Category Archives: Denmark

The Bournonville Method

The beautiful always retains the freshness of novelty, while the astonishing soon grows tiresome.August Bournonville

In a Bournonville ballet, there is no room for modern tricks and multiple pirouettes that dazzle the audience. There are no perilous overhead lifts or gasps of astonishment at impossible feats. Instead, the audience is entranced by graceful refinement and the art of investing each movement with meaning. It’s as close as we can probably get to the roots of classical ballet.

Ballet is often said to be the dance of the air, where we defy gravity – effortlessly. But until you see the Danes you don’t really know just how effortless and joyful this can be. And big too – each springy hop, or bound, seems to cover more ground. They also distort time, seeming to have all the time in the world to get from A to B with their beautifully-defined movements but there are constant embellishments that make the feet flicker with speed and dexterity. Bournonville is ballet in a different way.

August Bournonville

August Bournonville was a celebrated Danish dancer and choreographer who created the Bournonville method, a technique and training system still in use today by the Royal Danish Ballet, revered as the world’s third oldest ballet company.

In 1979, in honor of the 100th anniversary of his death, the Royal Danish Ballet created the Bournonville Festival, a weeklong celebration in Copenhagen featuring performances, lecture demonstrations and open classes and rehearsals that was well-attended by dance writers, Bournonville scholars and ballet fans from all over the world. The Bournonville Festival appears to be held once every 13 years! The second festival was in 1992, then 2005 and Royal Danish Ballet has announced it will hold the Bournonville Festival this year.

Bournonville’s flair for the virtuosic was in his blood. Born in Copenhagen in 1805 to the famous dancer Antoine Bournonville, the younger Bournonville entered the Royal Ballet School at 8 years old. He joined the Royal Danish Ballet at 16 as an apprentice, while his father was artistic director. The talented teenager took a break from Denmark to further his ballet studies in Paris, under renowned dancer Auguste Vestris. After passing the difficult dance exams at L’Académie Royale de Danse, Bournonville briefly danced with the Paris Opéra Ballet, in which he was often partnered with famous Romantic ballerina Marie Taglioni.

Marie Taglioni

He returned to Copenhagen in 1829, bringing with him the refinement and style of the French. One year later, at the age of 24 — already known for his sparkling technique and charisma — he became the Royal Danish Ballet’s ultimate triple threat: premier danseur, choreographer and ballet master. Though he didn’t create his first full-length, original ballet until five years later (Valdemar, 1835), Bournonville would go on to create more than 50 ballets, the most popular of which are La Sylphide (1836); Napoli (1842); and the one-act Flower Festival in Genzano (1858).

Aside from two short breaks to stage works in Vienna (1855–56) and direct in Sweden (Swedish Royal Opera at Stockholm, 1861–1864), Bournonville remained at the helm of the Royal Danish Ballet until his retirement in 1877, at the age of 72.

Marie Taglioni dancing the title role in La Sylphide

La Sylphide is one of the oldest full-length story ballets, first staged in 1832. It tells the story of a beguiling sylph who turns the head of handsome Scotsman James, betrothed to one Effie.

Charles Nodier’s Trilby ou Le Lutin d’Argail (The Elf of Argyll) published in 1822 tells of a male elf who lures a Highlands fisherman’s wife away from her husband. Inspired by it and with legendary ballerina Marie Taglioni in mind, Adolphe Nourrit, an operatic tenor and arts sponsor decided to create a ballet reversing the genders in Nodier’s story and casting Taglioni as the seducing spirit.

Nourrit borrowed the concept of the Sylph from previous 18th century ballets, only here he gave the Sylph more personality, making her a leading character. He also looked to Sir Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian for the names Effie and Madge and possibly to Shakespeare’s Macbeth for the witches.

He took this scenario to Paris Opera ballet master Filippo Taglioni, Marie’s father. Instantly recognizing its potential as a vehicle for his virtuoso daughter, Taglioni commissioned music from Jean-Madeleine Schneitzhöffer and the ballet premiered on 12 March 1832. La Sylphide became an instant classic and cemented Marie Taglioni’s reputation as the most ethereal of ballerinas.

Marie Taglioni was the first dancer to be celebrated for her work ‘en pointe’ and La Sylphide marks the first time female dancers used pointe shoes to dance on their toes and give the impression of floating or skimming across the stage.

Taglioni’s 1832 version of La Sylphide did not survive. There have been attempts at reconstructions, but the majority of versions are now based on that of Danish ballet master August Bournonville, whose 1836 production also featured a new score by Herman Severin Lovenskiold.

Bournonville’s La Sylphide is a rare case of a remake that’s better than the original. Bournonville had seen Marie Taglioni dance La Sylphide in Paris in 1834 and for him “She lifted one up from this earth, and her dancing could make one weep”.

Bournonville acquired Nourrit’s scenario and commissioned a new score from Norwegian composer Herman Løvenskiold (as Schneitzhoeffer’s score was too expensive). His new and improved La Sylphide premiered in Copenhagen in 1836.

Bournonville saw in La Sylphide an opportunity to promote his own pupil Lucile Grahn but at the same time he wanted to take some emphasis out of the ballerina and put her on equal footing with the male dancer. He re-choreographed the ballet to suit his own abilities as a virtuoso dancer, thus giving a bigger role to the character of James, full of mighty leaps, turns and challenging beaten steps.

Bournonville filled his ballet with deeper meaning and intention. Cutting the “fat” in Taglioni’s choreography, he condensed it and fleshed out the poetic imagery and symbolism of the story. Thus, the witch Madge is a more important figure who sustains the drama. He also decided that James should not be able to touch the Sylph, so their pas de deux in Act 2 became a dance where James tries to emulate the ethereal moves he sees in the Sylphs. James tries to become like the creature he’s obsessed with. He aspires to belong in her world and to possess her and this ultimately leads to tragedy.

