Senior researcher at the Royal Library in Copenhagen
Niels W. Gade’s career sounds like one of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, or the fulfilment of the ‘American Dream’: the son of a carpenter from Copenhagen who, merely as a 27 year-old, was to head one of the world’s most distinguished orchestras and who became a world famous composer in his own lifetime.
But how could that happen? It was the first time in Danish music history that this occurred. Gade always said that he was pleased that he had not done anything to become famous. But there were others who had. Behind the first steps on the road towards international fame was the Music Society in Copenhagen, established in 1836 with the purpose of raising the awareness of Danish music. In March 1840, The Society therefore set up a competition for the best, full-sized orchestral overture. The works were to be submitted anonymously; the judges were the famous German composers Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Louis Spohr and Friedrich Schneider; and the deadline was the 31 October.
Gade’s daughter Dagmar later recounted that her father had never thought of participating; however, he incidentally met the leader of the The Royal Danish Orchestra, Johannes Frederik Frøhlich, who was also a member of The Music Society’s administration. During their conversation, Frøhlich asked whether Gade would submit an overture for the competition. When Gade said no, Frøhlich encouraged him eagerly and added: ‘we expect something of you in particular!’ Gade was at that time a violin student at The Royal Danish Orchestra, and in March that year he had, in collaboration with Frøhlich, composed music for the allegorical pantomime, Fædrelandets Muser (Muses of the Fatherland) – a homage to the new king, Christian VIII, who was to visit The Royal Theatre for the first time.
Dagmar Gade does not write when this conversation took place, but Gade added the overture in his so-called ’composer’s diary’ in November 1840; that is, after the deadline. This together with the fact that for months The Music Society had not done anything at all after having received the scores – even though they in their instructions to the judges of the competition noted that they would receive all the works in one lot as soon as the deadline expired. This reveals that the society simply was waiting for additional contributions, which they also received. Firstly, they got one from Gade’s friend, Carl Helsted, who in late November sent his contribution directly to the society’s secretary, Edvard Collin, with his name and on the society’s expense; secondly, between 16 and 22 January 1841 they received Gade’s Echoes of Ossian which was allocated the number ‘10’. As is well known, this work won the competition.
According to the competition requirements, The Music Society was now obliged to have the overture printed. After some negotiations with the famous music publishers, Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, they managed to publish a four-hand piano arrangement as well as orchestral parts appearing in December. Already a month later, on the 18 January 1842, Echoes of Ossian had its first performance at the musical society, Euterpe in Leipzig, led by the Dutch conductor and composer Jean Verhulst followed nine days later by a performance in Gewandhaus, headed by the leader Ferdinand David as Mendelssohn was in Berlin at that time. It was the first time that Gade had a work performed abroad. He was merely 25 years old – except for one month – and hence had accomplished one of his goals: to be famous before he was 25!
On 11 February 1842, Breitkopf & Härtel reported to The Music Society in Copenhagen: ‘since then, Gade’s overture has been performed at our subscription concert, and we have had the opportunity to get better acquainted with the work which, according to the local, musically skilled people’s unanimously judgement, justifies one to expect high hopes of the young composer, who still is completely unknown here. We would be very happy to hear of him in the future.’
The story about the Ossian Overture contains three important elements of the account regarding Gade’s road to fame abroad: the contact with Breitkopf & Härtel, the performances at Eurterpe and Gewandhaus, and his relationship with Jean Verhulst, the Dutch conductor.
Breitkopf & Härtel were to hear more to Gade during the following years. Already in October 1841 – that is prior to the performance of the Ossian Overture in Leipzig – Gade had started on his first symphony, the one in C minor, but he did not have time to finish it until the following summer. Encouraged by the Overture’s success, Gade submitted the symphony to The Music Society. The work was under consideration for the first concert of the season for which the choice was between a symphony by Beethoven and Gade’s new work. However, in the event that Beethoven was to be preferred, Edvard Collin sent straightaway a request to Breitkopf & Härtel regarding whether it would be possible to play Gade’s Symphony at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig instead. On 11 October, they sent a very positive response mentioning that they of course already knew the Ossian Overture, which had been well received in Leipzig. They therefore recommended that Gade should contact the concert administration if he wished to have his symphony performed in the winter season 1842/43. It turned out to be a splendid proposal that Edvard Collin had suggested as an alternative for The Music Society, for when C.E.F. Weyse died in October the administration decided to dedicate the season’s first concert to his memory. Thus, there was no room for Gade’s Symphony. Gade therefore followed the invitation from Breitkopf & Härtel and sent the score to the directors of the Gewandhaus.
