Saturday 5 May 1984


The following article is an overview of the career of Norwegian pianist, composer, arranger, conductor, and producer Sigurd Jansen. The main source of information are two interviews with Mr Jansen, conducted by Bas Tukker; the first being in Oslo, July 2011; and the second done in a telephone conversation twelve years later, in February 2023. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Sigurd Jansen's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2011 & 2023

  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Sigurd Jansen
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links

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

Sigurd Jansen conducted all Norwegian Eurovision entries between 1979 and 1984, six songs in total. Among those, Jahn Teigen’s ‘Do-re-mi’ (1983) did best with a ninth place; in that same 1983 contest, German host Marlène Charell famously introduced Jansen as Johannes Skorgan. Long before being involved in the festival as a conductor, Jansen took part as a composer with ‘Spiral’, which represented Norway in the 1964 Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen. Performed by Arne Bendiksen, this jazzy tune, arranged by Carsten Klouman and conducted by Karsten Andersen, finished in eighth place. 


Sigurd Alf Jansen was born in the provincial town of Horten, located on the western coast of the Oslo Fjord. “My father was a sailor who was originally from Sweden, but he married a Norwegian girl and moved here. Just because my parents liked the idea of having a piano in the house, they decided to buy one. It was a bit odd, because neither of them could play it. They didn’t have a background in music – and neither did my grandparents or anyone else in the family. When I was six years old, I started showing an interest in it; and I was sent to music lessons.”

“During my adolescent days, I had a friend who was two or three years older than me. His name was Ola Calmeyer; and he introduced me to jazz. My lessons had only been classical; and I had no idea about other types of music. It was quite a discovery to find this whole new world of music. Ola’s personal favourite was the American pianist Teddy Wilson. Finding out about jazz revived my interest in music, which had been on the wane a little bit. I started listening to the radio. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were the musicians who inspired me most – bebop, in other words; modern jazz.”

“From that moment on, music was the only thing that counted in my life. I knew there was only one way for me; music, and nothing else. My parents tried to push me away from it, but they couldn’t stop me! I started playing the piano in dance orchestras in hotels in and around Horten; in the winter season, there was plenty of work for a pianist in ski resorts up in the mountains. Soon enough, I understood that I needed to improve my skills as a pianist to succeed as a music professional. That’s why I planned to go to the conservatoire. Perhaps I could have gone on to study at university, but I wasn’t interested in that. Though my parents didn’t agree, I went to study the piano at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. I took that decision by myself.”

Sigurd (far left) aged 18 playing the vibraphone in a dance band in his home town Horten. The others, from left to right: Arne Madsen (guitar), John Sletterød (Hawaiian guitar), Arne Styhr (bass), Thomas 'Nelly' Trondstad (sax), John Berntsen (piano), and Fredrik Friis (vocals) (1950)

“By that time, I was playing in the quartet of George Johnson, who was a saxophonist from America. Johnson’s pianist had fallen ill and I was asked to substitute for him – and after some time I became a regular member. They were a pure jazz band, but we also played some dance music. The band did summer tours in Larvik and the surrounding area – and it wasn’t a problem at all to combine it with my studies, given that the lessons in Oslo were given on two days per week only. After some time, Johnson’s band packed up and moved to Oslo; and at that point I left Horten and settled in Oslo too.”

“I studied at the conservatoire for about two years. Meanwhile, however, I found out that there were private teachers who had a higher standard – and so I took the decision to quit the academy to continue my studies with other, very able musicians. I took piano lessons, but also followed courses in composing and various theoretical subjects. One of those private teachers was Edvard Fliflet Bræin, a young classical composer with an excellent reputation; another important man was Gunnar Sønstevold, who later headed the Music Department of NRK Television.”

In the 1950s, Sigurd Jansen played the piano in different bands, winning the vote of Norway’s best jazz pianist, organised by the newspaper Verden Rundt, on several occasions. He also worked as a pianist and arranger at Oslo’s best-known cabaret and revue theatre, Chat Noir.

One of the hugely successful releases of Norway's first rock-'n'-roll star, Rocke-Pelle, backed up by 'Sigurd Jansen & His Rockin' Five' (1958)

Egil Monn-Iversen, who was the executive at Chat Noir, requested me for the job,” Jansen recalls. “We shared all arranging work amongst ourselves, with Egil conducting the orchestra and me playing the piano in it. At Chat Noir, musicians had to be quite versatile, given that 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 playing the piano. Any musician would be bored when having to perform the same show 150 times.”

“At some point, the record company Philips asked me if I could help them. They were looking for an arranger for their studio sessions. One day, the head manager asked me to write some arrangements for Rocke-Pelle. Rocke-Pelle was the stage name of Per Hartvig. He was one of the first young persons in our country to sing rock-‘n’-roll music after the hype created by Bill Haley in America. He signed a deal with Philips – and that’s where I came in. Even in those days, I wasn’t fond of that type of music, but it was a job! I called some friends of mine from the jazz clubs in Oslo – a drummer, a tenor sax player, and some others; and we recorded it. The question which then arose was what to call the accompanying orchestra… and someone said, “Let’s call them Sigurd Jansen and His Rockin' Five!” They asked if it was ok for me – and I said, “Why not?”, but then, when those Rocke-Pelle records sold well, my name became known as a rock musician, which I wasn’t and never wanted to be! It was a funny situation.”

