University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The Danish Historical Series

Volume XVIII · Winter 1963 ·  Number  2
The Danish Historical Series

Among the collections of music purchased by the Sibley Music Library within recent months is the historical series issued by the Society for Publishing Danish Music (Samfundet til Udgivelse af Dansk Musik). So far the library has received a total of 250 compositions in 236 volumes arranged in four series and supplements, representing its largest single acquisition of music from Denmark. This series, though not so well known nor so widely circulated as its Austrian counterpart (Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Oesterreich) and its German parallels(Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Bayern, Denkmäler deutscher Tonkunst, Das Erbe deutscher Musik), is of great importance to scholars and performers alike. In addition to accurate editing of older music, it has the distinction of including "modern" as well as historical works printed in a format easily adaptable to practical performance.

Although the Danes have always been a musical people, with an illustrious history of activities in the art, their compositions (with the notable exception of the works of Niels Gade and Carl Nielsen) have not often been heard in the United States. This may well be the result of the overwhelming predominance of English music in America during colonial times and of German Romantic works during the nineteenth century. Our lack of knowledge may also be due to the strong foreign influences upon Danish music from the Netherlands, England, Italy, and Germany. In any case, it is only recently that Americans have developed a curiosity and a well-deserved respect for the purely Danish musical creation.

Denmark had a flourishing medieval tradition of musico-poetic art, somewhat akin to that of the troubadours and trouvères, which reached its zenith between 1250 and 1350. Poems of chivalric love, honor, and heroism were set to music and sung in the great houses of Denmark as they were in the castles of Provence and of Northern France. Simultaneously, Danish balladry developed. There were songs describing the walking of ghosts, of bloodshed and violent death, and supernatural events, kept alive through the centuries by being handed down by rote from generation to generation. Thanks to the interest in them during the Baroque era, their texts were written down during the seventeenth century, while their melodies, which had become traditional among the lower classes, were finally provided with notation in the nineteenth century. This ballad literature forms the basis for studies in folklore at the present time.

During the Renaissance the kingly Danish court had its great chapel, as did the courts of the other Western sovereigns. The Royal Cantory, as this chapel was called, employed outstanding musicians from foreign lands, first from the Netherlands, then from England, and finally from Italy. Danish composers were sent across the Alps to study with the Venetian and Roman masters, while Danish performers were sent across the sea to study with the English virginalists and lutenists. Thus Danish music was early subjected to many alien influences, which continued well into the Baroque and even into the Classical periods. Italian operatic companies, like Mingotti's famous troupe, came to Copenhagen regularly for performances. French ballet was imported into the Danish court. The German Singspiel (dramatic pieces with some spoken and some sung dialogue and much incidental music) was brought into the country and, with new Danish texts, became a "naturalized" form of entertainment. Denmark's most outstanding Baroque musician, Diderik Buxtehude (1637-1707), as organist and composer for the Marienkirche in Lübeck, became more closely associated with the music of the North German school than with that of his native land. As a young man, J. S. Bach walked well over a hundred miles to hear Buxtehude's Abendmusiken (evening musical services) during the Advent season and found himself greatly influenced by the Danish master. Thus it was that although Denmark did not lack musical activity, it did not develop a distinctively Danish school of composition until the nineteenth century, when men like Niels Gade and J. P. E. Hartmann rose to prominence. So it is that the publications of the Samfundet, though including compositions of the earlier writers, consist principally of the music of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century musical creators. The composers represented are the builders of the growing Danish school of our present generation.

The 1956 catalogue of the Samfundet starts with an account of the founding of the Society:

On a summer-day in 1871 a circle of friends of Danish music were assembled at the summer-residence of the composer Peter Heise in order to negotiate "by which means the knowledge of our national music may be advanced and diffused, and how to prevent many important musical works, now idling in the archives, from getting lost."

Similar intentions had already materialized at various places abroad. As early as 1839 Commer's "Musica Sacra" was begun. The Proske and Haben "Musica divina" dates from 1853, and the first secular series appeared in 1861—Farrenc: "Le Trésor des Pianistes." National currents in music were inaugurated, and in 1869 were established two important societies, "Vereeniging voor (Noord) Nedenlands Muziekgeschiedenis," and in Stockholm "Musikaliska Konstföreningen" with the purpose of publishing contemporary Swedish music. Finally in February 1871 [the] "Société Nationale de Musique" came into existence in Paris,—and the founders of the Samfundet realizing that a combination of the two interests, namely the preservation and re-editing of historical compositions, and the furtherance of contemporary music would be closest to their purpose, established the bilateral activity of the Samfundet.

