Finn Mortensen

Finn Mortensen (1922–83) was an exception in Norwegian musical life in that, unlike most of his contemporary colleagues, he never felt the need to use folk music or a so-called ’Norwegian mode of expression’ as the basis for his own style. On the contrary, he was receptive to continental currents ranging from neoclassism and twelve-tone technique to serialism and aleatoric music. He has expressed his own relationship to folk music in the following statement: ”I practically have an aversion to…

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Finn Mortensen (1922–83) was an exception in Norwegian musical life in that, unlike most of his contemporary colleagues, he never felt the need to use folk music or a so-called ’Norwegian mode of expression’ as the basis for his own style. On the contrary, he was receptive to continental currents ranging from neoclassism and twelve-tone technique to serialism and aleatoric music. He has expressed his own relationship to folk music in the following statement: ”I practically have an aversion to nationalism based on a view through ”rose-coloured spectacles.” Mortensen studied music privately with Klaus Egge (vocal polyphony), Thorleif Eken (composition and four-part harmony), Erling Westher (piano), and Reidar Furu (double bass). In 1956 he studied for a period of time with Niels Viggo Bentzon in Copenhagen, and in the summer of 1966, he sat in on classes at Karlheinz Stockhausen´s electronic studio in Cologne. In spite of all this, he considered himself a self-educated composer. For many years Mortensen earned his living as a teacher of music theory and as a music critic. In 1970 he was appointed teacher of composition at the Conservatory of Music in Oslo. When the latter changed over to the Norwegian State Academy of Music in 1973, Mortensen became the country’s first professor of composition. His many honorary posts include the chairmanship of the organization ‘Ny Musikk’ from 1961-64 and 1966-67, and of the Society of Norwegian Composers from 1972-74. Mortensen has made an invaluable contribution to Norwegian music life. It was largely due to his efforts that European avant-gardism obtained a footing in Norway. His open attitude was instrumental in bringing out the stylistic diversity and wealth of talent of younger Norwegian composers. Instead of forcing systems and ready-made solutions upon his own students at the Academy of Music, Mortensen encouraged the distinctive character and expressive potential of each individual. Mortensen´s own production consists almost entirely of instrumental works. In his compositions there is a fascinating balance between a definite constructive attitude towards the material and an intense emotional involvement. His development as a composer can be divided into three periods: Up to 1953 his works can be characterized as neoclassical. In 1956 he broke through the boundaries of tonality, and his subsequent compositions reflect the influence of twelve-tone music and the more recent serialism and aleatoric music. Since the nineteen-seventies he combined features from classical twelve-tone technique and serialism into a characteristic mode of expression which he called ”neo-serialism”. Mortensen´s most well-known works include Wind Quintet op. 4 (1951, ISCM 1956), Symphony No. 1 op. 5 and Sonata for Solo Flute op. 6 (1953), Fantasy and Fugue for Piano op. 13 (1959, ISCM 1960), the orchestral pieces Evolution Op. 23 (1961) and Tone Colours op. 24 (1962), Piano Concerto op. 25 (1963), Sonata for Two Pianos op. 26 (1964), the orchestral works Per Ochestra op. 30 (1967) and Hedda op. 42 (1975), Suite for Wind Quintet op. 36 (1974), and Fantasy for Violin and Ochestra op. 45 (1977). August 2011