From the late 1950s onwards, Sigurd Jansen worked extensively in the recording studio, writing arrangements for many different artists – ranging from Norway’s rock stars Rocke-Pelle and Per ‘Elvis’ Granberg to Nora Brockstedt and Elisabeth Granneman, two of the country’s most popular female singers. As his reputation as an arranger grew, Jansen was given the opportunity to release several EP records with instrumental repertoire under his own name. Apart from his involvement with many artists in studio sessions, he also toured with the likes of Rolf Kirkvaag and Inger Jacobsen.

The short-lived Sigurd Jansen Big Band outside the NRK Studios in Oslo, with the maestro in white. Vocalists are Svein Nilsen and Sigurd's girl-friend (and future wife) Marie Ødegård. The guitarist is Geir Langslet's father Knut Greger Eriksen (1959)

“With Inger Jacobsen, I did a winter tour in the north of Norway. What it was like? Well, it was very cold – and it was a three-month tour! So you see, I did all kinds of jobs in those days. One other artist I worked with was Per Asplin. He was a jazz singer who performed at Chat Noir at the time – and we did a gramophone record which I thought was quite good. Sometimes I liked the arranging work, but sometimes I didn’t – it depended on the type of music, and sometimes the music was terrible! Like any musician would, I did the best I could on everything, irrespective of what my personal thoughts were.”

“As I did more and more arranging, working on other people’s compositions, I became interested in writing music myself. Apart from variety music for Chat Noir, I didn’t do that much composing at the time – the first time I wrote a song must have been for Melodi Grand Prix some time in the early 1960s. My best-known title is ‘Vinter og sne’. I was asked to write something on the occasion of the World Skiing Championships, which were held in Norway (in 1966 – BT). The song was recorded by Wenche Myhre and it was a big hit. It’s still regularly being played on the radio.”

“A childhood friend of mine from Horten was Rolv Wesenlund. He became one of our country’s best-known comedians and actors; and Rolv and I remained friends all our lives. When I got married, he was my best man. In 1965, we started Lysthuset, a revue theatre agency with Harald Heide Steen among the actors who signed up. Our biggest success was a series of summer revues we did in a hotel in Tønsberg, a little town not so far from Horten. It was so popular that NRK started filming our show Og takk for det (in 1969 – BT) to be broadcast on television. In this show, I accompanied Rolv, Harald, and the other actors with a big band. One of the singers featuring in it was Kirsti Sparboe.”

At the piano, accompanying Søstrene Bjørklund (The Bjørklund Sisters) with actor Harald Heide Steen looking on - Centralteatret, Oslo (1963)

“By that time, I was also commissioned to write some film music. I don’t remember how many soundtracks I wrote – no more than three or four, although I later composed the music to TV drama and documentaries as well. I liked writing for films. It was much more interesting to work on than three-minute songs. This was in the mid-1960s, when I became more and more into serious music and composing orchestral pieces. Film music was a good stepping stone towards that. I was always hoping to get an opportunity to write for Kringkastingsorkestret, the orchestra of Norwegian radio – and it happened for the first time when some of my arrangements for popular singers were played in a concert by the orchestra. Its conductor, Øivind Bergh, was an excellent musician with an open ear to modern music.”

“One day, when the orchestra was due to play a set of arrangements written by me, Øivind called to tell me that he was ill; and he asked me if I could conduct them myself. It was a dream come true. The standard of the orchestra was very good. I liked conducting very much. Of course, I had conducted a lot of recording sessions, but working with a full orchestra was something different. Because I wanted more background in this field, I took conducting lessons for some time with Odd Grüner-Hegge, the chief conductor of the National Opera House in Oslo. This course proved very helpful. I started working with the Radio Orchestra more regularly, recording my arrangements which were used as background music for radio and television programmes – among other things.”

Putting his conducting skills to use outside the NRK studios as well, Sigurd Jansen led the orchestra for two musical productions which were staged at Trondheim’s Trøndelag Theatre in 1970. Meanwhile, in the recording studio, he continued being in demand as an arranger, writing the scores to songs for Wenche Myhre, Inger Lise Rypdal, and others. In 1972, for Kirsti Sparboe’s album ‘Dager med deg’, he shared the arranging work with Carsten Klouman, while also composing the title song. That year, Sparboe won the title of best female artist at the Spellemannprisen gala, Norway’s equivalent of the Grammys; and Jansen himself was chosen as the country’s best arranger at that same event. Another successful recording project was a live album he did as a piano accompanist in a concert with children’s repertoire sung by Crown Princess Sonja in 1976; this EP sold 40,000 copies, earning a gold record.

