The earliest known music in Denmark has been traced to the Bronze Age with the making of lurs. A lur is a long tube-like instrument made from bronze, shaped similar to a sousaphone but much skinnier, and played by blowing into it like a horn. It’s actually thought to be one of the earliest forms of many of the modern-day brass instruments. Music has been a very important part of Danish society, although most of the early music was centered after the Reformation, and later, Dieterich Buxtehude was one of the prominent organists and composers during the Baroque era. Opera was later introduced from Italy and Germany during the early 1700s. Friedrich Kuhlau was a composer whose music was used in one of the Danish national anthems. As a pianist, Kuhlau also brought Beethoven’s music to the people of Denmark.
Carl Nielsen is often contributed as the most famous Danish composers of all time. I actually am embarrassed to say that even as someone who holds a degree in music, I was unaware of his name. I did listen to portions of his “Symphony No. 1” and “Symphony No. 4,” both of which I enjoyed.
In contrast to this, folk music and folk dancing was something that was more on the “people’s” level. It was something that everyone could join in and was often the centerpiece of community events. Many of these dances took place in a farmhouse or in some other public building perhaps, and most of these dances were styled as chain dances or rotational dance so that it could maximize the number of dancers in crowded spaces. And actually, during the 17th and 18th centuries, only officially appointed town musicians were allowed to play the music, so it was probably best to stay away from crazy ideas of unauthorized fiddle playing. Denmark imported a couple of dances from Poland and other countries – one was the pols (a variant of the polka, a pair dance), and another was the minuet. And of course, the Danes came up with their own versions of other country’s dances, such as the waltz and square dances. People generally dressed in their Sunday best when it came time to coming to these dances, and nowadays there are many folk dancing societies around Copenhagen and other cities in Denmark, giving performances in traditional dress. Ballet and other forms of classical dance are also quite popular in Denmark as well.
Starting in the 1920s, jazz became quite popular – and still is. Even during the German occupation during WWII, jazz music was generally discourage, but some musicians kept performing anyway while others escaped to nearby Sweden to continue their music. After the war, New Orleans/Delta style jazz and bebop from the US began infiltrating Danish jazz. Jazz venues became destinations, such as Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen, and American jazz musicians began flocking to Copenhagen to perform.
Danish rock emerged in the 1960s and 1970s and drew much of its influence from the highly popular styles of American and British rock. I have found several bands that I liked, mostly in the indie rock and folk rock genre, but also a couple hip-hop and R&B artists. The first band that I found that I ABSOLUTELY love is The Raveonettes. I went to the library and checked out the albums Lust Lust Lust (2008) and Observator (2012). I actually thought Observator was a better album, but it was extremely short – only 9 songs.
And of course, the drummer for Metallica is Lars Ulrich, born and raised in Denmark. In fact, he was the first Dane to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I added their Black Album to my playlist – it reminds me of my high school years.
As a pianist myself, I really enjoyed listening to Agnes Obel’s album Philharmonics. It’s acoustic and simplistic and at times resembles Celtic folk motifs. I may end up buying this album. It’s nice to listen to while I’m working.
One pop singer I discovered is Fallulah whose album The Black Cat Neighborhood is really catchy, and my daughter is absolutely in love with it. Probably because it has the word “cat” in it and she’s an 8-year-old girl. I tried to find this: my library doesn’t have it, and iTunes doesn’t have it, but I did find some used copies on Amazon for about $13. I may also have to buy this.
I did find an artist who calls himself Burhan G. It’s kind of R&B, I think. More or less a mainstream American sound, the album does have a few catchy tracks. The same goes for another group call Nik & Jay.
Up next: the food