Culture in the EU (7): Denmark

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Denmark

Much read in Denmark is the tragic writer Tove Ditlevsen (1917-1976), whose work drew heavily upon an unhappy and materially and emotionally deprived life, culminating in her suicide in 1976. Here is a detailed article on Ditlevsen’s life and work, and here is an article on Ditlevsen’s 1967 autobiographical books Barndom/Childhood and Ungdom/Youth, which were translated into English as Early Spring.

Ditlevsen - Early Spring

 

I hope very much to be able soon to read Ditlevsen’s novel Ansigterne/The Faces (1968), about a disturbed children’s author with suicidal urges, tormented by her housekeeper and her family, haunted by hallucinatory visions, but ultimately finding her way towards peace through her art . Reviews of this can be read here  and here.

One of Ditlevsen’s best-known poems is ‘Blinkende Lygter’/’Flickering Lights’, a translation of which I have copied from here:

In childhood’s long night, both dim and dark
there are small twinkling lights that burn bright
like traces memory’s left there as sparks
while the heart freezes so and takes flight.

It’s here that your pathless love shines clear,
once lost in nights misty and chill,
and all that you’ve since loved and suffered most dear
has boundaries set by the will.

The first-felt sorrow’s a frail, thin light
like a tear that quivers in space;
that sorrow alone your heart will hold tight
when all others time has effaced.

High as a star on a night as in spring
your childhood’s first happiness burns,
you sought for it later, only to cling
to late-summer shadow’s swift turns.

Your faith you took with you to great extremes,
the first and the last to your cost,
in the dark now somewhere it surely gleams,
and there is no more to be lost.

And someone or other draws near to you but
will never quite manage to know you,
for beneath those small lights your life has been put,
since when everyone must forego you.

One of the most profilic of modern Danish writers was Klaus Rifbjerg (b. 1931), whose output included over 100 novels and poetry, short stories, plays, etc, often involving formal and linguistic experimentation. His novel Anna (jeg) Anna/Anna (I) Anna, which was translated in 1982, is the story of a diplomat’s wife suffering neurosis, who elopes with a hippie to a new Bohemian world, but discovers the fragmented and multifaceted nature of her character in the process. His best-known novel, Den kroniske uskyld/Terminal Innocence (1958) has recently appeared in English translation. An enticing review can be read here.

 

Rifbjerg - Terminal Innocence

 

Poet Inger Christensen (1935-2009) explored formal devices, some drawn from mathematics, to defamiliarise language and reveal other underlying patterns. This obituary gives more detail about her work.

Inger Christensen, from alphabet (1981), (as translated here)

1

apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist

2

bracken exists; and blackberries, blackberries;
bromine exists; and hydrogen, hydrogen

3

cicadas exist; chicory, chromium,
citrus trees; cicadas exist;
cicadas, cedars, cypresses, the cerebellum

4

doves exist, dreamers, and dolls;
killers exist, and doves, and doves;
haze, dioxin, and days; days
exist, days and death; and poems
exist; poems, days, death

5

early fall exists; aftertaste, afterthought;
seclusion and angels exist;
widows and elk exist; every
detail exists; memory, memory’s light;
afterglow exists; oaks, elms,
junipers, sameness, loneliness exist;
eider ducks, spiders, and vinegar
exist, and the future, the future

Christensen - Alphabet
Inger Christensen, from Letter in April: IV (as translated here)
Already on the street
with our money clutched
in our hands,
and the world is a white laundry,
where we are boiled and wrung
and dried and ironed,
and smoothed down
and forsaken
we sweep
back
in children’s dreams
of chains and jail
and the heartfelt sigh
of liberation
and in the spark trails
of feelings
the fire eater
the cigarette swallower
come
to light
and we pay
and distance ourselves
with laughter.

 

Two internationally well-known elder Danish composers, both somewhat aloof from the wider Western avant-garde, but no less original, are Ib Nørholm (b. 1931) and Per Nørgård (b. 1932). Little of Nørholm’s early work, which dabbled with serialism, graphic notation, aleatory devices, and the use of mecahnical toys, is available to listen to online, but one can read about it here. From the late 1960s, Nørholm would become associated with the so-called ‘New Simplicity’, in opposition to certain manifestations of the avant-garde, and gradualy moved back towards a form of Nordic expression with roots in the earlier symphonic tradition, whilst maintaining a degree of stylistic pluralism, as in the Third Symphony, A Day’s Nightmare (1973).