At the time the ballet premiered in Copenhagen, some accused Bournonville of plagiarism, but for others it was clear that his version was overall superior. And while Taglioni’s version did not survive unscathed throughout the years, the Royal Danish Ballet tradition ensured that Bournonville’s La Sylphide remained intact. It has been passed on from one generation to the next with very few modifications and is regularly performed by some of the world’s biggest ballet companies.

This year, WA Ballet performs La Sylphide.

WA Ballet remains true to the Bournonville tradition by working with staging director Dinna Bjorn, an international authority on the Bournonville style who has worked with the Royal Danish Ballet as a Bournonville consultant and Finnish National Ballet and Norwegian National Ballet as artistic director. For the second Bournonville Festival in Copenhagen in 1992, Dinna Bjorn reproduced the whole second act of Napoli, and this version stayed in the repertoire of The Royal Danish Ballet until 2010.

Dinna Bjorn

Apart from WA Ballet, Dinna Bjorn has staged La Sylphide for Bavarian State Ballet (Munich), Boston Ballet (Boston), Norwegian National Ballet (Oslo), Hong Kong Ballet (Hong Kong), Capitole Ballet (Toulouse), Universal Ballet (Seoul), Bulgarian State Ballet (Sofia), Het Nationale Ballet (Amsterdam), Paris Opera Ballet School (Paris), Grazer Landestheater Ballet (Graz), Royal Danish Ballet (Copenhagen), Ballet du Rhin (Mulhouse/Strasbourg) and Ballet Nice Mediterrané (Nice).

For WA Ballet, Richard Roberts’ sets and Lexi De Silva’s costumes help bring the story to colourful life.

Bournonville’s most enduring contribution remains his technique and style, known as the Bournonville method and championed today by the Royal Danish Ballet. August Bournonville was heavily influenced by the early French school of ballet, which he preserved in his teaching and choreography, when the traditional French methods began to disappear from European ballet. What is considered today to be the “Bournonville style” is essentially the unfiltered 19th century technique of the French school of classical dance.

The guiding principle of the Bournonville method is that the dancer should perform with a natural grace, dramatic impact and harmony between body and music.

Some characteristics of the Bournonville method include: a graceful épaulement, with the upper body often twisting toward the working leg; a lowered eye-line to exude kindness; extreme attention to the placement of the arms (often in a preparatory fifth position); quick footwork; a contrast between the speed of the legs and the grace of the upper body; pirouettes in a low leg position; and little visible effort.

There should be no visible effort. Even the largest, most dramatic steps should be performed in an understated manner. What should be visible is the contrast between the speed of the legs and the grace of the arms and torso. The legs are the rhythm, the arms are the melody.

Bournonville never composed a variation in which dancers merely run or walk from one corner to another. The dancer dances the entire time, even with his or her back to the audience.

In the hands (and feet) of dancers not trained in this technique, these movements can come across as old fashioned and pedantically academic. In the right hands (and feet) even the simplest steps can portray a character. A Bournonville ballet, the right hands (and feet), informs the mind while it uplifts the spirit, inspires with its gentility and affects with its poetry.

The pas de deux from the one-act ballet Flower Festival in Genzano (1858) perfectly illustrates the Bournonville style: intricate footwork and ballon against a quiet upper body. It is a commonly performed variation in ballet competitions.

Bournonville’s ballets offer a glimpse of a world that has been largely lost but that we feel we know from lithographs of 19th century ballerinas like Marie Taglioni, the original interpreter of La Sylphide (1832). This was the era that gave birth to what we think of as ballet, with ethereal women skimming the stage on the tips of their toes.

Most of the Romantic ballets have disappeared, with the notable exceptions of La Sylphide and Giselle. But not in Denmark. Bournonville made more than 50 works, and he populated them with trolls, fairies, nymphs and good common folk. Only nine or so have survived, but they are rarely seen outside Denmark. That many have stories drawn from Danish folklore, contain reams of mime and are set to charming but unmemorable music has kept them from leaking into the wider repertory. A few fragments, like the playful pas de deux from Flower Festival in Genzano and the tarantella in Napoli sometimes pop up at galas.

Bournonville himself was esteemed for both his technique and acting. A contemporary critic wrote, “He speaks during his mime; he soars in his dances.” This stress on persuasive acting is an important ingredient of the Danish style.

A Monday Morning Around Copenhagen

It’s Monday morning and as we suspected, there is no queue at Conditori La Glace!

Conditori La Glace

As we were enjoying yet another cinnamon bun, what we really wanted was an actual breakfast. Which Conditori La Glace does not provide. It’s wall to wall sweetness! Google came to the rescue, and before we even left Conditori La Glace, we chose Café Norden for our next stop. It is located in Copenhagen city centre, near the main shopping street Strøget, and far more importantly, near Conditori La Glace. There was a limit to how far we were prepared to travel for a good breakfast! Unlike Conditori La Glace, Café Norden was packed, but we were lucky to find a table straight away. Norden’s menu is extensive and they have an English version.

Café Norden
Breakfast at Café Norden
Yummy and healthy! breakfast at Café Norden

Suitably fed, the next stop was the Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget, barely 50 metres from Café Norden.

Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget
Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget

Every year since 1963, Royal Copenhagen has asked prominent artists and celebrities to set the Christmas tables in their store on Strøget. Six different tables all tell an entirely different story. The artists are allowed to interpret their own ideas of a Christmas tables and can pick and choose from the extensive Royal Copenhagen collection of iconic porcelain and figurines.

Previous years have seen royalty, comedians, actors and creatives participate, and in 2017 members of the Royal Ballet were invited to set the Christmas tables. The 2017 decorators include principal dancers Alban Lendorf and Ida Praetorius, soloists Andreas Kaas and Femke Mølbach Slot, former principal dancer Kristoffer Sakurai, as well as former dancer and leader of the ballet school, Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter.

