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CD Review: Mogens Ellegaard

Contemporary Danish Accordion Music

with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Ole Schmidt


Steen Pade: Excursion with Detour
Per Norgard: Introduction and Toccata
Ole Schmidt: Toccata No. 1
Niels Viggo Bentzon: In the Zoo, op. 164
Ole Schmidt: Escape of the Meat-Ball Over the Fence
Ole Schmidt: Symphonic Fantasy and Allegro, op. 20

Total Time: 45:05
Released in 1987

label: Point

OH Musik aps
Jersie Strandvej 5
PO Box 49
DK 2680 Solrod Strand
phone: (+45) 5314 6644
FAX: (+45) 5314 6667
e mail: In North America:

Albany Music Distributors
Box 5011
Albany, NY 12205-0011
phone: 518-453-2203
FAX: 518-453-2205

Review by Henry Doktorski:

Mogens Ellegaard (1935-1995) -- who is regarded by many as the "father of the avant-garde accordion movement" -- was one of the first classical accordion artists to play the free-bass accordion. Due to his uncommon ability and determination, he succeeded in popularizing the instrument among classical music circles, despite general distaste for the accordion by composers and classical music lovers.

Ellegaard described his introduction to the new accordion: "When I started, there was absolutely no accordion culture. Unless, you define accordion culture as 'oom-pah-pah,' or the Cuckoo Waltz -- that sort of thing. The free-bass accordion didn't exist -- it was entirely unknown when I was a child. At that time the accordion world was living in splendid isolation. No contact at all with the outside musical world. Concerts for us consisted of Frosini, Deiro repertoire or folkloristic music. The possibilities of getting a formal, quality education [on accordion] were nil. The accordion was not accepted at any of the higher music institutions. . . . The possibilities for a soloist, for the best players, would be variety 'night club' work, Saturday night shows. . . . This is what I was doing when I was very young.

"But in 1953 the first free-bass accordions were introduced in Denmark and, by coincidence, I was one of the first students to get such an instrument. . . . In 1957, the pianist Vilfred Kjaer, who was also well-known in our country as a composer of light music, wrote a concerto for me and through his good connections, he was able to organize the world premiere of Jubilesse infameuse. It was a work of light character, but anyway a beginning. At that concert, also by coincidence, [the composer] Ole Schmidt was sitting in the audience. He didn't like Kjaer's composition, but liked the instrument, and told me this bluntly afterwards. So I challenged him to write something better. In 1958 he wrote Symphonic Fantasy and Allegro, op. 20 for accordion and orchestra, which was the first really serious work for accordion written by a good composer.

"Symphonic Fantasy and Allegro was an important break for me personally and also for our instrument. It opened doors to our instrument which had been closed until then. I premiered it with the Danish Radio Symphony. Until then, their music department had never even considered the accordion. It was very favorably received by the critics, by the musicians, by the music department and it was re-broadcast several times. Other symphony orchestras were curious and wanted to do it . . . and Ole Schmidt, being also a promising young conductor, easily organized performances of this work. So we played it many times, during the next few years, with practically all of our orchestras in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

"He [Schmidt] had many friends -- composer friends, who would visit him on Saturday nights at parties -- wild parties where I was also present and met people and played. . . . Things started to happen, little by little. . . . So I kept on more and more deliberately, trying to persuade composers to write. During the next ten years, I got a lot of people to write for me, which secured new engagements and created openings for the instrument. . . . Composers would write because they liked the instrument, [not just for money like in the United States] and they saw possibilities of getting performances. . . .

"I think that we have been in many ways privileged in Scandinavia. There are good composers there. We've gotten a lot of good music and it covers a broad spectrum from concert solo work to chamber music and very good concertos for accordion and orchestra by well-known composers. . . . On the basis of this literature we attained some respect in the music world."

end of quote from "Interview," The Classical Accordion Society of Canada Newsletter (March 1990), 3-5.

On this CD (recorded in 1987) Ellegaard plays Symphonic Fantasy and Allegro for accordion and orchestra, plus two pieces by Schmidt for solo accordion: Toccata No. 1 and Escape of the Meat-Ball Over the Fence (I'll let you discover the origin of this unusual title when you read the CD booklet notes yourself!). He also performs three other standard free-bass accordion solos by Steen Pade, Per Norgard and Niels Viggo Bentzon. Ellegaard is an artist of the highest calibre and his playing is exciting, dramatic and amazingly precise.

This album has an obvious appeal for lovers of classical accordion music, but it is important historically as well, for this recording of Symphonic Fantasy and Allegro was performed by the same accordionist with the same orchestra and conducted by the same conductor in the same hall (Radio Concert Hall) in which the piece was premiered nearly forty years ago.

This is an album which, I believe, will be treasured by avant-garde accordion aficionados.

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