Hakon Børresen

1876 - 1954



Hakon Børresen was a Danish composer with Norwegian origins. He studied composition at the Royal Danish Academy of Music with the composer Johan Svendsen. From around the turn of the century, his orchestral works started to garner significant public attention, whilst bringing great focus to his abilities. 

Børresen's style and musical language is primarily late Romantic. His music shows little or no influence from more modern tendencies. Instead, it is inspired by Danish cultural ideas and folk melodies. Børresen's gift for melody is particularly notable as is his skilful and effective orchestration. 

His greatest success was the opera The Royal Guest (1919), which was based on a famous story by the Danish author Henrik Pontoppidan. The opera was widely regarded as the best early 20th Century Danish opera and his chamber music works, though not numerous, received considerable critical praise.

Børresen was an important organizer of several Danish music festivals and served as the president of the Danish Composers’ Society between 1924 and 1949. At the time of his death, he was regarded as one of Denmark's most important musicians.
Critical Acclaim
...His instrumental capability and articulated style make him a leading representative of Danish late romantic music – Den Store Danske


The Danish composer Hakon Børresen belongs, along with the composer Hugo Alfvén, to the circle around the famous Skagen painters P.S.Krøyer and Michael and Anna Ancher. At an early stage Børresen became captivated with the Danish-Norwegian Romantic tradition. With some justification one could say that Børresen’s music is the musical counterpart of the Skagen painters and their preoccupation with the distinctive light at Skagen.Throughout his life Børresen remained faithful to the Nordic and Late Romantic tradition and refused to be borne along by the modern currents at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Hakon Børresen grew up on the fashionable street Bredgade in the centre of Copenhagen. The family was prosperous and at an early age Børresen took lessons in piano, violin, cello and musical theory. The Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen, who worked at that time with the Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen, was asked by Børresen’s father to judge the young Børresen’s abilities. Through Johan Svendsen Børresen met among others Edvard Grieg, with whom he became close friends, thus forging an important Nordic bond.

Hakon Børresen’s artistic apprentice piece, his Symphony no. 1 in C minor from 1901, aroused considerable attention. In 1902 Børresen went on a study trip to Leipzig. There he met among others the conductor Arthur Nikisch, who on several occasions conducted Børresen’s Violin Con­certo in various German cities.

Throughout his life Børresen was fascinated by the sea and divided most of his time between an apartment in Copenhagen near the Marble Church and his house at Skagen. About Skagen, the fascination of the sea, and his connection with the artist colony at Skagen he wrote: "Here I have peace and quiet, it is lovely in the summer, but also magnificent in the winter. Skagen lies at the northernmost point. The sea is the same as it was 50 years ago – the mighty horizon and the great canvas of the air. I can only believe that there is a powerful connection between painting and music. Krøyer for example liked to work to music, and I have often played in his studio as he painted.

Hakon Børresen celebrated his greatest artistic successes as a theatre composer. His first opera, Kaddara, on Greenlandic themes, was performer in both Belgium and Germany. His one-act opera The Royal Guest (1919), from a story by the writer and Nobel Laureate Henrik Pontoppidan, has been performed more than 100 times at the Royal Danish Theatre. Along with Carl Nielsen’s opera Maskarade, The Royal Guest is unconditionally one of the two most important music drama works written in Denmark at the beginning of the twentieth century. The music for the ballet Uranienborg– Tycho Brahe’s Dream (1924) was also greatly appreciated in its time.

Hakon Børresen was quickly able, through his many contacts, to become the leading social and administrative figure in Danish musical life. In time, as the classical virtues, Late Romanticism and the Nordic came to represent ever more outdated aesthetic ideals, the administrative posts took over all Børresen’s time and attention.

Hjarne Fessel, 2014


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