Andreas Kaas’ table “A moment of closeness” at Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget
Ida Praetorius’ table “The Afterparty” at Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget
Femke Mølbach Slot’s table “All that jazz and love” at Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget
Femke Mølbach Slot’s table “All that jazz and love” at Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget

Kaas’ table is inspired by his own apartment, and Praetorius’ is set up as if a gathering of friends has come together after a show. Music plays and candles burn at Femke Mølbach Slot’s table, as though someone is about to walk right in to plate the goose. Femke Mølbach Slot created a tribute to the glamour of 1940’s film, love and to her partner, jazz musician Chris Minh Doky. The table has been set for a memorable evening with the poetic and romantic dinnerware Flora. It is Puffles and Honey’s favourite 🙂

Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter’s table references The Nutcracker, with her own Nutcracker as a centre piece
Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget
Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter’s table references The Nutcracker, with her own Nutcracker as a centre piece
Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget
Kristoffer Sakurai’s table, “A table of dreams that connect two cultures” brings together his Danish and Japanese heritage.
Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget
Kristoffer Sakurai’s table, “A table of dreams that connect two cultures” brings together his Danish and Japanese heritage.
Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget
Alban Lendorf’s table “The Flipside” at Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget
Alban Lendorf’s table “The Flipside” at Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget

Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter’s table is an enchanting construction, built around the Nutcracker fairy tale, with a beautifully impractical floor made of walnut shells. Kristoffer Sakurai’s clean and minimalist table reaches into fantasy as he takes reference from Alexandre Dumas’ novel, ‘La Dame aux Camélias’. Alban Lendorf’s deconstructed Christmas setting aims to shock the senses and challenge traditions by twisting reality and showing the other side of perfect.

Five minutes walk from the Royal Copenhagen store is the 17th century tower and observatory Rundetaarn, or the round tower, the oldest functioning observatory in Europe.

Rundetaarn (Round Tower)

When Christian IV built the tower, Denmark was quite famous for its astronomical achievements thanks to the astronomer Tycho Brahe. When he died in 1601, the King wished to continue Brahe’s research, and thus the round tower came into being.

Rundetaarn (Round Tower)

It has been a while since the scientists left, but the observatory is still used by amateur astronomers and the many visitors. The observatory is encircled by an outdoor platform from which you have a magnificent view of the old part of Copenhagen.

Observatory at the Rundetaarn (Round Tower)
A rather gloomy December morning in Copenhagen

To get to the top of the tower you need to walk up the spiral walk, which is 268,5 meters long at the outer wall and only 85,5 meters long close to the core of the building. This means that you walk around 209 meters to get to top even though the tower is only 36 meters tall.

Spiral walk in the Rundetaarn (Round Tower)

Halfway up the Round Tower is the entrance to the large and beautiful Library Hall, which now serves as a popular gallery for exhibitions of art, culture, history and science, and concert venue. In the Library you’ll also find the Round Tower Shop & Café. The Library was once home to the entire University book collection. It opened in 1657 and housed approximately 10,000 books until 1861 when the book collection was moved to new premises on Fiolstræde. The old Library was later used as a studio by theatre-painter Carl Lund, and as a depot for the Zoological Museum. The famous Danish writer H.C. Andersen used to visit the library to find inspiration for his work.

And speaking of H.C. Andersen, you can find him at the Christmas market in Nytorv square 🙂

H.C. Andersen Christmas Market, Nytorv square
H.C. Andersen Christmas Market, Nytorv square

The Round Tower experience wasn’t quite what little Puffles and Honey expected, so they tried the Tycho Brahe Planetarium. They got to sit on a sextant and a meteorite, but it was another disappointing experience.

Tycho Brahe used a sextant for many of his stellar position measurements.
Tycho Brahe Planetarium
Tycho Brahe Planetarium

But the rubbish bins were cool!

Rubbish bin at Tycho Brahe Planetarium
Tycho Brahe Planetarium

By now the queue was in full swing at Conditori La Glace, so it was back to take away sweetness to make it all better!

Marzipan and chocolate truffle cake, Cherry Celebration cake and cherry macaroons

To Be or Not To Be

At Kronborg castle?

Kronborg Castle

Definitely to be! Excellent photo opportunities 🙂

Kronborg Castle

Kronborg is one of the most important Renaissance castles in Northern Europe. It is located in the town of Helsingør, Denmark and was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list in 2000.

Kronborg is known to many as Elsinore, the setting of William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, though Elsinore is actually the anglicized name of the surrounding town of Helsingør. Hamlet was performed in the castle for the first time to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, with a cast consisting of soldiers from the castle garrison. The stage was in the telegraph tower in the southwest corner of the castle. The play has since been performed several times in the courtyard and at various locations on the fortifications. Later performers to play Hamlet at the castle included Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Christopher Plummer, Derek Jacobi, David Tennant, and in 2009 Jude Law.

The castle’s story dates back to a fortress, Krogen (“The Hook”) built in the 1420s by the Danish king Eric of Pomerania. At the time, the Kingdom of Denmark extended across both sides of the Sound, and on the eastern shore the Helsingborg Castle had been in existence since the Middle Ages. With the two castles and guard ships it was possible to control all navigation through the Sound. Eric had the castle situated on the extreme north-eastern tip of the island of Zealand at the narrowest point of the Øresund, where the sound is only 4 kilometres wide. Eric saw the strategic importance of maintaining a coastal fortification at this location commanding one of the few outlets of the Baltic Sea.

In 1425, Eric of Pomerania introduced a toll for any foreign ships passing this important stretch of water. In return, the king was responsible for ensuring safe passage for shipping by providing coastal beacons, buoys and royal protection against pirates.

When Frederick II became king, he transformed the old medieval castle, Krogen, into a magnificent Renaissance castle with majestic towers and spires.

Kronborg Castle

The building process involved many stages. The king himself took a keen interest in the construction work both at his desk and on site.

The first stage was to modernise the fortifications. The new cannons of the 16th century were so powerful that Krogen’s old walls were not able to withstand them, and a new line of fortifications around the castle was completed in 1577.

