Sigurd Jansen

Born: March 4th, 1932, Horten (Norway)
Nationality: Norwegian

Eurovision record
Sigurd Jansen conducted the Norwegian entries in the Eurovision Song Contest editions between 1979 and 1984, all in all six songs. Amongst these efforts, Jahn Teigen’s ‘Do-re-mi’ (1983) did best with a ninth place; in that same ’83 contest, the German host erroneously introduced Jansen as ‘Johannes Skorgan’ – a fictional name. Long before being involved in the festival as a conductor, Jansen tried his hand at composing songs for the Norwegian pre-selection; he competed five times between 1963 and 1971. His work ‘Spiral’, performed by Arne Bendiksen, won the 1964 Norwegian Melodi Grand Prix and was Norway’s contribution to that year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen, where it finished eighth. The conductor at that time, however, was not Jansen himself, but Karsten Andersen.

Winning the award for best producer at the first edition of the Nordring International Popular Music Festival, 1973, Dronten (Netherlands)

Pianist, composer, arranger, and conductor Sigurd Alf Jansen was born in the provincial town of Horten, located on the western fringes of the Oslo Fjord; his father was a sailor originally hailing from Sweden. Young Sigurd started playing the piano aged six, studying for many years under the aegis of several teachers: Thyra Lind, Odd Bogerud, Borghild Bru, Wilhelm Schwarzott, and Ivar Johnsen. It was not until his adolescence that he discovered the jazz genre, which revived his dwindling interest in music lessons. “Already as a teenager”, Jansen comments, “I knew there was to be only one way for me: music, and nothing else… My parents tried to push me away from it, but they could not stop me! In subsequent years, I started playing the piano in dance orchestras in hotels around the coastal area surrounding Horten; in the winter season, there was ample work for a pianist in bars and hotels in ski resorts up in the mountains. Fairly soon, I understood that I needed to improve my skills as a pianist to succeed in the business; in order to do so, I decided to go to the conservatory.”

Between 1950 and 1953, Jansen studied the piano at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. There, he also followed several other classes, including a conducting course. Initially, he travelled from Horten to Oslo twice a week for his lessons at the academy. Jansen: “The lessons in Oslo took up two days only, which was most convenient for me, as this allowed me to keep on working in different music ensembles simultaneously. Amongst other things, I played in the band of George Johnson, an American saxophonist – at first as a substitute for his regular pianist, who was ill, and later as a fully-fledged band member. During the summer months, Johnson and his band played in Larvik, but when they decided to move up to Oslo, I joined them and settled down in Oslo once and for all. Essentially, this constituted the start of my professional career. Meanwhile, I felt that there was little left to learn for me at the conservatory in Oslo, where the level of teaching, at that time, was not very high. I continued my studies with several very able private teachers.”

Aged eighteen, Sigurd Jansen (far left, playing the vibraphone) was a member of a local band in his native Horten, c1950. The others are, from left to right: Jon Sletterød (Hawaii guitar), Arne Madsen (rhythm guitar), Arne Styhr (double bass), Thomas Tronstad (alto sax), John Oppen Berntsen (piano), and Fredrik Friis (vocals)

In the early 1950s, after having left the music academy, Sigurd Jansen studied harmony with Thorleif Eken, music theory with Gunnar Sønstevold, composition with Edvard Fliflet Bræin, and conducting with Odd Grüner-Hegge, the last-mentioned private teacher being the head of Oslo’s Opera House at that time. Conducting clearly was Jansen’s passion; he later managed to find the necessary resources to follow several master classes abroad at BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop in London and at Netherlands’ broadcaster NOS in Hilversum.

During his student days, Jansen had rapidly built up a considerable reputation as a musician, playing in different bands in Oslo. He was voted Norway’s best jazz pianist of the year several times by the readers of a newspaper called Verden Rundt. In the second half of the 1950s, Jansen became heavily involved in recording songs with popular artists, most notably Norway’s answer to Bill Haley, Rocke-Pelle (Per Harald Hartvig). Jansen: “Rocke-Pelle was one of the first young persons in our country to venture into rock-‘n’-roll music. He landed himself a contract with Philips, a record company I wrote a lot of arrangements for to all kinds of music. One day, the head of Philips asked me to write some arrangements for Rocke-Pelle – and I did it, although I have never been fond of that kind of music, but… it was a job! The record company thought it was a good idea to call Rocke-Pelle’s accompanying group ‘Sigurd Jansen and His Rocking Five’. The other members were simply some friends of mine from Oslo’s jazz scene who I invited to play along on the sessions. These songs were so successful, however, that Sigurd Jansen became a synonym for rock music in Norway for some time!”