The trajectory of Nørgård’s compositional development was not dissimilar. Coming from an early influence of Sibelius, with whom he corresponded. His particular combination of microtonally-inflected exploration of natural harmonics, and textural composition, have led to his being cited as a forerunner of musique spectrale. These qualities can be heard in his Iris (1966-1967):

In his symphonic work, Nørgård demonstrated the possibility of some reconciliation of his earlier compositional achievements with the symphonic tradition to which he was earlier drawn, as demonstrated in the Third Symphony of 1975.

 

A composer associated with considerably more radical tendencies was Henning Christiansen (1932-2008) who was associated with the Fluxus movement and worked closely with Joseph Beuys. Here is a detailed article on his work, while a range of Christiansen’s work can be listened to here. Here is the score of his Audience Eve (1964), published in the Fluxus Performance Workbook:

Audience Eve

In the evening, during the performances:
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
continue through the whole program.
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
If possible, then fade the light in and out,
as beautiful as possible. [like the sea]

Here is a selection of Christiansen’s remarkable and disorienting work:

Henning Christiansen, Op. 50: Requiem of Art (1970)

 

Henning Christiansen/Bjørm Nørgaard, The Horse Sacrifice (1970)

 

Henning Christiansen, Symphony Natura Op. 170 (1985)

 

Henning Christiansen, Abschiedssymphonie, Op. 177 (1988)

A leading figure in electronic music in Denmark was Else Marie Pade (1924-2016), a former resistance fighter who worked with Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and also visited Darmstadt on various occasions.

 

Gunner Møller Pedersen (b. 1943) is best known a film composer, but also wrote a number of self-standing electronic works.

 

 

Of the generation born after the war, Hans Abrahamsen (b. 1950) , a student of  Nørgård and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (b. 1932), was also viewed as part of the ‘new Simplicity’, in reaction against the avant-garde, though as with German composer Wolfgang Rihm, associated with the same movement, time has revealed this work to entail a modification and shift of emphasis within a broad European modernist tradition rather than a clean break as one might find amongst Anglo-American neo-romantics, say.

 

 

Hans Abrahamsen, Schnee (2006-2008)

But I cannot recommend highly enough that all listen to the extraordinarily beautiful and intimate music of Bent Sørensen (b. 1958). Here are several contrasting works.

 

Bent Sørensen, The Shadows of Silence (2003-2004)

Bent Sørensen, Serenidad (2011-2012).

 

And here is a trailer for a selection of Sørensen’s vocal works.

 

An important younger figure is composer and sound artist Sandra Boss (b. 1984), whose website is here. Here is a track from her 2015 album Perfekt Termisk.

Here is a sample from her sound installation En Håndfuld Støv (Copenhagen, 2014).

A range of Boss’s other work can be heard here.

One of the leading Danish free jazz musicians was saxophonist John Martin Tchicai (1936-2012), who worked with John Coltrane and Albert Ayler.

 

And the following are a range of varied Danish bands and other artists:

The classic Danish film director Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968) continued to make films after the war up until his death, maintaining his austere, stark and redemptive visions, as in Ordet/The Word (1955):

 

 

Otherwise, though, post-war Danish cinema was mostly dominated by light comedies and from the 1960s films rather obsessed with sex , such as Annelise Meineche’s Sytten (1965).

 

Lars von Trier (b. 1956) is best known for his work with the Dogme 95 collective and international hits such as Breaking the Waves (1996), Dancer in the Dark (2000) and Dogville (2003), but already had a profound effect upon the Danish film scene from the early 1980s, as with his stylised and world-weary crime film The Element of Crime (1984), made soon after graduating from the National Film School of Denmark. This can be viewed complete here.

 

Followed by Gabriel Axel’s Babettes gæstebud/Babette’s Feast (1987)

A group of film directors came together in Copenhagen in spring 1995 to issue their new Dogme manifesto, entitled ‘The Vow of Chastity’, whereby directors would swear to adhere to ten principles, mostly avoiding any type of overtly stylised cinema, in favour of a new type of exaggerated realism (which became every bit as much of a ‘style’ as any other), concentrating on personal and emotional matters. The first film of the Dogme movement was Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen/The Celebration (1998), a distressing story of a family reunion for a father’s 60th birthday, at which his son reveals how he used to sexually abuse both him and his sister when young.

