a history of unity in difference

Nordic Music Days 1919 in Copenhagen became the last combined performance of the ‘old team’ of innovative composers from around 1890 and the century’s rst decade. In this photo, taken 20 June 1919 outside Tivoli in Copenhagen, one can see (from left to right) Frederik Schneidler-Petersen (conductor of the Tivoli Orchestra), Robert Kajanus, Jean Sibelius, George Heeberg ( rst conductor of the Royal Orchestra), Erkki Melartin, Willhelm Stenhammar, Carl Nielsen and Johan Halvorsen Photo from article in Sohlman’s Music Encyclopedia, No 4. 1975, written by Bergljot Krohn Bucht. 

Nordic Music Days 1919 in Copenhagen became the last combined performance of the ‘old team’ of innovative composers from around 1890 and the century’s rst decade. In this photo, taken 20 June 1919 outside Tivoli in Copenhagen, one can see (from left to right) Frederik Schneidler-Petersen (conductor of the Tivoli Orchestra), Robert Kajanus, Jean Sibelius, George Heeberg ( rst conductor of the Royal Orchestra), Erkki Melartin, Willhelm Stenhammar, Carl Nielsen and Johan Halvorsen

Photo from article in Sohlman’s Music Encyclopedia, No 4. 1975, written by Bergljot Krohn Bucht. 

Nordiska musikdagarna – Nordic Music Days – are a place in which borders fade, similarity and diversity mingle, and where tradition and innovation happily coexist. This is perhaps unavoidable in a festival that is simultaneously young at heart – dedicated to the most recent new music – and surprisingly old, boasting a lifespan of 130 years.

Yet the history of Nordic Music Days is intimately bound-up in, and developed directly from, an even earlier history of collaborative music-making in the Nordic countries that found kinship by exploring their distinctive identities and celebrating their shared goals and passions. Of cially beginning life in Copenhagen in 1888, Nordic Music Days has since been shared, year by year, among the Nordic capitals. Its location may be itinerant, yet the commitment to join together and embrace differences in contemporary musical thought and practice remains central to Nordic Music Days’ outlook and mission.

The festival is overseen by the Council of Nordic Composers, an organisation founded in 1947 that represents the interests of composers in all elds of music throughout the Nordic countries. Each year, one of the council’s members arranges Nordic Music Days with Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Faroese and Icelandic music – instrumental, electronic, electroacoustic and sound art – sitting side by side on stage as brothers and sisters in arms.

 
Members of the Philharmonic Association, the former Musikföreningen in Stockholm. 42 people took part in the rst Nordic Music Days (Nordiska Musikfesten) in Copenhagen in 1888. The photograph was taken ‘in a festive mood’ in the afternoon at Hansen and Weller on Bredgade 28, Copenhagen, 7 June 1888. The man in the middle is possibly Andreas Hallén. Photo used courtesy of the Music and Theatre Library in Stockholm. 

Members of the Philharmonic Association, the former Musikföreningen in Stockholm.
42 people took part in the rst Nordic Music Days (Nordiska Musikfesten) in Copenhagen in 1888. The photograph was taken ‘in a festive mood’ in the afternoon at Hansen and Weller on Bredgade 28, Copenhagen, 7 June 1888. The man in the middle is possibly Andreas Hallén.

Photo used courtesy of the Music and Theatre Library in Stockholm. 

The presence of Nordic Music Days in London marks only the second occasion when it has stepped beyond the Nordic states. In every sense, it is a departure, and a significant one, extending its collaborative outlook to forge a new dialogue with British performers and audiences. At a time when it seems the world has become more focused than ever on disagreements and divisions, Nordic Music Days continues to shine a (northern) light on the value and imperative of embracing our differences and thereby discovering unity.

Simon Cummings