Gade in England.


In 1875 Carl Thrane published a biographical essay on Niels W. Gade, together with studies of Weyse, Kuhlau and J.P.E. Hartmann, in his book Danske Komponister: Fire Skildringer [Danish Composers: Four Portraits].1 Gade was then fifty-eight years old and Thrane paints a picture of a national hero who, through talent and good fortune, had achieved international recognition at the early age of twenty-five but who, after a few glamorous years in one of Europe’s most important musical centres, Leipzig, had been content to withdraw, at the age of thirty-one, to a busy, useful and productive – but comparatively provincial – life in what Thrane refers to as “Denmark’s, with respect to music, isolated position”.2 To be sure, he does him full honour, describing him as “without doubt the Danish composer who stands in highest repute and enjoys the greatest admiration abroad” and he concedes that “it is above all thanks to him that musical Europe has become aware of us.”3 Yet he seems to imply that Gade was uninterested or unwilling to venture out of the comfortable security of his position in Copenhagen, observing that “only in 1853 did he again, for a short time, lead the Gewandhaus concerts”, after which his isolation was not disturbed again until the autumn of 1873, when he undertook a concert tour to Holland that was reportedly “a real triumphal procession”.4

This is by no means an adequate record of Gade’s international engagements – it overlooks the trip that he made to Paris in 1862, for instance – but the few trips that he otherwise made to places in Germany do not really render unjustified the impression given of a composer for whom international renown could not compete in importance with the comfortable life in familiar surroundings that he enjoyed in Denmark. However that may be, this was soon to change for in the very year of Thrane’s publication, 1875, Gade was preparing, like his Viking forebears, to conquer England, having received an invitation to compose a major choral work and conduct it at the Triennial Musical Festival in Birmingham the following year. Gade accordingly visited England for the first time in 1876, where the performances in Birmingham of Zion and The Crusaders enjoyed such a success that he was invited to return in 1882 to conduct Psyche, which was also well received. During these two trips into England Gade was much admired by both performers and public, he was reported in the newspapers and his works were printed and played. His “English adventure” comprised indeed a happy chapter in the last fifteen years of his life and it is surprising how little it is considered in the general assessment of the composer’s achievement. In the biographical sketch posted on a site devoted to the composer by the Royal Library in Copenhagen on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his birth, for example, his connection to England is not even mentioned. Perhaps even more surprising, however, is that neither is Gade’s popularity in England mentioned in what I believe is still the only history of Scandinavian music in English: Scandinavian Music; A Short History by John Horton.5 There his relationship to England receives no more than a passing remark: “His many cantatas and oratorios written to order for national occasions or for festivals abroad (including the English choral festivals) are mostly forgotten” .6 This unhappy fate (from which he excepts Elverskud) is not necessarily justified and is, of course, always open to revision as fashions change. If true, however, it is a fate shared by a great number of the choral works that fed what Percy Scholes called “the insatiable appetite of the British public for the oratorio”.7 In attributing the allegedly “forgettable” quality of Gade’s works performed at Birmingham to their having been written to order, however, John Horton is mistaken: the only work that Gade ever wrote expressly for the Birmingham Festival was a Fest-ouverture that was never performed, whereas the two choral works he intended for Birmingham – King Alfred in 1876 and Judith in 1882 – were never realized. Despite his disingenuous assurances in letters to the festival committee,8 Zion (1876) and Psyche (1882), were composed at his own instigation and inspiration independently of the festival commissions. They were, however, given their first performances at Birmingham under Gade’s own direction, where they were warmly received and, ignorant of the harmless deception, the committee was well satisfied. Whatever their fate may have been since, there can be little doubt that at the time they added richly to his reputation and caused his star to shine brightly on the British side of the Channel, brightly enough to be seen over the entire western hemisphere and so brightly that it should not now be overlooked.