Gade barely believed his eyes when he received a personal, exuberant reply from Mendelssohn. This is not a surprise since Gade had not sent the score to the concert administration, not to Mendelssohn. Gade was not late in sending a letter of thanks to the admired master in Leipzig, but also in this case it turns out that The Music Society had helped, for the letter was written in impeccable German by the society’s chairman, J.P.E. Hartmann. Presumably, Mendelssohn recognised the handwriting as he earlier had corresponded with Hartmann with whom he was acquainted.
The performance of the Symphony in Gewandhaus on 2 March 1843 under Mendelssohn’s baton has passed into Danish music history and has without doubt, become the foundation for Gade’s international fame.
Mendelssohn’s sincere enthusiasm for the Symphony meant that Gade became a courted person already before the work had hat its first performance. Breitkopf & Härtel relied on the already established contact with Edvard Collin when they at the end of February tried to obtain the rights to the Symphony. They were too late, however, for their competitor, who was Leipzig’s other well-known music publisher Friedrich Kistner, had already been in contact with P.W. Olsen. He managed the music publishers C.C. Lose & Olsen in Copenhagen until the son of his deceased partner, C.C. Lose jun., came of age. The day after the premiere, Kistner could therefore write to Gade that on that same morning the score was in press. It was necessary to keep a finger on the pulse.
And the printed material was needed, for Leipzig was not only the home of the Gewandhaus Orchestra and the large music publishers but also for three of the leading German music journals of the time: Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik and Signale für die musikalische Welt who all shared the excitement. Thus, the latter journal wrote:
‘In Gewandhaus a new delightful Symphony by N.W. Gade was performed, arousing common enthusiasm. We consider the Symphony to be one of the most beautiful and most exceptional that is to be found.’
And in NZfM:
‘We see a considerable talent in Mr Gade whose labours the musical world may expect with anticipation, for here we find a plain self-awareness that boldly embarks on its own path, a sound mind and a sure grasp of musical means’
It echoed throughout the German-speaking countries.
Following the successes regarding the Ossian Overture and the First Symphony, Gade harboured, of course, a burning desire to get out into the world and develop his talent.
Also in this instance, the Collin family appeared. The finance commission had an account for academic and cultural purposes, which could be employed to support artists wishing to go on educational travels. It was Jonas Collin, who was responsible for this, and his son, Edvard Collin was secretary. It is reasonable to assume that he was the one who encouraged Gade to apply for a travel scholarship. Incidentally, Edvard Collin wrote a warm recommendation, too. Gade received of course a two-year grant and left for Leipzig as his first goal. Where else?
When Gade arrived on 30 September he was greeted with open arms by Mendelssohn and his entire circle of friends, who in Gade saw a composer that – even though his musical idiom was new for them – was also influenced by German music. At a Gewandhaus concert on 26 October, the Symphony was played once again, this time led by the composer himself though he never before had stood in front of an orchestra. It seemed as if the cheers in the hall would never end, and the music press were excited: ‘Here, one has never experienced a work of debut by a composer, who so definitely has great talent stamped on his forehead, as seen in this Symphony. If one is to draw a conclusion on this work, we may thus only expect the excellent, perhaps soon the supreme from Gade.’
They would not be waiting for long for a new work from the pen of Gade. Even before he had embarked on his journey to Germany, he had begun on his Second Symphony, which had its first performance at the Gewandhaus in the early New Year.
The director of the Gewandhaus concerts, Conrad Schleinitz, was so excited that he even called the Symphony one of the most valuable works in this genre. No wonder Gade thrived in Leipzig; but he had to continue his journey for Italy was also on the list of places to visit. It was in Rome that Gade received the surprising letter from the board of the Gewandhaus asking whether he would consider taking over the leadership of the concerts for the season 1844/45, and at the same time teach at the conservatory since Mendelssohn was away in Berlin and his assistant, Ferdinand Hiller, had withdrawn. There was no doubt in the 27-year old composer’s mind, even though it meant that he would not return to Denmark for the time being.