Working on a score (c. 1969)

In 1972, Jansen gave up his freelance status, signing a contract at NRK as a programme manager, which involved composing, arranging, and production work on many different projects. Jansen’s main field of activity lay with radio, working on many music programmes with Kringkastingsorkestret, of which he became one of three chief conductors after Øivind Bergh took his retirement in 1976.

Øivind was very happy to retire,” Jansen recalls. “He had worked hard, founding the orchestra just after the war and conducting it for over 30 years. To succeed him, two classical conductors were chosen, while I took over for the more popular programmes – what used to be called light music in those days. The conducting job took up about three months per year. The job at NRK allowed me to work on anything that I wished; composing, arranging, producing, you name it... My old friend Rolf Kirkvaag, who had become NRK’s Head of Entertainment, had asked me to join in 1972. I was delighted to accept. It also meant that I did a lot less work in the studio business from then on, which frankly I didn’t really regret.”

“Of course I tried to work as much on jazz and symphonic projects at NRK as I could. I composed many symphonic jazz and light music pieces for Kringkastingsorkestret; and I also created a radio programme with popular music called Strike Up The Band, for which I arranged and conducted all the music. Not all musicians in the radio orchestra were that fond of light-entertainment music. Sometimes I hired another drummer or bass player to get the sound I wanted, but generally speaking the orchestra was very good. For Strike Up The Band, there was a budget to work with very good soloists, which was nice.”

Backstage with the main contributors to NRK entertainment show ‘Og takk for det’, with (standing, from left) actors Rolv Wesenlund and Harald Heide Steen and (sitting, from left) actor Gunnar Haugan, pianist Sigurd Jansen, and producer Bo Hermansson (1970)

Another radio project which Sigurd Jansen was involved in for many years was the so-called Nordring Radio Prize. Nordring was a partnership between public radio broadcasters in North-Western Europe. From the early 1960s onwards, several Nordring exchange programmes between conductors, music soloists, and vocalists had been held. Between 1973 and 1983, however, a competition was organised, for which each participating country could submit a piece of music of some 45 minutes, bringing a maximum of six instrumental or vocal soloists. The first edition of the Nordring Radio Prize was held in Dronten, Netherlands

“I don’t know who had the idea of turning Nordring into a competition,” Jansen comments, “but I was the one who suggested that Norway should be in it. The best thing about Nordring was that you could do anything you wanted. There was complete freedom in the choice of subject and the type of music. I usually asked various people for ideas. You could then pick the soloists who fitted in well with your ideas for the music; or the other way around, creating a programme around certain soloists.”

“For the Norwegian entry in that first festival in 1973, the performance was done by Grethe Kausland and a close-harmony group, The Dizzy Tunes. It was a variety show in which Grethe and the others had ample opportunity to showcase their talents as imitators and jazz singers. I arranged all the music and conducted it. In Dronten, I got to work with Dolf van der Linden’s Metropole Orchestra, the orchestra of Dutch radio. In rehearsals, the musicians in it commented to me that our programme was the best; and I think I agreed. It was good, all-round entertainment. When we were declared winners and I received the production prize (from the hands of jury president and former Eurovision conductor Cédric Dumont – BT), it was a proud and happy moment. A real highlight!”

Sporting his production prize at the the first edition of the Nordring Festival, held in Dronten (Netherlands), with Alfred Næss, who co-wrote the Norwegian entry, at his side (1973)

“We won first prize again two years later, which was the first time the festival was held in Oslo – and I was also given the award for best arranger. In truth, I thought the Dutch programme was the best that year; a homage to the composer Harold Arlen, really wonderfully done. Generally speaking, Nordring was one of the things in my career which I liked working on most. The level of compositions and participating vocalists and instrumentalists in it was very high; and there was no place for commercial music. It was easy to find artists and composers. There was no pressure; the festival was about good music – who won it was really of secondary importance. I never had to convince people to take part. Everybody said yes immediately. As the festival was always held in August or September, I found myself writing arrangements for it each and every summer! I took part in Nordring ten times; I only missed the 1980 edition, when I wasn’t available and asked Carsten Klouman to replace me.”

One of the vocalists to work with Sigurd Jansen on the Nordring Radio Prize was Philip Kruse, who was part of winning Norwegian team in the 1975 edition of the festival in Oslo.

“I took part in that festival as one of Bendik Singers,” Kruse recalls. “In fact, as it was held in the NRK Studios in Oslo, it felt as just another edition of Strike Up The Band. With Bendik Singers, we must have recorded about 30 to 40 programmes of that show. The Nordring programme was wonderfully written by Sigurd. I especially remember one arrangement, ‘Didn’t We’, which was excellent – in fact the best arrangement I’ve ever heard of that song. That type of music was really what Sigurd was best at – big band arrangements and light music. He was what I would call an ‘in-between guy’; much too good for pop music, but a bit on the light side of serious music. Among pop musicians, he was respected, because everyone knew how talented he was. He’s the best light music composer Norway has ever had. I have only positive things to say about him.”