The events of his two trips to England are quite straightforward and undramatic and have been well told by Inger Sørensen in her masterly biography of Gade.9 Indeed, Gade himself gives a detailed and enthusiastic account of most of them in the letters sent from England to his wife, first published by his daughter, Dagmar Gade,10 and again, more completely, by Inger Sørensen in the edition of of his letters mentioned earlier.11 These give an interesting picture of England and English musical life in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and an attractive picture of Gade himself as an intelligent and unpretentious observer. The trip in 1876 was Gade’s first visit to England; he knew very little English, for which reason he had at first declined the invitation to come to Birmingham to conduct his works personally. For some reason unknown he had taken courage and changed his mind, begun to learn English, and in the event spent a total of about six weeks in this new and strange environment in the summer of 1876 and again in 1882. He stayed first in London, where he played the role of tourist in the great centre of the Empire, at that time the largest city in the world, fascinated by the antiquities in the British Museum, in love with the magnificent collection of paintings in the National Gallery, and interested in, if a little puzzled by, his first experience of the Anglican church service, a choral service in Westminster Abbey, which he describes in some detail from the point of view of an experienced church musician. He listens with some wonderment to the unusual English way of chanting the psalms, which has often been misunderstood12 but which for many of us is one of the glories of the English cathedral service when sung by a well-trained choir. He describes it objectively with an intelligent tolerance:

It is very peculiar and entirely different from the way we do things. … a couple of David’s Psalms were sung and that in a special way: the lines of verse are of course arhythmic, some long and some short, but the same melody is used constantly; thus when there is a long text they have to hurry to get through it all and therefore it sometimes goes very fast in quavers and semiquavers. It’s the same in all English churches.13

He reports with humour on his gradual improvement with regard to both speaking and understanding the English language and of his rehearsals with his soloists in London, and then he moves on to Birmingham. On the train trip from London to Birmingham he would have crossed the valley of the River Gade in Hertfordshire, which would no doubt have amused him if someone had called it to his attention but unfortunately he fails to comment on it in his letters.

The Birmingham Triennial Musical Festival was an undertaking on a very large scale lasting several days, involving hundreds of the best orchestral musicians and singers in the country and attracting audiences of thousands to its numerous concerts. The details of Gade’s financial arrangement with the festival committee are not known; whether or not his fee, which was one hundred guineas (equivalent to £11-12,000 today) on both occasions, included the considerable expenses he must have incurred over six weeks, does not appear from the correspondence but Gade declared himself “much satisfied” with it – though it was modest in the extreme compared with the spectacular (a contemporary comment used the word “preposterous”) £4,000 that Charles Gounod negotiated for his oratorio Redemption in 1882.14 The Birmingham Festival was absolutely in the first rank of musical events and, besides commissioning works from leading English composers, such as Sterndale Bennett, Arthur Sullivan and Edward Elgar, works were commissioned from such prominent foreign composers as, in addition to Gounod, Mendelssohn, Bruch, Saint-Saëns and Dvořák – and, of course, Niels W. Gade. Considering how little interest Gade seems to have shown in England earlier, apparently making no effort to travel or promote his works there, one wonders how his reputation had grown to the point that he should be sought out by Richard Peyton on behalf of the festival committee and invited to compose and conduct a work for the festival in 1876. It will be noted that this is before any of the other prominent foreign composers – apart from Mendelssohn – had been invited: Bruch and Saint-Saëns came in 1879, Gounod in 1882 and Dvořák in 1885. Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah had been written for Birmingham in 1846, after which it was performed on the first day of every festival until the festival ceased to exist in 1912 but, having died in 1847, Gade’s old friend could not have been directly responsible for introducing his protégé to the musical world in England, where he ruled supreme, in 1876.

