Gade, Niels Wilhelm


This native of Copenhagen has been called the founder of the Scandinavian school of music, but strictly speaking, he was rather the foremost romantic composer among the Scandinavians, his individuality not being forceful enough to mold a national style. The son of an instrument-maker, he was intended for his father's craft. His first music lessons were desultory, and given him only that he might have a better understanding of the musical instruments of his father's manufacture, so he grew up largely self-taught, studying a little on the guitar, piano and violin. At about fifteen years of age he became a pupil of Wexschall, leader of the Royal orchestra at Copenhagen, and subsequently a violinist in this orchestra, which proved a valuable school of instrumentation. He also took lessons from Weyse and .Berggreen, studying theory under the latter, and soon began to compose, though he did not consider his first attempts worth publishing. His first work of note was the overture, Nachlange aus Ossian (Echoes from Ossian), which won the first prize in a competition started by the Copenhagen Musical Union in 1841. This was followed by a symphony in C minor, the score of which Gade sent to Mendelssohn, then musical director of the Gewandhaus at Leipsic, where he gave the rising composer the best possible encouragement by producing this work in 1843. Shortly after Gade, relieved by an allowance from the King of Denmark for study and travel, appeared in Leipsic. He was welcomed by musicians in general, and became intimate with both Schumann and Mendelssohn. Toward the close of that year he visited Italy, returning in 1844; during Mendelssohn's absence in Berlin he conducted the Gewandhaus concerts, and in the winter of 1845 and 1846 was sub-conductor under Mendelssohn.

After the death of Mendelssohn, in 1847, Gade continued alone the direction of the Gewandhaus Orchestra until the beginning of the SchleswigHolstein war the following year. He then returned to Copenhagen, and soon became prominent in its musical life as leader of the Musical Union, organist, and conductor pro tern of the royal orchestra, succeeding in 1861 to the chief conductorship on the death of Glaser. Here in 1851 he married a daughter of Johann Hartmann; the two were well suited, but in a few years she died, and Gade married a second time in 1857, this union also proving a happy one. With the exception of his visits to England, where in 1876 he conducted his two cantatas, Zion, and The Crusaders, at the Birmingham Festival, the remainder of his life was spent in Copenhagen, composing, conducting and teaching, and was placid and fortunate above that of the majority of musicians. In the year of his first visit to England he received a life pension from the Danish government. He became a leader in the musical affairs not only of the capital but of the country at large, and had conferred upon him by the King the title of "professor," which, as Elson remarks, is "so valuable in Europe, so abused in America"; and also received the honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy from the University. In 1886 he was made Commander in the Order of Danebrog. His second visit to England, in 1882, was to conduct another cantata, Psyche. The  performance of his works in America was very gratifying to Gade, and he is said to have declared that, had he been younger, he would have come to this country to direct their production here. He died in harness at Copenhagen, much respected and loved. In personal character he was sincere, cheerful, fond of fun, and an agreeable correspondent.

His most important work was the Echoes from Ossian, nothing written afterward in that line having surpassed this early masterpiece. Of his other overtures, Im Hochland (In the Highlands), like the Echoes from Ossian, is imbued with the somberness of northern music. There is also a nameless overture in C, and two others, Hamlet and Michelangelo. Gade wrote seven symphonies after his first one. Though the first is considered by far the best, the fourth is also a standard composition for orchestral performance, and the G minor and A minor are ranked next in strength. The grace and ease of Cade's orchestral writing, both in melody and instrumentation, become still more effective when combined with his excellent use of voices in the cantatas. Of these, the FrühlingsPhantasie (Spring Fantasy), for four solo voices, orchestra and piano, and the Frühlingsbotschaft (Spring's Message), have virtually made his reputation; they have been frequently given in both England and America, while the Crusaders, his most varied work, has been performed more often in those two countries than in his own. Elson considers Comala, his " Ossianic cantata," produced at Leipsic in 1846, as greater than the foregoing, and Zion as one of his best compositions. The Erl King's Daughter owes its success principally to the local color, being based on Scandinavian melodies. His other cantatas are The Holy Night; Der Strom (The Stream), for four solo voices and orchestra, with piano obligate; Balder's Dream, for the same combination; Calamis, and Genon. He also composed an opera, Marietta, which was published in part, but never produced. Aside from his symphonies and overtures, his orchestral works consist of a suite, Holbergiana; a set of five pieces; and Sommertag aug dem Lande. For strings he has written some excellent music, especially the octet, quintet, and sextet; four novellettes for string orchestra; and a concerto and four sonatas for violin, of which the D minor one has been placed among the most inspired of his smaller works. For the piano, there is a trio; a duet; a number of folk-dances; a sonata; an Arabeske; two books of Aquarelles; and numerous other solos. His vocal   music includes German and Scandinavian songs and part-songs, some of the latter with orchestra; choruses for various combinations of voices; and sacred songs. For the organ he wrote three tone-preludes. Among his unpublished compositions are festival music, marches, and a funeral march. Gade has been called an imitator or follower of Mendelssohn and Schumann, and their influence on his composition is apparent in some slight degree. He does not, however, lack originality; his works are refined, poetic, graceful, and partake to some extent of his northern nationality. His strong point as a composer is  his command of orchestral coloring. Elson has concisely characterized him thus: "Gade occupies a position midway between the classical and the new romantic school. He is on the one hand more free in development and musical treatment generally than the old masters, and more shapely and symmetrical than Schumann, Liszt, or Brahms."