– the founder of the Academy, with a great love of folk ballads

The biggest name in the Danish Romantic movement had one goal: Niels W. Gade was determined to be famous for something by the time he was 25! With this in mind, he entered the music school of the Royal Danish Orchestra with a view to a career as a violin virtuoso. 

However, that career went nowhere. Gade did much better as a composer: the Copenhagen Music Society premiered his concert overture Echoes of Ossian in November 1841, to general acclaim. And his first symphony, subtitled På Sjølunds fagre sletter (‘On the lovely plains of Sjølund’), was even due to be performed the following year as a follow-up to this success!

However, on that evening, the Music Society was

obliged to clear its programme in favour of an event to mark the death of his composer colleague C.E.F. Weyse. Instead, the symphony was sent to Leipzig’s famous Gewandhaus Orchestra, then under the direction of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847). The Germans performed his work in March 1843, with great success, and the star in Leipzig even asked Gade to come to the city and be his assistant. In the years that followed, the young Dane conducted the world premiere of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, and much else.

 The outbreak of the Schleswig War in 1848, however, made their co-operation difficult. Niels W. Gade returned to Copenhagen and stayed there for most of the rest of his life. He took up the post of conductor for the Music Society in 1850, and founded the Royal Danish Academy of Music 17 years later. 

Gade had met the composer A.P. Berggreen (1801-1880) at the music school of the Royal Danish Orchestra, and through him had become interested in folk ballads. These Danish folk songs comprise an enormous repertoire of anonymous songs from the courts of the Middle Ages. Songs of love and intrigue between aristocrats enjoyed a revival in the 19th century because of the Romantics’ love of anything ‘authentic’ of Danish origin.

Niels W. Gade created many works on the basis of ballad melodies, or on subjects taken from their universe. Knud Lavard from 1849, with lyrics by Carsten Hauch (1790-1872), is about Prince Magnus’ murder of his cousin Knud in 1131 and the civil war that followed in Denmark. Elverskud with Oluf’s Ballad from 1854 is about the knight Sir Oluf’s farewell to his lovely fiancée and his dangerous love for the elf king’s rather too enticing daughter. 

Søren Schauser

Tre Digte21b1Knud LavardCarsten Hauch
Elverskud302Olufs BalladeHans Christian Andersen