The Free-Reed Journal
Articles and Essays Featuring Classical Free-Reed Instruments and Performers

Accordion World Magazine The following essay was originally published in the November/December 2005 edition of Accordion World magazine (editor: David Keen) and is presented here by the permission of Accordion World.
(See our review of Accordion World Magazine).

My Memories of Mogens Ellegaard
written by Friedrich Lips

The following article by Friedrich Lips has already appeared on the Internet It is published here in ACCORDION WORLD in a new and slightly edited translation with the author's permission. ACCORDION WORLD published a memorial article on the career of Mogens Ellegaard by Owen Murray in March 2005, the 10th anniversary of his death. Lips' article fills out the story of Ellegaard's life and shows how important the contact between Lips and Ellegaard was, nearly fifteen years before thefall of the Berlin Wall, for the development of the accordion in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Locked away in my mind I have many cherished memories of composers and performers, and from time to time I find myself thinking about them. These memories warm the soul and I am very grateful for them and would often like to express special thanks, but for some of those involved it is already too late.

Early Encounters

I got to know Mogens Ellegaard in Klingenthal in 1975 although both of us knew each other's recordings before that. He had come with his students to listen to the competition and to meet at the same time his future wife, the accordionist Marta Bene from Hungary. This was a complicated love story but they had a happy if not very long life together. As a prizewinner in 1969 1 had been invited by the organisers of the international competition in Klingenthal to take part in an evening concert. I still remember the great pleasure on Ellegaard's face when we first met. We sat next to each other during lunch and spoke in German. Suddenly the waiter brought us both a large jug of beer. The waiter said that my new friend had ordered this and paid for it without telling me. Mogens resisted my attempts to pay and said with a smile 'This is my round, the next one can be yours'.

During the concert I played Solotaryov's Sonata No 3; others taking part were the Warsaw Accordion Quintet, directed by Lech Puchnovsky and V Besfamilnov. After the concert I acquired more new friends amongst them Elsbeth Moser. Mogens with Marta and Elsbeth said they would like us to spend the rest of the evening together and we drove back to my hotel in Plauen, 30 kilometres from Klingenthal, where we partied until dawn. They were delighted with Solotaryov's music and were very kind in their praise of my playing. I have to say that it was after this appearance that my international career began to take off... It was during this evening that Mogens first expressed his desire to purchase a 'Jupiter' bayan like mine. After the night long party I was almost late arriving at the airport in Berlin for the return flight to Moscow. When I got back to Moscow a telegram awaited me with the message that Vladislav Solotaryov was no longer alive.

The following year (1976) I met Mogens and his young wife Marta at the annual summer school in Chatel (France), which was organised by Fernand Lacroix...In between the concerts and master classes we spent much time together. I liked his teaching methods - with the instrument in his hands he gave convincing arguments for his own interpretation of the music backed with a wealth of examples and always with his own special humour.

Again before leaving France we had a night long party with exquisite drinks, discussing problems of the bayan. When we left, Mogens said to Marta 'We must reserve one night in the calendar every year to spend. with Friedrich'.

The message that the most prominent accordionist in the west wanted to buy a Jupiter bayan created some euphoria amongst the management and staff at the Moscow bayan factory. At last this was acknowledgement of the Russian way of thinking about instrument design. The Director of the bayan factory, A Ginzburg, strongly supported the idea of making a Jupiter bayan for export, especially as one of the most prominent musicians in the west was now involved, and he commissioned his best craftsmen and technicians to do the job; the chief technical designer was Juri Volkovitch and V Vasiljev was the leading expert in reed making.

It must be said at this point that Mogens, like most accordionists in the west, played a 9 row instrument (3 rows of melody bass, placed near the bellows and 6 rows of standard bass). In Germany (in 1975) I had told him that nobody makes the 9 row system in Russia but only 6 rows with the convertor switch on the left hand keyboard. Then he said rather timidly 'OK, the future will belong to the 6-row, instrument with convertor and I will try to adapt to it. However could a C-system bayan be made for me with the low notes at the top of the melody bass manual because I do not have that many years left to adapt my whole repertoire to the B-system with the low notes at the bottom.' Volkovitch did not have any difficulty designing a bayan with a C-system for the first time and the instrument turned out to be simply superb. Ellegaard was very satisfied with his new bayan and generously thanked all the makers involved with gifts.

Just as a joke at the time I said that if I had told Mogens that it was impossible in Russia to make a C-system bayan, because he wanted so passionately to buy a Jupiter he would probably have begun to study the B-system and then the whole world would play our system! Whilst this was a joke, Ellegaard's influence on the art of playing the bayan was so great in the west that it was not long before manufacturers in Italy and Germany had all changed to the 6-row convertor bayan.

Personality and Achievement

Talking about Ellegaard's personality we should reflect on the overall achievement of his life's work.

I think that the combination of being a very talented performing artist, a superbly inspiring teacher and an able organizer in the international field, enabled him to succeed in many areas and to leave an outstanding mark on worldwide bayan culture.

The opening of accordion departments at the Danish Royal Conservatoire in Copenhagen, the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, the State Academy of Music in Oslo as well as the College of Music and Dramatic Art in Graz (Austria) are each linked with the name of Ellegaard. Among his pupils are Matti Rantanen, Owen Murray, Jon Faukstad, Geir Draugsvoll, James Crabb and many many others.

Ellegaard was one of the first to recognise the need to create an original repertoire for our instrument. He worked tirelessly with established composers and also included many new names in the process - Ole Schmidt, Per Norgard, Arne Nordheim, Torbjorn Lundquist, Niels Viggo Bentzon, Leif Kayser, Poul Olsen and many others. In fact all the Scandinavian composers dedicated works to him. Ellegaard himself compiled an impressive list of Scandinavian composers who dedicated works to him, indicating the year of their premiere. Most of the works in this list are in fact used constantly by accordion players in almost all countries in their educational work and concert repertoires. Ellegaard's co-operation with composers contributed some of the gems of modern bayanist literature.

