Ib Nørholm

1931 - 2019



Ib Nørholm is a Danish composer, born in Søborg in 1931. Alongside Per Nørgård and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, he is regarded as one of the most important composers of his generation. Even by 1949, at the age of 18 he had composed his first chamber opera on a fairy-tale by H.C. Andersen. The following year he began studying with Vagn Holmboe at The Royal Danish Academy of Music. Later on, he became professor of composition at the academy as well as the Funen Academy of Music. Furthermore, he also worked as a music critic at several newspapers.

Nørholm followed the tradition from Carl Nielsen and Vagn Holmboe, as well as new international movements. Through the late 1950s and early 1960s he tested different compositional techniques, ranging from the systematic construction of serialism to freely sketched graphical scores. Later in his career, his works took on a more economic approach that is often characterised by the term 'new simplicity'.   

Nørholm has written thirteen symphonies. They all have an epic-dramatic character which is hinted at in their titles, for instance Symphony no. 3 - Day’s Nightmare (1973). 

Alongside this, he showed a lyrical elegance in a series of works attached to Danish poetry – by Adam Oehlenschläger and Halfdan Rasmussen, to name a few. In these works, the tradition of Danish Romanticism is combined with a rich use of contemporary aesthetic. 

He was awarded the Carl Nielsen Prize in 1971. 

Critical Acclaim
...Ib Nørholm shows humor, grace, passion, and excellent craft – American Record Guide

...Nørholm became one of the leaders of the trend towards ‘new simplicity’ – John Warnaby, Det Virtuelle Musikbibliotek


Ib Nørholm is a quite central figure in Danish music after World War II. In the 1960s and 1970s Ib Nørholm played a prominent role as a composer, debater and exponent of a number of experimental musical and artistic movements.

In Ib Nørholm’s works from the period he tries out and demonstrates many different composing techniques and strategies – sometimes almost in parallel: from strict serially structured works to more loosely sketched works in an open-ended graphic notation; from streamlined, effective orch­es­­tral music to experimental music dramas and instrumental theatre.

Ib Nørholm’s stylistic starting point is in the works of Carl Nielsen and Vagn Holmboe. Later came modernist experiments, works written in the spirit of the so-called New Simplicity, and finally works with a characteristic, highly personal stylistic pluralism or eclecticism; music in which fundamentally different idioms can live side by side in one and the same work. 

Not least Ib Nørholm’s 13 symphonies have emerged as a series of unique statements. The sym­phonies have parallels, for example, in the works of Nørholm’s Danish colleague Rued Langgaard, or more evidently in those of his Russian colleague Alfred Schnittke; works which in form, style and content attempt to grasp, express and communicate the times in which the workis written. The expression is an often-dialogical and media-conscious postmodernism.

Alongside the symphonic expression, Ib Nørholm has also cultivated and refined a lyrical mode in a number of works closely related to Danish poetry, often created in collaboration with the Danish poet Poul Borum. In the solo songs with piano Flowers from the flora of Danish poetry and the small drama for singer and guitarist Tavole per Orfeo Nørholm demonstrates a quite special empathy with the language of poetry.

Ib Nørholm, with his colleagues Per Nørgård and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, is one of the three most pace-setting musical personalities in post-war Danish music.

Hjarne Fessel 2014


21st August 2024

DR Vokalensemblet
Carsten Seyer-Hansen
Angars Kirke, Odense, Denmark

22nd August 2024

DR Vokalensemblet
Carsten Seyer-Hansen
Skt. Laurentii Kirke, Kerteminde, Denmark