All prize winners at Nordring 1975, from left to right: Greetje Kauffeld (award for best vocalist, Netherlands), Sigurd Jansen (best arranger), and the winning Norwegian production team - Eva Schram and Terje Hoel

As a result of his involvement in the Nordring Festival and other Nordring exchange programmes, Sigurd Jansen received invitations to do concerts of his own arrangements in Denmark and West Germany.

“That really was one of the best things about Nordring,” Jansen explains. “It helped in building up a network of international contacts. At one point, I also got a call from the Netherlands – it was their broadcaster’s Head of Light Entertainment, who asked if I was interested to come over and replace Dolf van der Linden for a week. That was in 1977. As it turned out, Dolf was ill; and he had recommended me as his replacement. I had got to know Dolf in Nordring. He conducted the Dutch entry every year. Dolf was much older than me, and I didn’t get to know him really well; but it was clear that he was a charming guy, who was popular with his musicians, but commanded their respect at the same time. My stay in Hilversum coincided with a guest performance by Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, the bass player from Denmark, with whom I got to record a wonderful programme. I was made to feel very welcome. Their concertmaster (Ernő Oláh – BT) even invited me to come over to his place one night to have dinner together. I knew that Dolf was quite fond of me. In an aside, he even told me once that he wanted me to be his successor when he retired! Of course nothing ever came of it.”

“I have no idea why the Nordring Festival wasn’t held any longer after 1983. We continued having Nordring broadcasts for some years, but it no longer took the shape of a competition. It was called Nordring Rendez-Vous. The last time I remember was in 1989, when I travelled to Budapest for a Nordring with two Norwegian singers – one of them was Karin Krogh. I was there just as a radio producer, because the orchestra was led by a Hungarian conductor for all entries. This edition was called Euroring, but it was all rather low-key. It was sad that Nordring ended. We made many beautiful programmes; and getting the opportunity to conduct such marvellous orchestras as the Metropole Orchestra and the BBC Radio Orchestra was a privilege. It’s a pity, a real pity.”

With NRK Head of Entertainment - and personal friend - Rolf Kirkvaag enjoying a moment of relaxation at the 1982 Nordring Festival in Malmö

Going into the 1980s, two interesting American commissions appeared on Sigurd Jansen’s path, writing the arrangements to the concert ‘From Grieg to Gershwin’ by two pianists, an American and a Norwegian, who were both called Robert Levin; this concert for two pianos, celebrating the musical heritage of the United States as well as Norway, was performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall in the presence of Crown Prince Harald (1984). Then, in 1988, Jansen was closely involved in the creation of the permanent Norwegian pavilion at Epcot Centre in Disney World, Florida, as an advisor and the composer of the special theme music, recorded with his own orchestra in Oslo.

During his years with NRK, Sigurd Jansen was involved in several prestigious projects with the radio orchestra. Among many other commissions, he wrote all arrangements for King Olav’s 75th birthday concert (1978), while he was the musical director of a concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of The Beatles (1985), which was broadcast in all Nordic countries. On this occasion, Jansen shared the conducting job with the British group’s legendary producer and arranger, Sir George Martin. 

“It was a show done in a big concert hall in Oslo,” Jansen recalls. “We worked with Kringkastingsorkestret, with George Martin conducting his own Beatles arrangements from the 1960s; and me taking over for a set of arrangements I had written for two guest performers, Georgie Fame and Lulu. It was nice having the opportunity to work with George Martin. His arrangements were excellent; and he turned out to be a generous and friendly man. I have good memories of him – and the concert itself was rather good as well.”

Sigurd Jansen and Sir George Martin, producer of The Beatles, co-conducted a TV concert organised by the broadcasting services of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Fab Four's foundation (1985)

In the NRK music libraries, there are no fewer than 1,500 orchestral arrangements with Sigurd Jansen’s name on it – an impressive output, even taking into account that he worked for the broadcasting service for three decades. Moreover, he also wrote pieces for several military bands. Typical of Jansen’s work in the second half of his career is the concerto ‘Aurora Borealis’, recorded in 1989 with Kringkastingsorkestret and a quartet of jazz soloists, including Frode Thingnæs on trombone.

“When I got older, I became more interested in serious music,” Jansen explains, “although jazz is always in the foundations of everything I write – jazz is always in the back of my head, so to speak. ‘Aurora Borealis’ is a modern jazz piece with contemporary classical elements woven into it. It’s really a combination of the two. I wrote it with Kringkastingsorkestret in mind. Of course I picked Frode Thingnæs as one of the soloists. He was a great friend and an excellent trombone player. I worked with him whenever the opportunity presented itself. After I had recorded it with the orchestra and the soloists, I took the tape to my home studio to enrich it with synthesiser sounds. I had that studio built in the 1970s after coming back from London, where I had followed a master class at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. I knew nothing about electronic instruments; and I have always been keen to study and learn more about music. Having the ability to work with synthesisers enabled me to considerably broaden my scope as a composer and arranger. I don’t know if I would rate ‘Aurora Borealis’ as my best work, but it’s certainly one of a list of pieces that I’m happy with.”

