Composers / Arne Nordheim

Arne Nordheim (1831–2010) – one of the greatest Norwegian composers of his generation. From 1848 to 1952, he studied organ and music theory at Oslo Conservatory, before turning to composition. In 1955, he travelled to Paris, where he came into contact with electronic and ‘concrete’ music. From 1955 to 1972, he worked with Polish Radio’s Experimental Studio in Warsaw. He was also a music critic for the Oslo newspaper Dagbladet.

He was one of the first Norwegian composers to take an interest in post-war musical modernism. He experimented with colouristics and topophonics. Initially inspired by Bartók, his aesthetic outlook was later influenced by the Polish school of composition (Lutosławski, Penderecki). From the beginning of the 60s, he focussed on electroacoustic music. During a later period, Nordheim composed mainly for small ensembles of instruments and tape or for expanded orchestra. At that time, he attached particular importance to colouristic and expressionistic elements.

One important aspect of Nordheim’s work was topophonics, which he employed, for example, when creating the musical setting for the Scandinavian pavilion at the international EXPO ’70 in Osaka. His search for new means of expression also gave rise to ‘sound sculpture’, combining the visual and acoustic spheres. During the 70s, Nordheim sought to unify the sound of his works. With time, he limited the application of electronic media, making greater use of purely instrumental genres.

From 1982, Nordheim lived with his wife in Grotten, a residence reserved for outstanding figures in Norwegian cultural life. As one of the greatest Norwegian composers, he was invited to compose the musical setting for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer in 1994.

Nordheim received many awards and prizes, including the Nordic Council Music Prize (1972, for Eco), Italia Prize (1980, for The Descent), Honorary Award of the Norwegian Council of Culture (1990) and Heinrich Steffens Prize (1993). He also played an important role in organising Norwegian musical life. In 1997, he became an honorary member of the International Society for Contemporary Music.