The next four years Niels W. Gade not only occupied the central position of Leipzig’s musical life together with Mendelssohn but in periods also alone. He received strong impressions from the trends that stimulated musical life in Germany’s leading musical city represented by Mendelssohn and Schumann. Gade formed a close friendship with both, and Schumann noted in his diary on 17 April 1846 that he seldom had been so much in harmony with a person regarding his views as with Gade. Another proof of how much Schumann appreciated Gade’s musical judgement is a document dated 6 June 1851. Schumann writes – perhaps as a premonition of his early death – that he wished Gade would be the one who after Schumann’s death would decide which of his unpublished works were to be issued.
Already in his Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, that is the New Year’s issue of 1844, Schumann had presented a portrait of Gade explaining why Gade was able to make such an impression: ‘Thus his music, and in particular in the Ossian Overture, reveals for the first time a distinct Nordic character. Gade, however, would probably be the last person to deny how much he has to thank the German masters. The great diligence which he devoted to their works (he knows virtually everything by any composer), they gave the gift which they all leave to those that are faithful to them with the inauguration of mastery’.
There is no doubt that it was the distinct Nordic character pointed out by Schumann that fascinated the German musical audience, but Schumann also warned Gade not to lock onto the Nordic style: ‘one must therefore encourage all artists to be original and then throw away this originality again. As a serpent he must be aware of when he begins to shed his skin.’
In 1845, Gade started on his first, larger choir work, Comala. It was also inspired by Ossian, for the story was drawn from the poem of the same title. He did not use the poem itself, however, but had the philologist and singing teacher, Julius Klengel of Leipzig – who was also composer and poet – to prepare an abridged version. At the premiere in March the following year, the work was received with excitement: ‘Gade has indisputably used a large part of his most striking efforts on this work and has placed a fullness of spirit and ingenuity in it that a composer only rarely shows with such clarity and care in such a young age. […] In [Gade’s compositions] one encounters the national folk tone – the musical mystic of the North that we find so original and puzzling in all the Nordic people’s melodies. In addition it is not only preference for the dreary, melancholic minor keys but also in the strangely soft and ingenious treatment of the major harmonies. […] With this work, Gade has once again absolutely proved his artistic vocation, his rich creative genius, and – what in particular is to be noticed – a definite talent for dramatic composition.’
In November 1847 when Mendelssohn died, Gade became his successor and thus hold one of the most important positions in German musical life. At the same time, he presented his Third Symphony, which became one of the most often performed in Gewandhaus. Gade’s music was no longer about a strange character that fascinated the German audience, for now he was one of their own. With the Symphony, he had won a victory, which fully entitled him to be Mendelssohn’s successor; however, it did not turn out that way, and the question is whether it was what he wanted at all.
In December while Gade was still in Leipzig, he received a letter from the commissary general at the Kungliga Teatern in Stockholm, H. A. Hamilton. Johan Frederik Berwald, who had succeeded Edouard Dupuy as Royal Kapellmeister in 1823, had decided to retire due to age. After some consultation with the famous singer, Jenny Lind, they decided to offer Gade the position. The salary was, however, considerably lower than what he received in Leipzig, but as Hamilton pointed out, the living costs were also accordingly lower. Gade was not sure, so at first he did not answer the polite letter as he wished to ask his parents back in Copenhagen; however, he decided to decline Kungla Teatern’s offer. Stockholm was too far away from Germany.