For ‘Aurora Borealis’, Jansen received the Award for Best Composition of the Year from the Norwegian Association of Composers and Lyricists (NOPA) – a prize he had already received on seven (!) previous occasions. 

From the early 1970s onwards, Sigurd Jansen made his mark as a board member and president of a long list of interest organisations for musicians and music publishers; most importantly, he served as president of NOPA between 1982 to 1999, while simultaneously also representing Norway in the World Council of the International Performance Rights Organisation (CISAC). Upon his 70th birthday in 2002, Jansen retired from his post at NRK.

“It wasn’t that I wanted to stop; in fact, I would have been happy to stay on, but in Norway it’s not allowed to fulfil a function in one of the public services after the age of 70. It didn’t make that much of a difference to me. I haven’t stopped working. I am working every day. After quitting my job, I continued to work for NRK as a freelance composer. I wrote the music to a lot of radio plays – sometimes working with the radio orchestra, but mostly just making use of the electronic instruments in the basement studio here in my house.”

“Looking back on my life as a musician, I’m largely satisfied… not about everything of course. I would have liked to have spent more time on serious music than I had the opportunity to do during my years with NRK. Still, whatever I did, I always did it professionally and to the best of my ability. I’m nearly 91 years old now. The last years have been hard. My wife died in December (of the year 2022 – BT). She was ill for a long time. It’s not easy being alone now after 65 years together, but my health is still ok – and I’m simply continuing to do what I always did; writing music. At the moment, I’m working on a big work, a serious piece for a symphony orchestra. I’m hoping to get it performed. Yes, why not?” 

Sigurd with his wife Marie at his 80th birthday (2012)


Long before climbing the Eurovision stage 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. 

“In fact, I mainly worked as an arranger in those days, not as a composer of popular songs, although I occasionally wrote some material,” Jansen explains. “Before my participation in the Melodi Grand Prix, I don’t think I had ever tried. When working at the Chat Noir, I had penned some variety music, but a three-minute song – no, I think ‘Adjø’ in 1963 must have been the first one I ever composed. It wasn’t really my ambition to make a career as a songwriter, but I was very young at that time and open to new experiences; perhaps I wanted to be famous? No, I don’t know. 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 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, which went on to be a big hit. Bendiksen always continued to have mixed feelings about losing the selection as a songwriter and producer to a song which he performed himself. Funnily, 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 said, “You cannot use that… anything, but not that song!” She may have had her thoughts, but I still submitted it. I thought it was good! It’s a nice little melody with a standard jazz build-up. After writing the music, I telephoned Egil Hagen, who I knew from NOPA (the Norwegian Association of Composers and Lyricists – BT). In fact, it might very well have been the only time ever the two of us did a project together. He agreed to work with me on the song. I then paid him a visit, handing over the music sheets. When he had completed the lyrics, we sent the song to the NRK’s selection committee. We used pseudonyms, as was compulsory in those days. You weren’t allowed to submit a song using your own name to avoid jurors being partial to one songwriter or another.”

Because Hagen’s lyrics contain the word ‘bong’ several times, the Norwegian audience often referred to the song as The Bong Song. When it was picked for the Norwegian final, the selection committee asked Carsten Klouman to write an arrangement.

“As a composer, you didn’t have a say in the arrangement in those days. The decision who would arrange which song was taken at NRK. Having said that, Carsten Klouman wrote a good score. I really liked it! Carsten was many years older than me; and he was a much better arranger than I was at the time – he had so much more experience. To my mind, in the 1950s, he was the best jazz pianist in Norway. I really looked up to him. Later on, when I became a producer and conductor with NRK, I worked a lot with Carsten. I asked him many times to write arrangements for the radio orchestra. He always remained a freelance musician, doing a lot of work for radio and television, but also in the recording studio. I only have good memories of him. He was a really friendly guy.”

“On the other hand, perhaps Arne Bendiksen wasn’t the ideal performer for this song. When I wrote it, I had Per Asplin in mind. Per was a real jazz man. Arne was very interested in jazz and he thought of himself as a good jazz singer, but for me he wasn’t the right person for this particular song. Don’t get me wrong; Arne was a friend and we always had a good working relationship. It must have been a frustrating situation for him as well, given that he had such high hopes for Wenche Myhre. I can understand that.”

As ‘Spiral’ won the Norwegian selection for the contest, the song went on to represent Norway in the international Eurovision final in Copenhagen. There, it finished eighth in a field of sixteen competing entries. As 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, who stayed in the United States for most of the year 1964.

