Léonie Sonning Awards 1959

Igor Stravinsky

1959_igor _stravinsky

The prize concert

Igor Stravinsky received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 50,000 kr. at a concert during The Danish Festival of Music and Ballet on 25 May 1959 in Tivoli Concert Hall. The music prize was presented by the composer Knudåge Riisager, Principal of The Royal Danish Academy of Music.

The programme

Carl Nielsen: Masquerade Overture
Vagn Holmboe: Symphony no. 7
Igor Stravinsky: Wind octet (1923)
Igor Stravinsky: Firebird suite

The Royal Danish Orchestra
Conductors: John Frandsen (Nielsen, Holmboe)
Igor Stravinsky (Firebird suite)


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 50,000 is hereby awarded to the composer Igor Stravinsky in recognition and profound admiration of Stravinsky’s epoch-making contribution as a creative musician whose works have enriched our generation and in the future will stand out as a brilliant expression of the universal art of music. To the composer Igor Stravinsky during his personal attendance at The Danish Festival of Music and Ballet. Copenhagen, 25 May 1959.

You can listen to the speech from the ceremony here:

Stravinsky and Denmark

When Stravinsky came to the Danish capital in 1959 to receive the Music Prize, a welcome was extended to him in the leading article of the Journal of Danish Music – in English, in the hope that he himself would read it – in which the editor drew attention to the fact that the first number of the journal almost coincided with Stravinsky visiting Denmark in December 1925 on the occasion of Mikhael Fokin’s choreography for the Danish Royal Ballet’s version of Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka at The Danish Royal Theatre. Stravinsky himself conducted, and that evening was unparalleled for many years, in the opinion of the leading article in The Journal of Danish Music. Stravinsky could also read:

"In an article in The Journal of Danish Music in 1925 we paid homage to you, and stated that you possessed a strength the further development of which must not be overlooked. Now, a generation later [...] is it with great admiration that we note that, even at a great age, you remain open to the latest developments in music [...] which – also in this small country – has made you seem an almost unreal figure, so that a visit by you is as major an event as a visit by kings and princes. This time, you come in the middle of our annual festival of ballet and music, to which you lend extra brilliance by your presence. After one of your earlier visits to Copenhagen, you said that you would always gladly return to this smiling city – and we guarantee that also this time you will be greeted by the Danish smile."

The 77-year-old Igor Stravinsky received the new music prize during The Danish Festival of Music and Ballet at a concert in The Tivoli Concert Hall on 25 May 1959 featuring The Royal Danish Orchestra. King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid also attended the ceremony.

In his speech on handing over the prize, the principal of The Royal Danish Academy of Music Knudåge Riisager said, among other things:

"With the establishment of the Sonning Prize for music, Denmark has gained the opportunity to honour prominent figures in the world of music. This is the first time the Sonning Prize for Music is being awarded – and in fact it is the very first time that an artistic prize of such considerable size is awarded in this country. It seems completely natural that you, Mr. Igor Stravinsky, have been chosen to be the first recipient of this prize, which is an expression of the recognition and respect felt by Danish musical life for the man who today represents the personification of the pinnacle of the musical world. For just as Albert Einstein with his interpretation of the universe that surrounds us was able to change our picture of the world so that it would never be the same again, so have you, Mr. Stravinsky, via your life’s work been able to change the world of music in your own age. Your life’s work means more to us that just the creations of an artistic personality [...]"

"As we all know, Denmark is only a small country. But it is a small country with a very large and invincible belief in the conviction that it is not might and force, but power of spirit and the strength of the fount of creativity that in the years to come will bear humanity forwards towards a more worthwhile existence. And that is why it is us who are honoured at your accepting to come and receive this prize, so we can have the opportunity to express our gratitude that your life’s work has confirmed the correctness of this conviction, this belief. Your physical connection with Denmark is perhaps only a friendly one, but there exists a strong spiritual connection, as we can see from the choice of theme in your opera The Nightingale, which is based on a fairytale by our great teller of stories Hans Christian Andersen. Like you, Hans Christian Andersen was world-famous because he used a language that appealed to all people at all times and in all parts of the world [...]"

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"The piece [Firebird suite] [...] developed the tense, as yet only half-awake poetry under his small, concise movements. One cannot accuse Stravinsky of lingering at the scent of magic of his 27-year-old ego. It is Stravinsky the rhythmist who is conducting – the lyrical strain belonged to his early years. The beats are swift, elastic – a long life’s fight to get musicians to play short, sharp crotchets. The piece reaches its climax, ends shrilly, and the Danish music audience, the Danish public, claps to pay tribute to the little big-man of music. He is given a flourish, loaded down with bouquets, and a great evening dies away with the last short bursts of applause." (Politiken, 26 May 1959)

"[… ] For through all the enthusiasm and reticence one had to admit that the evening was, one of the most truly memorable one has experienced. One of those one wil never be able to forget. Not only because the orchestra added here yet another page to its history so rich in tradition, or because an exclusive audience headed by the royal couple could gather for a gala evening with contemporary music. But also because, to the extent that one is receptive to the charisma that a great personality will always exercise beyond what is right or wrong, one was moved at the encounter with this small man with his pale face and the intelligent eyes behind the thick glasses. One was moved, to the extent that one has learnt to bow in admiration to the power and consistency of the spirit – even in our present age."

(Information, 26 May 1959)