Per Nørgård's earliest works in this category are Tivoli (1959), for a
children's choir, and Det skete i de dage (And It Came to Pass in Those Days) (1960)
- a 'Children's oratorio at Christmas'. Both works were composed to texts by the
composer's brother, Bent Nørgård.
4 sange for mandskor (4 Songs for a Male Voice Choir) (1960), written for
the Student Singers at the University of Copenhagen, also dates from this time.
There are also a few pieces of chamber music: 3 miniaturer (3 Miniatures) (1959), a
string quartet for amateurs, and Improvisa (1961), a trio for amateurs.
The works for schools, Morgenmusik (Morning Music) I and II were
written in 1961 for children's choirs (song and recitation), and involve recitation and
instruments of various kinds. In these works Per Nørgård used in a more easily
accessible form some of the modernist means of expression to be found in the
'professional' music he wrote at the same time, such as improvisation within a fixed
framework and the free development of musical form.
Dommen (The Judgement) (1962) - a theatrical
youth oratorio for solists, mixed choir, children's choir, orchestra and tape recorder.
This was a Passion oratorio designed to be performed by high schools or colleges of
education, and was written at the instigation of Senior Lecturer, Harald Bjerg, Emdrupborg
College of Education. Once more, the text was by Bent Nørgård, and the work retells the
Good Friday story. It is in three parts: the judgement in the morning, the crucifixion on
Golgatha and an epilogue that centres around Pontius Pilate. The events are portrayed as
seen through the eyes of bystanders, and Jesus only appears as a voice.
Even through the oratorio was written for amateurs, it is not couched in a simplified tone
language. In fact, in several of the crowd scenes the complexity of the sound picture can
be compared to Nørgård's large, modernist orchestral work, Fragment VI, though
of course he made allowances for the limited technical skills of the participants.
At a press conference in connection with the first performance of the oratorio, Per
Nørgård had this to say:
musical terms, the work is a challenge to school music. The limited technical requirements
are an integral part of the whole idea, but through the choice of instruments used -
percussion and various sound effects - together with a certain amount of improvisation and
the help of some tapes that the Danish Broadcasting Corporation got ready for us, effects
were achieved of the same calibre as are found in my later works for the concert hall.
Babel (1965, revised 1968) - 'a musical stage work for people'.
Babel is one of the earliest works in which Per Nørgård put together a
performance by collecting people of widely varying musical backgrounds, not only in terms
of technical skills, but also as regards musical culture. This work, to an even
greater degree than the opera, Labyrinten (1963), is an expression of a pluralist
The sub-title of the work suggests an openness with regard to genre and style; and in
fact, the composition is a 'happening' involving a large number of performers, amateurs
and professionals alike. The main title of the work indicates that it is a confusion, a
collage, comprising a cornucopia of choral singing, dance, military music, musical clowns,
striptease, and so on: expressing both a cultural attitude and a cultural reality; in
other words, the totally Babylonish confusion that reigns in the musical culture of the
western world today.
In a commentary printed in the programme for the first performance, Per Nørgård wrote:
one is looking for the plot in music, and there is no literary canon to spread a
conceptual smoke-screen over the actual context of a piece of music. This is why I have
emancipated myself from whatever may be written on Parnassus and have composed Babel
as a play involving movement, musical instruments, song, speech, light and sound.