“That year, Øivind took a sabbatical,” Jansen recalls. “While he was away, all of his work at the radio orchestra was taken over by Karsten Andersen, an excellent classical conductor – and a very good violinist too! He was the chief conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic. Karsten was a classical musician, but someone with an open ear to other genres. For many years, he led the Stavanger Radio Ensemble, a septet which played a lot of entertainment music and was very popular. Later on, I got to know him personally. He was a very nice man; and no doubt he did the job in Copenhagen well.”

“I can’t give you any details about Copenhagen, because I wasn’t there! Probably I would have travelled to Denmark as part of the Norwegian delegation if I had been able, but I was ill at the time. I got appendicitis. It would have been impossible to go. It would have been nice to be there. For some reason, Egil Hagen didn’t go either. Because we didn’t have a television set in our house in those days, I didn’t watch the contest. I could have gone to friends to watch it, but I was ill… so I missed it!”

Arne Bendiksen performing 'Spiral' on the Eurovision stage at Copenhagen's Tivoli (1964)

“The song ‘Ironside’ in 1971 was my last time as a composer in the contest. The year after, I became a regular employee at the broadcasting service. This meant that I wasn’t allowed to enter a song for Melodi Grand Prix, because it was an event organised by NRK. In the following years, I was sometimes in the selection committee picking the songs for the Norwegian final. Also, I was asked a couple of times to sit in the jury for Melodi Grand Prix. When judging a song, I always voted for the melodies that I liked best personally. I never thought about what could do well in the international final. I’ve never been interested in the commercial qualities of music.”

Then, in 1979, Sigurd Jansen was Norway’s conductor in the international festival final, although the Norwegian selection programme had been conducted by Egil Monn-Iversen. The situation was to remain the same in the following five editions; Monn-Iversen conducted the programme in Norway, while Jansen went abroad accompanying the winner of Melodi Grand Prix.

When asked about this peculiar arrangement, Jansen explains, “Egil asked me to do the job in the Eurovision Song Contest. He worked on many NRK television productions and the Melodi Grand Prix was one of the programmes that he always did, whereas my primary activity always lay with the radio. That’s why the Nordring Festival, which was broadcast on radio, was part of my duties; I arranged and conducted the Norwegian entry for that contest year after year, but I was never involved as a conductor in Melodi Grand Prix.”

“As for your question, I don’t think Egil wanted to go abroad for a full week. He was always busy; apart from his work with NRK, he also did theatre productions and session work. He was a workaholic; and spending one week abroad to conduct three minutes probably just wasn’t on the table. Monn-Iversen was a very talented man who really was the leader of the pack in Norwegian music for many years. The two of us had an excellent working relationship. NRK wouldn’t have objected to me replacing him, because I was their employee. They also knew that I was an experienced conductor – a safe choice, so to say.”

Anita Skorgan with her lyricist Philip Kruse after winning the 1979 edition of Norsk Melodi Grand Prix, thus earning the ticket to Jerusalem and that year's Eurovision Song Contest

“Having said that, I did enjoy 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; I just counted 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! Even if the musicians in the orchestra didn’t speak English, I simply counted them in and they played the song. There was never a problem. I preferred keeping a low profile as a conductor for such a three-minute song. It’s 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 the conductor anyway.”

“Not all of my colleagues agreed on this, I should admit… I don’t remember in which year it was, but at one of those Eurovisions, a meeting was organised for the conductors from all competing countries. 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, isn’t it funny, here are fifteen conductors from all over Europe who have come together just to count to four!” Believe it or not, everyone fell silent; they didn’t like what I said at all! What I hadn’t realised, 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!”

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 11th 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. 

From Sigurd Jansen's personal collection - a commemorative medal given to all participants in the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem

“That’s right,” Jansen confirms. “I remember that. It was scary. During the week we spent there, I had a good time with my wife and my daughter, and we had the opportunity to do some travelling in Israel, which is a very interesting place to come to. In Jerusalem, though, the atmosphere was very tense. When we were taken on an organised tour through the old city, we couldn’t help noticing soldiers with machine guns on roofs and in the streets. This isn’t the kind of atmosphere musicians like working in. I didn’t have much to do with Anita Skorgan; she’s a good singer and she knew what she had to do. I can pretty much say the same about the other artists I accompanied in all other Eurovision Song Contests; they didn’t need much assistance from me other than just making sure the orchestra played what it was supposed to play.”

The following year, when the Eurovision Song Contest was held in The Hague, Norway came up with a most peculiar folk song performed by Sverre Kjelsberg and Mattis Hætta, called ‘Sámiid ædnan’, the second half of which is a yoik, a traditional form of song from the Lapp culture in Northern Scandinavia.

“It was a song about the Sami people claiming their rights. I wasn’t in the jury that year, so I don’t know why it was chosen. It certainly was something new; something different from what we had sent to the contest before. The two guys singing it were friendly and nice. For them, it was a new experience working with such a big orchestra, but they didn’t need much help from me. They had already done it in Melodi Grand Prix in Oslo with Egil conducting the orchestra. I do remember that the members of the orchestra in the Netherlands liked Egil’s arrangement. Otherwise, my only memory of The Hague is that the weather was bad! The song did badly in the voting, but it wasn’t really important to me. Of course, I preferred it when Norway got a lot of points, but my livelihood didn’t depend on it.”

