Bernhard Lewkovitch

b. 1927

Danish

Summary

Bernard Lewkovitch is a Danish organist, choir conductor and composer. As a Catholic, his music has been particularly inspired by his faith, resulting in a prolific output of religious music. 

His parents were Catholics and emigrated from Ukraine to Copenhagen, Bernard’s birthplace. He first came into contact with music through Gregorian Chant in church and through the Ukrainian folk music which filled the home. His family were very poor and eventually placed him in a monastery before later sending him to a boys’ home. 

Lewkovitch’s reputation began to expand in the 1950s due to his experimental works in particular. Some of them were inspired by polytonality and twelve-tone technique. Since the 1970s he has composed a wide range of music, mainly choral, rooted in the ancient music of the Catholic church.
Critical Acclaim
...The Catholic faith, the daily prayer, and the music as a calling are parts of Bernhard Lewkovitch’s life and activity. Parts that have granted him an exceptional position in Danish music culture – Trine Boje Mortensen, Komponistforeningen

Biography

Bernhard Lewkovitch’s production is extremely exclusive. Throughout his 70 active years in music he has only produced a large handful of works. Most of his production consists of choral works intended for liturgical use, as well as instru­mental works for either piano, organ or winds.

Bernhard Lewkovitch comes from a poor Catholic tailor’s family and at the age of 12 he was sent to a Catholic monastery and children’s home. He later studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen with among others Bjørn Hjelmborg, Poul Schierbeck and Jørgen Jersild. Faith and music are the most impor­tant reference points in both his life and art.

In the 1950s Bernhard Lewkovitch founded the Schola Gregoriana and the Schola Cantorum in Copenhagen – a male choir and a mixed choir – which all the way up to the end of the 1980s were practically the only choirs in Scandinavia devoted to and specializing in the polyphonic choral music of the Renaissance.

In the Danish context Bernhard Lewkowitch has often been treated as an outsider, but he has always been greatly respected and often performed at both the ISCM festivals and the Nordic Music Days. Alongside his work as a composer and performer, Bernhard Lewkovitch was for many years a particularly busy reviewer in the Danish newspapers.

Bernhard Lewkowitch’s stylistic points of departure are central European folk music on the one hand and Catholic sacred music on the other. Through studies of Bartók’s and perhaps especially Stravinsky’s music Lewkovitch found a basis for a number of musical experiments that broke through the traditional framework for both modal and liturgical music.  

His production consists primarily, as mentioned, of choral works – masses, motets and chorales. All formulated in a sober and highly personal musical idiom. Bernhard Lewkovitch is a unique voice in Danish music, a fact that stands out with increasing clarity as the prevailing fashionable currents in Denmark in Lewko­witch’s time have subsided and the music can stand forth with its own value. 

Hjarne Fessel 2014                           

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