After nearly a century of silence, recently discovered compositions by Norwegian/American composer Theodora Cormontan have returned to the stage. Ninety years after Cormontan’s death, St. Peter and Gustavus musicians Bonnie Jorgensen, piano and Michael Jorgensen, baritone, will bring the music of this little-known composer to life on the Jussi Björling stage on Sunday, February 24, beginning at 1:30 p.m., in a recital and lecture on the music and life of Theodora Cormontan. The recital is free and open to the public.
Born in 1840 in the Norwegian coastal town of Arendal, Thoedora Cormontan, the daughter of an influential clergyman of the Church of Norway, enjoyed the advantages of her father’s position and, unusual for women at the time, was allowed to study music in Norway, Germany and Denmark. In 1875, she published her first work and by 1879 created her own publishing company to counter the reticence of publishers to recognize the work of women composers. A decade later, she joined her father and sister in immigrating to southern Minnesota where she lived and worked in Sacred Heart, Franklin, Madelia, St. James and Hanska. She continued composing while teaching music lessons and performing. In 1917, Theodora and her sister moved into the Aase Haugen Home, an “old people’s home” near Decorah, Iowa. She befriended fellow musician Mollie Schmidt, the wife of the home’s director, Otto Schmidt. Unable to perform her music late in life, Cormontan heard her music performed by the hands of her friend, Mollie.
Before her death in 1922, Theodora Cormontan gave her collection of music to Mollie Schmidt. Eventually, Cormontan’s music, along with other music and hymnals, was boxed up and passed from member to member of the Schmidt family as many such things are — unknown until 2011 when Mollie Schmidt’s granddaughter Barbara Nelson of St. Peter was looking through boxes in the attic of her home. She and husband Roger discovered the boxes, 5 boxes, of compositions by a composer whose name they didn’t recognize. The Nelsons approached Bonnie and Michael Jorgensen who recognized the quality of the work, did research into the life of Theodora Cormontan and are now dedicated to preserving the legacy and presenting the work of this 19th century composer.
In Sunday’s performance, Bonnie and Michael Jorgensen will present both the music and the story of composer Theodora Cormontan. Photographs, images and notes from Cormontan’s life are included in the performance. The works on the program vary from Dulgt kjærlighet [Hidden Love] and Aftendæmring [Evening] to One Day in the Spring and Valse Brillante, Op 33, composed in 1884.
Sunday’s presentation on the life and music of Norwegian/American composer Theodora Cormontan will be performed by pianist Bonnie Jorgensen and baritone Michael Jorgensen at 1:30 p.m. in Jussi Björling Recital Hall on the Gustavus Adolphus College campus. The event is free and open to the public.