Books and articles

With respect to versatility and volume, Knudåge Riisager’s literary production is a unique contribution to the Danish music history of the 20th century. As it is evident from the following bibliography, this comprises a total of close to 400 contributions – great and small – dispersed over six decades. Even though this number includes several notes, reviews, contributions to inquiries and the similar, this bibliography reveals his considerable importance as a music columnist and culture debater. By virtue of his many positions of trust in Danish music life, together with his composition activity, Riisager’s word carried specific weight. Add to this, that he – as Carl Nielsen – was well-spoken and, on the whole, had something on his mind. All in all, it seems obvious to compare Riisager’s literary activity with that of Nielsen, just as it is obvious to consider Nielsen’s Levende Musik (Live Music) from 1925 and Riisager’s Det usynlige Mønster (The invisible pattern) from 1957 as the two most important literary manifestations by Danish composers.

Subjectwise, Riisager had exceptional all-round skills. In 1913, as a seventeen-year-old senior-school student, attending Henrik Madsens Skole, located at Filippavej in Frederiksberg, he had his first novels and poems published in the school magazine, Brændpunktet (Focus) and in the Danish weekly magazine, Hus og Hjem (House and home). During the almost 6 decades that followed, there was an abundance of articles in numerous weeklies, trade journals and newspapers on subjects spanning topical discussion material; reflexions on the nature of music; the marketing of new and – at that time, in Denmark – relatively unknown foreign composers; personal memoirs; cultural-political considerations and much more. Everywhere, one perceives the commitment behind the written word in combination with a certain kind of scholarly overview. Taking part in the debate, he frequently words an opinion – but only very seldom polemically.

Even though he never disclaimed his Gallic sympathies (cf. the article “Gallisk og germansk” (Gallic and Germanic) from 1924) and, hence, came to be relatively isolated in Danish music life, which was dominated by Carl Nielsen – especially during the 1920s and 1930s, he openly committed himself to expression forms that took completely different directions. On the one hand, his understanding of Schönberg’s music should be emphasised together with his unreserved acknowledgement of Carl Nielsen’s greatness on the other (it was not Carl Nielsen’s music that Riisager objected to – it was rather the uncritical admiration and imitation by lesser intellects).

In general, Riisager was quick off the mark in matters concerning the assessment of composer colleagues who should later prove to win fame) – such as for instance Schönberg. As early as 1919 – i.e. before Schönberg had achieved fame for his new “twelve-tone music” – Riisager contributed with an expansive introduction to this composer in Tilskueren (the Spectator). And, by way of his article, published in Forsøgsscenen (the Experiment scene) in 1930, he was highly instrumental in Schönberg’s Blæserkvintet (Wind quintet) being performed for the first time in Denmark. Likewise, the launch of Prokofiev in the article from 1928, reprinted in the present selection, shows Riisager’s far-sightedness.

Riisager’s Carl Nielsen portrait can be followed through three stages: from the first reference in the periodical Vor Tid (Our time), dated 1918, concerning Nielsen’s Det Uudslukkelige (The unquenchable) over the article from 1925, when Nielsen was at the pinnacle of his fame, to the more retrospective articles from 1965 – in honour of the centenary of Carl Nielsen’s birth – of which one, intended for foreign readers, has been reproduced here, in the publisher’s translation.     

Riisager by no means belonged to the cultural-radical circle of the interwar period – to a certain extent, we should perhaps say quite the reverse. In every facet, his literary production nonetheless bears witness to a fundamental radicalism which is singularly connected with and rooted in his fundamentalist conservatism and disposition. He is therefore a difficult man to label. This is for instance brought to the fore in his very liberal take on the jazz music [……], published in articles appearing in 1926 in the periodical Sind og Samfund (Intellect and society) and in 1930 in Dansk Musiktidsskrift) (Danish music magazine [1925-2010]), respectively. These articles exhibit a far more nuanced attitude than what is otherwise predominant among the bourgeoisie of the era.

