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Jørgen Jersild

Born: 1913

Died: 2004

Nationality: Danish

Publisher: Edition Wilhelm Hansen

Photo © Dacapo Records


"Music should shine by itself"

Jørgen Jersild was active both as a composer and a music teacher. He was a pupil of the Danish composer Poul Schierbeck and the Frenchman Albert Roussel. His point of departure in tonality and French inspiration can be heard clearly in his breakthrough work Trois Pièces en Concert, and the very often-performed wind quintet Serenade – Playing in the Forest.

His work with choirs and perhaps especially the harp later took Jørgen Jersild’s musical idiom in a more modal direction. This can be heard for example in the quartet Fantasia E Canto Affetuoso or Fantasia for harp.

From the 1970s on Jersild developed a particularly original personal style. This is perhaps most evident in the choral work Il Canto Delle Creature, 15 Piano Pieces for Julie, or the rarely played string quartet.

Both as a teacher and as a cultural figure Jørgen Jersild went to work with curiosity and an open mind. Entrenched positions and fixed opinions had no inherent justification for him. By rethinking and renewing the classic disciplines of sol-fa and ear training Jørgen Jersild thus situated himself centrally in modern music teaching internationally. His textbooks in the two subjects are still widely used today.

On the issue of his attitude to Arnold Schoenberg and atonal music Jersild answered in a interview in 1999: “...I think it’s rather putting the cart before the horse to begin with the theoretical and then make the music. Music should shine by itself. And then maybe sometimes it’s given to a later generation to extract some technical. theoretical ideas from it. I have difficulty following atonal music because I think that the results don’t suggest that it’s a good approach.

Jersild’s statement – and a number of incisive debate articles against the more experimental part of music in the 1960s – are not to be understood as exclusively reactionary. They are rather a view that personality and originality interested him far more than dogma and trends.

Jersild did not only work with choral and chamber music;there was also room for background music for stage and radio plays, films and even a winning song in the Danish Eurovision Song Contest in 1965 in a small but always exclusive and sophisticated musical output.

Hjarne Fessel 2014 
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