Vagn Holmboe studied composition with Knud Jeppesen and Finn Høffding at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. He undertook further studies in Berlin and in Romania, where the folk music was a great inspiration to him.
Holmboe himself taught at the Academy in Copenhagen from 1950 (from 1956 as a professor) but he resigned in 1965 in order to devote himself to his composition work.
As a composer Holmboe avoids laborlousness and 'originality' for originality's sake. Key words are logic, consequence and clarity, which are found for example in Viennese Classical style. Thus the music of Haydn has been a particular source of inspiration.
Of composers from the 20th century Holmboe is particularly influenced by Carl Nielsen and Sibelius, and by Stravinsky and Bartok.
Holmboe has composed in most of the genres of music. Among the works for orchestra the 13 symphonies are particularly noticable. The thirteenth of these (written in 1995) received its world premiere on 1 March 1996 with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra. All the symphonies have currently been recorded on CD by the BIS label.
Holmboe has also composed solo concerti for most of the instruments of the symphony orchestra. Among the chamber works the 20 string quartets take up a central position. Also important are also the great number of works written by Holmboe for mixed chorus a cappella. These include the beautiful series Liber Canticorum.