An earlier Danish attempt in the same spirit should be mentioned. During a celebration of Weyse's birthday in 1836 the "Musikforeningen"—The Music Society—was established spontaneously with the purpose of publishing Danish music. This society, however, rather soon developed into a concert-institution which played a substantial part in Danish musical life right up to 1931. Its publications, however, amounted to only 14 issues.

The statutes of the Samfundet laid equal weight on both sides of its activity: "The purpose of theSamfundet is to further Danish music by defraying the costs of, or subsidizing, the publishing of compositions of lasting significance, both old and new, and particularly such works, the publishing of which would otherwise involve difficulty." Later on a revision of the statutes has put the contemporary music in the first place.

C. E. F. Weyse (1774-1842), at whose birthday celebration the aforementioned Musikforeningen was established, moved to Copenhagen when he was fifteen, to spend the rest of his life as a practical musician there. He became organist at the French-German Reformed Church in 1795, and after ten years he took a similar position at the Cathedral of Copenhagen. He was an outstanding pianist as well. As a composer he is considered one of the best of the early nineteenth century, and his cantatas are still in the active Danish repertoire. In the Samfundet publications his work is represented by Festen paa Kenilworth (The Feast at Kenilworth), a romantic Singspiel to a text by Hans Christian Andersen (1877), and the Reformations-Kantatefor male chorus with piano, to a text by J. L. Heiberg (1884).

Peter Heise, at whose summer home the Samfundet was established, was born in 1830 and died in 1879. He was primarily a choral and song composer, whose tragedy Palnatoke, to a libretto by Adam Oehlenschläger (1880), is among the Samfundet publications. A dramatic song to a text by Christian Richardt, entitledTornerose (The Sleeping Beauty) (1874) and a choral work, Rus-Kantate (Cantata for the Freshmen) to a text by C. Hostrup, are also published by the Society. The Sibley Music Library possesses, in addition, some of his instrumental works.

Niels Gade (1817-1890) was a leader of the Danish Romantic school and a vital influence upon the great Norwegian lyric composer, Edvard Grieg. Gade was a teacher at the Conservatorium at Leipzig and Mendelssohn's vice-conductor at the Gewandhaus (one of the greatest concert halls in Germany, with an outstanding symphony orchestra, of which Mendelssohn was musical director). Upon the death of Mendelssohn in 1847 he succeeded him as conductor, but, at the outbreak of the Schleswig-Holstein War the following year, he returned to Denmark. He was the conductor of the Music Society, organist at Holmens Church, and from 1866 co-director with Hartmann of the Conservatorium at Copenhagen which he had helped to establish. Because of his German associations and his Romantic style, his works were widely disseminated. Among non-Danish publishing houses which have or are issuing his works are Henri Elkan in Philadelphia, Oliver Ditson in Boston, and G. Schirmer in New York; G. Flaxiand in Paris; Kistner, Breitkopf und Härtel, and C. F. Peters in Leipzig; Augener, Ltd., and Novello and Co. in London. The Sibley Music Library owns forty-five compositions by Gade in addition to the following items in the Samfundet series: Et Folkesagn (A Popular Legend), ballet in three acts by A. Bournonville (1896); Baldurs Dröm (Baldur's Dream), for chorus, soloists, and orchestra, to a text by Ad. Hertz (1897); and a fragment from the final scene of Sanct Hansaften Spil (Midsummer-Eve's Play), with libretto by Adam Oehlenschläger. The last named is a posthumous work, which was rescored and finished by Rud I. Langgaard (1916).

Like the Bach family in Germany whose male members for generations were musicians, the Hartmann family represents the best in a Danish musical dynasty. The first member was Johann Ernst Hartmann (1726-1793), a violinist who immigrated to Denmark from Silesia, becoming concert-master at the Royal Theatre of Copenhagen in 1768. For this theater he composed a Singspiel entitled Fiskerne (The Fishermen) (1780), in which the melody of the royal anthem, "Kong Kristianstod," appeared for the first time. It is not known who the original composer of this air actually was. Although most of his manuscripts were destroyed in the great fire at Christiansborg Castle in 1794, it is known that they included operas, orchestral and chamber music, and miscellaneous smaller works. Besides Fiskerne, whose libretto was by Johannes Ewald, Hartmann is also represented by Balders Död (Balder's Death), another Singspiel to the text of Ewald (1876).