Ellegaard was driven by an incredible discipline in his life. His day began at 5 o'clock in the morning. He practised on the instrument, answered letters and then drove to work at the Conservatoire by 9 o'clock. In general, he was an extremely well educated man. He had an excellent knowledge of English, German and French, Norwegian and Swedish and, of course, Danish. When I received letters from him, and I collected quite a few, as there was no fax or Internet at that time and even a telephone call had to be booked one or two days beforehand, it was always a real pleasure to see how he developed his thoughts in his letters; firstly the essential reason why he was writing; then a short account of his activities and then enquiries about my family and information about how he spent time with his family, permeated with an element of humour and all written in perfect German. My contact with him always gave me enormous pleasure. Mogens always showed a good sense of humour and appreciated humour in the jokes of others. I remember when we were sitting in a restaurant in Copenhagen after a concert I gave at the Danish Royal Conservatoire. One of the students was wearing a red roll-neck sweater. 'He is wearing it in your honour because you come from Moscow', was the remark he could not resist making. He liked making fun of the political system in the Soviet Union at that time. 'You have neither democracy nor the right to free expression of opinion!' he said, and continued to tease me during the evening in a lighthearted way. 'We also say what we think in Moscow' I said lighheartedly. I can go into the main square in Copenhagen' said Mogens 'and say "The Prime Minister of Denmark is an idiot!" Can you do the same in Moscow?' 'Certainly', I replied. 'I can go to Red Square in Moscow and also say "The Prime Minister of Denmark is an idiot!" We laughed all evening. Generally Mogens was superb at entertaining his guests as well as organising concert tours and master classes.

It was in Mictne (in Poland) in 1992 that on his initiative an International Accordion Society (IAS) was founded, consisting of five board members: Matti Rantanen (Finland), Lech Puchnovski (Poland), Mogens Ellegaard (Denmark), Joseph Marcerollo (Canada) and Friedrich Lips (Russia). The Chairman of the Executive Committee could be either Puchnovski or Ellegaard but neither wanted to take responsibility. Finally the five members persuaded Ellegaard that he should be the principal figure of the organisation. He was the driving force and generator of many different ideas and his knowledge of languages enabled him to communicate with everyone on the board. We sought to implement the following ideas: standardisation of all instrument models, standardisation of musical terms and notation regardless of country of origin and publishing house. At meetings in Finland, Germany and twice in Italy we were in agreement on many questions despite great difficulties. But, unfortunately after Ellegard's death in 1995 we had no leader to put into operation the principles that had been worked out on paper. We were all convinced of the importance of a strong personality for the completion of such work.

Last Meeting and Impressions

I remember our last meeting at the accordion festival in Toronto (Canada) in 1993. As the organiser of the festival Joseph Marcerollo succeeded in bringing together the stars among accordion artists: Mogens Ellegaard, Hugo Noth, Matti Rantanen, Mini Dekkers... Joseph Marcarello premiered R Murray Shafter's 'Concerto for Accordion and Symphony Orchestra'. I presented in a recital new original music for bayan by Russian composers. By coincidence Ellegaard and I booked the same return flight to Frankfurt. We sat next to each other and talked the whole night. It was another completely mad night in exceptionally interesting company with an engaging personality! Everything began with an aperitif before dinner. I ordered a small bottle of 'Johnny Walker' whisky and Mogens a bottle of 'Martell'. I was surprised: Mogens was very fond of whisky... after a few minutes he said 'Why did I order this Cognac? I should have ordered whisky like you!' When the hostess came by he ordered whisky for himself and another for me. We talked and did not sleep. We sketched different projects for developing the art of bayan playing internationally. We spoke about the need to help young people find work and arrange concert tours; on the initiative of our international society we planned the founding of a new international competition in which the main prizes would be concerts and tours instead of prize money. In general, Ellegaard did not like competitions particularly the 'Coupe Mondiale' which he did not consider serious enough. We continued our discussions about the standardisation of instruments and terms and notation in bayan literature. Our conversation was only interrupted with the ordering of drinks from the hostess. We continued to order whisky regularly!

Suddenly it occurred to Mogens 'She hasn't come past for a long time! They will probably not give us any more. We have already drunk quite a lot.' He pressed the button to call the hostess. 'Surely we will get some more.' Mogens got up, went to the hostess in person and brought back some whisky. That was typical of him! If he had a goal he achieved it!

Sometimes I had the impression that he lacked enough contact with like-minded colleagues. Actually he shared an enormous house with his wife in Sweden (Later he moved to Denmark --Ed.) in a large forest and there was nobody else around; he had only occasional contact with his students in Denmark and no discussion at university level or with academics at all. While working on panels of adjudicators at competitions in Witten, Moscow or at meetings of our international society I felt how he longed for discussion with colleagues.

It is ten years since his death. Were he alive now Mogens would be 70 years old. Have his pupils of the following generation been gratetul? And what of the rest of us? He will be remembered by the photographs and literature dedicated to him and by his various activities. 1 think that a 'Mogens Ellegaard Prize' should be created as a regular event for young musicians. One took place in Copenhagen (in 1996) and it was planned as an annual event to be held in different countries of Scandinavia. This has however not been achieved.

It would also be interesting to collect together articles about this outstanding musician; notes about his educational principles should be written down by his pupils and memories of him by colleagues and friends.. There are still a lot of things one could think of doing.

Accordionists everywhere should be grateful for the life and work of such an extraordinary person as Mogens Ellegaard.

Copyright 2005

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