Gunnar Sønstevold - Biography

Gunnar Sønstevold

Gunnar Sønstevold (1912-1991) made a name for himself as a jazzpianist in the nineteen-thirties. During the same periode he studied piano with Erling Westher and Nils Larsen, and music theory and composition with Karl Andersen and Johannes Hanssen. As a refugee in Sweden during the Second World War, he was associated with "Måndagsgruppen", a group of socially-oriented composers, headed by Hilding Rosenberg.

After Sønstevold Returned to Norway in 1945, he won immediate recognition as a film composer with his music for, among others, Sigurd Evensmo's "A Boat for England" (Englandsfarere), "Operation Swallow" (Kampen om tungtvannet) and "Tonight It Will Burn" (Det brenner i natt). His film music is characterized by psychological sensivity and the ability both to describe situations in music and to provide the individual sequence with a musical counterpoint. Later Sønstevold also composed stage music, such as for the ballet "Bandik and Årolilja" (1947). He was the first Norwegian composer to use electronic effects, which he employed in his music to Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and "Intermezzo for Soprano, Violin and Tape", from 1959 and 1958, respectively.

Sønstevold's studies at the Music Academy in Vienna from 1960-67, during which he attended Hanns Jelinek's course in twelve-tone composition, resulted in a rather strict use of the twelve-tone style in most of his subsequent works. However, his personal formulation of this style and his rich and imaginative treatment of sound prevent his music from being academic. Works written during and after his years in Vienna include a concerto for flute and bassoon (1964) and two ballets. One of his major works, "Litany in Atlanta" (1971) written in memory of Louis Armstrong, reflects his involvement in jazz. In part intended for amateur an professional musicians. Sønstevold has also composed chamber music, songs and piano pieces, such as the rater original "The Dorian Cage" for three pianists on one piano (1964).

Active for many years as a music teacher, he and his wife Maj, also a composer, started a music institute in Rakkestad, outside Oslo, in 1975, which has since become a municipal music school. A pioneer in exploring the function of television as an art medium, Sønstevold was head of the television music departement from 1966-74. He has also been active in the field ogf music sociology, and is interested in bridging the gap between the contemporary composers and the public.

Gunnar Sønstevold died in 1991.

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