1935 to 1995
Thanks to Prof. Friedrich Lips for writing this memorial to his great friend Mogens Ellegaard. Thanks also to Dr Herbert Scheibenreif for translation to English and German languages.
My memory flicks through sides of biographies, which are dedicated to the contact with human beings dear to me - composers, performers, and somehow I am surprised by the fact that some of them emerge in my memory particularly often. These memories warm the soul. I would like to express some special thanks, but, unfortunately, it is already a bit late...

I got to know Mogens Ellegaard in Klingenthal in 1975, although we had already heard from each other - we both had recordings from each other. He had come with his own students in order to listen to the competition and to meet, at the same time, with his future wife, the accordionist Marta Bene from Hungary.

This was a complicated love story, but after all, they had a lucky, but not very long common life. As first prize-winner of 1969, I was invited by the organizers of the international competition in Klingenthal to perform in the evening concerts. I still remember the sincere joy in the face of Ellegaard, at the moment I first became acquainted with him. During lunch, we sat next to each other and talked in German. Suddenly the waiter brought us both, unexpectedly for me, a large jug of beer. He explained that my new friend had made this order, whose payment he naturally took over unnoticed by me. Mogens repelled my attempts to pay with a smile: "The money is round!".

During the gala concert, at which the Warsaw Accordion Quintet under the direction of Lech Puchnovski, Vladimir Besfamilnov and other musicians took part, I played the Sonate No. 3 by Vladislav Zolotariev. After this concert I won many admirers and new friends, among others Elsbeth Moser. Mogens with Marta and Elsbeth expressed the desire to spend the evening together and we drove to my hotel in Plauen, 30 kilometers from Klingenthal. We celebrated till dawn.

It was an unusual night with new friends. They were perfectly delighted by Zolotariev's music and expressed even words of sincere sympathy for me. One must say that after this appearance my international career began.

Lech Puchnovski invited me to Bialystok (Poland) for his annual summer courses, Fernand Lacroix to the annual seminars in Châtel (France), and after some years Ellegaard organized two concert tours for me in Scandinavia, and Moser in Germany. That evening Mogens expressed the enormous desire to purchase a bayan "Jupiter" like I had. The next morning, I would have arrived almost too late at the airport Berlin/Schönefeld, for the return flight to Moscow, where a telegram already awaited me, with the message that Vladislav Zolatariev was no longer alive ...

The following year I met Mogens and his young wife Marta at the annual summer seminar in Châtel (France), which was organized by Fernand Lacroix. Besides the concerts and master classes, we spent much time together. I was pleased by his way of teaching - with the instrument in his hands, the convincing reasons for his own demands, an abundance of interesting associations, always with his own, special humor.

Again we spent the night before leaving France together until the morning, with exquisite beverages, full of discussions about problems of the bayan.

When leaving he said to Marta: "We must reserve one night for Friedrich each year!" (literally: "pull out one night from the calendar").

The message that the most prominent musician in the west expressed the desire to purchase a bayan "Jupiter" evoked a certain euphoria of the management and the masters of the Moscovites bayan factory, in the factory's everyday life.

Finally, it was an acknowledgment of the Russian way of thinking, of how to construct instruments. A. Ginzburg, director of the bayan factory, vehemently supported the idea of constructing bayans "Jupiter" for export, even more, as one of the most important musicians in the west was concerned, and he asked his best masters to do this job: main technical designer J. Volkovitch and V. Vasiljev, who was prominent with the manufacturing of the reeds.

Mogens, as did most bayanists and accordionists in the west, played on a 9 row-instrument, 3 rows of melody (free bass) arranged near the bellows, and 6 rows of standard bass further from the bellow. In Germany I told him that nobody makes 9 rows in Russia, but only 6 rows with the converter key on the left keyboard.

Then he asked rather timidly: "O.k., the future will belong to the 6 row-instrument with converter, I will try to study it, however, please do make a C-griff (C system) bayan for me with the low notes on the top of the melody bass manual, particularly since I do not have so many years left, in order to be able to acquire my whole own repertoire on your B system, with the basses down".

Volkovitch did not have any special problems to build a bayan with the new system for the first time. The instrument turned out to be simply super! Ellegaard was very content with his new bayan and generously thanked all masters.

