Ole Schmidt

1928 - 2010



Outside of Denmark, Ole Schmidt is probably best known for his recordings of Carl Nielsen’s six symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra from 1974 and his work as chief conductor of the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra 1978-84.

In his homeland, he was an important cultural personality, whose outspoken nature brought him both fame and infamy. His work with introducing young musicians to the classical repertoire made a large part of his considerable contribution to Danish musical life.

Alongside all this, Schmidt found the time to write more than 200 works, including a series of instrumental concertos, string quartets, music for wind instruments – not to mention his accompanying music to Carl Th. Dreyer’s silent film The Passion of Joanne of Arc. These works are characterized by a high level of craftsmanship and a wide range of influences.
Critical Acclaim
...Schmidt followed his own unconventional,maverick star, maintaining a reputation as a champion of the unfamiliar – Guy Rickards, The Guardian

...Schmidt acquired (…) a reputation as something of a maverick who was prepared to tackle unconventional works – and often in an unconventional manner – The Telegraph


The conductor Ole Schmidt is known, indeed famous, far beyond the borders of his native land. As a pupil of among others Sergiu Celibidache and Raphael Kubelik Ole Schmidt entered the world stage at an early age as a conductor. He soon won prestigious posts as chief conductor of the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra and the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, and he quickly became a sought-after guest conductor both in and outside Denmark. Especially in England and North America he achieved a status as a "champion of the unfamiliar”. Ole Schmidt’s pioneering work for Carl Nielsen’s music – not least his recording of Nielsen’s six symphonies with the London Sym­phony Orchestra from 1974 – cannot be overestimated. The same goes for his work for the music of Rued Langgaard, Niels Viggo Bentzon and Havergal Brian. Music that was either slightly or extremely far from the musical mainstream was often close to Ole Schmidt’s heart.

As a cultural personality of international format and outlook Ole Schmidt often adopted the role of the castigator in Danish cultural life. Throughout his career, his temperamental and outspoken nature brought him both cult status and many opponents in Danish musical life. To the Danish esta­blishment he could appear both arrogant and offensive, which helped to ensure that he never achieved the position in Danish musical life that his great musical talent deserved. Instead Ole Schmidt devoted his energy to introducing amateur musicians and young people to the classics or orchestral music. Thanks to Ole Schmidt’s uncompromising communication and music-making many young musicians have had their musical perspectives expanded appreciably.

The composer Ole Schmidt is often rather overshadowed by the conductor and cultural figure. Throughout his career, however, his oeuvre grew to more than 200 works, all typified by crafts­manship and breadth of outlook. Through his work and his marriage to the ballet dancer and choreographer Lizzie Rohde, Ole Schmidt developed a close relationship with the theatre and stage music in particular. Opera, musical, ballet and music for TV and film played a central role in his oeuvre – the successful accompanying music to Carl Th. Dreyer’s silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc is played especially often.

Collaborations with other distinctive, original musical personalities – for example the accordionist Mogens Ellegaard – also led to a number of instrumental concerts for more unusual solo instru­ments like the accordion, tuba and French horn. Alongside the concertos, the string quartet was probably the classical form that appealed most strongly to Ole Schmidt. Over half a century – from 1954 to 2005 – he thus produced a whole ten string quartets, all of which feature centrally in the repertoire.

Hjarne Fessel 2014



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