The walls were raised and the buildings were extended, resulting in the development of a three-story castle by 1585. The walls were clad in light sandstone and the red tiled roof was replaced with shiny copper roofs. The exterior and interior of the new castle sent out a message that the Danish King was a powerful and modern ruler of a strong and prosperous kingdom.

On the night between 24th and 25th September 1629, Frederick II’s Kronborg burned down. The Castle Chapel was one of the few parts of the castle that did not perish in the fire. Its splendid interior bears witness to the magnificence of Frederick II’s Kronborg.

Kronborg Castle Chapel
Kronborg Castle Chapel
Organ in Kronborg Castle Chapel

Frederick II’s son, Christian IV, decided to rebuild the great castle despite the advice to the contrary given to him by the National Council. The country’s finances were in poor shape and the national coffers were virtually empty. Christian IV’s decision to rebuild Kronborg demonstrated the fact that the castle was a powerful symbol of a strong Danish monarchy.

Construction was once again finances by the Sound Dues, which the king doubled. Work was already underway only two years after the fire. The exterior of the castle was built largely in keeping with its former appearance and by 1639 the exterior was once again magnificent. Christian IV modernised the interior of the castle, but the interior never fully regained its former glory. Furthermore, certain modernizations were made, and portals, chimneypieces, ceiling paintings and other decorations were renewed in Baroque style.

Kronborg Castle

Frederick II reigned from 1559 to 1588. He lived for 53 years and 9 months and ruled for 29 years. The king held a lavish court with famous banquets at Kronborg Castle. The castle was built primarily to impress the many passing ships, but also the guests who came from far and wide to feast with the king for days. They were treated to the finest gourmet dishes of the day and wine by the litre.

Portrait of Frederick II by Hans Knieper or Melchior Lorck, 1581

Before Frederick II married, he was mostly concerned with becoming Scandinavia’s most powerful king. For seven years, he fought a gruelling war with his archrival, the Swedish king Erik XIV. Frederick II emerged the victor, but his was a pyrrhic victory. He spent the rest of his days trying to restore his reputation as Northern Europe’s mightiest king and refill the state coffers. The coffers were largely empty after the failed wars. The king increased the Sound Dues, thereby allowing him to amass a fortune every time a ship sailed past Helsingør. The Sound Dues were a veritable treasure trove and the revenue was spent on erecting the magnificent Kronborg Castle.

Powerful princes had to think in terms of money and power when it came to marriage. Marriage was not about love but about making strong political alliances. However, for Frederick II, the love, money and power went hand in hand. The king had actually planned to marry Sophie’s cousin Margarethe of Pomerania. However, he found her 13-year-old cousin Sophie, who was in Margarethe’s retinue, much more interesting. His marriage with Sophie was a happy one. In the first ten years of marriage they had seven children, of whom the eldest son later became the famous Danish king Christian IV.

Portrait of Sophie Mecklenburg-Güstrow by Hans Knieper, c. 1572

Frederick II had two mottos: “My hope in God alone” conveyed the piety that marked him for life and the belief in fate that was typical for the period in which he lived. “There is no greater virtue than fidelity” refers to the importance that faith and loyalty had for Frederick, both in terms of the loyalty of the subject to their king, but also for the faith he had in his royal duties.

Frederick II’s monogram can be seen above various doors and fireplaces around the castle. It is an interlaced S and F. There is an ambiguity in the letters that the king deliberately played on. The monogram can stand for Fredericus Secundus and for Frederick and Sophie.

The royal apartments are located on the first floor of the north wing. The apartments were originally furnished by Frederick II around 1576, but after the fire in 1629, Christian IV had the apartments refurnished and richly decorated with ceiling paintings, stone portals and chimneypieces. The original floors were tiled in black and white which were replaced with wooden floorboards in 1760-61, and the walls were clad in gilt-leather. Today the chambers are furnished with Netherlandish furniture from the 17th century.

Chancellery

The chancellery was a government office. The country was governed from the chancellery when the king was at Kronborg.

The government’s officials issued royal edicts on movements of marketplaces and repairs to roads. They issued receipts for art works and building materials, correspondence on political agreements with the nobility and foreign princes and laws on all matters great and small.

The letters that the king received were stored in the large cabinets. When they were answered, they were stored in the big chests, and the “archives” accompanied the king when he moved on.

There were two chancelleries. A Danish department dealt with matters relating to Denmark and Norway. A German department dealt with matters relating to Denmark’s lands in Germany and abroad.

Chancellery
The Library

Frederick II was patron to a number of book publications and supported the arts and sciences. He was a true Renaissance patron who gave financial support to internationally renowned artists and scientists. In return, these artists and scientists lent the royal court a dash of panache and intellectual sparkle. The reading room had books on history, art, architecture, warfare and many other subjects. The king and the Danish and foreign artists, scientists and officials could come here to immerse themselves in books. The reading room also had a land map and large wooden globes.

The Danish nobleman Tyge Ottesen Brahe (in Latin called Tycho Brahe) was one of the most prominent scientists at Frederick II’s court. He was sheriff of the island Ven in the Sound. Tycho Brahe built the Uranienborg observatory on Ven, and for more than 20 years headed an international astronomical research centre on the island.

The King’s Chamber

There was no difference between the king as a private individual and as a public presentative of the kingdom. We get a clear sense of this in the King’s Chamber, where the king’s private quarters were just as much part of the government’s offices as the adjoining rooms.

In the King’s Chamber, Frederick II held meetings with the country’s most powerful men on matters relating to the future of the kingdom. He also entertained selected guests and friends to convivial dinners. There would be relaxed conversation about the king’s passion for boar hunting, horse breeding, parties and building projects. The king and his guests would place bets, for example, on how long it would take for a well-known noblewoman to remarry.

The King’s Chamber

From the bay window, the king could look down and see the comings and goings at the castle gateway. The king also had a view of the Sound and the many ships that sailed past.