Just as a joke, I later said not once only, that today, nearly the whole world would play on our system. If I would have told anybody at that time that it was impossible in Russia to construct a C-Griff bayan because Mogens who wanted very passionately to purchase a "Jupiter" would probably have begun to study the B-system... This is a joke of course, but Ellegaard's influence on the whole art of playing the bayan was so big in the west that soon all producers in Italy and Germany changed to six-row bayans with converter in the left keyboard.

Talking about Ellegaard's personality, one must think of everything he has achieved in life. I think the fact that his being talented artist, the divine grace of the paedagogue and the organizer in international fields permitted to him to succeed in all walks of life, thus leaving an outstanding trace in the world-wide bayan culture.

The opening of accordion classes at the Danish Royal Conservatoire in Copenhagen, at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, at the Conservatoire in Oslo as well as the University for Music and Theatre in Graz (Austria) is connected with the name of Ellegaard. Among his pupils there are Matti Rantanen, Owen Murray, Jon Faukstad, Geir Draugsvoll, James Grabb and many, many others.

Ellegaard was one of the first to recognize the necessity to create an original repertoire for our instrument. He worked hard with composers and also included all new names into this process. O. Schmidt, P. Nørgård, A. Nordheim, T. Lundquist, N.V. Bentzon, L. Kayser, P. Olsen and many others, in fact, all Scandinavian composers dedicated their works to him.

Ellegaard has arranged an impressive list of the works of Scandinavian composers with indication of the years of their premiere. It is a fact that most of the works from this list are used constantly by accordionists of almost all countries in their educational and concert repertoires. Ellegaard's co-operation with composers is a valuable contribution for the world-wide "treasure-chest" of bayanists.

Ellegaard was driven by unbelievable discipline in his life. His day started at 5 o'clock in the morning. He practiced on the instrument, answered letters and then
drove to work at the conservatoire at 9 o'clock. In general, he was an unusually well educated human being. He had excellent knowledge of English, German, French, Norwegian, Swedish and, of course, Danish.

When I got letters from him, and I collected not just a few, as there was no fax or internet at that time, even a telephone call had to be ordered one or two days before, it was always a real pleasure how he developed his thoughts in his letters. First why the letter was written, then a small report on his activities, afterwards he wanted to know things about my family and he told me how he spent his time with his family, and in the end he absolutely let flow the element of humor, the whole letter being written in outstanding German.

Contact with him always presented an enormous pleasure to me. Mogens showed himself, and that in relation to the environment, always in a very humorous way. He estimated humor and reacted to the jokes of others both skillfully and in a very open way. I remember when we were sitting in the restaurant together with his class after my concert in the Danish Royal Conservatoire in Copenhagen. One of his students was wearing a red roll neck. He wears it for your honour, because you come from Moscow! - was Ellegaard unable to resist to remark.

In general, he was glad to make fun of the political system in the Soviet Union at that time. You neither have democracy nor the right to free expression of opinion!
- he continued to put pressure on me the whole evening. But, in the sense of
humor, we reacted differently, therefore I called with appropriate pathos: Why not? We also say what we want! Thus, I can go to the main place of Copenhagen and say: the Prime Minister of Denmark Nilsen is an idiot! Can you do the same in Moscow?

Certainly! I can go to Red Square in Moscow and also say: the Prime Minister of Denmark Nilsen is an idiot!

We laughed all evening. Generally Mogens knew excellently how to receive his guests, as well as to organize tours and master classes. In Mietne (Poland) in 1992, on his initiative the International Accordion Society IAS was founded consisting of five board members: Matti Rantanen (Finland), Lech Puchnovski (Poland), Mogens Ellegaard (Denmark), Joseph Macerollo (Canada), Friedrich Lips (Russia). President of the executive committee should be either Puchnovski or Ellegaard.

But none of them wanted to take over this responsibility and finally, among five members of the board Ellegaard proved to be "the first among equals". Finally, he was motor and generator of various ideas. Besides, thanks to his knowledge of languages he was able to communicate with each of the four other members of the board. We tried to realize the following ideas: standardisation of all instrument models, standardisation of terms in musical works, independent of country and publishing house.

