Kåre Kolberg: A Quiet Fighter

"In my view, everyone who wants a medal should get one!". This remark was made after a long discussion at an official committee meeting concerning whether or not a candidate deserved the Royal Order of Merit in silver or gold. The representative of the Society of Norwegian Composers had remained silent, perhaps somewhat bemused, during a heated debate about medals and merits. Only when he was asked for his opinion did he make the above statement.

Kåre Kolberg

Kåre Kolberg is often silent, but he is effectively silent. When he finally opens his mouth, something wise or funny usually emerges. He has made a name for himself as one of Norway’s most capable, intelligent music writers, not least as music critic for one of Norway’s most prominent daily newspapers. Few composers in Norway have fought on more barricades than Kolberg. He has been an active spokesman for contemporary music and for his composer colleagues in his positions as President of Ny Musikk, the Norwegian Section of the ISCM, and of the Norwegian Society of Composers. He spent the time between his two presidential periods fighting for all artists as chairman of the Norwegian Artists’ Campaign. The 1974 Artists’ Campaign was an important event in the history of Norwegian cultural policy during which some of the brightest of our artists entered into negotiations with the authorities. The campaign raised general awareness of society’s dependency on art and culture and resulted in official grants and support schemes which brought significant improvements in opportunities and living standards for Norwegian artists. Institutions like the Norwegian Music Information Centre also emerged in the wake of this campaign.

The role and function of contemporary music in society is a recurrent theme in all Kolberg’s activities. At an early stage, he regarded the problem of audiences’ relationship with modern music as a challenge. In an otherwise modernistic musical language, he was one of the first to include “new-friendly” elements in his efforts to communicate with his public. Nor has he been afraid of including other musical styles such as jazz, pop and romanticism, often as a contrast to typical contemporary music. Kolberg’s music can be full of contrasts in terms of dynamic, sound and rhythm. He can place a lyrical, melodic section beside a tonal section with no melodic character whatsoever. This type of contrast is also an important element of his musical humour – another typical characteristic. The choral work Plym-Plym: Hommage à Edvard Grieg (1967) is a good example of Kolberg’s burlesque humour.

On the other hand, he is not dogmatic about either means or forms of musical expression. He has also produced music with almost minimalist elements, as in the orchestral piece Aria in Aria (1964), where he states that he has “created a monotony that approaches (and hopefully exceeds) the limits of boredom”. The work is based on the stage music for Ibsen’s The Master Builder. Music for theatre, film and television has been an important area of activity for Kolberg. His production includes a wide range of genres, from ballet, opera and orchestral music to electronic music, multimedia and music for jazz and pop groups.

Kåre Kolberg was born in 1936. He trained as an organist at the Oslo Music Conservatory and has a degree in musicology from the University of Oslo. He was an organist in Oslo for twenty years. He has been a research fellow at the University of Oslo specialising in contemporary music. As far as we know, he has not been awarded any medals.

Translation: Virginia Siger ©
Printed in the music magazine Listen to Norway, Vol.6 - 1998 No. 2
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