Insular or Cosmoplitan: David Monrad Johansen and Paris
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionStudia Musicologica Norvegica. 2012, 38 65-86.
The Norwegian composer David Monrad Johansen (1888–1974) emerged as the standard-bearer for what he himself called «national values» in music in the interwar period. It is very much for this that he is remembered today. But there is more to the story. After all, only a part of Monrad Johansen’s production is clearly influenced by the nationalistic programme he advocated from 1924 onwards, and the insular attitude he may express in some of his articles is clearly contradicted in other parts of his writings. Monrad Johansen received strong impulses from the international music scene, not least from the Parisian scene, where his predecessor and first source of inspiration, Edvard Grieg, was held in high esteem at the close of the 19th century. The French influence on David Monrad Johansen is complex, and may be traced to greatly differing sources of influence. The formative impulses Monrad Johansen received in Paris during his two stays in 1920 and 1927/28 were important, but only constitute parts of this picture. His Debussy studies started well before his first trip to Paris. At this time, Debussy’s music was passed on to him through his studies with Alf Hurum, and also, then, through his studies of theoretical literature of non-French origin. Furthermore, what Monrad Johansen experienced in Paris was not solely French music. In a manner of speaking, Stravinsky’s Russian ballets are French music in the sense that they were created and first performed in Paris, but at the same time this points to a crucial trait of the Parisian musical scene at the time: it was cosmopolitan in character. It thus comes as no surprise that Monrad Johansen received his strongest impressions from Austro-German modernism in Paris. This took place during his stay in Paris in 1927/28, when he experienced Arnold Schönberg, but the positive attitudes to Schönberg were founded ten years earlier, before his first trip to Paris. This illustrates just how complicated the problem of influence is. The French influence on Monrad Johansen is central, but it is found on a great number of levels.