Hallvard Johnsen (1916-2003) studied the flute, conducting and composition at the Music Conservatory in Oslo, where his teachers included Bjarne Brustad, Karl Andersen and Per Steenberg. His subsequent composition studies with Vagn Holmboe in Copenhagen in 1956 were of decisive importance for the development of his own individual musical style. In 1941 Johnsen made his debut as a composer and flutist in his own concert in Oslo. From 1947-73, he was solo flutist in the Military Staff Band in Oslo. From 1972-84 he taught music theory and flute at an upper secondary school outside Oslo.
A productive composer, Hallvard Johnsen wrote 25 symphonies over a period of more than fifty years, through which his compositional development may be traced. Based on the Romantic tradition and the national movement which had been prevalent in Norway in the nineteen-thirties, his early compositions also reveal the influence of Norwegian folk music. There are impressionistic elements in some of his works from the early nineteen-fifties, for example, Pastorale, Op. 20B for flute and piano (1950) and Concerto No. 2 for Flute and Strings, op. 25 A (1955). After his studies with Vagn Holmboe, Johnsen's works were written in a free-tonal musical language in which the metamorphosis technique is an important compositional principle. Although his themes are often based on twelve-tone rows, he did not use these rows consistently in the musical structure. The variation and transformation of the thematic material forms the structural basis of his compositions, many of which have natural impressions as their point of departure, such as in his ninth symphony, The Hemsedal Symphony, from 1968.
Johnsen's other central works include six concertos, three operas - of which the religious opera, The Legend of Svein and Maria, op. 56 (1971) should be especially mentioned, the cantata Krosspåske, op. 39 (1963), the oratorio Logos, op. 76 for soloists, choir and orchestra, a number of chamber music works for winds and six string quartets.