At the congresses in Finland, Germany and twice in Italy we agreed on most questions despite large difficulties. But, unfortunately, all compiled ideas remained on paper, because, after Ellegaard had passed away in 1995, no leader could be found to complete the work. We all were convinced of the importance of a strong personality for the completion of a certain work.

I remember our last meeting at the accordion festival in Toronto (Canada) in 1994. As the organizer of the festival Joseph Macerollo succeeded in bringing together the stars among the accordion artists: Mogens Ellegaards, Hugo Noth, Matti Rantanen, Mini Dekkers... Joseph Macerollo premiered R. Murray Schafer's "Accordion Concerto" with symphony orchestra, I presented new original music of Russian composers for bayan.

Coincidentally Ellegaard and I had booked the same return flight to Frankfurt. We sat in a row next to each other and, the whole night, we talked. It was a further completely mad night with an unusually interesting interlocutor, with a personality! Everything began with an aperitif before dinner. I ordered a small bottle of whisky "Johnny Walker", and Mogens a bottle of "Martell". I was surprised: Mogens was a big admirer of whisky and I had got accustomed to this noble beverage, when he brought me a one litre bottle "Ballantine" as a gift on his first trip to Moscow.

But after a few minutes everything was as usual again: "Why did I order this Cognac? I should have ordered whisky like you!" - and as the hostess came by next time, he ordered whisky for me and himself. Without closing an eye, we sketched different projects for the development of the art of bayan on international level. We spoke about the fact that one should help the young people to find work and arrange concert tours; on the initiative of our international society we planned the founding of a new international competition as well as the organization of small tours for young winners as an award instead of prize money.

Generally Ellegaard did not appreciate competitions, particularly the "Coupe Mondiale" which he did not consider serious enough. We continued our discussion about the standardisation of the instruments and terms in the world-wide bayan literature, only interrupted by the conversations with the hostesses concerning the beverages. We continued to order whisky regularly ... Suddenly it occurred to Mogens:
She has not come for a long time!
- and he pressed the button, in order to call the hostess.
Probably they will not given us anything more. We already have drunk quite a
lot, - I expressed my fear carefully.
Surely we will get some more, certainly!

Naturally they brought us bottles. In addition Mogens personally went to the hostesses and brought back some whisky. That was him!. If he had an aim, he aways reached for it. All in all everyone of us, as far as I remember, had drunk seven bottles (about 350 milliliters).

Sometimes I had the impression that he was missing the contact to colleagues. And actually, he had the enormous house with his wife in Sweden, in a large forest, there was nobody else; very seldom contact with his students in Denmark, no discussions on university level, with nobody... While working in the jury of competitions in Witten, Moscow or in the meetings of our international society I felt, how he longed for discussions with colleagues.

Now Mogens would be 70 years old. But unfortunately it has been already 10 years that he is no longer with us. Were his pupils, as the following generation, grateful, and we?

He has set himself a monument dedicated by literature, the photographs as well as by his various activities. But I think, it would have been necessary to create a "Mogens Ellegaard-Prize" as regular competition for young musicians. It took place in Copenhagen once, it was planned to be annually in different countries of Scandinavia. However, it could not be realized.

It would also be interesting to collect articles about this outstanding musician; notes about Ellegaard's educational principles could be taken by his pupils or from the memories of colleagues and friends... One could still invent much!

We should learn to be grateful to God not only for our own appearance in this world...

March 2005 is the tenth anniversary of the untimely death from leukaemia of Mogens Ellegaard, which is an appropriate time to look back on his career and achievement. In the spring of 1995 he was due to play a major role in an international accordion festival in Amsterdam in which many international stars were taking part. His death on 28th March, just two weeks before the festival, turned several of the recitals into memorial concerts in his honour. His loss at just 60 years of age hung heavily over the event as the organisers dedicated it to his memory.

There can be no doubt that Ellegaard had a profound influence over the direction of the development of the accordion in the second half of the 20th century. It is fair to say that in spite of its popularity in the first half of the 20th century the accordion was generally shunned by serious musicians. Accordion music was confined to Saturday night variety shows, dance halls and folk dances. Concert artists would play transcriptions of popular classics or original compositions by Frosini, Pietro Deiro and their Italian-American friends.