The King’s Chamber

Above the impressive ornate door is Christian IV’s monogram. Christian IV rebuilt Kronborg after the fire of 1629. He decorated his father’s old royal chamber again, putting his own personal stamp on it. The ceiling also displays Christian’s monogram borne by winged cherubs. The other three round paintings show monograms of Frederick II and Sophie, Christian IV’s queen Anna Cathrine and his eldest son Prince Christian and his son’s wife Magdalene Sibylle.

King’s bedroom
Queen’s bedroom

Two small rooms with the large beds were the royal couple’s private rooms. Small rooms were easy to warm up and were therefore used as bedrooms. The king and queen had their own beds in separate rooms. This was a mark of high status and great wealth. Ordinary people would all sleep in the same bed.

The Queen’s Chamber

Queen Sophie would sit with her ladies-in-waiting in her beautiful chamber and enjoy the exotic, yellow citrus fruit shining in all its glory on the table.

The Queen’s Chamber

It was difficult to transport the fruit all the way to Denmark without it going bad. A lemon in Elsinore would cost what in today’s money would be 700 euros, so it was a rarity. Oysters, on the other hand, were common-place. A royal dinner consisted of up to 24 dishes, and would include woodcock or crab pate, sago pudding, roast game and pear tart. You ate with your fingers and the knife you had brought with you. The knives were elaborately decorated and prized possessions.

Piety, needlework and housekeeping were the works for noblewomen, and Sophie was an expert at managing the household. She made sure that everyone worked hard and that there was no waste when it came to raw materials, fuel and candles at the royal court. Dinners at the castle were conducted according to a detailed plan that precisely said how leftovers from the different tables were to be sent down to the next table so that nothing would go to waste in the feeding of the extensive court staff.

She was also very particular when it came to raising her children by the book. Through her daughters’ marriages, Queen Sophie ensured that the Danish royal family established strong alliances with Northern Europe’s leading royal houses.

When Queen Sophie died at the age of 74, she was the richest woman in Northern Europe. When a queen became a dowager queen, she was given an “endowment”, i.e. a part of the crown lands and estates, which she had to live off. Sophie proved to be a tough and efficient administrator. She also managed to secure a large part of the estate of her father, the Duke of Mecklenburg. The dowager queen was therefore so economically strong that several European monarchs – including her own son, the Danish king Christian IV – borrowed large sums of money from her. She charged them interest on the loans, of course.

Kronborg Great Hall

Measuring 62 metres in length, Frederick II’s Great Hall was the largest in Northern Europe and undoubtedly made a big impression on European royalty at the time. The furniture gleamed in gold, silver and strong oil-rich colours. At that time, the Great Hall had a magnificent coffered ceiling with endless, colourful wood carvings. In 1582, the wood carver Berent Skotte produced 67 carved boards and panels, and Mikkel Maler painted 1,250 wooden roses. A narrow frieze ran under the ceiling along the top of the walls depicting war scenes of great battles from Germany, France, Spain, Italy and especially battles between Denmark and Sweden.

Since guests had to eat a minimum of 24 dishes during the banquets, there was plenty of time to study the many artistic details and sumptuous décor. Apart from the ceiling and frieze, guests could also admire the walls, which were decorated with Frederick II’s famous tapestries.

At a prominent part of the hall, hung a magnificent canopy with a tapestry as a backdrop under which the king and queen sat. From here, they could see all the guests seated along the walls on yellow benches with red cushions and beautiful wooden panelled back supports. The seating was arranged so that everyone could see the musicians, actors and dancers who performed during the banquet.

Frederick II’s throne canopy

The canopy provided a stage for the king and queen, marking their special status with a place of honour. It is woven with gold and silver threads and purple silk threads and was extremely costly.

Such is the quality of this canopy that, were it not for the survival of its contract, one would think that it had been made in one of the major Flemish weaving centres. However, substantial archival documentation reveals that it was woven not in Brussels or Antwerp, but in Helsingør. The canopy is both the crowning achievement and the swan song of the short-lived workshop set up by Frederick II.

The excellence of the craftsmanship and the speed with which the canopy was apparently woven, attest to a singularly skilful, efficient and well-run shop.

The weaving workshop at Kronborg created a significant number of tapestries for Frederick II. After the successful delivery of a series of twenty tapestries with Old Testament scenes, Frederick II ordered a series tapestries of the Genealogy of the Danish Kings for the Great Hall. His rival, the Swedish king Erik XIV, had commissioned a suite of tapestries depicting his long royal lineage. Frederick II wanted to outdo him (anything you can do, I can do better…).

Designed specifically for the proportion of the Great Hall, the tapestries covered all available wall space, even the sloping walls on either side of the twenty-three window bays. The throne canopy culminated the dynastic cycle. The result was a series of 43 tapestries depicting 101 Danish monarchs and legendary kings. 1,000 years of royal family history and mythology from the legendary King Dan to Frederick II and his son, the later Christian IV, were woven onto silk and yarn. Some of the kings were more fabled than others.

This was an inspirational moment of proto-Baroque theatre on the part of Frederick II and his advisers: in a room encircled by more than one hundred previous rulers in tapestry, the centrepiece would be the actual ruler himself, living, breathing and framed against a tapestry surround.

Unfortunately, only 15 of the 43 tapestries have survived to the present day. Seven of the tapestries are at Kronborg in the Little Hall. The canopy is now at the National Museum in Stockholm.

Kronborg tapestries

The tapestries at Kronborg are technically not tapestries. Only tapestries woven at the factory Manufactures Nationales des Goblins in Paris are tapestries in the strictest sense of the word.

Kronborg Tapestries in the Little Hall

The walls of the Little Hall are furnished with seven tapestries originally from the series of forty-three tapestries portraying one hundred Danish kings. The masterpieces include Tapestry depicting Oluf (1376-1387) and Tapestry depicting Knud VI (1182-1202). Seven more tapestries are at the National Museum of Denmark.