Being a freelancer, Jansen had many different jobs over the years. Between 1957 and 1962, he was a teacher at Oslo’s Piano Academy. Around the same time, he worked as an arranger and pianist at Oslo’s best-known cabaret and revue theatre, Chat Noir for three years. He accompanied Norway’s best-liked revue artists of the day, including Lalla Carlsen, Kari Diesen, and Arvid Nilssen. Jansen: “Egil Monn-Iversen, who was the executive at Chat Noir, asked me for this job. We divided all arranging work amongst each other, with Egil usually conducting the orchestra and myself playing the piano in it. At Chat Noir, musicians had to be quite versatile, as revue involved accompanying all kinds of different acts. On the other hand, sometimes playing the same music night after night became so boring, that I read a novel in the orchestra pit while providing the piano accompaniment!”

Sigurd Jansen was a ubiquitous presence in Oslo’s recording studio’s as an arranger, producer, and pianist from the 1950s until the early 1970s. As an arranger, he worked with the likes of Nora Brockstedt, Elisabeth Granneman, Harald Petersen, Per ‘Elvis’ Granberg, Inger Jacobsen, Grethe Kausland, Vidar Sandbeck, Wenche Myhre, Per Asplin, Inger Lise Rypdal, and Kirsti Sparboe. His reputation as an arranger was such that several EP records were released with Jansen’s instrumental versions of well-known melodies as well as some brass repertoire. Though never a main source of income, Jansen occasionally tried his hand at composing pop music; his song ‘Vinter og sne’, recorded by Wenche Myhre on the occasion of the 1966 World Championships of Nordic Sports held in Norway, became a huge hit and has reached the evergreen status. In 1972, Jansen was awarded with the Spellemansprisen, the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award, for writing the arrangements to Kirsti Sparboe’s album ‘Dager med deg’. Another very successful recording project was the live album he did as a piano accompanist with Crown Princess Sonja in 1976; this LP sold 40,000 copies, obtaining a gold record.

Meanwhile, Jansen developed many other professional activities. He composed the soundtracks to a number of movie pictures, including ‘De kalte ham skarven’ (1965) and two Danish films, ‘Elsk din næste’ (1966) and ‘Takt og tone i himmelsengen’ (1971). In 1965, with Rolv Wesenlund, Harald Heide-Steen, and Harald Tusberg, Jansen founded the theatre company ‘Lysthuset’, which produced revues and comedies. One of Lysthuset’s most prolific successes was the revue ‘Jeg elsker deg’. In 1970, Jansen was the conductor of two ambitious productions in Trondheim’s Trøndelag Theatre, ‘Alt var annerledes under krigen’ and ‘Spelemann på taket’.

From 1957 onwards, Sigurd Jansen regularly worked for the Norwegian radio and television service NRK as a freelancer, initially as a piano accompanist, later as a composer and arranger as well. It was not long before he became one of the main arrangers for the Kringkastingsorkester, the NRK Radio Orchestra of maestro Øivind Bergh; for the orchestra, Jansen composed and arranged music in many different genres, ranging from big band pieces to light-classical work. In the 1960s, Jansen also regularly conducted the Radio Orchestra himself. On top of that, he arranged and conducted the music to many TV programmes, amongst which a series about popular Norwegian composers as well as entertainment shows with Harald Heide-Steen and Rolv Wesenlund.

