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234th Season

Herman von Lovenskjold


Baron Herman Lovenskiold (1815-1870) was a Norwegian composer who wrote the score for the ballet La Sylphide in 1836 at the request of the Danish choreographer August Bournonville. The ballet had been staged in France with music by Jean-Madeleine Schneitzhoeffer but the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen could not afford to pay for the French score. Bournonville therefore turned to the 21-year-old Lovenskiold whose music for La Sylphide now constitutes the "oldest living comprehensive romantic ballet score."

Lovenskiold settled in Denmark in 1842 and in 1851 became the Court organist. His name appears in English variously as Lovenskiold, Lovenskjold, Lovenskiold, Levenskjold, and Levenskiold.


Lovenskiold was born on July 30, 1815 in Holmestrand, Norway where his father, Baron E.C.F. Lovenskiold, was director of the royal ironworks. In 1829 Lovenskiold‘s father relocated his family to Denmark where he had accepted a postion with the forestry service, where he supervised the area aurrounding Fureso Lake in northern Copenhagen.

Lovenskiold was originally intended for military service, but his great musical talent came to the attention of the composers Christoph Weyse and Friedrich Kuhlau, and through their intervention the young Lovenskiold was allowed to study music.

Soon Lovenskiold took up compositon, showing a great facility for melody and instrumentation. In 1835 he came to the attention of the great choreographer August Bournonville, Maоtre de Ballet en Chef of the Royal Danish Ballet, who commissioned the twenty-one year old composer to create the music for his version of the ballet La Sylphide.

The work had originally been staged in Paris by Filippo Taglioni at the Thйвtre de l‘Academie Royale de Musique (or Paris opera) to the music of Jean-Madeliene Schnietzhoeffer. Bournonville saw the ballet in 1834, and was so delighted with it that he decided to stage the work for the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen. But the administration of the Royal Danish Theatre refused to supply Bournonville the funds for the extremely high price the Paris opйra demanded for Schnietzhoeffer‘s score. In light of this, Bournoville chose to stage his own version, and rather than assemble a score from popular airs from operas and various other sources, as was the custom for many ballet scores of the time, he turned to the young Lovenskiold, who supplied an original score filled with the melodious musique dansante Bournonville required. The ballet premiered to great success on November 28, 1836, with the legendary ballerina Lucille Grahn as the Sylph.

In 1838 Lovenskiold traveled to Vienna, Leipzig, and St. Petersburg to study music further. He settled in Copenhagen in 1842 when he was appointed royal kammermusikus. By 1851 he was named court organist to the church of Christiansborg Palace.

Lovenskiold continued composing ballets, as well as music for plays, singspiels, and several piano and chamber pieces. However, none of this work attained the fame of his score for Bournonville‘s La Sylphide. Having been Baron by title, he was considerably wealthy, and composed merely for his own pleasure.

He died in Copenhagen on December 5, 1870.

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