If not directly, however, perhaps he was able to do so indirectly. In early 1844 Mendelssohn accepted an invitation to conduct a series of concerts later in the spring for the Philharmonic Society in London and in this connection he wrote to his friend, William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875), who was a Director of the Society, to discuss the choice of music that he would conduct. Sterndale Bennett had stayed for several periods in Leipzig between 1836 and 1842 and had become a highly valued member of the Leipzig circle, very much an English counterpart to Gade in this respect. In addition to pieces of English music, Mendelssohn proposed various “novelties”: music by Beethoven from some manuscripts recently discovered in Vienna, of which he had secured the copyright of first performance for the Philharmonic Society, Schubert’s C major symphony and “a Symphony by Gade”, presumably the new second (E major) symphony that had been premiered at a Gewandhaus concert in Leipzig on 18 January.15 This is a remarkable demonstration of confidence in a young composer, whom he had only met a few months earlier, and a characteristically generous act on Mendelssohn’s part on behalf of a young and unknown talent. Though it would appear that neither the suggestion of Schubert’s C major symphony nor Gade’s (E major?) symphony was acted upon,16 Gade was nevertheless thus brought to the attention, if not of the wider English public, at least of the Directors of the Philharmonic Society – and especially Sterndale Bennett – as early as 1844. Nine years later, in 1853, Gade’s third (a minor) symphony was performed at a Philharmonic concert but, more remarkably, in 1859 he was elected an Honorary Member of the Philharmonic Society, together with such distinguished figures as Berlioz, Liszt, Marschner and his German friend Ferdinand Hiller.17 It is difficult to see, at this point, the basis for such an honour in England, where it would appear his music had yet only been played once on a Philharmonic concert, but it is notable that by 1859 Sterndale Bennett had consolidated his position as conductor of the Society’s concerts – as well as having been appointed Professor of Music at Cambridge University. If Gade’s election was an act of friendship, it is interesting to note that, despite their mutual attachment to Leipzig, it was not until the great Beethoven celebration in Bonn in 1871 that Gade could report his pleasure at having met Bennett at last and that he had been in company with “a lot of people from England and America”.18 It is unfortunate that this was to be the only meeting of these two eminent musicians, whose careers had so much in common, since Bennett was destined to die in 1875, the year before Gade made his first trip to England.

In December of 1844 – the same year in which Mendelssohn asked Bennett to programme a work by Gade on a concert in England – Mendelssohn wrote similarly to Gade from Frankfurt to persuade him to include a work by Julius Benedict on a Gewandhaus concert in Leipzig in the coming season.19 This composer, born in Germany in 1804 and trained by Weber and Hummel, had settled in England in 1835 but had nevertheless expressed the wish that Mendelssohn would perform one of his works in Leipzig, a wish that Mendelssohn now requested Gade to fulfil, which he accordingly did at a concert on 30 January 1845. This perhaps accounts for the fact that in 1876, when he came to London, he could write to his wife that he had called on Sir Julius Benedict “whom I know from former times”.20 Benedict came to occupy an important position in English musical life both as composer and as conductor of orchestral and choral societies and not least of musical festivals, notably the Norwich Festival, which he conducted every year from 1845 to 1878. It may be supposed that he reciprocated Gade’s compliment by introducing some of Gade’s works into his English concerts but the conductor’s name is often not mentioned in reports of concerts at this time so it is difficult to know. It is known, however, that “an overture by Niels Gade, the first time of its performance in this country” was included on a programme of the Musical Society in London on 23 February 1859 conducted by Mr Alfred Mellon (1820-1867),21 an admired English conductor, who had studied the violin in Stuttgart – which incidentally was Benedict’s home town. Mellon became conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society in 1865 and this perhaps accounts for the performance there of a “Grand Symphony in c minor”, Gade’s first, in that year.22 Mellon’s successor at Liverpool in 1867 was Julius Benedict. The performances by the New York Philharmonic Society of Gade’s “Ossian” overture in 1854 and Im Hochland in 185623 are no doubt attributable to the Germanic background of New York musicians at that time, many of whom had come as refugees from the political unrest in Europe. The conductors of the Philharmonic Society during most of the 1850s, for example, were Theodore Eisfeld and Carl Bergmann, both of whom had been born and trained in Germany and who arrived in America in 1848 and 1850 respectively.

Less obvious, however, are the circumstances that led to the first performance in England of Gade’s Elverskud – in English as The Erl-King’s Daughter – at the Three Choirs Festival held at Worcester in September of 1860. This is the oldest still continuing choral festival in England; started in about 1715 to raise money for the widows and orphans of the clergy of the diocese (which it still does), it is the most prestigious of the so-called “Cathedral festivals”, and it takes place annually in rotation between the cathedrals of Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford in the west of England. With this performance, it appears, Gade was given entré into the most characteristically traditional and actively cultivated – not to mention profitable –musical environment in England in the nineteenth century, the choral festival. In 1860 the “choir meeting” was held in Worcester and, though it is not mentioned in the notices, it was no doubt conducted by the cathedral organist, William Done. The music that year included Haydn’s Creation, Mendelssohn’s oratorios St. Paul and Elijah, Handel’s Messiah and parts of Judas Maccabeus, Ludwig Spohr’s The Last Judgement, Sterndale Bennett’s cantata The May Queen – and Gade’s The Erl King’s Daughter (i.e., Elverskud). The Musical Times reported:

At the concert in the evening [12 September], a cantata “The Erl King’s Daughter” composed by Niels W. Gade, was performed for the first time in England. The plot is remarkably simple, and is altogether a fairy tale. The music has much pleasant melody running through it. The principal part is that of Sir Oluf, which was ably filled by Mr. Weiss. Mesdames Rudersdorff and Dolby sustained the soprano and contralto music.24

Gade had completed Elverskud and given it its first performance in the Music Society in Copenhagen in March 1854 – in Danish of course, after which it was given a number of performances in Germany in the German translation of Edmund Lobedanz. A vocal score was published by Kistner in Leipzig in 1855 with Lobedanz’s German translation and now it had come to England. At Worcester, however, it would not have been sung in German and the question arises, who has translated the text into English and in what form was it made available to the many singers in the Three Choirs Festival chorus? An investigation of Gade’s other cantatas to see if any had been given English translations at about this time reveals an entry in Dan Fog’s Niels W. Gade-Katalog, which seems to indicate that there was an edition of Frühlings-Botschaft / Spring’s Message Op. 35, with an English translation by Mrs. John P. Morgan, in 1858 but the exact publication is not specified.25 This cannot be correct, since Miss Virginia Woods of Iowa did not marry the American organist John Paul Morgan until 1866. Their daughter, Geraldine, was a gifted violinist and in the early 1880s Mrs. Palmer accompanied her daughter to Leipzig and then to Berlin, where her daughter studied with Joachim, at which time Mrs. Palmer is described as “composer and translator”.26 Neither does it seem likely that she could have translated Elverskud before 1860, though she did translate Agnete og Havfruerne (as Agnete and the Mermaids) for the posthumous edition issued by Wilhelm Hansen in 1891. The edition of Frühlings-Botschaft / Spring’s Message published by Novello in 1872, apparently the first English edition, attributes the English translation to Mrs. Charteris Cairns but adds the information that it was made “for the Glasgow St. Cecilia Choral Society”. Since this Society ceased to exist in 1867, it is apparent that translations might be made as required, independent of new editions,27 but was the new text then simply written in over the original text of the published scores or was a new edition required? The practical problems associated with programming music requiring translation and the expense of preparing copies for soloists and a large choir must have been familiar to concert arrangers. It was necessary for preparations to be made well in advance so clearly someone had already formed a very good opinion of Niels W.Gade before 1860, when the festival was being planned, and thought he was going to be worth whatever trouble the (presumed) lack of an English edition would cause. As in the case of the Philharmonic Society honour, which occurred at this same time, suspicion must fall, however tentatively, on Sterndale Bennett. Whoever it was must have seen the vocal score published by Kistner in Leipzig in 1855 and very probably had heard the favourable reports of the many performances that followed immediately in various places throughout Germany. One remembers too that Kistner was also Sterndale Bennett’s publisher and that Bennett’s own cantata, The May Queen, was programmed to be performed at the same Worcester festival in 1860. As the most respected English musician of the day, the festival committee might well have consulted him concerning a new work for the occasion.

It was a time when choral singing was being actively cultivated in England, in towns and villages, large and small, in churches and community halls. This movement was encouraged by the music-publishing firm of Novello, a remarkable family enterprise, which had been given the copyright to Mendelssohn’s St. Paul as a personal favour in 1837. Later they acquired a number of other Mendelssohn copyrights and were consequently deeply interested in the many choral festivals taking place around the country. As the number of amateur choirs increased, they recognized the need for making performing material available and began publishing cheap octavo editions of choral music. In 1872, in addition to the above-mentioned edition of Spring’s Message, Novello published Elverskud (as The Erl King’s Daughter) with a new English translation by Miss Louisa Vance. This edition was enthusiastically reviewed in The Musical Times (also published by Novello) as follows:

Whether we become acquainted or not,’ wrote Mendelssohn to Gade in 1842, ‘I beg you will always look upon me as one who will never cease to regard your works with love and sympathy, and who will ever feel the greatest and most cordial delight in meeting with such an artist as yourself.’ In spite of the years which have elapsed since this letter was penned, how little progress have the works of this composer made, especially in this country. And yet the Cantata before us, had we indeed no other composition by which to judge, affords ample proof not only of his creative faculty, but of the possession of a dramatic power which is too rare to be disregarded. The subject of the Cantata is based upon old Danish ballads, the English version, by Miss Louisa Vance, being really so excellent as to appear as if it had been originally written in that language. [There follows a full description of the piece, item by item, and concludes:] We can of course give but a faint idea of the beauties of this work by the few lines our space has permitted us to devote to it; but we have little doubt that now it is for the first time available in this country, and more especially in the cheap octavo edition, Choral societies will eagerly procure it and judge for themselves.28

Not long after, on 20 April, 1872, the new edition of Spring’s Message was performed at a concert in the legendary Crystal Palace and reviewed in The Musical Times:

The last of the Saturday afternoon concerts was given on the 20th ult., when the Cantata by the Danish composer Niels W. Gade, known in this country as “Spring’s message”, was performed. Remarkable for purity of melody and grace of treatment, this work is entitled to a position, at least, amongst the many Cantatas constantly placed before the public, although it is assuredly inferior to the “Erl King’s Daughter” by the same composer, so thoroughly dramatic a piece as to make us wonder why Choral Societies still allow it to languish in obscurity.29

The high regard in which the reviewer holds Elverskud is not surprising but one may wonder at his impatience with Choral Societies that “allow it to languish in obscurity”, in view of the fact that the English edition had only been on the market for some three months.

In addition to the advocacy of Mendelssohn and the whole network emanating from Leipzig, then, Gade now had the powerful firm of Novello and access to the popular Choral Society movement working for him in England. Evidence of this is found, I think, in the account of a young Englishman, Edmund Gosse (1849-1928), who had conceived an intense interest in Denmark and in 1872 made the first of two trips to that country, which he later recorded in a very readable and rewarding example of travel literature under the title Two Visits to Denmark, 1872- 1874. Gosse’s host in Denmark was Dr. Bruun Juul Fog, Dean of Holmen’s Church and later Bishop of Zealand, who introduced him to Gade (whom he called “my organist”)30 at a brief meeting when Gade came to make sure that his organ was safe during the restoration work that was being done on the church. The meeting was brief on this occasion but Gosse reports: “This was one of the few Danes connected with the arts who at that time possessed a European reputation … I watched the illustrious composer, whose face had long been familiar in the windows of the London music-shops, with interest… .”31 One may suppose that Gade’s portrait was being exhibited in music-shop windows as part of the promotion of Novello’s new editions and to advertise the performances of them, such as that at the Crystal Palace.

Gosse had a longer and more satisfactory meeting with Gade at his second trip to Denmark in 1874. On this occasion Dr. Fog arranged for them to visit Gade in his composing-room in Christiansborg Palace, placed at his disposal by King Christian IX. He recalls:

We found him in a large, airy room; he shouted ‘Come in!’ and there was Gade, with his back to the window, flourishing away at the piano. — He gave us specimens of a cantata called ‘Zion’, and other slighter things. … Gade was full of interest and curiosity about the festivals at Birmingham, and the Cathedral-Week at Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford. He was pleased to be very attentive while I described what little I could remember of the performances of Bach’s Passion-music in St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. He spoke with great appreciation of the generosity and enthusiasm of English connoiseurs, and of the rare opportunities offered to foreign masters by the Philharmonic and by the Crystal Palace. He said that the temptation of England to a foreign musician was sometimes more than could be resisted… . 32

This is an interesting and revealing interview: Gade enquires specifically about the places where, as we have seen, his music has been performed in England – the Philharmonic concerts, the Crystal Palace concerts, Worcester and the Three Choirs Festival – so he obviously has been in touch with England even if we have no record of it. He also asks about the Birmingham Festival, which would seem to suggest that the approach from Richard Peyton to write a work for Birmingham had already been received in 1874, even though the preserved correspondence between Gade and Birmingham begins first in May 1875 – as Inger Sørensen makes clear, the original invitation is missing.33 We are even told that Gade was at that very moment working on Zion, the piece he would conduct in Birmingham, from which he favoured his guests with an excerpt.