Johann Ernst's son, August Wilhelm Hartmann (1775-1850), was also a musician, although he is not represented in the Samfundet series. His son, Johan Peder Emilius Hartmann (1805-1900), in his turn became (together with his son-in-law, Gade) the central figure in the musical life of nineteenth-century Denmark. He was one of the founders of the Music Society and eventually became its director, organist at the Cathedral of Copenhagen from 1843 to his death, and co-director with Gade of the Conservatorium. He continued to compose actively until he was almost ninety years of age and developed what has commonly been called the "Northern-Romantic" style, greatly influencing his contemporaries and some of his successors as well. In the Samfundet series he is represented by several orchestral overtures: to the tragedy of Hakon Jarl (1954), to Yrsa: a heroic poem (1883), to the tragedy of Corregio (1953); a piano arrangement of the Overture and Entr'acte Music to Hakon Jarl(1873); and two ballets, Valyrien (1900) and Thyrmskviden (The Legend of Thyrm) (1891).

Emil Hartmann (1836-1898), the son of J. P. E. Hartmann, was an organist, serving the chapel of Christiansborg Castle from 1871 and succeeding Gade as conductor of the Music Society in 1891. He is represented by hisSymphony in D Major, arranged as a piano duet (1889). Niels Viggo Bentzon, born in 1919, is a great-grandson of J. P. E. Hartmann and is one of the youngest composers whose music appears in the Samfundet series. He is a pianist and a professor at the Conservatorium at Copenhagen. An active promoter of contemporary music, he has written symphonies, concerti, chamber music, and a great variety of incidental music for the stage, screen, and radio. His Sonata for 'Cello and Piano, Op. 43, was published by the Samfundet in 1947. Composed the preceding year, it is, according to its editors, a distinctive example of his style in "its volcanic character and explosive violence."

Of all the Danish composers, Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) is the best known in the United States, where his concerti and much of his symphonic music have been performed. The Danes themselves consider him their greatest twentieth-century musician. Although he received his major training in Copenhagen, he also studied in Germany, France, and Italy. During his active concert life he was a violinist in several theater orchestras and the conductor of the Copenhagen Opera (1908-1913) and of the Copenhagen Musical Society (1913-1927). In addition, he toured as guest-conductor with orchestras in Germany, Holland, Sweden, and Finland. During the Festival of American Music at the Eastman School of Music in 1960, Dr. Howard Hanson conducted a performance of Nielsen's famous Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra as a gesture of friendship and recognition of Danish musicians. This work, recognized as one of the most masterful concerti in clarinet literature, is representative of the progressive and highly individualistic style of Nielsen. Besides the works found in the Samfundet series, the Sibley Music Library possesses all of the major works of the composer. The following have been issued by the Society: Symphony No. 5, Op.50, composed in 1922; Symphony No. 6, subtitled "Sinfonia Sempuce," composed in 1925, the Overture to the opera Maskerade, written in 1906; the Overture to the operaIsbella, composed in 1915; the Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, Op 57, written in 1928; the Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, composed in 1926; the Helios Overture, Op. 17; Commotio, for organ, Op. 58, Nielsen's last great work, composed in 1931; and piano arrangements of the Symphony No. 2 ("The Four Temperaments").

The Samfundet has published works by many other leading Danish musicians, including Knudaage Riisager (President of the Danish section of the International Society for Contemporary Music (1922-24) and at present the Director of the Conservatorium); Otto Mailing and Rud Langgaard, both outstanding organists; Peder Gram, the conductor; and such contemporary figures as Vagn Holmboe, Finn Höffding, Knud Hogenhaven Jensen, Leif Kayser, Herman Koppel, Jan Maegaard, Otto Mortensen, Svend Schultz, Kai Senstius, Svend Erik Tarp, Leif Thybo, and Flemming Weis.  It is expected that the publications of the Society will constitute the basis for much research as well as many performances of Danish music. According to the agents in Copenhagen, who supplied the Sibley Music Library copies, there are only two other complete sets in the United States at the present time.