The cast of NRK entertainment show ‘Takk for that’, with (standing, from left to right) actors Rolv Wesenlund and Harald Heide-Steen and (sitting, from left to right) actor Gunnar Haugan, arranger/conductor Sigurd Jansen, and director Bo Hermansson (early 1970s)

In 1972, Jansen was contracted by NRK as a programme manager, which implied he became a full-time employee for the broadcasting service; for thirty years, Jansen devoted most of his time and energy to Norwegian radio and television, composing, arranging, and conducting music. As a composer, he contributed to TV programmes such as ‘På direkten’, ‘Kunden har alltid rett’, ‘På rundreise’, ‘Nitimen’, ‘Weekend magasinet’, ‘Takk for det’, ‘Teksten var av…’, ‘Hjertelig tilstede’, and ‘Verdens ende er nær’. In 1972, he was the musical director of twelve editions of the popular Swedish TV entertainment show ‘Hylands hörna’, a co-production of NRK with Sweden’s national broadcaster SR. Moreover, Jansen penned the signature tunes to many NRK television programmes and wrote the music to seven radio plays as well as to several TV films, including ‘Steinsfjorden, perle eller svinesti’ and ‘The other Afghanistan’.

From ’72 onwards, however, Jansen mainly worked on radio productions. He initiated many successful programmes for radio, most notably perhaps ‘Nå får det være norsk’, a series of eighty programmes with music by Norwegian composers, lyricists, and interpreters only. He also composed some fifty new songs for the hugely popular show ‘Nitimen’ as well as the music to countless radio plays. For many radio projects, Jansen collaborated with the Kringkastingsorkester; in 1976, upon the retirement of the orchestra’s founder and chief conductor Øivind Bergh, Sigurd Jansen took over the baton together with Sverre Bruland and the more classically orientated British maestro Nicholas Braithwaite. In the course of the decades which followed, Jansen conducted the orchestra in many radio and television programmes. He led it for long-running radio shows ‘Strike up the band’ and ‘Lett norsk’, which involved performances by Norway’s most popular pop and jazz vocalists; moreover, he also was the producer of both of these programmes and created all arrangements. In 1981, he led the Kringskastingsorkester in an open-air Eurovision show in Mysen, whilst, four years later, he and Sir George Martin conducted the orchestra in a TV concert celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Beatles; the latter show, which featured international pop stars such as Georgie Fame and Lulu, was broadcast in all Nordic countries. On other occasions, he accompanied such internationally famed artists as Vera Lynn, Eartha Kitt, Bing Crosby, Julie Andrews, Tommy Steele, and Don Byas.

Sigurd Jansen and Sir George Martin, producer of The Beatles, co-conducted a TV concert organized by the broadcasting services of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fab Four, 1985

Apart from his involvement in conducting the Kringkastingsorkester in pop music projects, Jansen, between 1972 and his retirement in 2002, led the orchestra in countless light entertainment concerts with instrumental pieces ranging from the jazz genre to light classical repertoire; usually, he wrote most of the arrangements for these radio concerts himself. The lion’s share of Sigurd Jansen’s impressive oeuvre of some 1,500 orchestral arrangements which have been included in NRK’s Music Library, was written for the Kringkastingsorkester. In 1985, when a supervisory committee for the orchestra was installed, Sigurd Jansen was chosen as one of its members.

In spite of his incredible productivity as an arranger – and later also producer and conductor, of the Kringkastingsorkester – Jansen managed to find the time and inspiration to create an impressive oeuvre of instrumental compositions spanning several genres: jazz, light-classical, avant-garde, and brass works. Amongst his orchestral works are pieces such as ‘Fem skisser’ (1967), ‘Storbyoverture’ (1968), ‘Cyprianos’ (1982), ‘Posters i tre satser’ (1992), and ‘Dreamscapes’ (1994). In the 1970s, he conducted the studio recordings of his jazz compositions ‘The lake’ and ‘Vis-à-Vis Club 7’ himself. Jansen also wrote several pieces for solo instruments as well as a huge amount of big band compositions, some of which were recorded by the Kjell Karlsen Big Band in the 1980s. Jansen’s best-known work, however, is probably the classically orientated ‘Aurora Borealis’, a concerto for symphony orchestra, a quartet of jazz soloists, and electronic instruments (1990); for this composition, the original studio recording of which featured trombone player Frode Thingnæs as one of the four jazz musicians, Jansen was awarded with the Award for Best Composition of the Year by the Norwegian Association of Composers and Lyricists (NOPA) – a prize which was bestowed upon him eight times between 1965 and 1990. In 1995, he composed a children’s musical which was performed at the Kristiansand Zoo and Amusement Park.