With 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!

Norway was not particularly successful in the contest in the early 1980s. After the sixteenth place in The Hague, the country came last the following year in Dublin with Finn Kalvik’s ‘Aldri i livet’. The song, produced by ABBA’s Benny Andersson, came last without picking up a single vote.

“I felt sad for Finn Kalvik, when he came last, because he was such a nice fellow 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 he would need a drink for every performance from that time on. He took my advice and didn’t have his cognac; and his performance went very well. I cannot understand why the song didn’t do so well. The contest itself was very nice to be part of. Somehow, the Irish are very good at organising such an event. You’re made to feel very welcome. The following year we went to England (the contest being held in Harrogate – BT); and the Brits did a perfect job as well.”

In the summer of 1981, Jansen was involved in a concert celebrating 25 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, most of the songs which had won the contest between 1956 and 1981 were performed by their original artists accompanied by an extended Kringkastingsorkestret conducted by Sigurd Jansen as well as some guest conductors (including Kobi Oshrat from Israel). 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. It was nice to come back there for this special Eurovision show. Many of the Eurovision winners hadn’t performed their song for many years. Some of them had even lost the original arrangements. This meant that those arrangements had to be written out anew by listening to the recorded version. I took care of some of those myself, giving away some of the others to Carsten Klouman and Øivind Westby. Westby is a trombonist in the radio orchestra and a really good arranger (Westby also wrote the arrangement to Norway’s Eurovision entry in 1977, ‘Casanova’ – BT). Some of the singers were a bit disappointed when they arrived. Mysen is an unimpressive little village in the countryside – but when they discovered there were this huge 50-piece orchestra and a choir to accompany them, they were very impressed. There was a massive public turnout and the show was a great success.”

Flanked by Mattis Hætta (left) and Sverre Kjelsberg at the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest in The Hague, with a local hostess, and (far right) Ragnar Olsen, lyricist of 'Sámiid ædnan' 

In 1982 and 1983, Norway was represented by the man-and-wife duo of Jahn Teigen and Anita Skorgan. They landed a twelfth place in Harrogate with the ballad ‘Adieu’, followed by a ninth place the following year in Munich with the slightly less sophisticated, but very accessible tune ‘Do-re-mi’. Jansen conducted both entries.

“The contest in Munich is a stand-out memory for me,” Jansen laughs. “Jahn and Anita were good to work with – especially Jahn, who was very funny; but that was not the reason. The girl who hosted the show (actress and dancer Marlène Charell – BT) mixed up the cards with the names of all participants. When she announced the Norwegian entry, she somehow couldn’t find my name. Because she had just read out the name of Anita Skorgan, ‘Skorgan’ was what she remembered. Then she just made up a name and announced me as Johannes Skorgan… I thought it was a brilliant joke. The poor girl! After the show, the two of us were brought together by press photographers from Norway. We had a chat, she apologised, and we hugged. The Norwegian tabloids made a huge story out of it and our photo was all over the place.”

“Later that year, I was reminded of what had happened in Munich again when I was at a dinner in the Hotel de Paris, a famous restaurant in Monte Carlo. I was in Monaco for the annual Concours Radiophonique. I was one of the jurors there. Seated next to me in the restaurant was a woman with an important position in the Monegasque broadcasting service. She remembered my face from the Eurovision Song Contest, but the name Sigurd Jansen didn’t 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 the name!”

Sigurd 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 Benedicte Adrian and Ingrid Bjørnov; using their stage name Dollie de Luxe, they who performed a self-penned up-tempo song called ‘Lenge leve livet’. Yet again, Egil Monn-Iversen wrote the arrangement. Not even his invention of a high C, performed by Benedicte Adrian at the beginning and end of the song, could save Dollie de Luxe from finishing second-last.

"Here he is: Johannes Skorgan". A Norwegian tabloid making the most of Marlene Charell's gaffe at the 1983 Eurovision Song Contest

“These girls probably thought I was a very old man,” Jansen thinks. “They had some kind of an attitude. Just before the broadcast started, when all artists tried to focus and stay calm, they 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. It didn’t really matter to me personally, because – remember, all I had to do was count to four.”

Probably in an attempt to rejuvenate the image of the contest, Kringkastingsorkestret was replaced by a smaller band in the 1985 edition of the Norwegian pre-selection. Its maestro was Terje Fjærn, a freelance musician who also conducted the Norwegian representative and first-ever winner of the contest, Bobbysocks’ ‘La det swinge’, in the festival final in Gothenburg. It also marked the end of Sigurd Jansen’s involvement as Norway’s music director in the contest.