It was music, which existed on its own and was very rarely performed as part of main concert programmes. Mogens' achievement was the interest he evoked in serious musicians to write for the accordion and search for a new voice quite different from the traditions with which it had been associated. 'For me the transcription literature,' he wrote in 1983, '(was)…a temporary emergency solution'. When inappropriate it produced a negative impact in the classical world and emphasised the lack of quality original repertoire.
I myself spent eight years in Copenhagen at the Danish Royal Academy of Music studying with him between 1974 and 1982 and in that time I think I can say I came to know him well.

For part of that time he lived in Sweden in Malmö commuting each week to Copenhagen to teach at the Danish Royal Academy. Later he moved to Ballerup just to the north of Copenhagen. I was privileged to visit him in each of his homes and also to perform with him as a student in several of the local concerts that he gave. He had one major mission in his career, which was to see the accordion firmly established as a serious musical instrument in the mainstream of contemporary composition and classical concert programmes. This was of course a controversial aim shared by only a handful of people and not universally understood by the accordion movement either in Denmark, the UK or elsewhere. Ironically his aim was the same as those with whom he might clash i.e. to create in a period of decline, a future for the instrument. I have to say that I had the highest respect and admiration for what he was seeking to do and came to share his enthusiasm and I might say passion, communicated sometimes with sharp wit but always with good humour.




The accordion was a very big part of his too short life. He started to play the instrument as a child of eight when his parents gave him an accordion whilst he was recovering in hospital from an accident, a story he was fond of telling in a humorous way. He did not set out to become a musician. He studied literature at Schneekloth's College in Copenhagen and graduated with honours. After military service he was given an American Embassy Literary Award for study in the United States and partially supported himself whilst there, playing his accordion in restaurants and popular concerts.

At this stage of his life his repertoire was 'accordion mainstream' music i.e. Frosini solos, Deiro overtures and concertos and transcribed mainly 19th century classics. In 1952 as a 'very young hopeful Danish accordionist' as he described himself, he had played in the CIA Coupe Mondiale in Holland. He records that it was David Anzaghi playing in that contest Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue using a free bass accordion that made him decide to make the change to a free bass instrument. 'I stopped' he wrote 'on the way back through Germany to order a free-bass model a la Anzaghi.'

At this time he was 17 years of age and it was the instrument he took with him to the USA when he went a few years later. He frequently liked to tell his story of how he explained what a free-bass accordion was to American audiences by playing the 'John Brown's Body' theme (the hero of the anti-slavery movement) in the left hand and the Federal anthem theme in the right hand, and then playing the two together. A dramatic demonstration to a US audience fifty years ago of the polyphonic possibilities of a free bass accordion!



Mogens returned to Denmark in 1958 and by this time he had developed a very high level of technical skill as an accordion player. He liked to play Frosini's Carnival of Venice variations, the Deiro Concerto in D and many other pieces, which showed off his technical skill. The Danish pianist/composer Vilfrid Kjaer (1906-1969) wrote a concerto for him with orchestra. Kjaer's style was light music according to Mogens in a Swedish article and the accordion concerto he composed was in this vein. At a concert at which Mogens played the Deiro Concerto in D, the young conductor and composer Ole Schmidt (b.1928) was in the audience and when asked by Mogens for his opinion bluntly said that he did not like it but admired his technical skill.

This brought forth the challenge from Mogens to Schmidt to do better, and the challenge was accepted. Eight months later, Mogens, as he has written, found himself premièring Ole Schmidt's Symphonic Fantasy and Allegro (Op.20) for accordion and orchestra with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra with the composer conducting. The work was amazingly successful and from that day forward Mogens played it many times not only in Scandinavia but also all over the world with many other orchestras. It was the first concerto written for a free bass accordion and undoubtedly set the course at 23 years of age for the rest of Mogens' career.