Sigurd Jansen regularly composed and arranged music for special occasions such as the opening of the Concert House in Oslo (1977) and the concert celebrating the 75th birthday of King Olav V (1978). Requested by two pianists, Robert Levin from the USA and his namesake, Robert Levin from Norway, Jansen arranged the music to their concert ‘From Grieg to Gershwin’, which took place in New York’s Carnegie Hall (1984). In 1988, he was closely involved in the creation of the permanent Norwegian pavilion at Disney World, Florida, as an advisor and the composer of the special theme music. Amongst other commissions, he also composed a fanfare for symphonic band to be played at the opening ceremony of the Vikingskipet Olympic Ice Hall in Hamar (1992). In 1996, the Austrian embassy in Norway invited Jansen to compile a suitable music programme and arrange all themes for the concert ‘Austria 1000 years’ held in Oslo’s Concert House.

From the 1970s onwards, Jansen was often invited to perform abroad. Apart from his involvement in the Eurovision Song Contest between 1979 and 1984, he produced, arranged, and conducted all Norwegian participations in the Nordring International Popular Music Festival, which was first held in 1973 in Dronten (Netherlands) and ran for over fifteen consecutive years. In this radio contest, with participating broadcasters from Western and Northern Europe, each country presented a one-hour-music programme. “Nordring was a wonderful manifestation”, Jansen thinks, “because the level of compositions and participating vocalists and instrumentalists was so high. There was no room for commercial music. In fact, it was one of the things in my career which I liked working on most. As the festival was usually held in August or September, I found myself writing arrangements for it each and every summer! Getting the opportunity to conduct such marvellous orchestras as the Metropole Orchestra in Holland and the BBC Radio Orchestra was a privilege… it is such a pity the manifestation is not there anymore!” Twice, Sigurd Jansen won a prize at the Nordring Festival: in 1973, he received the award for best music producer, while he was chosen at the contest’s best arranger two years later. As a result of his involvement in Nordring, Jansen was recommended by Dutch maestro Dolf van der Linden to replace him as the Metropole Orchestra’s chief conductor during Van der Linden’s absence due to illness; apart from this short spell, Jansen was regularly invited to the Netherlands to conduct the orchestra as a guest, working on, amongst other things, a concert with Danish double-bass virtuoso Niels-Henning Ørstedt Pedersen.

Winning the award for best arranger on home soil, Nordring Festival 1975, Oslo – here posing with other prize winners Greetje Kauffeld (Netherlands), Eva Schram, and Terje Hoel (both from Norway)

Other music festivals in which Jansen participated, include the Knokke Cup, a popular music contest organized by the Flemish public broadcaster BRT, and the Concours Radiophonique in Monaco, for which he served as a jury member for many consecutive years; moreover, in 1989, he received the award for best producer in this radio festival. Away from music contests, Jansen conducted the Light Entertainment Orchestra of Danish Radio, the Hanover Symphony Orchestra, and the NDR Big Band in Hamburg in concerts with his own jazz and light entertainment repertoire. Other orchestras Jansen worked with over the years, include the Bergen Philharmonic, the Malmö Symphonic, the BBC Symphonic, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, the Big Band of Danish Radio, the Scottish Radio Orchestra, and the RTE Concert Orchestra (Ireland). Lastly, in 2000 at Gran Canaria (Canary Islands), Jansen led a forty-man-strong orchestra consisting of members of the local symphonic orchestra and big band in a millennium concert with Norwegian vocalists, which was broadcast by NRK Television.

In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Sigurd Jansen served as board member and president of many musicians’ interest organisations; most importantly, he was the vice-president of NOPA (the Norwegian Association of Composers and Lyricists) between 1972 and 1982, while he held its presidency from 1982 to 1999. On top of that, he was the president of FNUK, the Association of Norwegian Light Entertainment Composers (1972-’83) and a board member of the Copyright Bureau for Norwegian and Foreign Authors, Composers, and Publishers (TONO, 1972-’99). Internationally, he was a member of the presidency of the Nordic Copyright Bureau (NCB) for twenty-seven years, whilst he served three tenures of two years each as the president of the Union of Nordic Composers of Popular Music; moreover, he was the Norwegian representative in the World Council of the International Performance Right Organisation (CISAC) and the International Council of Authors and Editors of Music (CIAM) for seventeen years.

