Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen 1932-2016
28th June 2016
Gudmundsen-Holmgreen had for many years enjoyed the status of inimitable musical icon in Denmark. His compositions were always original, recognisable, deep and filled with warmth, humour and an unmistakable integrity. His death is a significant loss to the musical life of Denmark, and also to the many musicians and audiences he met worldwide.
He was born in 1932 into a home filled with art. His father was a sculptor and throughout his life Gudmundsen-Holmgreen kept a keen interest in the visual arts, as well as a love of the absurd, for the texts of Samuel Beckett and from scraps of sound, found objects, the absurdities of life and of nature in all its beauty and strangeness. It all filtered through to his music, and his works are unwieldy, austere and full of his awkward and ultimately liberating sense of humour. His works from the 1960s were a reaction against the complexity of the Serialism of the time, and he was soon named as one of the leading figures in the New Simplicity movement in Danish music, though he, true to form, never liked the label.
His position in Danish and international musical life has been that of the outsider. His music defies labels. He never subscribed to grand ideas and remained a sceptic all of his life. This scepticism and austerity was contrasted by a flowering imagination and an acute interest in the world and people surrounding him. The most generous of men, he always supported his youngest colleagues, attending concerts and promoting the music of other composers. He was a valuable peer for more than one generation of composers.
Among his many compositions are his orchestral works Symphony, Antiphony, Tricolore IV and Incontri, the concertos Plateaux pour piano et Orchestre, Triptykon for percussion and orchestra and Concerto Grosso for string quartet and orchestra. Among his numerous works for smaller ensembles are fourteen string quartets and the notorious Plateaux pour deux from 1970 for cello and car horn.
Together with Per Nørgård and Ib Nørholm, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen was one of the influential composers in Denmark after World War II.