Ole Schmidt wrote two Toccatas (No.1 op 24 and No.2 op 28) and a suite of four solo pieces (which included 'The flight of the meat ball') and a second concerto for accordion and orchestra by 1964. All of these works were successful and helped to encourage others to write for him. In the mid to late 1960's Mogens teamed up with the Swedish composer Torbjörn Lundquist who produced in the course of ten or more years numerous works for free bass accordion, some of them highly virtuosic, some playable by performers of moderate skill and some for beginners, but all of them written to encourage free bass playing at all levels.

By the 1980's Mogens had built up a library of works written for him by a whole group of modern Scandinavian composers, Niels Viggo Bentzon, Per Nørgaard, Ib Nørholm, Poul Rovsing Olsen, Vagn Holmboe, Bent Lorentzen, Steen Pade, Arne Nordheim, Leif Kayser and others. The exact number of works commissioned by Mogens and/or dedicated to him by composers who were simply inspired to write for him I do not know, but it is certainly well in excess of a hundred. It would indeed be useful if a complete catalogue were compiled setting out dates of composition, dates of publication and the publisher. This would make the extent of his legacy at least visible.



In a short space I do not think I can or should attempt to assess the quality and pick out for readers what I think are the best of these works. Many of them were written for free bass accordions of the '9 row' type and require some small changes now to play on a modern convertor instrument. All serious music has to be tested by time and from the 1980's with 'glasnost' and the fall of the 'iron curtain' in Eastern Europe it has had to compete more and more with the output from Russia, eastern European countries and others around the world.

Almost none of the literature for free bass accordion from these sources however pre-dates the early successes of Mogens Ellegaard with Ole Schmidt and Torbjörn Lundquist. All the commissioned works for example of Marcosignori are for standard bass accordion. The commissioned works by the American Accordionists Association in the 1950's were for standard bass accordion. Paul Creston's Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra for example, commissioned by the AAA was written in 1960 for standard bass accordion as were works by Henry Cowell and others written after the early works of Schmidt and Lundquist. There can be no doubt about Ellegaard's première status as a pioneer in the commissioning of serious work for the free bass instrument.

One difficulty about assessment is the extraordinarily diverse approaches to contemporary composition of the composers who wrote for him. There is a vast difference for example between Vagn Holmboe's Sonata No.1 for Accordion Op 143a (1979) and Ib Nørholm's Sonata for Accordion Op 41 (1967). The former sonata is a small four movement rather conservative work in strict sonata form whilst the latter is a much more avant-garde serealist work but overlaid with snippets of a waltz and pre-serealist musical language. Similarly with works using orchestra.

The Ole Schmidt Symphonic Fantasy and Allegro (1958) might be said to be much in line with the post-traditionalist work of Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) and is totally different to Arne Nordheim's Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra (1975) called Spur which is an advanced avant garde work heavily influenced by French electronic music. Both concertos were extremely successful and were commercially recorded by Ellegaard and played by many other accordionists. The cadenza of Spur is also published (with a few changes) as a solo piece called Flashing and has also been recorded by other artists many times.

In my judgement one of Ellegaard's main achievements in commissioned work was his experimentation with chamber works. Many of these took the accordion for the first time into new and uncharted territory in the process of integrating it into the musical mainstream. He did this from the early days, for example in works with Lundquist for string quartet and accordion - Bewegungen (1967) - and percussion and accordion - Duell (1964).

Many of his commissioned works for chamber groups were recorded and also became commercially successful, but the emphasis was the search for new musical perceptions to create a new identity for the accordion. The turn around in accordion playing with the change that I attribute so largely to Ellegaard is reflected in the playing in the last decade or so in major international competitions. It is now rare for competitors to play transcribed music, as they would have done forty or fifty years ago. Largely through him and by imitation the accordion now has a large literature of its own and top players in international competitions are expected to play it.



It was in the mid 1960's that Ellegaard working with Lars Holm set up his Malmö Accordion Studio. He and Lars Holm taught many children and began to find that there were not enough teachers of free bass accordion adequately trained in either Sweden or Denmark. It was this that led Ellegaard to campaign for the acceptance of the accordion in Danish conservatories and particularly the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen and eventually in two other academies in Odense and Arhus.