Zion, Op.49 and The Crusaders, Op.50 were published by Novello with English translations, the latter at least by the redoubtable John Troutbeck (1832-1899), Canon of Westminster Abbey and Chaplain to Queen Victoria, who indefatigably provided English translations for musical works with German texts in the latter years of the nineteenth century. Zion was given its first performance at the festival in Birmingham, whereas in the case of The Crusaders the performance at Birmingham was its first in England. According to the reviewer in The Musical Times, The Crusaders rather stole the show from Zion:

At the evening concert Herr Gade’s Cantata, “The Crusaders”, was the important item in the programme; and on the composer taking his place at the conductor’s desk, he was received with a burst of applause, which showed how thoroughly he had won the good opinion of the Birmingham people by the work especially written for their Festival [i.e. Zion]. But though “Zion” had proved a success, such a furore as was created by “The Crusaders” could scarcely have been anticipated even by the composer himself: indeed so completely did the highly dramatic and picturesque music of this Cantata excite the admiration of the audience that we could not but wonder how such a composition, written as much as twelve years ago, should now be heard in England for the first time. The original text of the Cantata is by Carl Andersen; but the English adaptation, by the Rev. J. Troutbeck, M.A., is so excellent that it almost appears as if the music had been written to it.34

Canon Troutbeck also provided English translations for Novello’s editions of Comala, Op. 12, and Christmas Eve, Op. 40, in 1877 and 1879 respectively, and by the time George Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians was presented to the world for the first time in 1880, Gade had reached the height of his fame. The entry in the first edition of Grove, written by no less an authority than Edward Dannreuther, hails him as “one of the most gifted and accomplished of living composers and conductors”.

England had fallen for Gade and, like other musicians before and after him, such as Dvořák, Gade had fallen for England. The festival in Leeds wanted him to come there in 1878 but he was not ready; however in 1880 it was Gade himself who took the initiative to ask Birmingham if they would like him to come again. Of course they were delighted and in 1882 he returned to England, to the British Museum, to the National Gallery and to the curious manner of chanting the psalms, with a new work of oratorio length but on a secular subject from Greek mythology, Psyche – not the biblical story of Judith that he had originally promised them. This time when he came to England he knew the ropes and spoke the language and once again he enjoyed a heart-warming success. In London he was a guest at the country home of Novello’s owner, Henry Littleton, and he was again admired and applauded in Birmingham, not least by the musicians. Novello published his work and Troutbeck translated it and Gade, having conquered England, could return to Denmark as a true “verdens navn”, a world-renowned composer.

As we have seen, Gade had strong forces working for him in achieving this position: Mendelssohn and the Leipzig connection, the choral festival movement and Novello’s publishing genius. To these may be added, I think, two additional factors. The first is Princess Alexandra of Denmark, Christian IX’s daughter, who became engaged to Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1862 and who was married in the royal chapel in Windsor in 1863. Princess Alexandra was enormously popular amongst the British people and it can be supposed that she encouraged anything Danish to be viewed with sympathetic interest. The unpretentious sincerity of her royal patronage is illustrated by the fact, reported by Gade, that when his work was to be performed in Birmingham in 1876 she sent a message, conveyed personally by the Duchess of Cambridge, to say that she regretted she could not be present because the arrangements for her journey to Scotland at that time could not be changed.35

