Per Nørgård

léonie sonning music prize 1996

The Danish composer Per Nørgård received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 300,000 Danish kroner at a concert on 5 May 1996 at the Radio House Concert Hall in Copenhagen.

The prize was given by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s Head of Music Steen Frederiksen, a member of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation’s board, who made the following comments:

‘You believe that every human being can have their perception and focus altered. And in your music you want to hold the listener in a state of openness for which there are no words of description – an infinite, diverse world in which music can affect us as art, allowing us to see our lives and the world in a new light, making our consciousness grow, just like your music does.’


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize 1996, of 300,000 Danish kroner, is awarded to the composer Per Nørgård in recognition of his continuation of the best of Danish cultural heritage in a way that sharpens our sense of sound and time, stimulates our curiosity and expands our awareness of life as a whole. His music as a lasting place in the canon and, based on a universal view of humanity, it has resonated with an audience far beyond Denmark.’

In his speech of thanks, Per Nørgård made the following comments:

‘Inside me I feel the infamous little Danish “supporting character” who rises up and whispers reluctantly “It’s all wrong, it’s too much – do you not think you’ve got the wrong guy? Lord god, Stravinsky first got this prize – what are you thinking of?” But then fortunately there is a Contrary Mary inside me who gets up and says “most excellent! Thank you! Fine! Lovely! It is really nice that the Sonning Prize now finally goes to a composer in Scandinavia.” And I think this shows in a very good light the fact that in recent years Danish music has gained increasing resonance internationally. Something quite unique has happened between the Danish composers and the international audience: it is considered something of a miracle that there are so many individual, highly original composers in the small country that is Denmark.’

You can listen to both speeches here (in Danish):

The programme

Per Nørgård Concerto in Two Tempi for Piano and Orchestra (premiere, commissioned by the Léoning Sonning Music Foundation)

Per Nørgård Wie ein Kind, for mixed choir

Per Nørgård Symphony No 3, for choir and orchestra


Per Salo, piano

Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Radio Choir

Leif Segerstam and Stefan Parkman, conductors

In connection with the prize concert, a reception in Per Nørgård’s honour was held at Copenhagen City Hall on 2 May 1996. With the support of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation, two books were published to coincide with the prize concert.

Anders Beyer (ed.): The Music of Per Nørgård. Fourteen Interpretative Essays (Scholar Press).

Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen: Reality Always Tells Me More Stories: On Per Nørgård’s Worldview and Music (Den Fynske Musikkonservatorium)

The daily press wrote, among other things:

A well-planned programme that showed why Per Nørgård deserves the Sonning Prize. Specifically, for his ability and willingness to create coherence and gain new musical ground which also gives the listener the opportunity to move musical boundaries.

(Thomas Michelsen, Information 7 May 1996)

On Sunday Per Nørgård received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize for his “life’s work”. But the prize committee is well aware that Nørgård’s creative fire burns more vigorously than ever, and had for the occasion commissioned a piano concerto, the composer’s first. It testifies to Nørgård’s current thinking but is also speaks to something else that is on the way. The ages are intertwined in Nørgård’s music, both historically and personally. The ideas the composer has worked through in previous scores are constantly tested in new ones. This is the case in the new piano concerto, whose title “Concerto in Two Tempi” emphasizes that the piece is certainly about time – about both the perception of time in the work’s 30-minute span but also in the details, the shift in the sense of time almost from beat to beat. The result, for the audience, is astonishing and far from unambiguous.

(Steen Chr. Steensen, Berlingkske Tidende, 7 May 1996)

Per Salo dispatched the new piano concerto, “Concerto in Two Tempi”, that Per Nørgård dedicated to him. The execution was masterful, fizzing with energy and shining with insight. The piano part was an oasis of clarity in a marvelous web of events. It was not easy for the orchestra to clarify the various threads, but it went brilliantly under Leif Segerstam’s experienced direction. […] And then the evening ended with Nørgård’s Symphony No 3 with orchestra and choir, a score dating from the 1970s. A monumental work, where the sound variations range from the almost inaudible to a huge canvass pinned down with a tuba underneath and with a choir floating on top. There was a fervent glow at the heart of the sound. This was a generous party evening that sent us home with the sense of having touched the essence of Nørgård’s creativity.

(Teresa Waskowska, Politiken, 7 May 1996)

Please share this post

Other recipients