Regarding the connection to Leipzig and the Gewandhaus, the following years were characterised by uncertainty. When Gade returned home in the spring of 1848, it was not so much, because the war with Schleswig-Holstein had broken out, but rather because he usually returned to Copenhagen on summer vacation at that time of the year. Before Gade departed, Heinrich Dörrien, who was a member of the board responsible for the Gewandhaus concerts, asked politely when they would be able to start on the forthcoming season and if Gade would take charge on the existing conditions. He does not seem to have doubted that the music director also for the season 1848/49 would be Niels W. Gade. However, Gade needed time to consider the proposal in order to see how the events developed. Not until during the middle of August did he reply that, regarding the forthcoming winter season, he unfortunately had to decline the honour to head the concert institution, which he cared so much about, and the joy of being a member of such a learned circle who wished him well. He wrote ‘Certainly, the thought that I’m not able to spend this winter in Leipzig with you is painful for me; yet it must be so and I believe that a certain feeling of decorum – both on my part as well as yours – will recognise it as appropriate.’
During late summer 1849, he once again had to consider whether he ought to opt for Leipzig or Copenhagen. The board of directors of Gewandhaus must have approached him during the summer, for on 1 August he replied: ‘Due to how the situation in Copenhagen at the moment has developed for me, I unfortunately feel obliged to refuse your offer regarding next winter, that is, to accept the precious position so dear to me; however, in the hope that you will preserve your kind sentiments also during the coming days as I hope to experience once again the wonderful days in Leipzig.’
Gade hold out the prospect of returning to Leipzig in February; however, he did not arrive until June 1850 for a month’s visit. The arrival was postponed several times, most recently in April with the odd explanation, which was referred to in the German press that he had to delay his departure as he, as director for The Music Society, had obligations in Copenhagen until the end of April. Had Gade jumped the gun and made his friends in Leipzig believe that he had become leader of The Music Society? Anyway, at his arrival he was addressed as ‘Musikdirector Gade’.
However, Gade was still not the leader of The Music Society in Copenhagen, even though he already in 1846 had planned on becoming one so that he could create a musical life in the city similar to that of Leipzig. Therefore, he was divided in the question of Leipzig or Copenhagen.
At his arrival in Leipzig, all his old friends received him with open arms. One of the most important events during the stay was the premiere of Schumann’s only opera, Genoveva, attended by Franz Liszt, Louis Spohr and Ferdinand Hiller, among others. The previous year, Schumann sent the overture and the two final acts to Gade to hear his opinion; now the opera was to stand the test. It was immediately a success, presumably because the audience consisted mainly music friends.
During his stay, Gade finally declined to return to Leipzig as conductor for the Gewandhaus concerts because he now had the possibility to become leader of The Music Society in Copenhagen – that is, from the season 1850/51 when the whole structure of the society was reorganised. Nevertheless, in December 1851 Conrad Schleinitz inquired confidentially, whether Gade would be interested in returning, as they most likely had to say goodbye to Julius Rietz who had taken over from Gade when he left. Gade had plenty of time to give it some thought, for the official enquiry was not sent until half a year later. As proof of how much they valued Gade in Leipzig, the involved institutions agreed to offer him a three-year contract as leader of the Gewandhaus concerts and the possibility of a substantial increase in income by employment at the conservatory. Schleinitz also pointed out that Gade did not need to fear any resistance: all agreed that they wanted him back. That he had married J.P.E. Hartmann’s 20-year old daughter, Sophie, was neither a hindrance.
Since the Schleswig war had come to an end, the position at The Music Society was secured and the bride was brought home, Gade thought there was nothing to prevent him from returning to Leipzig for as shorter period. Because of The Music Society, he could not commit himself for the whole season; however, he thought that he might take on the final ten Gewandhaus concerts from January 1853 to Easter, in particular since his father-in-law J.P.E. Hartmann promised to conduct the concerts at The Music Society during that period.
At the end of December 1852, Gade and his young wife left for Leipzig. In their luggage he carried his two latest works: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 25 which he had just managed to get played at a concert in The Music Society on 11 December; and the Spring Fantasia for soloists, piano and orchestra, Op. 23, which was Gade’s wedding present to his young bride – a work that overflows with joy in life shaped just the way he wanted it. The three months in Leipzig were a great success as described in detail by Sophie Gade’s letters to her father in Copenhagen; yet it was the last time that Gade conducted at the Gewandhaus.
