Composer, music publisher and teacher Theodora Cormontan (1840-1922) was born in Norway in 1840, immigrated to Illinois in 1887 and ended her life as a resident of Decorah’s Aase Haugen Home in 1922.
Composer, music publisher and teacher Theodora Cormontan (1840-1922) was born in Norway in 1840, immigrated to Illinois in 1887 and ended her life as a resident of Decorah’s Aase Haugen Home in 1922.
The public is cordially invited to enjoy a special musical presentation at the Porter House Museum Sunday, May 20, at 2 p.m.

A reception with refreshments follow the program.

In a lecture-recital format with power-point, music and voice, the program explores the life and work of the composer, music publisher and teacher Theodora Cormontan (1840-1922). Born in Norway in 1840, Theodora immigrated to Illinois in 1887, and ended her life as a resident of Decorah's Aase Haugen Home in 1922.

Telling the story of her unusual life and career are two scholars helping revive interest in Cormontan's music: Bonnie Jorgensen, pianist, who appears frequently with the Mankato Symphony Orchestra and Michael Jorgensen, professor of music at Gustavus Adolphus.

Admission is $10 per person; all proceeds benefit the Porter House Museum, which is located at 401 West Broadway at River Street. Seating is first come, first served - starting at 1:30 p.m., one-half hour before the performance.

The Jorgensens, from St. Peter, Minn., have been conducting research into Cormontan's life and career. After Cormontan's death in Decorah, many of her original music manuscripts were given to the family of the Rev. Otto Schmidt (1873-1946), who was the "guiding spirit" in the erection of the first Aase Haugen Home. Descending in Schmidt's family, this cache of original music manuscripts was inherited by Barb Nelson, who kept them in her St. Peter residence until 2011, when she gave the manuscripts, along with other music, to the Jorgensens.

In his research, Professor Michael Jorgensen discovered Theodora is remembered in Norway as a music teacher, performer, music publisher and composer. The Jorgensens are planning to donate this archive of Cormontan's work to the National Library of Norway.

Sunday's performance may be the first time some of these compositions have been heard in Decorah for nearly 90 years, and the program is an interesting opportunity to learn about the unusual career journey of a female composer, who was also Norwegian-American.

Cormontan started her career in Norway as a singer and, as early as 1879, as a music publisher and teacher. After immigrating to Illinois in 1887, Cormontan moved to Minnesota, where she joined some of her siblings - first in Sacred Heart and later in Franklin. News accounts from this period include the report of the Renville Weekly News in 1887: "Miss Cormontan is a capital musician, a fine singer, and is highly spoken of in musical circles, and those who did not attend missed a rare treat." By 1892, in Franklin,Minnesota, Cormontan played organ at 2 area churches, conducted choirs, and gave music lessons. The local press wrote: "The lady is certainly an excellent teacher in vocal, as well as instrumental, music."

Professor Jorgensen concludes that Cormontan may have composed as many as 140 music pieces between 1870 and 1910. In her manuscript collection, the earliest piece is dated 1876. Her first published work in Norway appeared in 1875. It appears that Cormontan's composing spanned approximately 40 years; her later work was published in by printing houses in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

In her advertisements for her teaching, Cormontan described herself as "Pupil of Europe's Greatest Musicians" and said she "gave instruction on piano, organ, and vocal." She said she practiced "the newest and best methods of...vocal culture, Mathilde Marchesi's Italian Singing Method." Some of the Cormontan manuscripts bear completion dates from the first decade of the 20th century, indicating that Cormontan continued composing during her later years.

Jorgensen's research indicates that, by 1899, Cormontan moved to Madelia, Minnesota, where she ran a newspaper ad as composer and music teacher. During this time, she sold several of her compositions at her brother's drug store in Madelia. By 1917, Cormontan and her elder sister entered the Aase Haugen Home, where Theodora died in 1922. She is buried in the Aase Haugen cemetery near the site of the original Aase Haugen building.

The Cormontan music includes six piano solos published in the U.S., and approximately 150 manuscript scores. The majority of the manuscripts are piano solos, but there are few hymns, vocal solos, and a vocal duet as well. Almost all the manuscripts are in ink and stand as completed works. Cormontan may have sent these copies to potential publishers or used them as performance copies. A few works in pencil appear to be draft copies. Professor Jorgensen thinks that about three quarters of her compositions were done in the U.S. The Jorgensens will be displaying selected works by Cormontan at the Porter House before and after the recital.