Organist and Composer

Organist and composer Kjell Mørk Karlsen (b. 1947) is one of the most profiled and respected figures in Norwegian cultural life, strongly committed both to his art and to cultural management.

Mørk Karlsen grew up in a family of musicians, receiving organ lessons from his father from the age of fourteen. He continued his education at Oslo Music Conservatory, from where he graduated in 1968 with a degree in organ and church music. He took degrees in oboe and recorders the following years and in 1980–81 he pursued further organ studies with Finn Viderø in Copenhagen.

On the basis of his knowledge of the oboe and recorders he developed further skills in crumhorn and shawm instruments during the 1960s. A pioneer in the early music movement, he was the founder of Pro Musica Antiqua in 1969, an ensemble with which he was active giving concerts, seminars and lectures until 1974.

From 1965–73 he worked as organist, cembalist and chamber musician in Oslo. He was the regular organist of the Norwegian Broadcasting’s Boys Choir (Sølvguttene), and keyboard musician with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. For a number of years he taught at the Oslo Music Conservatory, the Norwegian Academy of Music, and at the Rogaland Music Conservatory.

Mørk Karlsen has served as organist and cathedral organist in many churches of Norway (organist 1967–73 in Greverud Church, Oppegård; 1981–89 in Sør-Fron, Gudbrandsdalen; 1990–95 in Slemmestad; cathedral organist 1973–78 in Tønsberg; 1978–81 in Stavanger) and in Finland during his studies with composer Joonas Kokkonen. Between 1995–2011 he was organist in Asker Church.

organist and composer kjell mørk karlsen

Mørk Karlsen showed interest in composition at an early age, when he was given the task by his father of transcribing early choral music by composers such as Schütz and Praetorius and providing it with Norwegian texts. The close contact with early classical vocal polyphony has had a great influence on his own music. The same can be said about his affiliation with the Musica Sacra movement, a milieu where the influence of composer Egil Hovland was particularly strong.

Mørk Karlsen’s multifarious experience as practising musician has proved valuable for his work as a composer. In particular, his years as an oboist with the Norwegian Opera Orchestra were significant for him as a musical dramatist. Also, his many years as a church musician and organist have influenced his work as composer, for example, in the choice of texts — consider the large collection of 100 motets for the liturgical year (Opus 56). Mørk Karlsen worked on these motets over a period of thirty years and Opus 56 may be said to be his musical testament in this genre.

A number of Mørk Karlsen’s works have been commissioned by Norwegian and international cultural institutions. He has been awarded several prizes and has won a number of composition contests. In addition to his work as church musician and composer, he has held many positions in various Norwegian cultural, church, and professional associations.

In 2009 Kjell Mørk Karlsen was honoured by the Norwegian King Harald V to be a “Knight of the Saint Olafs order” for his activities as a musician and composer.