In 1970 Ellegaard's campaign was successful when he was invited to form a department as a Dozenten at the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen. In 1977 Ellegaard became a full professor and by the 1980's was handing the Department in Arhus, which he also established, to a new generation through one of his pupils. To support his teaching activities he published a tutor book Mogens Ellegaard's Comprehensive Method for the Chromatic Free Bass System (1964) published by Hohner in New York, USA. Although written with the '9 row' instruments of the 1960's and 1970's in mind it remains one of the best methods of its kind written in the English language.

Mogens was indeed a first rate teacher who drew the very best from many of his pupils. He encouraged and inspired by the example of his playing and the very high standards he demanded not just of his pupils but of himself as well. He never expected his pupils to play works that he did not play himself. He worked amazingly hard and with dedication, always with a new project in hand and preparing himself for concert performances. His playing was of the highest possible standard, which inspired composers, pupils and audiences alike.

He gave a number of broadcasts in the UK in the early 1980's through the BBC and each of them was designed to show British audiences the direction he was trying to move the accordion. He gave one programme in which he gave a detailed commentary as he went from one piece to another of the history of the accordion. In this programme he not only played some of the pieces that thrill audiences such as The Flight of the Bumblebee and the Carnival of Venice variations but also with the BBC Concert Orchestra two Concertos for Accordion and Orchestra in the form of Vaclav Trojan's Fairy Tales and Ole Schmidt's Symphonic Fantasy and Allegro with other solos and duets with his wife Marta Bene thrown in it was a tour de force by any standard.

In another programme he concentrated his attention on what he called 'The Accordion Situation in Russia', paying special attention to describing the teaching of young children and the kind of music they would play on free bass accordion. As an example he played the Solotaryev Children's Suite No.1. He finished the programme with a wonderful demonstration of his own technical mastery with a splendid performance of Ivan Jaschkewitch's transcription of Voices of Spring well known now in the west but at that time not heard outside Russia. It was intended to show why as he said the Russians ran away with all the prizes in international competition when they could get visas to get out!

Even a short account of Mogens' career needs to mention the important part played in it by his Hungarian-born second wife Marta Bene. She was a talented accordionist, pianist and a musician in her own right who had studied at the Béla Bartok Conservatory in Budapest. She supported him in the last two decades of his life, not only with a happy home and in his teaching work, but also as a duettist in many concert performances across Europe. Mogens' last CD 'Jeux A Trois' (made in February 1994) is largely a set of accordion duets with percussion and is a most effective recital. In my acquaintance they were two people of like mind and she was his best and most sympathetically helpful critic. They leave one surviving son.



Mogens Ellegaard was the son of a carpenter, as he was fond of telling people. He did not himself possess a craftsman's skill but he nevertheless had considerable influence on the manufacture of accordions. The free bass instruments of the 1960's and 1970's tended to be heavy and the instruments of most manufacturers were not suitable for children and young people. Mogens saw this as an enormous drawback for the development of skilled playing. If children and very young people did not have an instrument of suitable size and weight they would not in his view develop skill young enough to develop a very high level of skill at a later stage.

He tried to convince many manufacturers in Italy of the need to develop a range of free bass instruments. Most did not see a sufficient market to make it worthwhile except the firm of Pigini. As a result of his early visits to Russia in the mid - 1970's he was the first owner of a Jupiter bayan in the west. It was a specially made C-system convertor instrument with the low notes at the top on the left hand and not the bottom as is normal with Russian B-system instruments. He inspired the firm of Pigini to develop similar models and he became the first owner of a Sirius bayan.

This linked the Italian industry's skill in the ergonomics of manufacture and the Russian skill in reed making which has been responsible for the very much better instruments that we now have, compared with thirty to forty years ago. Ellegaard also persuaded the firm of Pigini to manufacture a range of free bass instruments suitable for children and young players, which other firms did not think would prove a profitable market. This is now one reason why Pigini dominates the market for professional free bass convertor instruments.



Mogens Ellegaard undoubtedly deserves a full-length biography by someone with access to all his papers but it is also important for those of us who knew him well to record our personal impressions and memories. Everyone who heard him play on the radio or on the concert platform and whether they liked the accordion or not, was impressed with his astonishing skill and apparent ease of performance. In my experience this came with enormous dedication, hard work and self-belief in the objectives he was pursuing. He practised and learnt new music all his working life in the belief that he had with newly commissioned works a duty to the composer and the audience to give of his best. As a teacher he sought to instil this into his pupils and inspired by example. He demanded the highest possible personal and professional conduct of himself and his pupils.

