– a woman of means with musical skill

The potential was there, but death had other ideas: No one envies Hilda Sehested’s fate. 

She grew up in Broholm manor, with a privileged life. The estate, between Nyborg and Svendborg, had been in the hands of the Sehesteds for centuries, and has remained so up to the present day. As a young man, her father discovered one of Denmark’s greatest ancient gold treasures on the family’s land, and had subsequently turned to archaeology full-time. Two of Hilda’s many brothers became prominent politicians – one of them prime minister at the turn of the century, the other Denmark’s first minister of agriculture.

Hilda played the piano. Famous virtuosos who visited the family gave her the desire to take the music more seriously, and so at the age of just 15, she moved to Copenhagen with a view to getting the best tutors, at any price. Her piano teacher became C.F.E. Horneman (1840-1906), with his beautiful theatre music and French-inspired colouring. Her composition teacher was Orla Rosenhoff, who later became Carl Nielsen’s teacher of harmony and counterpoint at the Academy. And since money was no object, she could afford to travel to Paris to take piano lessons from Louise Massart – the long-time girlfriend of composer Hector Berlioz. 

The idyll seemed boundless – especially as the woman with the many possibilities and the growing catalogue of works now also found love! Ten years her senior, Henry Petersen of the National Museum had been a professional advisor to her father, and had lost his heart to her.

But then, in 1896, on a holiday, it all went wrong. Her fiancé dropped dead, aged 47. The couple had planned to hold their wedding shortly after the holiday. Hilda Sehested more or less sank to the bottom in the following years, and her score-writing pen was put away in favour of a vocation as a nurse. It was only after the turn of the century that she turned to playing the organ, and her creative powers returned. The main works of her mature years are her ambitious piano sonata from 1904 and the opera Agnete and the Merman from 1914 – first performed in concert in recent times. 

Sehested had a skilled musical ear, and at the same time showed better craftsmanship than many others. Carl Nielsen, feeling disgruntled after the premiere performance of Sinfonia Espansiva in 1911, wrote in his diary: “Miss Sehested understood me best.” 

Søren Schauser

4 Sange1Jeg véd en RoseAxel Juel
4 Sange3KysValdemar Rørdam