As NOPA’s president, awarding an honorary prize to singer Jens Book-Jenssen (1986)

When Jansen turned seventy in 2002, he retired from NRK. He has been a freelancer since, continuing to compose and arrange music in the recording studio he built in his own house in Oslo. At the request of NRK, he still writes music for radio theatre, whilst music ensembles such as the Drammen City Orchestra, the Royal Norwegian Navy Brass Orchestra, and the Sandvika Big Band have commissioned him to compose new instrumental pieces. The Oslo University invited him to hold several guest lectures on the subjects of arranging and instrumentation. In 2005, Jansen received His Majesty the King’s Gold Medal for Cultural Achievements.

Sigurd Jansen in the Eurovision Song Contest
Long before climbing the Eurovision stage on six occasions as Norway’s conductor in the contest, Sigurd Jansen was involved in the festival as a composer. In the 1960s, he submitted several songs for his country’s pre-selection, five of which actually progressed to the Norwegian final, the so-called Melodi Grand Prix: ‘Adjø’, performed by Anita Thallaug and Beate Brevik in two different arrangements (1963); ‘Spiral’, performed by Arne Bendiksen (1964); ‘Jeg har en øy’, performed by Per Asplin and Jan Høiland – once more each with a different orchestration (1965)’; ‘Juksemaker pipelort’, performed by Swedish singer Lill Babs (1969); and, lastly, ‘Ironside’, performed as a duet by Odd Børre and Jan Erik Berntsen (1971). None of these five compositions can be described as a typical Eurovision song, being either too jazzy, too psychedelic, or rhythmically too complicated to deserve that epithet. As Jansen became an NRK employee in 1972, he was not allowed to compete anymore in the Melodi Grand Prix, which was, after all, organized by the broadcaster itself.

Sigurd Jansen as a young band leader (in white, to the left) with his orchestra and vocalist Marie Ødegaard (who later became his wife) in front of the NRK main building, Oslo (1959)

Sigurd Jansen about his five Eurovision compositions: “In fact, I mainly worked as an arranger in those days, not as a song composer, although I occasionally wrote some material. Prior to my participation in the Melodi Grand Prix, however, I had never given it a try. True, while working at the Chat Noir, I had penned some variety music… but a three-minute-song – no, I think ‘Adjø’ in ’63 must have been the first one I ever composed. It was not really my ambition to make a career as a songwriter, but I was very young at that time and open to new experiences; the Eurovision Song Contest was the talk of the town in those days in Norway and I thought: why not give it a try? On a personal note, I really liked ‘Jeg har en øy’, a slow ballad with a jazzy feel to it. The lyrics were written by a famous poet called Helge Hagerup.”

In 1971, Jansen came quite close to winning the Melodi Grand Prix with his song ‘Ironside’, which finished second behind Hanne Krogh’s ‘Lykken er’. His only victory in the Melodi Grand Prix came in 1964 with ‘Spiral’. Quite ironically, Arne Bendiksen, who interpreted it, had submitted a composition of his own to this same selection programme, ‘La meg være ung’, performed by Wenche Myhre. Bendiksen always kept mixed feelings about losing the selection as a composer to a song which he performed himself.

Sigurd Jansen had submitted ‘Spiral’ to the selection committee in spite of a slightly lukewarm reception for his creation at home: “When my wife heard me playing the tune at the piano for the first time, she bluntly stated: ‘You cannot use that… anything, but not that song!’ It was a little jazz melody and I thought it was good! After having written it, I telephoned Egil Hagen, who I knew from the Norwegian Association of Composers and Lyricists (NOPA) – it might have been the only time ever, however, that the two of us worked on a project together. He agreed immediately, upon which I paid him a visit to hand him the music sheets. After he had completed the lyrics, we sent the song to the NRK’s selection committee using pseudonyms, as was compulsory in those days.”