The second thing is not unrelated to this; it is the interest in Denmark and Scandinavia that developed in the British Isles during the nineteenth century. Edmund Gosse’s trips to Denmark in 1872 and 1874 are an expression of this and led directly to his important critical essays introducing modern Scandinavian literature, such as the works of Ibsen and Bjørnson, to the British public and to translations, together with William Archer,36 of Ibsen’s plays. However, there was also a general interest in the period of English history prior to the Norman Conquest, a time in which ties to Scandinavia were very close, as depicted, for example, in Charles Kingsley’s popular novel Hereward the Wake from 1866. In view of this it seems unfortunate that the text of Gade’s The Crusaders, which is derived from Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, omits the interesting Scandinavian element of that story in the person of the crusader Sven, one of the sons of the Danish king, Sven Estridsen, who as he dies bequeaths his powerful sword to the young Rinaldo. Medieval Scandinavian history and literature, especially the Sagas, influenced, among others, the poet Longfellow, who had studied in Denmark, and William Morris, who had visited Iceland. The little-known countries on the other side of the North Sea became attractive travel destinations and the novels of Knut Hamsun show concern for the influx of English tourists to the unspoiled regions of northern Norway. Frederic Cowen, whose cantata The Corsair was on the programme at Birmingham together with Gade’s Zion and The Crusaders in 1876, travelled to Norway after the festival and composed a Symphony, his third, entitled the Scandinavian, which was performed in 1880 and became the most popular English symphony of the time. Also Frederic Cliffe made a trip to Norway and composed a symphony, sometimes called the “Scandinavian”, which was performed at the Crystal Palace in 1889 and was for a time considered a masterpiece. In 1896 Edward Elgar wrote a large choral work, Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf [Trygvason] the text of which derives from a poem by Longfellow. When Grieg gave his first concert in London in 1888 he was met with an overwhelming response which caused him to write to his friend, Frants Beyer, that he could only suppose that the audience responded in this way because of their regard for Norway rather than for him personally.37 The British public took the Norwegian to their hearts, however, and in 1894 he was given a Doctor of Music degree from Cambridge University. All this takes place after Gade’s appearances in Birmingham, however, and it may be thought that Gade’s success, like that of the Norwegian violinist, Ole Bull, before him, contributed to, as well as benefited from, the growing popularity of Scandinavia and Scandinavians in England.

Gade’s death in December 1890 was immediately reported in the English press as a sad event of significance to the musical world. The lengthy article in The Musical Times, giving an account of his life and works, begins:

The news from Copenhagen of the somewhat sudden death of Niels Wilhelm Gade, on the 21st ult., will be received with great regret by his many English admirers. He was not only the representative Danish musician of modern times, but he was also one of the most accomplished among contemporary musicians. [The obituary lists the many English editions of his choral works, ending with Psyche] … written for the Birmingham Festival of 1882, and conducted by the composer, who visited England for the purpose.38

In 1882 the firm of Novello chose a chorus from this work, “Thou art mighty, O Eros”, to be published as a supplement to the November issue of The Musical Times, which was good advertising for Gade as well as for Novello. It is an example of the “cheap octavo editions” which supported – indeed, to some extent made possible – the whole choral movement. I would like to close these few remarks about Gade’s experience of England by illustrating this “cheap edition” and hearing it performed by the Canzone Choir and Collegium Musicum Copenhagen conducted by Frans Rasmussen.39


1 (Copenhagen 1875), pp. 234-267.

2Danmarks i musikalsk Henseende isolerede Beliggenhed”, op.cit., p. 234.

3Gade er dog upaatvivlelig den danske Komponist, der staar i det største Ry og nyder den største beundring i Udlandet; gennem ham er den musikalske Evropa først og fremmest blevet opmærksomt paa os.” Op.cit., p. 235.

4Kun i 1853 ledede han atter i nogen Tid Gewandhauskoncerterne. … I Efteraaret 1873 foretog han en Kunstrejse til Holland, der var et sandt Triumftog.” Op.cit., pp. 237-8.

5 (London 1963).

6 Op. cit., p. 119.

7 Percy A. Scholes, The Mirror of Music, 1844-1944 (London 1947), Vol.1, p. 158.

8 Inger Sørensen, Niels W. Gade og hans europæiske kreds. En brevveksling 1836 – 1891 [Niels W. Gade and his European circle. A correspondence 1836-1891], 3 vols. (Copenhagen 2008) (hereafter Sørensen, Letters) no. 778, 18 Dec. 1875, and no.1004, 27 July, 1880, respectively.

9 Niels W. Gade, en dansk verdensnavn [Niels W. Gade, a world-renowned Dane] (Copenhagen 2002) (hereafter Sørensen, Gade), Chapter 8.