“For me it wasn’t a problem”, Jansen dryly remarks. “Taking part in Eurovision was always pleasant; you could meet some friends from abroad. Anders Berglund from Sweden was someone I got on well with, for example. On the other hand, I didn’t consider the contest as an important part of my job at NRK. It didn’t highlight the kind of music I was interested in myself. It wasn’t until I participated in it as a conductor that I found out what impact this event had on so many people. At parties I attended, I noticed that even doctors or university professors started talking about the contest when I was within hearing range; they were simply being 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; then, I just have to switch it off. Eurovision once was a competition for composers, but it’s not the same anymore. All attention goes to the singers. I admit that many songs in the days when I participated weren’t very good either, but at least we played live! Even then, though, the writing was on the wall. I noticed that more and more countries were using backing tracks. We never did that. The only technological device we used was a click track in 1984. Everything was done live; and that’s the way it should be in a music festival.”

Girl duo Dollie de Luxe, Benedicte Adrian and Ingrid Bjørnov, on stage in Luxembourg representing Norway in the 1984 Eurovision Song Contest


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’m 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. I can share his feeling that it was a routine job, but he did what he had to do flawlessly. He wasn’t very fond of the hype created around the event – a feeling shared by many others”. (2011)


Country – Norway
Song title – "Spiral"
Rendition – Arne Bendiksen
Lyrics – Egil Hagen
Composition – Sigurd Jansen
Studio arrangement – Carsten Klouman
Live orchestration – Carsten Klouman
Conductor – Karsten Andersen
Score – 8th place (6 votes)

Country – Norway
Song title – "Oliver"
Rendition – Anita Skorgan
Lyrics – Philip A. Kruse
Composition – Anita Skorgan
Studio arrangement – George Keller
Live orchestration – George Keller
Conductor – Sigurd Jansen
Score – 11th place (57 votes)

Country – Norway
Song title – "Sámiid ædnan"
Rendition – Sverre Kjelsberg & Mattis Hætta
Lyrics – Ragnar Olsen
Composition – Sverre Kjelsberg
Studio arrangement – Egil Monn-Iversen 
(studio orchestra conducted by Steinar Ofsdal)
Live orchestration – Egil Monn-Iversen
Conductor – Sigurd Jansen
Score – 16th place (15 votes)

Country – Norway
Song title – "Aldri i livet"
Rendition – Finn Kalvik
Lyrics – Finn Kalvik
Composition – Finn Kalvik
Studio arrangement – Benny Andersson
Live orchestration – Rutger Gunnarsson
Conductor – Sigurd Jansen
Score – 20th place (0 votes)

Country – Norway
Song title – "Adieu"
Rendition – Anita Skorgan & Jahn Teigen
Lyrics – Herodes Falsk 
Composition – Jahn Teigen
Studio arrangement – George Keller / Anita Skorgan / Jahn Teigen
Live orchestration – Egil Monn-Iversen 
Conductor – Sigurd Jansen
Score – 12th place (40 votes)

Country – Norway
Song title – "Do-re-mi"
Rendition – Jahn Teigen feat. Anita Skorgan
Lyrics – Herodes Falsk  / Jahn Teigen
Composition – Anita Skorgan / Jahn Teigen
Studio arrangement – Anita Skorgan / Jahn Teigen / Heinz Gietz
Live orchestration – Heinz Gietz
Conductor – Sigurd Jansen 
Score – 9th place (53 votes)

Country – Norway
Song title – "Lenge leve livet"
Rendition – Dollie de Luxe (Benedicte Adrian & Ingrid Bjørnov)
Lyrics – Benedicte Adrian / Ingrid Bjørnov
Composition – Benedicte Adrian / Ingrid Bjørnov
Studio arrangement – Egil Monn-Iversen
Live orchestration – Egil Monn-Iversen
Conductor – Sigurd Jansen
Score – 17th place (29 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Sigurd Jansen twice; first in Oslo, July 2011; and twelve years later, in February 2023, with additional questions put in a second interview by telephone
  • The encyclopaedia of Norwegian entertainment music: Jan Eggum, Bård Ose & Siren Steen, “Norsk Pop & Rock Leksikon”, ed. Vega: Oslo 2005 (second edition)
  • Bas Tukker’s biography of Dolf van der Linden, in which Sigurd Jansen is quoted: “Dolf van der Linden. De vader van het Metropole Orkest”, ed. Metropole Orkest: Hilversum 2015
  • Thanks to Philip Kruse for adding some valuable information about the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest and for sharing with us his memories of working with Sigurd Jansen (2011 & 2023)
  • Photos courtesy of Sigurd Jansen, Anneke van der Linden, and Ferry van der Zant
  • Thanks to Tin Španja for translating some Norwegian source material
  • Thanks to Mark Coupar for proofreading the manuscript

1 comment:

  1. Spiral was also performed in the norwegian pre selection by Elisabeth Granneman. Arne Bendiksen was probably chosen, because he hava had huge sucsess playing the maincaharcter in a musical in Copenhagen all of 1963.