allvard Olav Johnsen was born in Hamburg on June 27th 1916. In 1917 the family moved to Larvik to escape the ongoing and bloody WWI. Hallvard Johnsen’s father obtained a position as accountant at the Farris mineral water plant in Larvik and the family moved into the idyllic «Villa Farris». Happy childhood years ensued and a sense of close unity developed between the three brothers of the family. From an early age Hallvard Johnsen displayed an interest in music, which made him join the local school’s marching band at the age of eight. He took up the flute; the instrument of his grandfather Thorvald Johnsen. Thorvald’s profession had been that of fine mechanic and he was sent from Norway to Hamburg to work. In the years preceding his move to Germany, in the decade between 1860 and 1870, he worked as a stand-in on flute and double bass in the Christiania Theatre Orchestra, which was led by Johan Halvorsen.
allvard Johnsen’s happy childhood years suddenly took a change for the worse: the difficult 1930s cost his father his job and when Hallvard was 19 his mother died from cancer. At that point the family had already moved to Oslo, and the young boy, who had been very close to his mother, endured some very hard years. There can be little doubt that these dramatic events contributed to mould him as an artist.
e had enrolled at the Oslo Music Conservatoire in 1930. His main instrument was the flute, but later on he also studied composition and conducting with teachers such as Bjarne Brustad, Karl Andresen and Per Steenberg. His public debut as flutist and composer came in 1941, earning him brilliant reviews. At that point he had already written a trio for flute, violin and viola, put melody to lyrics by Arne Garborg and written some violin pieces. His style was national romantic and clearly influenced by Norwegian folk music. His success debut as a composer inspired him to carry on writing music. Further studies, now with the composer Vang Holmboe in Copenhagen, brought about a new stylistic development: «I started to feel that my national romantic style had become a routine. I had to emancipate myself from it and find my true self. Through my studies with Vang Holmboe I was able to find my own expressive form; a mixture of the 12-tone scale and semitone scale.»
etween 1945 and 1947 he was employed as flutist in the National Theatre Orchestra. After that he worked for 25 years as solo flutist in The Staff Band of the Norwegian Armed Forces. From 1973 to 1984 he was a lecturer of music at Rud upper secondary school in Bærum.
allvard Johnsen visited Hemsedal with his family for the first time in 1963. He would subsequently travel often to Hemsedal, where he found the inspiration for many of his musical pieces. One of his symphonies is entitled The Hemsedal Symphony (no 9). About the work on this symphony he related: "I have a cabin in a wild mountain terrain up in Hemsedal. There I can sit outdoors on the grass embankment, listen to the flowing of the river Hemsila and let myself become enthralled by the mountain formations. It was here that the natural scenario matured into a new work. I saw the mountains rise, as if following the line of a melody; at first steeply, and then evening out before a new ascent towards further summits. The idea developed into my ninth symphony, which I gave the name The Hemsedal Symphony." The symphony was dedicated to the farmer Ola Flaten, from whom Hallvard Johnsen rented a small mountain cottage.
allvard Johnsen was first and foremost a symphonic composer who wrote 24 symphonies altogether. In the symphony he found the large format that he needed to express himself. In spite of his strong attachment to the symphony, it was also important for him to write music in a smaller format, i.e. for single instruments or smaller ensembles. Johnsen wrote chamber music for different constellations, piano pieces, psalms, songs and choral works. He also wrote two concerts for flute, two violin concertos and two concerts for trumpet and cello. Other works in the larger format, in addition to the symphonies, include cantatas, an oratorio and three operas, one of which was premiered by the Norwegian Opera in 1973. Its title was «The Legend of Svein and Maria». Johnsen was as a very productive composer, his collected work counting no less than 135 opuses.
bout his work method Hallvard Johnsen said: «Above all I try to find my way to a musical thought that is infused with life. This is the most demanding part of the process. Having grasped the idea, and expounded it, a floodgate will open and the actual writing is fairly effortless. I do the basic sketches at my desk, but further development happens at the piano, because the timbres have to be controlled.»
n a vast majority of Johnsen’s musical works the form is built around a principle of metamorphosis, meaning that a given theme or tonal substance is continuously made to go through certain transformations or variations. Most of the symphonic works have only a single movement and the form is based on the principle of metamorphosis. Horizonally the music develops as an interplay between the folk-inspired melodic aspect and the free-tonal aspect. The melody may have rapid movements, but in contrast long tranquil passages also allows it the time for reflection and silence. Johnsen’s music is characterised by both momentum and flight and he has a distinct sense of expressive contrasts. Melodically Johnsen strived towards overcoming the automated and the one-dimensional, and the same is true of his work with timbre. Within a concentrated musical motif he would work with both polyphony and homophony. The rhythmic element is bouncy, energetic and distinct, but at the same time graceful and gentle with tranquil melo-rhythmic movements. Johnsen’s use of instruments is colourful and imaginative.
bout his aesthetic project Hallvard Johnsen said: «I am attracted to the modern tonal language, but I still prefer expressing my ideas within a free-tonal framework. I use the twelve notes of the scale tonally, which gives the composition a sense of tonal centre. The free-tonal style comprises elements of both the modern and the moderate form. I wish to have the liberty to operate on both sides of the boundary between these forms, something that gives me almost unlimited expressive possibilities. For this reason I continue to work within the same, free-tonal style.»
allvard Johnsen fully mastered the technical craftsmanship of composing, but he never stressed the technical aspect as such.
"The only thing that matters is being a hundred percent sincere.
allvard Olav Benitt Johnsen died in Bærum on November 6. 2003 aged 87.