 

A full list of the 35 Dogme films, some made in Italy, the USA, Chile and elsewhere as well as Denmark, can be viewed here.

As regards animation, the 1988 Den offentlige røst/The Public Voice  by Lejf Marcussen (1936-2013) is something of a classic.

 

One of the more renowned Danish painters, Richard Mortensen (1910-1993), drew upon the work of Kandinsky and Malevich:

Mortensen 1

Richard Mortensen, Garches-Suresnes (1947)

Mortensen 2

Richard Mortensen, Opus 11 (1980-81)

More individual was Asger Jorn (1914-1973), a detailed article on whose work can be read here (see also this article). Jorn had been involved with the communist resistance during the occupation of Denmark and continued into the Danish Communist Party, though he soon broke with them, finding the experience constraining. Jorn met Guy Debord in 1954, and from 1957 to 1961 was associated with the Situationist International.

 

Jorn - Stalingrad

Asger Jorn, Stalingrad, No-Man’s Land, or the Mad Laughter of Courage (1957-1960, 1967, 1972).

Jorn - The Disquieting Duckling

Asger Jorn, The Disquieting Duckling (1959)

John and Debord

Asger Jorn and Guy Debord, Fin de Copenhagen (1957)

A quite different type of approach is found in the work of Merete Barker (b. 1944), whose paintings draw upon sketches and drawings from many travels, and also produced computer-generated data landscapes. Her website is here; see in particular some essays by Barker and others on her work here.

Barker - My own Town

Meret Barker, Byen under, byen over/My Own Town (1989)

 

Barker - The Landscape Underground

Merete Barker, The Landscape Underground (2012)

The Danish artist Michael Elmgreen (b. 1961) works together with Norwegian artist Ingar Dragset to produce defamiliarising artworks employing or resembling familiar objects, as a form of social critique. Their website is here

Elmgreen and Dragset - Powerless Structures, Fig. 11

Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures, Fig. 11 (1997) 

 

Elmgreen and Dragset - The Future

Elmgreen & Dragset, The Future (2014)

Sculptor Jens Galschiøt (b. 1954) is most renowned for his Pillar of Shame project, erecting sculptures as types of guerilla actions, to protest against violations of human rights.

Pillar of Shame - Hong Kong

Jens Galschiøt, Pillar of Shame, Hong Kong (1996) – painted red in 2008 by democracy activists.

Still the most renowned of modern Danish architects is high modernist functionalist Arno Jacobsen (1902-1971):

 

Rodovoer Town Hall

Arno Jacobsen, Rødovre Town Hall (1952-1956)

 

St Catherine's College, Oxford

Arno Jacobsen, St Catherine’s College, Oxford (1964-1966)

Later architects have applied many similar modernist principles but in more eclectic and adventurous fashion.

P1070590

Bjarke Ingels/PLOT, VM Houses, Copenhagen (2005)

 

Royal Danish Playhouse

Lundgaard & Tranberg, Royal Danish Playhouse (2008)

Furniture design also has a remarkable modernist tradition in Denmark, not least through the work of Hans Jørgensen Wegner (1914-2007) and Jacobsen.

 

Wegner Shell Chair

Wegner Shell Chair

 

Jacobsen Shell Sofa

Jacobsen Shell Sofa

Physical theatre is a well-established art in Denmark, following the founding of The Commedia School in 1978. The group Neander was founded in 1998 by Kristján Ingimarsson, and have won world renown.

 

A more recent physical theatre company is the Copenhagen-based Out of Balanz, founded in 2006 whose website is here. Stressing themes of community in the face of consumerism or death, here is a trailer for their work Next Door.

 

And here is a page on their Georgette va au Supermarche (2007), about a young woman’s odyssey into the supermarket.

The largest modern dance company in Denmark is the Danish Dance Theatre, founded in 1981. Here are a few clips from their work:

A different approach is to be found in the work of the Aarhus company Granhøj Dans, founded after the meeting in 1989 of dance Palle Granhøj and set designer Per Victor, who developed the ‘Obstruction Technique’, in which one dancer is physically held back by another, but still has to carry out as much of their intended phrase as possible, in the process creating a new phrase.

 

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2 Comments on “Culture in the EU (7): Denmark”

  1. […] Culture in the EU (7): Denmark (9/6/16) […]


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