Kjell Mørk Karlsen (1947) is a composer with a versatile musical background. He graduated from the Oslo Music Conservatory as an organist and precentor in 1968, and took a degree as an orchestra musician (oboe) the following year. After having made his recorder debut in 1967, he took a degree on this instrument in 1972. In addition, Karlsen studied organ under Finn Viderø in Copenhagen and composition under Joonas Kokkonen in Helsinki.
Kjell Mørk Karlsen displays this same versatility as a professional musician. Today he devotes most of his energy to composing, but his career as a musician ranges from having been an oboist in the orchestra of the Norwegian National Opera to appearing as a keyboard musician with various orchestras and ensembles, such as the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and Collegium Musicum. Karlsen has also been active as a chamber musician. He taught at the Oslo Music Conservatory for a number of years, transferring to the Norwegian State Academy of Music when it was founded in 1972. Kjell Mørk Karlsen is also widely known as an organist and church musician with many years of service in the Church of Norway, e.g. as cathedral organist in Tønsberg and in Stavanger.
Karlsen's strong interest in medieval, renaissance and baroque music led him to found Pro Musica Antiqua in 1969, an ensemble he was to lead until 1974. He has also been associated with the Musica Sacra movement, whose aim has been to revive interest in the liturgy and early music while at the same time focusing on neo-classical elements in German sacred music.
This has also served as valuable experience for his career as a composer. Stylistically speaking, his music reveals a definite development. His early works are traditional, whereas the tonality and treatment of dissonance in his more recent works show that he has moved closer to contemporary currents without relinquishing traditional musical elements. 1983-84 proved to be a key year for him as he studied under the tutorial guidance of Finnish composer Joonas Kokkonen. The result was the emergence of the symphonic Mørk Karlsen and a number of symphonies and oratories of grand proportions. Also worth mentioning are Mørk Karlsen’s sonatas and string quartets that serve as examples of his devotion to classical chamber-music formats.
Kjell Mørk Karlsen's considerable production consists of 5 symphonies, 4 oratorios, cantatas, concertos and chamber music as well as church music for choir, soloists and organ. Examples of the latter category include Laudate Dominum – a collection that features 100 choir motets for each Sunday of the ecclesiastical year. He has also concentrated his efforts to renew and carry on the tradition of large-format church music styles. In reference to this one can mention the symphonic 1987 oratory Lilja, Johannespasjonen (1991), Sinfonia da Requiem (1995) and St. Hallvards litani from 2000.