Frederik V’s Chambers

The appearance of the North Wing is different from that of the rest of the castle. In 1760, the north wing was modernised to reflect the tastes of a new era. Stucco ceilings were installed and the old black and white tile floors were replaced with wooden ones. The new interior design was inspired by French Rococo and by the era’s fascination with anything Chinese – as in the elegant lacquering, oriental woods and Chinese porcelain.

Despite the modernisation, the castle had become inconvenient for the royal family and Frederik V (1723-1766) was the last king to reside at Kronborg. The military took it over in 1785. A statement of account shows that these chambers were then used by the governor of Kronborg and his officers. In 1924, the military abandoned the castle proper and, by 1991, the military had also abandoned Kronborg’s peripheral areas.

In 1760-63, King Frederick V installed a suite in contemporary rococo style. The rooms were given panels which still survive, and stucco ceilings. The rooms later provided accommodation for the castle’s military commander. The many pieces of furniture with woodcarvings and other intricate woodwork are predominantly Dutch and were bought in subsequent centuries.

Under Kronborg’s four protruding bastions lie the castle’s underground passages. The casemates are gloomy, cold and damp, but have saved many lives during times of war. Soldiers were able to barricade themselves inside the casemates for weeks. They had room for horses and soldiers and there were provisions to feed 1,000 men for up to six weeks. The casemates were built in 1574-76, when the medieval fortress Krogen was rebuilt into the renaissance castle of Kronborg.

The Casemates
Statue of Holger Danske, cast of the original bronze made by the Danish sculptor H.P. Pedersen-Dan in 1907

In the dark casemates under Kronborg, the mighty warrior Holder Danske sits sleeping with his strong arms resting on his sword. According to legend, he will wake up and fight, if Denmark is ever threatened. The legend tells that Holger was a Danish prince and that he was sent as a hostage to the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne in whose service he accomplished great feats of valour.

In 1845, Hans Christian Andersen wrote a fairy tale in which he placed Holger Danske in the casemates under Kronborg.

Denmark’s Music Wonderland

Ever since Jørn Utzon transformed Sydney forever with his boundary-pushing opera house in the ’60s, harbourside sites have been favourite locations for opera houses and concert halls to capitalise on the wider impact of iconic architecture. Harpa Concert Hall, Esplanade Concert Hall, Oslo Opera House, Elbphilharmonie all take advantage of prominent waterside sites.

The Copenhagen Concert Hall (DR Koncerthuset) doesn’t. It is located in a residential and commercial district on the outskirts of the old inner city, and it is flanked by boring glass residential and office blocks. Elevated train tracks running to the old city swing right by the building; swaths of undeveloped land with tufts of grass and mounds of dirt extend to the south.

DR — the shorthand for Danmarks Radio — has a history that goes all the way back to 1925, yet today, following completion of a 2008 ground-up rebuild, is one of the world’s most modern broadcast organizations, producing content on all platforms available, ranging from radio/TV to Internet-based media. While there are some regional stations and facilities spread across the country, the main facility is DR BYEN (DR Town), in Copenhagen. This facility was completed in 2008. Here is the main concert hall (DR Koncerthuset), 14 big studios for music, drama, and shows, and a vast number of smaller talk studios and so on. The four-building complex also offers all kinds of workshops for electronic equipment, woodwork, mechanics, and so on, and comprehensive libraries for background literature and music. The four different buildings were designed by four different architect teams to obtain maximum variation within the general plan.

How you react to DR Koncerthuset depends on when you see it — and what you are expecting. Because of Ateliers Jean Nouvel’s design approach, both the building and the auditoriums and spaces within assume a vastly different character depending on the time of day you visit.

From the outside in bright light, it looks like nothing more than a large rectangular box that for some reason is swathed in electric-blue scaffolding net and plopped down in an industrial landscape. Approached along the main road from the historic city, the hall’s cobalt blue exterior has a temporal, ghostly quality. Its translucent fabric skin is stretched over a structural frame of steel beams and tension cables that resembles scaffolding. During the day you can see figures moving about inside, as well as the vague outline of the performance space, its curved form embedded in a matrix of foyers and offices. In broad daylight, the main lobby looks like an airport from a 1940s war movie, where sun streams through large window walls and illuminates the dark concrete floor and military-style furnishings designed to resemble flight crates for musical instruments.

Foyer

It is in darkness that the building comes fully to life. When the sun goes down, it is transformed into an ethereal, dematerialized object with images of musicians eerily flitting across the screens of glass fibre with a PVC coating. The multilevel interior foyer also changes personality at night, taking on the iridescence of a multimedia nightclub, with projections splashing polychromatic patterns and videos across various surfaces. The concert hall, bathed in tantalizing images, is in stark opposition to the sterile desolation around it.

Neither its day- nor night-time persona gets you ready for the large concert hall. Seating 1,809 and raised above the lobby, it looks in section like some giant clam caught among pilings within a huge (60 by 96 metres) blue cage, 45 metres high. Yet when you enter the auditorium, you discover an expansive and warmly resplendent interior.

DR Koncerthuset

To reach the main performance space, concertgoers can either ride up escalators directly in front of the main entrance or turn to climb a broad staircase.

Just to the left of those stairs are elevators that shoot up to the lobby and upper-level foyers, whose ceilings are decorated in fragmented, overlapping panels. As video images wash over the panels, the pictures break apart so that you perceive them only in fragments, like reflections in broken glass. More images stream across the walls. The effect is a mounting intensity that verges on the psychedelic.

None of this would be effective, however, without Jean Nouvel’s keen understanding of architecture’s most basic elements, including a feel for scale and materials. The towering proportions of the lobbies, for example, seem to propel you up through the building. When you reach the upper foyers, you feel the weight of the main performance space pressing down on you.

At the same time, views open up from the corners of the building to the outside world. It’s as if you were hovering in some strange interstitial zone, between the banal urban scenery outside and the focused atmosphere of a concert.

