Knut Nystedt remains to be one of the most prominent figures in Norwegian music in the 1900s. He was most talented as a composer, choir conductor, and organist. Knut toured across the world as an organist, his conducting created chorus of the highest class and his production covered many different genres, all of a high caliber. His influence is most notable on the ecclesial area, national, Nordic, and in America.
Knut grew up with music. His father led an amateur quartet. The classical quartet music was one of his earliest musical impressions. Knut started playing piano when he was just nine years old. Ruth Gaarder was his teacher for three years. For the next two years, he played with Arild Sandvold until he switched to the organ. In 1936, Knut took the organist examination at the Conservatory in Oslo.
Knut worked and trained with many revered musicians such as Reimar Riefling, Per Steenberg, and Bjarne Brustad. In 1947 hestudied with organist Ernest White in New York and Aaron Copland in Tanglewood. Knut served in the Lillebord congregation in Oslo, but his main work was in Torshov Church where he stayed for 36 years and was responsible for countless church concerts. Knut play as an organ soloist at hundreds of concerts in Scandinavia and in the USA.
He began conducting in 1938 with trade union choruses in Lillestrom. Soon after starting, he took over Lillestrom Damekor. He led Breidablik choir and was the conductor of “Arioso.” He conduced Hanches choir, Country Choir, and Schola Cantorum at University of Oslo.
As a conductor, Nystedt was best known as the leader of Norwegian Soloists’ Choir, a choir which he founded and later became a high international standard. He was a conductor there for almost 40 years, from 1950-1990, touring throughout Scandinavia, the United States, and Asia with the choir. He also guest conducted the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Music Company Harmony in Bergen and Trondheim Symphony Orchestra. Nystedt was visiting professor at Long Beach State College in California, at Berea College in Kentucky and Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
As a composer, Nystedt had a rare versatility and breadth of character and technique in his pieces. We can divide his productions into four periods, as seen through his five string quartets. The first quartet (1938) lies within the national romantic tradition, his starting point. He uses folk elements and Renaissance kirketonalitet. The second quartet (1948) is from the start of his neoclassical period. Here we can see an inner tension, with obvious progress of motor skills, syncopations and irregular time signatures. Impulses are taken from those he studied with: Paul Hindemith, Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger and Aaron Copland. The third quartet (1965) is from the end of the period. There are harmonies, coloring but still complex rhythms. The fourth quartet (1966) shows Nystedt as a pure expressionist. He uses twelve-tone elements, toneclustres, and other instruments are interwoven in an expressionism and lyric elegance. This is the first of its kind in Norwegian music. The lyric heat undertone fourth quartet is more apparent in the fifth quartet (1988), which is now closest to New Romantic expression.
Of Nystedt’s national romantic period, Grace Road is for soloists, chorus, and orchestra. In the neoclassical period, Concerto grosso is for three trumpets, strings, and symphonic imagination. Spenningens countries and Symphony for Strings are particularly prominent works. Burnt offering is for recitation, choir, and orchestra. It portrays the dramatic struggle between the prophet Elijah and the 400 prophets of Baal. Nystedt’s orchestral performance is quite powerful!
The second half of the 1950s seemed to renovate church music in Norway. Nystedt was a large contributor to this change. Cry Out and Shout in addition to Blessed him became classics in church musical context.
Some works from Nystedt’s third term have been characterized as the “finest contribution to recent Norwegian church music whatsoever.” Mirage is a transitional work to the neo-romantic period.
Nystedt’s production reflects main aspects of musical development in the 1900s. His deep-rooted Christian faith seems to characterize some of art. He was chairman of Olso organist association in 1955-1965. He sat on the board of New Music from 1959-1963. He received Soloists’ Choir Critics 1957-1958. He was appointed Knight of 1st class order of St. Olav in 1966 and Commander in 2005. Nystedt became an honorary member of Norway Organist Association and Norwegian choir in 1985. Nystedt was honorary professor at Mendoza University in Argentina in 1991. He received the Lindeman award in 1993, the Fanny Elsta award in 1994 and Edward’s honorary award at Bergen International Festival in 1998. Nystedt received Oslo City art award in 2004.