanities and a broad cultural perspective. As a composer Riisager had no pupils or successors, but with his unmistakable personal tone he succeeded in enriching Danish music with an extra dimension of spirituality and pithiness.   The Works The four works recorded on this CD were composed within a period of just seven years. Yet they show a considerable stylistic range, from the rigorous, archaizing Baroque feel of the Concertino, through the illustrative use of effects in the Darduse music, to what is primarily popular burlesque in the two ballet scores Slaraffenland and Tolv med Posten. The Concertino per tromba e strumenti ad arco op. 29 was written in 1933 and dedicated to the organist and composer Aksel Agerby, who was chairman from 1930 until his death in 1942 of the young composers’ organization Det Unge Tonekunstnerselskab (DUT) and as such a spur to the performance of new Danish music. The work was premiered at the DUT concert in the Thor-vald-sen Museum on 2nd March 1934 by the society’s orchestra conducted by Johan Bentzon, with Arvid Degn as soloist. The concertino reached the programmes of three music festivals in the thirties: the Seventh Nordic Music Festival in Oslo in 1934, and the ISCM festivals in London in 1938 and Warsaw in 1939; in the first and last of these Arvid Degn was the soloist and Thomas Jensen conducted. The stylistic change towards the Neo-Baroque that can be heard in the Concertino may have been prompted by Riisager’s study trip to Germany in 1932. In 1931 he had been awarded the grant Det Anckerske Legat and chose to spend the money on a study trip to Leipzig, where he studied in 1932 with the highly respected theory teacher and composer Hermann Grabner, a pupil of Reger. This surprising step for Riisager, with his decidedly ‘Gallic temperament’, can presumably only be interpreted in terms of a wish to be better informed about this important musical tradition. The almost completely consistent Neo-Baroque writing of the Concertino for trumpet and string orchestra may have grown out of his counterpoint training with Grabner. The concertino, in keeping with the Neo-Baroque style, is dominated by simple themes and a schematic form. In 1937 the Danish author Johannes V. Jensen’s fairytale comedy Darduse was premiered at the Royal Theatre. The piece, which was subtitled Brylluppet i Peking (The Wedding in Peking), was not exactly rich in dramatic tension, so to some extent it was left to Knudåge Riisager and the director Svend Methling to provide the actual dynamics of the action. Riisager composed a large body of theatre music, including Darduse’s song “Lev vel, I gamle Guder” (Farewell, ye ancient gods) and many instrumental pieces. The comedy has several dance scenes which were choreographed by Harald Lander and Leif Ørnberg. Riisager’s impactful, evocative music uses a number of special effects – for example in the piece “Støvstormen” (The Dust Storm), where the choir is used to almost instrumental effect with glissandi and darkly or brightly coloured textless outbursts. The orchestral suite that Riisager put together for publication – and which is recorded here – includes “De frie Fødders Dans” (The Dance of the Free Feet), which choreographically expresses the point of the piece: the triumph of the new age over the old, rigid Chinese society. Riisager wrote his orchestral suite Slaraffen-land (Fool’s Paradise) in 1936 and dedicated it to the wholesaler Alfred Olsen, whose property Egebækgaard near Nærum formed a regular setting for artistic gatherings where Riisager was a frequent guest. The suite had its first performance at a concert in the Copenhagen Music Society on 25th November 1936, under the baton of Emil Reesen. Even then the thought occurred to Riisager that the suite could be used as a basis for dance, but it was 1940 before the ballet Slaraffenland was completed. Riisager had drawn inspiration for the action from, among other things, a painting by Pieter Brueghel, which he had seen at the Alte Pina-kothek in Munich. The text was written by Kjeld Abell, and it is about “the promised land where roasted pigeons fly around in the air with knives and forks in their backs, and the streets are paved with marzipan and chocolate.” The choreography was entrusted to Harald Lander, with whom Riisager had begun collaborating in the mid-thirties in connection with Darduse – in fact they had worked together as early as 1928, on the finale of the next year’s Poul Henningsen revue in the Riddersalen Theatre. For use in the ballet the existing Slaraffenland suite was supplemented with a number of movements, and for concert use there are two suites: No. 1, which is the same as the original eight-movement suite; and No. 2, which consists of six movements from the newly composed music. Slaraffenland had its world premiere in a production at the Royal Theatre in 21st February 1942, where Qarrtsiluni and Tolv med Posten – all with the painter Svend Johansen’s imaginative stage designs – were also launched. Tolv med Posten had choreography by Børge Ralov. The text, which is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “Twelve by the Mail” of 1860, had been adapted by Riisager himself. The tale describes a New Year’s Eve on which twelve characters get off a mail coach, each representing one of the months. It is the story of these twelve people which makes up the tale, and the ballet music uses the characters in twelve corresponding movements. Although the musical disposition of both Sla-raf–fenland and Tolv med Posten is in several respects influenced by Riisager’s models, for example Stravinsky and Prokofiev, these two ballets must still be characterized as well nigh the most Danish-sounding music Riisager ever composed. This impression is due not least to the many allusions to Danish children’s songs and singing games, just as the melodic and rhythmic ambience often recalls the atmosphere of the Tivoli Gardens and H.C. Lumbye. The premiere of the three ballets in the darkest period of the German Occupation was a huge success, and was followed by a large number of performances.

Knudåge Riisager
Slaraffenland (Fools’ Paradise) Suite No. 1 for orchestra, Op. 33/1  1. Forspil (Prelude) 2:14
2. Rejsen derhen (Departure) 0:59
3. Prinsesse Sukkergodt (Princess Sweets) 2:40
4. Dovendiddrikkernes polka (Lazybones Polka) 1:53
5. Vagtparaden (The Royal Guardsmen) 1:09
6. Likørfontænerne (Fountains of Liqueurs) 2:17
7. Ædedolkenes procession (Procession of Gluttons) 3:48
8. Punktum finale (Finale) 1:29

Slaraffenland (Fools’ Paradise) Suite No. 2 for orchestra, Op. 33/2
9. Vuggesang (Lullaby) 1:44
10. Gyngestolen (The Rocking Chair) 1:05
11. De tre Musketerer (The Three Musketeers) 1:20
12. Springedans (Leaping Dance) 1:24
13. Pas de deux 4:07
14. Retternes dans (Dance of the Dishes) 4:23

Tolv med posten (Twelve by the Mail), Op. 37
15. January 2:37
16. April 1:58
17. May 1:30
18. July 2:04
19. August 1:33
20. October 1:45

Concertino for trumpet & string orchestra, Op. 29
21. Allegro 4:33
22. Andantino semplice 3:25
23. Rondo vivace 3:21

Darduse, Op. 32
24. Slummersymfoni (Slumber Symphony) 3:45
25. Hanekampen (Cock Fight) 1:53
26. Støvstormen (Dust Storm) 4:46
27. Kvindernes dans (Women’s Dance) 2:15
28. Bryllupsprocessionen (Wedding Procession) 3:23
29. Die frie fødders dans (Dance of the Free Feet) 3:00


“One of the loveliest ballet selections I’ve had the pleasure to hear. And the orchestra plays with great savoir faire.” – Audiophile Audition *****
“This reissue gives new life to a delightful disc that anyone who loves, say, Ravel and early 20th century French ballet will find absolutely irresistible.” – Classics Today

“Riisager’s orchestrations are uniformly brilliant, his lovely melodies charming or nostalgic.” – Fanfare

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