This complex layering of social spaces brings to mind the labyrinthine quarters of an Arab souk as much as it does a high-tech information network. That’s largely because the choice of materials puts you at ease: elevator shafts and staircases are clad in plywood, giving many of the spaces the raw, unpretentious aura of a construction site. The building’s concrete surfaces are wrinkled in appearance, like an elephant’s skin, but when you touch them, they feel as smooth as polished marble.

By contrast, the main performance hall wraps you in a world of luxury. Like Scharoun’s cherished Berlin Philharmonic hall and Toyota’s Suntory hall in Tokyo, the Copenhagen Concert Hall is organized in a vineyard pattern, with seats stepping down toward the stage on all sides in a series of cantilevered balconies. The pattern allows you to gaze over the stage at other concertgoers, creating a communal ambience. Because the balconies are stepped asymmetrically, you never feel that you are planted amid monotonous rows of identical spectators. (I have to add here that the lack of leg room in the first row in the balcony was incredibly uncomfortable!! Serious design flaw.)

DR Koncerthuset
DR Koncerthuset

The balcony walls are canted, so that they seem to be pitching toward the stage. A small rectangular balcony designed for the queen of Denmark and her immediate family hovers over one side of the hall, breaking down the scale. The entire room was fashioned from layers of hardwood, which gives it an unusual warmth and solidity, as if it had been carved out of a single block.

Little Puffles and Honey were very impressed with the acoustics during the Luisi & Beethoven 7 concert. Outstanding acoustics for an outstanding performance. The program included Schönberg – Transfigured Night; Strauss – Horn Concerto No 1 and Beethoven – Symphony No 7.

DR Koncerthuset

The Concert Hall is rated as one of the top 10 classical concert halls in the world by the magazine Grammophone. This impressive venue is basically designed for classical symphonic music; however, variable acoustics, an advanced set design and the vast amount of broadcast installations provides a large number of possibilities. In the standard configuration, the Concert Hall seats 1,800 people around the arena-type stage. Another 150 seats can be added on the stage while, for some purposes, the stage is oriented in one direction, say for a pop show, reducing the available seats to 1,280.

The chairs are designed to have the same absorption when empty as a concertgoer provides when seated. The volume of 28,000 cubic meters ensures that the reverberation time is not too much affected by the presence of an audience.

In addition, all the surfaces of the hall weigh a minimum of 100 kg per square meter which insures the best possible reproduction of the lowest sounds. This means that most surfaces consist of up to six layers of plaster and plywood.

The variable acoustics are obtained by using heavy movable curtains. The curtains are parked outside the room or above the ceiling when not in use. It takes approximately 20 minutes to transform the acoustics from a reverberation time of 2.3 seconds down to 1.6 seconds, which is more convenient for pop/rock/jazz and other rhythmic music.

The stage consists of 29 individually adjustable podiums. So depending on the size of the orchestra, or the genre of the music, the stage setting can be optimized in a very flexible way. For large musical works, the seating area behind the stage can be included for choirs of almost any size.

To make the hall complete, a 92-register Van den Heuvel organ is installed, with 6,142 pipes and a net weight of 40 tons. Further a series of Steinway concert pianos are available.

DR Koncerthuset
DR Koncerthuset

Above the stage, the canopy is suspended. It provides reflections back to the stage to improve ensemble feeling. Normally the canopy is parked in a fixed position 15.5 meters above the stage, but it is adjustable. Further, the canopy serves as a base for suspended microphones as well as the permanently installed sound reinforcement system.

Danmarks Radio (DR) has on the payroll the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Chamber Orchestra, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Danish National Concert Choir, Danish National Girls’ Choir, Danish National Children’s Choir, Danish National Sprouts Choir and the DR Big Band. All ensembles are top-notch in their field. To ensure good sound quality, DR provides all the musical instruments played by the employed ensemble musicians!

The main concert hall is located on top of three-in-a-row studios én suite (you can look straight through all three rooms, through a series of fixed, very thick glass). On the website and the concert tickets, Koncerthuset is sometimes spelt as

K3NC2R1
HUS4T

alluding to Studios 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the concert house.

The remaining space between the studios and the main auditorium is utilized for offices, rehearsal rooms and the foyer. The foyer also has its own stage and can be used for concerts. In-house facilities at the Concert Hall for musicians include 21 group rooms, 12 rooms for soloists and a further eight rehearsal rooms.

Studio 2
Studio 2

Studio 2 is inspired by the big production studios in Hollywood. On the plywood walls hang large panels with portraits of selected soloists, conductors and composers printed on them as decoration. The portraits were processed with a special vector graphics technique, that turn the images into black and white contrasts, then stensiled on the plywood walls.

Studio 3
Studio 3

Studio 3 is the smallest of the four halls and can be customized for any event since there is no fixed stage or audience seating. The black walls, in alternating polished and matte panelling, are inspired by a grand piano. The floor is stained oak.

Studio 4
Studio 4

Studio 4 is also flexible and can be adapted to a wide variety of events. The walls and ceiling are in deep red shades. The metal coffers are aluminium, the absorbent surface is felt. The floors are stained oak.

Jean Nouvel’s DR Koncerthuset demonstrates that an intimate musical experience and boldly imaginative architecture need not be in conflict — they can actually reinforce each other.

Beary Christmas From Tivoli Wonderland

Time for a crazy Christmas show 🙂

In a galaxy far too close for comfort, the president of the orange planet threatens the galaxy with blah, blah, blah…

And now a super bomb!

Crazy Christmas Cabaret’s 35th performance is a parody of the Star Wars universe, as a background for the chaos and confusion of the current political environment. The president of the Orange Planet, Ronald Rump, is causing no end of chaos and confusion and placing the galaxy in grave danger. The other political leaders (Angela Mærkelig, Emanuel Macaroon of Planet Camembert and Kim Pong Pu) are not able to negotiate with him, so the hero, Luke Skystalker, must protect the galaxy from Ronald Rump’s superb bomb, with various degrees of help from Princess Liar, Master Yoghurt, Onli Won Karaoke, C-Through Keyhole, 2B or not 2B, and even Daft Vizor!