What probably attracted most attention among composers and other music people was his article from 1940, entitled “The symphony is dead – long live the music” – also lending its name to this present selection. At a time when, not least, the Carl Nielsen symphonies manifested themselves as leading lights in Danish music, Riisager disowned this genre by an almost postmodernist argumentation and, hence, a substantial part of the music culture of the most recent past. By “The symphony is dead”, as by many of his other articles and, in particular, his music, Riisager flung the doors wide open, giving vent to other currents and inspirations than the predominant ones surrounding him. And least of all, did he want stagnation. In the words of the composer as being “The music’s youngest” – not yet aged 30 – giving a brief presentation of himself, which appeared in the periodical Sind og Samfund (Intellect and society), no. 6, 1927: “I, for one, am sure that the lifeblood of the art is incentive and that the precondition for mental growth has always been ruthless disruption. Leonardo da Vinci was a wise man. He told his students: “Tristo è quel discepolo, che non avanza lo suo maëstro” (“Unfortunate be the disciple who does not outperform his master”).

This bibliography covers the period from 1913 to the last article (“Bånd og kabler” (“Tape and cables”)) appearing in Berlingske Tidende on 17 October 1972. Up until the year 1953, this bibliography has been able to lean on the bibliography available in Sigurd Berg’s book on Riisager, which is accessible in fourth proof-reading (unprinted) from 1953 at Musikhistorisk Museum København (the Music History Museum, Copenhagen (today, The Danish Music Museum and a part of the National Museum of Denmark)). Though attempting to provide as comprehensive a coverage of Riisager’s written production as is possible, Berg’s catalogue is hardly one hundred per cent complete. As can be seen, Riisager’s articles were published in a wide selection of newspapers, magazines and periodicals that far exceed what one would expect.

Contribution by Niels Krabbe, Research professor emeritus. Consultant to the Danish Centre for Music Publication. The Royal Danish Library.

The bibliography has been minutely categorised into 7 main sections, with a chronologic ordering within each section.

Work overview

Own works and personal memoirs (in the Danish language only)