His personal life was certainly not free from occasional problems. His first marriage ended in divorce and he lost a child in infancy in his second marriage, but he demanded of himself and his pupils that personal problems should as far as humanely possible be kept from affecting one's work as a musician. He was uncompromising in this regard with himself and with pupils. He was undoubtedly an intellectual person with a strong aesthetic sense.

His interest in music extended well beyond music for the accordion. He spoke English extremely well and he also spoke German, and his tastes were literary. He had a distinctive voice without noticeable accent. He spoke with wit and charm and could be extremely persuasive when he wanted to be. His greatest achievement is the change of direction he brought about in the composition of music for the accordion and changed perception of it by many serious musicians. He achieved this through his single-mindedness, tenacity and intensity of purpose, which impressed all who had professional contact with him.

New music is often like a great deal of new art controversial. Obviously it may not all be good and some may not even be played after the première. Disappointing works should be premièred, he used to say, to keep the process evolving and everyone learning. However, it is due to Mogens Ellegaard that the accordion has become established not only in the leading and other conservatoires in Denmark but also in a number of others in Western Europe as well. He was proud for example that I had established an accordion department at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and that Matti Rantanen and Jon Fauksted (both his pupils) had also established departments at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and the State Academy of Music in Oslo. These and other departments have established the accordion at the centre of serious music making where we can hope it will go on to greater heights in years to come.

Mogens' first priority in his career became the creation of 'a new world' of original music for the accordion. One of the tragedies of his last illness and death in March 1995 was that the event in Amsterdam, in which he was to have taken part, celebrated the new music for accordion in many countries throughout the world. The accordion does now have a whole range of solo, chamber and orchestral works from leading contemporary composers from many countries. By example and imitation this is part of the splendid legacy of his pioneering work.


Mogens Ellegaard: A 75th Anniversary Tribute


The lecture and concert at the Royal Academy of Music on 25th November 2010 celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the birth of the late Mogens Ellegaard was a most moving occasion. In his opening address Owen Murray declared that without Ellegaard’s pioneering work neither he nor the students would be here and the same would be true for students and teachers in a number of other conservatoires across Europe. ‘Mogens untimely death at 60 years was a devastating blow to his family, friends and accordionists worldwide’

Owen spent eight years in Denmark between 1974 and 1982 studying music under Ellegaard at the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen. Owen’s talk was illustrated with personal stories and CD recordings as well as Ellegaard himself talking in a BBC broadcast, and with notes and music scores projected for the audience on a screen.



Owen reminded the audience of Ellegaard’s frequently told story of how he began playing the accordion at the age of eight after an accident had hospitalised him. ‘He fell off a balcony. Fortunately for him, his parents and future generations of accordionists, it was close to the ground. His parents gave him an accordion to cheer him up’.As a young boy he began to practice and play the repertoire of Toralf Tollefsen.

In an open letter to Tollefsen published in Norway to celebrate his 80th birthday in 1994 (one year before Mogen’s own death) he revealed how ‘in 1954 I…..decided to embark on a career as an accordionist and model myself as a ‘mini Tollefsen’. Ellegaard copied Tollefsen’s repertoire and played it on an extended visit to the USA between 1955 and 1957. He particularly liked The Marriage of Figaro Overture as played by Tollefsen, which Owen played from a CD followed by Ellegaard’s own performance of The Flight of the Bumble Bee. Ellegaard’s early recordings were all of popular classics and entertainment music, many of them à la Tollefsen.

Returning to Denmark in 1957, Mogens played a light music concerto composed for him by a pianist/composer Vilfrid Kjaer (1906-1969). In the audience on that occasion was the composer Olé Schmidt. He expressed admiration for Ellegaard’s skill as a performer and the great possibilities of the free-bass accordion, but was very critical of the music itself. Ellegaard asked if he would write a concerto. Schmidt agreed immediately and in 1958 the premiere of Olé Schmidt’s ‘Symphonic Fantasy and Allegro’ op.20, took place in Copenhagen. This concerto has a special place in accordion history and was the catalyst in a whole new Scandinavian repertoire for the free-bass accordion, later called accordeon.