In 1860, when Julius Rietz was appointed Court Kapellmeister in Dresden, Conrad Schleinitz and Ferdinand David once again sought to persuade Gade to return, but this time Gade was adamant. He had made his final decision. Indeed, in his reply he states that the offer of course flatters him and that Leipzig will as always exert the same attraction, but that in his hometown they had done so much for him that he would regard it as ungrateful if he left it at a time when his presence was needed. ‘The musical life is only just beginning to flourish here, and therefore I’m so much more needed for the musical art’s future prosperity in my native country’, he concludes his reply. It was the last time that Gade received the offer. The next 35 years the conductor of the Gewandhaus orchestra was Carl Reinicke.
Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, Gade’s reputation spread all over Europe. During the concert season there was barely a week when his works were not performed somewhere abroad, primarily in Germany but also in Paris, London, Vienna, Rotterdam and New York. It is self-evident that many were interested in inviting him and have him personally lead the performances, as he was also outstanding conductor. Some were even of the opinion that he was a greater conductor than a composer. Gade was, however, very selective regarding these invitations, partly because of The Music Society and partly because he wished to stay at home with his family. His first wife had died in 1855 after having given birth to twins, but Gade remarried two years later and now had three children.
One of those who managed to persuade him was his old friend Ferdinand Hiller. In Leipzig during the 1840s, Gade had met Hiller who was now a conductor at the famous Gürzenich concerts in Cologne where he also taught at the conservatory. In addition, he was responsible for the Niederrheinische Musikfeste for 12 consecutive years.
In the autumn of 1861, Gade received an offer from Hiller, which he could not refuse, so in January 1862 he defied the harsh winter and left for Cologne. On the way he met both Joseph Joachim and Johannes Brahms in Hanover who tried to persuade him to stay a couple of days; Gade had to continue to his destination, however, where he was received with open arms by Hiller and hosted princely. At the first rehearsal the orchestra welcomed him with fanfares, and following the concert – at which he conducted his own Fourth Symphony as well as Spring’s Message and his new Michel Angelo Overture – he relates that he was greeted with ‘tremendous hubbub’. A reviewer did not agree, however, for he wrote that ‘the Overture received less applause and that justly. One must be a Beethoven in order to portray a Michelangelo. Gade’s naturalness with his pronounced sense of harmony and clarity certainly dared to be less suitable for this project. He lacks the power of passion to portray the battle and superiority of the giant spirit.’
On his way back, he met again Joachim and Brahms in Hanover where they played Brahms’ two Piano Quartets and Gade’s String Quintet in E minor.
In May 1871, Ferdinand Hiller once again tried to lure Gade to Cologne so he could conduct his Symphony No. 1 during Pentecost; but Gade did not respond to the invitation, presumably because it arrived too late. By that time, he had already decided to accept an invitation to attend the celebrations in Bonn in honour of Beethoven’s centenary a few months later. These were to have taken place in December 1870, but due to the French-German war, they were postponed for eight months. It was not until the middle of August that Gade left Hobro where the family had spent the summer at Mathilde Gade’s sister and brother-in-law.
The celebrations were introduced with the performance of Beethoven’s Mass in C Major and his Fifth Symphony. On the following evening Joachim was soloist in the Violin Concerto, which Gade labelled as ‘the jewel of the evening’ contrary to the Choir Fantasia in which the piano was tuned a quarter tone lower than the orchestra. In connection with the concerts, Gade also met numerous foreign musicians who were infatuated by him, among others the English and Americans who asked him to have the texts to the large choir works translated into English. That which pleased the most was, however: ‘so far, I have interfered so little in my musical activities. Once in a while it’s rather nice to see that the business has paved its own way’.
The banquet took place on a tour boat on the Rhine. Gade recounts: ‘After the speech the mayor stepped forward and proposed a toast for the guest of honour, the unfortunately rarely seen and highly cherished Niels G. who is always in their dear memory. Now a genuine enthusiasm developed; I soon had to go to the one end of the hall and soon to the other end. Everybody wanted to patch up with me. But not only that: now the music director from Brünn stood up and wanted to have permission to thank me, both personally as well as on behalf of many of those present as they had learnt from me and took pride in being able to call themselves students of mine.’