10 Dagnar Gade, Niels W. Gade, Optegnelser og Breve [Niels W. Gade, Notes and Letters] (Copenhagen 1893).

11 See note 8.

12 See Charles W. Pearce, “The Futility of the Anglican Chant”, Musical Quarterly, Vol. 6 (1920), pp.118-126.

13 Det er meget eiendommeligt og helt anderledes end hos os. Der er en heel Besætning af Chordrenge og Voxne, alle med hvide Talarer, ingen Prædiken men med Oplæsning af et Stykke af det gamle Testamente og af Pauli Brev til Romerne –– Imellem blev der af Alle sunget et par af Davids Salmer, og det paa en egen Maade: Versene ere nemlig urhytmiske snart lange og snart korte, men den samme Melodie bruges bestandig; altsaa, hvor der er lang Text maa de Skynde sig for at faa det alt sammen med, det gaar derfor sommetider meget hurtigt i 8de og 16de Dele. Det samme er tilfældet i alle engelske Kirker.” Sørensen, Letters, no.825, 1 Aug. 1876.

14 See Scholes, op.cit., p.110.

15 J.R. Sterndale Bennett, The Life of William Sterndale Bennett (Cambridge 1907), p.156.

16 See Myles B. Foster, The History of the Philharmonic Society of London: 1813-1912 (London 1912), pp.181ff, though it is not entirely clear from the wording of the Preface if all the programmes are included, viz.: ”The complete number of Programmes, embracing as it does the contents of some seven hundred concerts, would fill a volume by itself.” Beethoven’s newly-discovered ”Ruins of Athens” music was played from manuscript on the eighth programme (p.187).

17 Ibid. p.256. The a minor symphony was played, conducted by Michael Costa, on March 14, 1853 (see p. 231); in addition, a ”Symphony” (unspecified) by Gade was conducted by Sterndale Bennett on May 5, 1862 (p. 271), the ”Overture in A minor, ’Nachklänge von Ossian’ ” was played on March 9, 1863, again conducted by Sterndale Bennett (p. 276) and the ”Overture ’Nordische Sennfahrt’ ” was played on May 22, 1890, conducted by Frederic H. Cowen (p.422).

18 Sørensen, Letters no.588, 20 Aug, 1871 and no. 590, 23 Aug.1871; see also Sterndale Bennett, op.cit., p.414: “At this Festival Bennett met the Danish composer, Niels Gade, whose connection with Leipzig had been similar to his own, but who had never been there exactly at the same time.”.

19 Sørensen, Letters no.83, 8 Dec.1844.

20jeg kjender ham fra tidligere Tid”. Sørensen, Letter no. 828, 3 Aug. 1876. Julius Benedict was knighted, together with Sterndale Bennett, in 1871.

21 Reported in The Musical Times (hereafter MT), Vol.9 no.183, March 1, 1859, p.6.

22 MT, Vol.12 no.267, May 1, 1865, p.59.

23 Noted in the invaluable “Tidstavle” [Timeline] in Sørensen, Gade, pp. 399-400.

24 MT, Vol.9 no.212, Oct.1, 1860, p.355).

25 (Copenhagen 1996), p.33.

26 See Christine Ammer, Unsung. A History of Women in American Musuc (Portland, Oregon, rev. ed. 2016) [unpaginated].

27 Concerning the many performances of Elverskud and the demand for translations of Gade’s works into English see e..g. Sørensen, Letters no.590, 23 August 1871.

28 MT, Vol.15, no.348, Feb. 1, 1872, pp.381-2.

29 MT, Vol.15, no.351, May 1, 1972, p.465.

30 Gade was the dedicated organist of Holmen’s Church from 1858 until his death in 1890.

31 Edmund Gosse, Two Visits to Denmark, 1872- 1874 (London 1911), pp.47-8.

32 Ibid., pp.221-2.

33 Sørensen, Gade, p.226.

34 Henry C. Lunn in MT, Vol.17 no.404, Oct.1, 1876, p.618.

35 Sørensen, Letters, no.846, 1 Sept. 1876.

36 William Archer (1856-1924), was born in Scotland but spent much of his childhood in Norway, where his grandfather was the British consul at Larvik.

37Jeg tror virkelig, at den engelske Sympathi for min Kunst må komme fra deres Sympathi for Norge, thi på anden made kan jeg ikke forklare mig Ovationerne igår.” (London, 4 May 1888), Edvard Grieg. Brev til Frants Beyer 1872-1907, ed. Finn Benestad and Bjarne Kortsen (Oslo 1993), pp.133-4.

38 MT, Vol.32 no.575, Jan. 1 1891, p.27.

39 Contrapunkt Records 32244/45.