Princess Liar
Ronald Rump and daughter
Ronald Rump and Princess Liar
Kim Pong Pu with assistant droid
Daft Vizor
Crazy Christmas Cabaret 2017

It was a funny performance, possibly a bit too long. The hero wins in the end, of course, the galaxy is saved and Ronald Rump and family take refuge on Kim Pong Pu’s planet. One for the Christmas wish list…

This Is A Christmas Market

Just when I was beginning to despair that our expectations of Christmas markets were unrealistic, we arrived at Tivoli Christmas Markets. Little bears’ expectations are inversely proportional to their height 🙂

Two level carousel

The horse looks tempting…

The Elf Train

Real hyacinths
Elevenses at Cakenhagen
Elevenses at Cakenhagen – Danish rice pudding with cherry sauce and Tivoli cake

We are going back tomorrow!

On the Concert Hall Trail in Northern Europe

The in-depth stories about each concert hall will come later, but little Puffles and Honey want to give a preview of their beary exciting musical adventures now 🙂

Northern Europe is the location of no less than four cultural venues with crystal-clear acoustics and breathtaking architecture. Little bears, of course, checked out all the locations for themselves 🙂

First Harpa in Reykjavik. The venue is unusually defined by its facade. It’s a powerful statement created by fusing the creative visions of Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects and internationally acclaimed artist, Olafur Eliasson. The sparkling glazed fenestrations transform the public areas, which are now often seen as being almost as important as the performing spaces themselves.

Harpa
Harpa

It is probably no coincidence that although Eliasson is Danish, his parents are Icelandic, allowing the citizens of Iceland to have at least part ownership in this world-class success at a difficult time in their history.

Harpa
Harpa

Seen from the foyer, the halls form a mountain-like massif that similar to basalt rock on the coast forms a stark contrast to the expressive and open facade. At the core of the rock, the largest hall of the building, the main concert hall, reveals its interior as a red-hot centre of force.

Harpa main auditorium

Little bears attended Kristján Jóhannsson’s annual Christmas concert, a festive program also including Dísella Lárusdóttir, Ólafur Kjartan Sigurðarson and Margrét Eiríksdóttir performing opera favorites and classic christmas songs with the Reykjavík Opera Choir and Kópavogur Men’s Choir, accompanied by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bjarni Frímann Bjarnason.

Harpa

Little bears attended another two shows at Harpa, Arvo Pärt and Mozart and How to Become Icelandic in 60 minutes, a hilarious comedy that taught them how to say Eyjafjallajökull!

Harpa
Elevenses at Harpa

Next on the list was Musiikkitalo in Helsinki.

Musiikkitalo

Musiikkitalo deliberately reveals its treasures only after one actually enters the building. In the lobby huge panoramic windows look into the dark stained concert hall. Not only does the rather understated building have an auditorium with 1700 seats and five smaller halls – there are also three saunas!

Musiikkitalo
Elevenses at Musiikkitalo – the cakes were very good, the salmon quiche is best never mentioned again!

Musiikkitalo was the least fun place to visit.

Musiikkitalo main auditorium

The stairs and stand of the auditorium are dazzling; the asymmetrical seats remind one of jammed rafts. The big hall resonates richly, but at the same time transparently; acoustics guru Yasuhisa Toyota was involved in the planning process from the start and did a great job here, where it is all about communication and not worship.

Musiikkitalo – Sibelius concert as part of the Finland 100 celebrations

Wozzeck at Oslo Opera House was also not fun. Not the most cheerful of operas! Just between us, we can say we were present at Wozzeck but not that we have really seen Wozzeck.

Oslo Opera House

The location, Oslo’s Bjørvika neighbourhood, was chosen because it was in need of urban renewal. The building had a subsidiary role in spearheading dockland redevelopment. Snøhetta opted for a roofline that rose from up from the waterline and the structure has been likened both to an iceberg and a stealth bomber that crashed into Oslofjord. The edges of the building can be used as a diving platform where they meet the water, and visitors can also walk up its sloping walls to the very top to admire the view. Passers-by often find themselves wandering into this fun structure without realising they have entered a concert hall.

In common with Harpa at present, the Oslo Opera House is surrounded by construction sites as the area continues to be renewed.

Oslo Opera House

Wondering around the opera house was a bit more fun 🙂

Oslo Opera House
Oslo Opera House

The Oslo Opera House has proved a remarkably successful building, although the general view remains that there is a lot of bloom to the sound and that the overall building is more visually stunning than its auditorium.

Oslo Opera House
Oslo Opera House
Oslo Opera House
Oslo Opera House

Little bears found Stage 2 where Jingle Horse! was playing, a Christmas collage of well-known stories with a new twist, sometimes funny, sometimes less so. The show was in English, none of the stories escaped parody and not much was off-limits! Not even Mary Mother of God or the refugee crisis.

One of the reviews said the ensemble acting was so strong that it could carry any kind of text you could imagine. That was certainly true!

Jingle Horse!
Jingle Horse!

But the main character was very cute indeed! And an excellent actor 🙂

Jingle Horse!
Jingle Horse

And yet at the end, everybody left the stage and left him all alone…

Jingle Horse!

Little Puffles and Honey went to the rescue… 🙂

Oslo Opera House – Stage 2
Big hug from Jingle Horse

Danish Broadcasting’s new concert hall in Copenhagen, DR Koncerthuset, is sultry, curvaceous and clothed in aromatic reds and oranges. It is also spatially deceptive.

DR Koncerthuset
DR Koncerthuset
DR Koncerthuset
DR Koncerthuset
DR Koncerthuset
DR Koncerthuset

The performance of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Fabio Luisi was outstanding. It received a standing ovation and rightly so.

DR Koncerthuset