No discussion of 20th century Danish music would be complete without lavish attention being paid to one of the nation’s greatest musical dynasties: the Koppel family, beginning with Herman David Koppel (1908-1998), the eminent Danish composer and his four children, Therese Koppel, pianist (1936-2015), Lone Koppel, soprano (born 1938), the youngest, Anders Koppel (born 1947), beginning his career as a clarinetist but increasingly gaining in importance as a composer, and Thomas Koppel (1944-2006).
Thomas’ father, Herman came from a Jewish family and when Nazi persecution of the Danish Jews began in October of 1943, he fled with his wife and two young daughters to Sweden. Herman’s wife was pregnant with Thomas at the time. Being born in a refugee camp would leave a permanent mark on Thomas’ consciousness and conscience; he maintained life-long solidarity with disadvantaged and homeless people and with refugees and would grow up to embrace many liberal political causes.
Thomas’ talents emerged at an early age and initially, he followed in his father’s footsteps as a classical pianist, a jazz musician, and as a composer. Thomas studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music with his father who was professor of piano there, but Thomas found the structure of the Academy confi ning and lacking in relevance. His senior recital was so unconventional that the Academy failed him.
As a child of the ‘60s, Thomas took an interest in rock and popular music. He founded the experimental rock group Savage Rose with his brother Anders. In 1968, they added four more members including the singer Annisette. Together the group fused elements from classical music, jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues. Thomas Koppel and Annisette would marry and involved themselves in many radical political and social justice projects. Savage Rose became a landmark in the history of Danish rock and was one of the first bands from a non-English-speaking country to gain wide international success. Notwithstanding the band’s popularity and cult status, Koppel increasingly found himself wanting to return to pursue contemporary composition, which would become the primary focus of the last 15 years of his life.
Several of the pieces that Koppel wrote in this later period were composed for renowned Danish recorder player Michala Petri, including the Los Angeles Street Concerto, which was completed only three months before Koppel died unexpectedly in Puerto Rico at the age of 61.