  • Musikkens yngste (The music’s youngest)
    Sind og samfund (Danish periodical – Intellect and society), 1927/6, 11
  • Tre balletter bliver til (Three ballets coming into existence)
    Soc.dem. Till. (Supplement to the, then, Danish newspaper ‘Socialdemokraten’ (The social democrat)), 4 Jan. 1942
  • Introduktion (til Balletaften) (Introduction (to a ballet evening)
    KT prgr. (The Royal Danish Theatre programme), Febr. 1942
  • Fra min Teatertid (From my time at the theatre)
    Soc.dem. Till. (Supplement to Socialdemokraten), 24 Dec. 1944
  • Balletmusik (Ballet music)
    KT prgr. (The Royal Danish Theatre programme), Jan. 1946
  • Fugl Fønix (The Phoenix)
    KT prgr., (The Royal Danish Theatre programme), May 1946, 5
  • Fugl Fønix (Den nye ballet) (The phoenix (the new ballet))
    Berl.Tid. Till. (Supplement to the Danish daily, Berlingste Tidende), 10 March 1946
  • Fugl Fønix (The phoenix)
    Soc.dem. Till. (Supplement to Socialdemokraten), 5 May 1946
  • Czerny-balletten (The Czerny ballet)
    KT prgr. (The Royal Danish Theatre programme), Dec. 1947
  • Erindringer om livsindstilling i studenterårene (Reminiscences on the philosophy of life pertaining to one’s student days)
    Studenterbladet (The student paper), June 1948
  • Salut for Czerny (Saluting Czerny)
    Nat. Till. (Supplement to a then Danish newspaper, Nationaltidende (the National Gazette, a then Danish newspaper)), 1 Feb. 1948
  • Omkring balletten “Benzin” (Around the ballet, “Petrol”)
    Bogen om Storm P. skrevet af hans venner, (The book about Storm P, written by his friends), Copenhagen 1949, pp. 144-156
  • Malernes By (The city of painters)
    Nationaltidende 30. maj 1951 (også i: C.C. Langkjær – 16 april 1953) (Nationaltidende, 30 May 1951 (also in: C.C. Langkjær – 16 April 1953), pp. 33-37)
  • Barneår (Childhood years)
  • Aage Heinberg (ed.), Saadan blev jeg det. 40 danske Mænd og Kvinder (How I came to choose my profession. Contributions by 40 Danish men and women), Copenhagen 1953, pp. 297-304 (**)
  • Et ingeniørhjem. Hos ingeniør Emil Riisager på Frederiksberg Bredegade (The home of an engineer. Visiting the engineer, Emil Riisager, in Frederiksberg, Bredegade)
    Danske Hjem ved Århundredskiftet, Fjerde Samling, red. af Tove Clemmensen, (Danish Homes at the turn of the century [i.e. 1900], fourth collection, ed. Tove Clemmensen, Copenhagen 1954, pp. 127-144
  • Susanne – den kyske? (Susanne – the chaste?)
    KT prgr. (The Royal Danish Theatre programme), 11 Feb. 1957
  • Månerenen (The moon reindeer)
    KT prgr. (The Royal Danish Theatre programme), 1957/58 no. 3
  • Les Victoires de l´Amour
    KT prgr. (The Royal Danish Theatre programme), 4 March 1962
  • Man må følge sit kategoriske imperativ (**) (One has to follow one’s categorical imperative)
    Musical selvportrætter (Musical self-portraits), Copenhagen 1966, pp. 237-247
  • Det er sjovt at være lille. (It’s fun to be a little one)
    Erindringer ved halvfjerdsårs-dagen (Memoirs in connection with Riisager’s seventieth anniversary), Copenhagen 1967
  • Strygekvartet. Erindringer fra min komponistdebut (String quartet. Memoirs of my debut as a composer)
    Berl.Tid.(Berlingske Tidende), 26 Nov. 1967
  • Mit samarbejde med Lander (My collaboration with Lander [the, then, director of the Royal Danish Ballet]) 
    Berl.Aft. (Berlingske Tidende, evening edition), 8 Nov. 1969
  • En vidunderlig aften i “ballettens verden” (A wonderful evening in “the world of the ballet”)
    Erik Aschengreen (ed.), Études, Copenhagen 1970, 3 June
  • Kulørte drømme (barndomserindringer) (Dreams in colour (childhood memories)), Berl.Tid. (Berlingske Tidende), 2 July 1972


  • Stakkels Moses. Skildring fra en moderne Storstad (Poor Moses. An account from a modern metropolis)
    Hus og Hjem (House and home – a contemporary Danish weekly magazine), 1913/39, p. 918
  • Ved Tilfældets Hjælp (Coincidence willing)
    Hus og Hjem (House and home), 1913/43, pp. 1030-1031
  • Branden. Skildring fra Branden i København 1728 (The fire. An account of the great fire of Copenhagen, 1728)
    Hus og Hjem (House and home), 1913/49, pp.1198-1199
  • Julekvæld (Christmas Eve)
    Skolebladet Brændpunktet (the school magazine, Brændpunktet (Focus), 1913/12, pp. 8-9
  • I Postkroen (At the mail-coach inn)
    Skolebladet Brændpunktet (the school magazine, Brændpunktet (Focus), 1914/1, pp. 4-6
  • Vaarsang (Springtime song)
    Skolebladet Brændpunktet (the school magazine, Brændpunktet (Focus), 1914/3, 1
  • Til Landest Bedste (All for the good of the country)
    Skolebladet Brændpunktet, (the school magazine, Brændpunktet (Focus), 1914/6-8, 5-8, 6, 6
  • Spionen (The spy)
    [No designation of the author, who is probably Riisager] Skolebladet Brænd-punktet, (the school magazine, Brændpunktet (Focus), 1914/12, pp- 4-6
  • Efteraar (Autumn)
    Skolebladet Brændpunktet, (the school magazine, Brændpunktet (Focus), 1914/14, p. 1
  • En Forsoning (A reconciliation)
    Hus og Hjem (House and home), 1914/15, pp. 342-43
  • Den gamle Købmand (The old grocer)
    Hus og Hjem (House and home), 1914/25, pp. 586-87