The audio of Sigurd Jansen’s composition ‘Spiral’, which was Norway’s entry in the 1964 Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen, interpreted by Arne Bendiksen

Hagen’s lyrics, oozing optimism and joie de vivre, contain the word ‘bong’ several times, as a result of which ‘Spiral’ became better known to the Norwegian audience as ‘The Bong Song’. In those days, the songwriters did not have a say in the arrangement and the performer of their song; it was the selection committee which commissioned Carsten Klouman to write a suitable orchestration to ‘Spiral’, while Arne Bendiksen was chosen as its interpreter. Jansen: “Carsten Klouman, with whom I worked extensively at NRK in the 1970s, wrote an excellent arrangement; in those days, he was an abler arranger than I was – at least far more experienced! On the other hand, I was not very happy about Arne Bendiksen performing it. I had written the song with Per Asplin, a genuine jazz vocalist, in mind. Although Arne himself thought he was a good jazz singer, for me he was not the right artist for this particular song. Do not get me wrong: Arne was a friend and we had a good working relationship.”

In the 1964 Eurovision Song Contest, organized in Copenhagen, ‘Spiral’ did fairly well, earning Norway a respectable eighth place amongst the sixteen competing nations. Like in the Norwegian pre-selection, the song was conducted by Karsten Andersen, who replaced the country’s regular musical director in the 1960s, Øivind Bergh. Jansen recalls: “That year, Øivind took a sabbatical; he stayed in the United States for months to study there. Whilst he was away, all of his work at the Kringkastingsorkester was taken over by Karsten Andersen, an excellent classical conductor – and a very good violinist too! He led the Bergen Philharmonic for many years. In spite of his preference for the classical repertoire, he was very good at working on other genres of music as well. As for the contest in Copenhagen, I do not have any memories of it, as I was not there! Since I suffered from a prolonged illness at that time, I found myself unable to travel to Denmark. What was more, as we did not have a television set at home in 1964 yet, I did not even watch the contest final!”

Jansen making his debut as a conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem (1979) with vocalist Anita Skorgan

Between 1979 and 1984, Sigurd Jansen conducted all six Norwegian entries in the Eurovision Song Contest. At the same time, however, he never was the musical director of the pre-selections in Norway itself, the Melodi Grand Prix – in all those six editions, it was Egil Monn-Iversen who took care of this job. How did this come about? Jansen explains: “Egil worked on many NRK television productions and the Melodi Grand Prix was ‘his’ programme, whereas my primary activity always lay with the radio. As a consequence, the Nordring Festival, which was a radio affair, belonged to my duties; I conducted and produced the Norwegian entry to that contest year after year. Egil, however, could not go abroad for one week due to his extensive professional activities with the NRK, in theatre productions, and in the recording studio. He was a workaholic and spending one week abroad just to conduct three minutes was anathema to him. That is why he asked me to substitute him in the international contest and conduct the Norwegian entry. After all, I was an NRK employee and, on top of that, an experienced conductor: all in all, a safe choice!”

“Nevertheless”, Jansen continues, “I thoroughly enjoyed those six Eurovision Song Contests! Usually, my wife and my daughter accompanied me and we had a most pleasant one-week-holiday. My job was very easy indeed: just counting to three or to four in the correct tempo and then… well, these Eurovision orchestras always were so good and the songs we had to play were so easy… nothing could go wrong! I preferred keeping a low profile as a conductor while leading an orchestra for such a three-minute-song. It is silly to make all kinds of impressive gestures while conducting pop music: the orchestra will play it anyhow. Apart from the beginning and the end of the song, which has to be coordinated by the conductor, most musicians will simply play the song from their music sheets without paying any attention to you – to the conductor. Not all of my colleagues agreed on this, I should admit… I do not remember in which year, but once, a meeting was organized of all countries’ conductors during the week of rehearsals. It was an opportunity to get to know each other better and have a chat. In an attempt to break the ice, I tried making a joke by saying: ‘Well, is it not funny, here are fifteen conductors having gathered from all over Europe just to count to four!’ Immediately, everyone fell silent… they did not like what I said at all! What I had not realized, was that, while conducting was an everyday job for me, many of them were very proud of getting the opportunity to lead such a big orchestra. They probably thought it was a highlight in their careers!”