In 1873, Gade accepted once again an invitation to travel abroad and conduct his own works. This time it was another old friend from Leipzig, Jean Verhulst, who was behind the invitation to visit Amsterdam. In the meantime, he had obtained a position in Dutch musical life, which is comparable to Gade’s in Copenhagen: he was a leader of both the Caecilia Society and the Felix Meritis Society. As the knowledge of Gade’s visit got about several Dutchmen wrote to Gade hoping that he would also visit their cities; however, in these cases he friendly but firmly declined. He had to save his strength.
The days were packed with rehearsals and concerts. On the first concert’s programme was Symphony Nr. 1 in C minor and the two overtures, Michel Angel and In the Highlands, the latter of which created furore. After having played the Symphony, he took the opportunity to complain that he did not have the chance to correct the orchestra since Verhulst had rehearsed the music so well!
The Symphony No. 6 in G minor was played on one of the first evenings at a grand concert at the Industrial Palace. At the event, Gade was among the audience together with Verhulst. He reports: ‘I wanted to stay at the back of the hall, but when I had stayed there a little while the audience of around 3,000 started mumbling, and we therefore moved to the middle of the hall and sat down. Everyone stared at me, and after each movement, there was a tremendous Applaudissement towards us. When that ended, it became much worse as the orchestra blew a fanfare, and they shouted “Live” so that I had to stand on a stool three or four times.’
At the first of Gade’s own concerts, all was cheers and enthusiasm, too. Afterwards there was a party where Gade related how he as a young man had composed the Ossian Overture and that a young Dutchman had been the first who had performed the Overture and thus made Gade’s name know in Germany. This young man, who was now an old man, had introduced Gade’s music to his native country. His name was Verhulst. Gade had not forgotten that the performance at Euterpe in Leipzig 30 years earlier had in fact been the first step on the road to international fame.
At the second concert, at which The Elf King’s Daughter and The Crusaders were to be played, the orchestra was not very large. It only included 12 first violins in comparison to the 24 at the orchestral concert. On the other hand, a choir of an entire 300 singers had been gathered, whose quirky pronunciation of the German text had amused Gade at the introductory rehearsals. ‘Believe me, I really made an effort, was trusting and calm’, Gade wrote to his wife, continuing ‘it amused me to let them hear how at the performance I put heart and soul and let everything get carried away. […] The effect was irresistible and the audience was carried away the whole evening. When finished, a grand fanfare and cheers that would not end; throwing of flowers in large amounts.’
In 1875, Gade received an invitation from a completely different part of the world than he was used to – that is, from England. They would like Gade to conduct his own works and preferably a new work at the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival – just as Mendelssohn had done with his oratorio, Elijah, specifically composed for and performed at the Festival back in 1846. Gade accepted the offer. John Bergsagel will enlarge on this event.
In September 1878, Gade left for Hamburg in order to participate in the fiftieth anniversary of the Philharmonic Society. In order to make it particularly festive they invited a series of well-known persons from all over Europe; from Denmark, also J.P.E. Hartmann participated. The guests were accommodated in private quarters, and Gade and Hartmann received lodgings at the 43-year old, recently dubbed wholesaler, Heinrich von Ohlendorff, who two years earlier had acquired the Tangstedt estate north of Hamburg.
Among the many other guests were some of Gade’s old acquaintances: Ferdinand Hiller, Joseph Joachim, Carl Reinicke, Jean Verhulst and Clara Schumann who was to be soloist in Mozart’s D minor piano concerto. Gade and Hartmann visited her on the first morning, and in the evening, they attended the first concert, which – with a programme that lasted four hours – was somewhat exhausting. The next morning Gade attended a public rehearsal on the second concert; but only because he wanted to hear Clara Schumann play.
The most interesting was, however, Brahms’ new Second Symphony, which was on the programme at the actual celebration concert on Friday evening with the composer himself as conductor. Gade liked the work except the Adagio that he found rather too long; yet, he characterised Brahms as the most talented of the younger composers. At the evening’s banquet in Blankenese they sat opposite each other so there was ample opportunity to discuss the musical experience. Speeches were also abundant, and Verhulst stood up and took the opportunity to propose a toast for Gade, who graciously accepted the colleagues’ homage. On Saturday, there was again an informal get-together for all the guests followed by a festive staging of Weber’s Euryanthe, after which the foreign guests left Hamburg.
