Bjørn Fongaard - Biography

Bjørn Fongaard

Bjørn Fongaard was born in Oslo in 1919 and died there in 1980. He studied at the Oslo Conservatory of Music where his teachers included Per Steenberg, Sigurd Islandsmoen, Bjarne Brustad and Karl Andersen. For many years he had a greater reputation as a guitarist than as a composer.

His earliest works were composed in a rather traditional style. Gradually his music began to show the influence of modernists such as Hindemith, Schoenberg and Webern, and he developed an experimental style of composing. One example of this is Uranium 235 for orchestra. The work was scheduled for performance in Oslo and Reykjavik in 1965/66, but none of the performances took place because the musicians were unable to read the new and unfamiliar notation.

Disappointed by this, Fongaard decided that he could just as easily perform his music on the guitar, which he had used for experimental purposes for a long time. He had built a quarter-tone guitar as part of his new, "universal" principle of tonality, which could be applied to modal and major/minor tonality as well as to any other tonal system, regardless of the number of intervals into which the octave was divided.

As a further development of this principle he also constructed a guitar capable of producing any interval whether the octave was divided into12, 24 or even an endless number of steps. For this microintervallic instrument he composed a series of works, both solo and in combination with percussion and narrator. The titles reveal the composer's interest in philosophy and astronomy: Galaxy, Homo Sapiens, Genesis. His Sinfonia Microtonalis represented Norway at the 1970 International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. He also attempted to transfer his microtonal principles to works for orchestra including Orchestra Antiphonalis, Symphony of Space, Universum and Mare Tranquilitatis.

Fongaard's output is considerable. He preferred to compose in series: 23 Concertos for Piano and Orchestra 0p. 118, 12 Concertos for Solo Instrument and Orchestra op. 120, 21 String Quartets op. 123, 57 Sonatas for One Instrument op. 125, 41 Concertos for Solo Instrument and Tape op. 131. Due to the partly experimental notation, these works have not become widely known.

Transl. Andrew Smith
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