With the Norwegian entrants Mattis Hætta (left) and Sverre Kjelsberg at the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest in The Hague. Note that Mr Jansen is holding the sheet music of the Spanish entry ‘Quédate esta noche’ instead of the Norwegian song’s score!

Sigurd Jansen made his debut in the 1979 contest, which was held in Jerusalem. Norway was represented by Anita Skorgan and her disco-esque ballad ‘Oliver’, with lyrics by Philip Kruse and an arrangement by George Keller. This entry managed to pick up a decent number of votes and an eleventh place on the scoreboard in what was a very strong festival year. The Norwegian delegation experienced a bomb-threat at the airport on the return trip; for security reasons, they were directed to Switzerland instead of Oslo, returning home with a delay of an extra day. Jansen: “Generally speaking, the atmosphere in Jerusalem itself was very tense. When we were taken on an organized tour through the old city, we could not help but noticing soldiers with machine guns on roofs and in the streets. This is not the kind of atmosphere musicians like working in, but visiting Israel was most interesting nonetheless! No, I did not have much to do with Anita Skorgan… she knew what she had to do. I can pretty much say the same about the artists I accompanied in all other Eurovision Song Contests… they did not need much assistance from me other than just making sure the orchestra played what it was supposed to play.”

Norway was not particularly successful in the early 1980s, scoring a sixteenth place in The Hague (1980) with ‘Sámiid ædnan’ by Sverre Kjelsberg and Mattis Hætta, nil points and a twentieth place in Dublin (1981) with ‘Aldri i livet’ by Finn Kalvik, and a twelfth place in Harrogate (1982) with ‘Adieu’, a duet by Eurovision veterans Jahn Teigen and Anita Skorgan. “Although I preferred it when Norway did well in the contest”, Jansen comments, “it was not really important to me personally. I felt sad for Finn Kalvik, however, when he came last in Dublin, because he was such a nice guy and a good songwriter. Shortly before his performance in the live broadcast he came up to me nervously, saying ‘I think I should take a cognac before I go on stage – what do you think, Sigurd?’ I told him that if he took a cognac and he did well, he would probably feel compelled to take a drink every time before going on stage from that time onwards. He took my advice and did not have his cognac. His performance went well and I cannot begin to understand why it did not come across with the juries.”

Jansen conducting the orchestra for Finn Kalvik, who represented Norway in the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Aldri i livet’

In the summer of 1981, Jansen was involved in a concert celebrating twenty-five years of the Eurovision Song Contest, which was held in Mysen in Southern Norway on the occasion of the annual Momarkedet Open Air Festival. At this charity festival, all songs which had won the contest between 1956 and 1981 were performed by their original artists accompanied by the Kringkastingsorkester conducted by Sigurd Jansen. The programme was televised live by NRK. “Momarkedet is a big amusement park where I conducted on many occasions as a freelancer before becoming an NRK employee”, Jansen recalls. “It was nice to come back there for this special Eurovision show. Many of the Eurovision winners had not performed their song for many years. Some of them even had even lost the original arrangements. This meant that those arrangements had to be written out anew by simply listening to the record version. I penned some of those myself, while I gave away some of the others to Carsten Klouman and Øivind Westby – the latter being a trombonist in the Kringkastingsorkester and an excellent arranger. The singers were a bit disappointed when they arrived in Mysen, which is an unimpressive village in the countryside – but when they discovered there were this huge fifty-piece orchestra and a choir to accompany them, they were much impressed. There was a massive public turnout and the show went very well indeed!”

The 1983 Eurovision Song Contest in Munich (West Germany) was certainly an occasion to remember for Sigurd Jansen – and not even because the ninth place Jahn Teigen obtained with ‘Do-re-mi’ was the best score of all six songs he conducted. The German host, Marlène Charell, made a hideous mistake by introducing Sigurd Jansen as Johannes Skorgan – a name she made up on the spot. Jansen, laughingly: “The poor girl mixed up the cards with all participants’ names. She could not find my name in time and, because she had just read out the name of Anita Skorgan as one of the composers, ‘Skorgan’ was what she remembered. Then she just made up a name… I thought it was a brilliant joke! Immediately after the show, the two of us were brought together by press photographers from Norway. We had a chat, she apologized, and we hugged – which was nice, because she was such a pretty girl! The Norwegian tabloids made a huge story out of it and our photo was all over the place. Quite funnily, later that year, I was reminded of what happened in Munich when I was at a dinner in an expensive restaurant in Monte Carlo, where the Concours Radiophonique took place. Seated next to me was a woman who occupied an important position in the Monegasque broadcasting service. She remembered my face from the Eurovision Song Contest, but the name Sigurd Jansen did not ring a bell to her – she was sure I had performed there using a pseudonym… When I responded by dropping those two words, ‘Johannes Skorgan’, she immediately remembered that ‘name’!”