During summer 1880, Gade once again received an invitation from Ferdinand Hiller to visit Cologne and conduct The Crusaders. It was no coincidence that it was Hiller who was the most loyal to ask Gade to visit Germany. Not only had they kept in touch on a personal level since the days in Leipzig (Hiller had visited Gade in Copenhagen), but he also most fiercely opposed ‘future music’: people such as Wagner, Liszt and Berlioz were not to be found on his concert programmes, whereas Gade’s works were a continuation of Mendelssohn’s style which, besides Beethoven’s, Hiller considered the ideal. He was therefore almost euphoric when Gade in mid-July finally accepted to visit Cologne in November.
Hiller could not do enough for Gade when he arrived in Cologne on 15 November. Each day was closely packed with social events, series of dinner parties, musical matinees, opera and concert performances where Gade met every living musical dignitary in Cologne. Finally, it was the concert day, 23 November, and it turned out to Gade’s full satisfaction. He wrote:
‘The Novellets were played with a delicacy and grace that pleased me a lot, and the choirs in The Crusaders were far beyond my expectations. The three soloists fitted extremely well the different characters; the orchestra was excellent in all respects so that the ensemble in all three parts was precise and characteristic; and in the second part, the women’s choir was pongy and gracious which I would not have believed possible. However, for me the enthusiasm and The Crusaders made the ladies heroes. You should have heard the final choir: it was performed with a mood and fire that was striking. […] The orchestra received me with great applause and greetings, and during the whole evening there was great praise and joy regarding both works.”
On his way home, Gade stopped in Hamburg where he conducted a concert with his own works in addition to a symphony by Karl Grädner, a work that he did not like very much: he called it Beethoven’s worn slippers! This might have been the reason why Gade wrote to his wife that the orchestra laughed with amusement when he came with his new orchestral work, A Summer’s Day in the Countryside, which he had presented earlier that year at The Music Society. In addition, ‘the old, amiable B-flat Major Symphony which of course takes all hearts’ was on the programme. The story does not recount how it went, for the next morning Gade returned to Copenhagen so he in person could tell his wife about the event.
The trip to the Music Festival in Cologne must have been a success for already half a year later Gade again travelled with his son Axel to Niederrheinisches Musikfest, this time taking place in Düsseldorf. In the early evening when they had arrived in the city, Gade immediately went to Tonhalle where the concerts were to take place to see whether there were any rehearsal in progress. It had just ended, but he managed to greet some of the members of the choir who were able to tell him that there was no rehearsal on the following day, but otherwise it was starting.
Gade arrived at the first rehearsal while the choir was still practising on Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang, and he amused himself walking among the members of the choir and started conducting so they shouted of joy and surprise. Saturday the 4 June was closely packed with rehearsals from nine o’clock in the morning, starting with Beethoven’s Second Symphony; next was Gade’s Michel Angelo Overture, followed by Friedrich Gernheim’s Violin Concerto. During the interval, everybody rushed out into the surrounding park to get something to drink and socialise before the rehearsal started again, now with Gade’s Zion. 700 singers and 118 musicians greeted Gade with enthusiasm and he himself was very satisfied with the result.
For Gade personally, the visit to Düsseldorf culminated with his first concert on Saturday the 7 June and noted with satisfaction that the enormous hall was fuller than at the performance of Handel’s Samson the day before: ‘The Michel Angelo Overture was played with precision and enthusiasm that enraptured. I was, of course, received with great applause; “Zion”, with the large choir (700), made a grand impression. They sang with ardour and enthusiasm that was impressive. The audience applauded after each movement; and when I stepped down from the rostrum desk, the choir and orchestra clapped with all their might; I had to go forward again.’ During the visit, Gade was celebrated as the grand international celebrity, with thunderous applause, with laurel wreaths and speeches. It was his last visit to Germany, however.
In the autumn of 1890, Gade received an invitation from Sing-Akademie in Berlin to take part in the celebration of their 100th anniversary in the spring of 1891. In his reply Gade wrote, that he was very honoured to be invited to such a rare feast, hoping that it would be possible for him to take part in person. It was not be so. On 21 December, Gade died and was honoured at memorial concerts all over the world.