Following a CD extract of the first movement Owen argued that this work marked a turning point in Ellegaard’s career. He not only played it on many occasions throughout the world but he resolved to persuade as many composers as he could to write original works for him. He was in this endeavour extraordinarily successful. Between 1960 and his death in 1995 he had persuaded Scandinavian composers to produce over 100 works for him.

He worked incredibly hard, always playing what had been written, arguing that whether the work turned out to be good or otherwise, it should be performed because composing and performance was the process by which we learned to produce new and better music for what was essentially a very young instrument. Ellegaard was an incredibly disciplined person with great energy and commitment. If Owen had a lesson at 9.00 am and came to warm up at 8.00 am, he would find Mogens already practising in his room.

Owen illustrated Ellegaard’s mastery with a CD recording of Olé Schmidt’s Toccata No1, a demanding work that continues to be one which stretches the abilities of the most able students.

In 1970 he was invited to form an Accordion Department at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen which marked a further milestone in his career. It was a landmark occasion in accordion history. Creating educational possibilities for young accordionists to study at conservatory level meant a great deal to him.

“When I started, there was absolutely no accordion culture unless you define accordion culture as ‘oom-pah-pah, or the Cuckoo Waltz – that sort of thing. The free-bass accordion didn’t exist, it was entirely unknown when I was a child. At that time the accordion world was living in splendid isolation. No contact at all with the outside musical world. Concerts for us consisted of Frosini, Deiro repertoire or folkloristic music. The possibilities of getting a formal education on accordion were nil. The accordion was not accepted at any of the higher music institutions. The possibilities for a soloist, for the best players, would be variety ‘night club ‘work, Saturday night shows. This is what I was doing when I was very young”. In 1977 he was promoted to full professor.

In the latter part of his career Ellegaard encouraged his students to concentrate on the ‘new literature’ and move away from transcriptions which he argued had been a ‘temporary solution’ to the lack of original works which were needed to give the accordion an identity of its own in serious music.

In 1975 Ellegaard met Friedrich Lips who invited him to Moscow. With Lips’ encouragement the Jupiter Accordion Factory were persuaded to produce a ‘C system’ bayan for Ellegaard - the first they had ever made. It led to the spread of the modern ‘convertor’ instrument and the replacement of the ‘9 row’ system. Later Ellegaard persuaded the firm of Pigini in Italy to produce a range of convertor instruments suitable and small enough for young students, and professional concert models. This collaboration was another fundamental development affecting both teaching and the manufacture of instruments. Ellegaard was very proud of his Pigini Sirius Bayan and later his Mythos, arguably the finest accordions ever made. Today Pigini accordions are played by students and top professional players all over the world.

Ellegaard’s effect on teaching, manufacture and repertoire of the modern accordion was not without controversy but it was profound, which will ensure that it will never be lost in the shadow of history. Owen concluded his address with a discussion of the performance of Arne Nordheim’s Concerto ‘Spur’. This work later recorded in the U.K. was premièred in Oslo University with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. The première was attended by Toralf Tollefsen. Mogens afterwards wrote of this in his open letter to Tollefsen:

Arm in arm with your old teacher Otto Akre you came to congratulate me after the concert and that gesture was for me more precious than the personal satisfaction I had of being the soloist with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra…..Your words of encouragement on that wonderful evening were so positive on the new music and my performance that it greatly encouraged me in my chosen path…

Following these words Owen played Ellegaard’s recorded performance of ‘Spur’ with the score on the screen and concluded his address.

Owen’s students then performed a concert of a number of works written for Ellegaard that included Ole Schmidt, Toccata No2 (1964), Arne Nordheim Flashing (1966), Poul Rovsing Olsen, How to Play in D major Without Caring About it (1967), Vagn Holmboe, Sonata No1 (1979), Bent Lorentzen, Tears (1992).

In the moving Introduction to the concert Owen wrote:
‘….we carry on his work today.
Thank you, Mogens. You were an inspiration’

The students splendidly demonstrated the force of his words.


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