Sigurd Jansen being erroneously introduced as ‘Johannes Skorgan’ by the German host before conducting the 1983 Norwegian Eurovision entry

Jansen’s last appearance as a conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest came in 1984, when Norway was represented at the festival in Luxembourg by the girl duo Dollie de Luxe (Benedicte Adrian and Ingrid Bjørnov), performing a self-penned up-tempo song called ‘Lenge leve livet’. It was Egil Monn-Iversen who wrote the arrangement and he came up with the idea of making use of Bjørnov’s high-pitched voice for the high C at the beginning and end of the song. In Luxembourg, Dollie de Luxe finished second-last. “These girls probably thought I was a very old man”, says Jansen. “They had some kind of an attitude. For example, just before the broadcast started, when all artists tried to focus and stay calm, Benedicte and Ingrid started pitching their voices while the doors to their cloakroom were wide open. They certainly made a lot of noise and disturbed all the others in the rooms next door.”

Probably in an attempt to rejuvenate the approach to the contest, the Kringkastingsorkester was replaced by a smaller band in the 1985 edition of the Norwegian pre-selection. Its maestro was Terje Fjærn, who also conducted the Norwegian representative and first-ever winner of the contest, Bobbysocks’ ‘La det swinge’, in the festival final in Gothenburg. Sigurd Jansen did not return to the contest in later editions. “For me it was not a problem”, Jansen dryly remarks. “I had never been involved in the Melodi Grand Prix in Norway anyway and, while I thought a Eurovision Song Contest was a pleasant week away from home, it certainly was not the part of my job I thought was really important. Moreover, the contest did not highlight the kind of music I was truly interested in myself. It was not until I participated in it as a conductor that I found out what impact this event had on so many people. On parties I attended, I noticed that even doctors or university professors started talking about the contest when I was within hearing range, simply because they were curious to find out what it was like and hoped that I would react. Mostly, I just ignored them! In recent years, I have stopped watching the festival. I cannot bear more than the first two or three songs. Eurovision once was a competition for composers, but it is not the same anymore. I readily admit that many songs in the days when I participated were not very good either, but at least we played live!”

Oslo, July 2011; interviewed by

Other artists on Sigurd Jansen
Philip Kruse was involved in the contest on more than twenty occasions either as a singer (one of the Bendik Singers), lyricist, music publisher, or official for Norway: “In my country, Sigurd Jansen is a highly respected composer, arranger, and conductor. He has always demanded the same high standards from the musicians he worked with as he did from himself. As for the Eurovision Song Contest, I am sure he suffered the same dilemma as every trained musician – including myself – for being involved in a competition where the quality of musical content was variable. Sigurd always approached his task as Norway’s musical director in the festival with a 100% professional attitude and support for all artists and songwriters involved. He was not very fond of the hype created around the event – a feeling shared by many others”. (2011)

Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker interviewed Sigurd Jansen in Oslo, July 2011. Thanks to Mr. Jansen for providing us with a detailed professional CV.
  • The encyclopaedia of Norwegian entertainment music: Jan Eggum, Bård Ose & Siren Steen, “Norsk Pop & Rock Leksikon”, Oslo (Vega Forlag) 2005 (second edition).
  • Thanks to Philip Kruse for adding some valuable information about the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest and for giving his comments about Sigurd Jansen.
  • Thanks to Tin Španja for translating some Norwegian source material.
  • Photos courtesy of Sigurd Jansen and Anneke van der Linden.


Songs conducted
1979: Oliver
1980: Sámiid ædnan
1981: Aldri i livet
1982: Adieu
1983: Do re mi
1984: Lenge leve livet