Haack [Haacke, Haak, Haake], Friedrich Wilhelm

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Holten, Bo (Halvdan)

(b Rudkøbing, 22 Oct 1948). Danish composer and conductor. He studied musicology at Copenhagen University (from 1967) and the bassoon at the Royal Danish Conservatory. While working as a music critic on Weekendavisen Berlingske aften (1975–82) and as the editor of the Dansk Musiktidsskrift (1976–9), Holten began to establish himself as a composer and conductor. In 1979 he became the founding conductor and artistic director of Ars Nova, a vocal group specializing in Renaissance vocal polyphony and new music. Under his direction, the ensemble achieved international recognition, and several of their recordings won international prizes. In 1996 he left Ars Nova and set up a new vocal ensemble, Musica Ficta, while retaining the post (held since 1991) of permanent guest conductor of the BBC Singers. As a choral conductor, Holten has aimed to combine the bright Nordic choral sound with the textural transparency suited to the performance of Renaissance polyphony. Over the years he has been responsible for the first modern performances of a number of important Renaissance works. He has also been closely involved with new music as an orchestral conductor, having directed first performances of more than 160 works.

Holten’s own works number over 100, including five solo concertos, two symphonies, two operas, chamber music, more than 20 choral works, song cycles and film scores. Holten is a strong advocate of tonality: his rejection of Darmstadt modernism brought him into conflict for a time with the Danish critical establishment. His music reflects his close contact with singers, instrumentalists and the public, and draws on diverse sources of inspiration. A few early works are influenced by minimalism, while others (e.g. Caccia and The Bond) make systematic use of six-note series. 20th-century composers such as Ives, Grainger, Ravel and Mahler have been an important inspiration, as has the linear and thematic independence of the vocal polyphonic repertory he conducts. Among his most significant works are the Symphony (1981–2), in which serial techniques are applied to tonal material, the Sinfonia concertante (1986), the Oboe Concerto (1992–5) with its sustained use of passacaglia technique, and the large 12-voice choral work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1992–5). Both as a conductor and a composer, he has sought to forge links between art music and other traditions (e.g. in Plainsongs (1989) for symphony orchestra with improvising trumpet soloist). Holten’s wide-ranging activities have also included composition teaching at the Göteborg School of Music (1985–9) and for the Danish Jazz Circle (1995–7). He has served on the National Music Council (1979–83) and as chairman of the music committee of the Arts Fund.


(selective list)

Op: The Bond (1, after K. Blixen: The Ring), 1978–9

Orch: Caccia, 1979; Sinfonia concertante, vc, orch, 1985–6; Conc., cl, orch, 1987–90; Plainsongs, tpt, orch, 1989; Conc., ob, orch, 1992–5

Choral: Tallis variationer, 7-pt mixed chorus, 9 solo str, 1976; Sym. (W. Blake), S, Bar, SATB, tpt, vc, large orch, 1981–2; The Clod and the Pebble (Blake), 2 mixed choruses, 3 cl, perc, 1982; 5 motetter (N.F.S. Grundtvig), SATB, org, 1983; Nordisk suite, 5-pt mixed chorus (C. Winther, nordic folk songs), 1989; Alt har sin tid [A Time for Everything] (O. Dalgaard), 8-pt mixed chorus, 1990; Regn, rusk og rosenbusk [Rain, Rush and Rosy Bush] (H.C. Andersen), 4 solo vv, 8-pt mixed chorus, 1991; The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Blake), 12-pt mixed chorus, 1992–5; Sønderjysk sommer symfoni [Southern Jutlandic Summer Sym.] (J. Rosendal), S, Bar, chorus, orch, 1993; Visdom og galskab [Wisdom and Folly] (Bible: Old Testament), S, 6-pt mixed chorus, 1993; Triumf att finnas till … [The Triumph of Living] (E. Södergran), 8-pt mixed chorus, 1995; Imperia (S. Claussen), S, B-Bar, double chorus, orch, 1997

Solo vocal: Sonate, S, vn, vc, 1976; The Garden of Love (Blake, R. Burns), T, ob, cl, str qt, 1979; Flammen og kullet [The Flame and the Coal] (Claussen), Mez/Bar, fl, vn, va, vc, pf, 1983; Pastell-Bilder (E. Mörike, F. Nietzsche, H. Heine, H. Hesse, anon.), 1v, fl, cl, gui, perc, 1985–6; Tusmørkets viser [Songs of Dusk] (Claussen), S, bn, orch, 1987; Roser kysser vin [Roses Kisses Wine] (6 songs, J. Baggesen), S, Bar, cl, pf, 1997

Chbr and solo inst: Venetiansk rapsodi, 14 insts, 1974; Sarabande à 3, ob, vc, cimb, 1984; Valsevaerk I, vib, 1984; La marcia alla follia, fl, vn, va, vc, pf, 1990

Film scores: Zappa (dir. B. August), ob, eng hn, hn, str, 1983; Forbrydelsens element [The Element of Crime] (dir. L. von Trier), SATB, chbr orch, 1984; Tro, håb og kaerlighed [Faith, Hope and Charity] (dir. B. August), SATB, ob, str orch, 1984

Principal publisher: Hansen


‘Tonalitetens nødvendighed’ [The necessity of tonality], Weekendavisen Berlingske aften (11–17 Dec 1981)

‘Original eller bearbejdelse – hvad er bedst?’ [Original or adaptation – which is best?], Weekendavisen Berlingske aften (7–15 April 1982)


CC (R. Johnson)

I. Hansen: ‘Portraet af Bo Holten’ [Portrait of Bo Holten], DMt, lv (1980–81), 61–75

J.T. Callesen: Musikalsk semiotik i Bo Holtens vaerker [Musical semiotics in Bo Holten’s works] (diss., U. of Aarhus, 1985)

A.B. Christensen: ‘Tonaliteten: det er musikkens farver’ [Tonality: the colours of music], DMt, lx (1985–6), 270–76 [interview, incl. list of works]

A.B. Christensen: ‘Bo Holtens “Symfoni” (1981/82): en analyse’, DMt, lx (1985–6), 277–85

H. Munksgaard Petersen: Bo Holten: The Music and Life of a Living Danish Composer (diss., U. of Nottingham, 1994)

H. Munksgaard Petersen: Bo Holten’s Film Music (diss., U. of York, 1995)


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