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This list of composers is continuously updated and does not claim to be complete.

Niels Wilhelm Gade (22.02.1817–21.12.1890)

Niels Gade was a Danish composer and conductor who came to Leipzig to study. In 1844/45 he conducted the Gewandhaus Orchestra alone, then alternately with Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. After Mendelssohn's death, he again took over the direction of the orchestra alone until 1848. Gade was a close friend of Clara and Robert Schumann.

  1. Biography
  2. Private Life
  3. Connection to Leipzig
  4. Reception
  5. Works
  6. Sources and Links

1. Biography

Gade grew up in Copenhagen in humble circumstances. He began an apprenticeship with his father, a carpenter and instrument maker, but after only six months he transferred to the Royal Chapel in Copenhagen as a violinist. At the same time, he studied composition privately with Andreas Peter Berggreen, who was one of the first in Denmark to refer to an aesthetic of national music, founded in folk music. Gade's melodic formation and harmonies in early works are rooted in folk dances and songs and inspired by Nordic literature. He came to sudden prominence as a composer in 1841 when he won a Copenhagen Music Society composition competition with his overture Efterklangeaf Ossian (Echoes of Ossian). In 1843, a royal travel scholarship enabled Gade to continue his studies in Leipzig, where Mendelssohn became his mentor. Gade stayed for five years, during which he also travelled to Switzerland and Italy. While in Rome in 1844, he received an offer from Leipzig to conduct the Gewandhaus concerts alongside Mendelssohn and to teach at the Conservatory, which he happily accepted. When the First Schleswig War broke out in 1848, Gade was staying in Copenhagen and did not return to Leipzig. In his native city he worked for forty years as director of the Copenhagen Music Society, from 1855 he was organist at Holmens Kirke, in 1861 he was appointed court conductor and in 1867 he was one of the founders of the Copenhagen Conservatory. Gade died in Copenhagen in 1890, leaving behind an extensive oeuvre that includes eight symphonies and numerous vocal works, as well as piano, organ and chamber music.

2. Private Life

Externally, the young Gade must have reminded many contemporaries of Mozart, and Robert Schumann also pointed this out in his Neue Zeitschrift r Musik (New Journal of Music): "In a French newspaper, one recently read: 'A young Danish composer is now causing a stir in Germany; his name is Gade ... and looks like Mozart in the flesh'." In Leipzig, he is said to have had numerous women admiring him for this – and other – reasons.

In 1852, Gade married Sophie Hartmann, the daughter of the German-Danish composer Johann Peter Emilius Hartmann, who was considered the authority par excellence in the Danish musical life of his time and founded a dynasty of artists: his son Emil Hartmann, his great-grandchildren Niels Viggo Bentzon and Jean-Pierre Waelbroeck became renowned composers, and the Danish director Lars von Trier is also a descendant of Hartmann. Sophie Gade e Hartmann died in 1855 after giving birth to twins. In 1857, the composer married Mathilde Stæger.

1  Schumann, Robert: Niels W. Gade, in: Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 20 (1844), S. 1f.

3. Connection to Leipzig

Clara Schumann and Gade first met during a stay in Copenhagen in 1842: "He didn’t look like this overture," she wrote to Robert Schumann after a performance of Ossian, noting that Gade was also enthusiastic about Schumann's musical work. At this point, Gade must have already known all of Robert Schumann's works and followed his career. A year later, Gade arrived in Leipzig to study on a scholarship at the newly opened conservatory.

Gade came to a city of music with a European reputation and centuries of tradition. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy had taken over the post of Gewandhaus music director in 1835 and developed it into a concert ensemble of the first rank. With a new programme concept, he wanted to cultivate the musical taste of the audience and open it up to new ideas. The repertoire included composers of the Baroque and Viennese Classical periods, but also representatives of modern Romanticism, such as the contemporaries Schumann and Mendelssohn, whom Gade greatly admired.

In 1843, instigated by Mendelssohn, the Leipzig Conservatory of Music was opened. High professional standards and a modern approach of equality between theory and practice served to educate competent professional musicians, composers and music educators. Students from other countries were welcome after British and Americans, Scandinavians made up the third largest group of foreign students.

Gade found his mentor in Mendelssohn in Leipzig. Thanks to his mediation, the Ossian Overture and two of Gade's symphonies were performed at the Gewandhaus in 1843. Mendelssohn himself conducted the premiere of Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 5.

In 1844/45 Gade took over the direction of the Gewandhaus concerts in alternation with Mendelssohn, which he conducted alone as the Gewandhaus’ musical director after the latter's early death in 1847 until his return to Copenhagen in the spring of 1848. In the Leipzig music world, his return to Denmark was greatly regretted: "The splendour he had spread around him, the friendliness he exuded, the productivity by which he astonished, has been missed in Leipzig ever since," writes Jan Brachmann. After the end of the First Schleswig War, Gade conducted ten more Gewandhaus concerts in Leipzig in 1853.

Gade was in close contact with Clara and Robert Schumann in Leipzig, and he also spent a lot of time with both of them in private making music together or on excursions and trips, for example to Berlin to visit Mendelssohn. Schumann showed his appreciation of Gade by accepting him into the circle of theLeipzig Davidsndler (Leipzig League of David). The friendship remained a lifelong one and was kept alive through letters and visits. In 1850 Gade returned to Leipzig for the premiere of Schumann's Genoveva. The friends also dedicated works to each other: Gade dedicated the Piano Sonata in A major, Op. 6, composed in 1842, to Clara Schumann and the Sonata in D minor, Op. 21A, composed in 1849, to Robert Schumann. The latter, in turn, dedicated his Piano Trio in G minor op. 110 to Gade and set a musical monument to him in his Album r die Jugend(Album for the Youth) with No. 31 Nordisches Lied - Gruss an G.(Nordic Song – Greeting to G.) through the tone sequence of the melody G-A-D-E.

Returning to his native Denmark, the experiences of the Leipzig years and the intensive contact with Mendelssohn and Schumann inspired Gade to reform Copenhagen’s underdeveloped musical life according to the Leipzig model. As conductor of the Music Society Orchestra, he initiated a fundamental reorganisation of the concerts according to the Gewandhaus type and increased the playing quality of the orchestra according to Mendelssohn's model through strict selection of musicians and high rehearsal discipline.

Gade also sought a new expression in his compositions, continuing to engage intensively with the Leipzig School and its universal aspirations.

In 1867, Gade founded the Copenhagen Conservatory with J. P. E. Hartmann and H. S. Paulli, where he was director and lecturer for composition, music history and instrumentation until his death. He adopted the curriculum of the Leipzig School, the procedure of entrance and final examinations and the provision of scholarships for less solvent but talented candidates. Enrolment was limited, thus avoiding overcrowding of the classes, which was detrimental to education, as Gade had to experience as a teacher at the Leipzig Conservatoire.

1  Jan Brachmann: Was man den Zugvögeln ablauschen kann. Dänen und Deutsche feiern den 200. Geburtstag des Komponisten Niels Wilhelm Gade. FAZ.net, 14. Januar 2017.


4. Reception

Ludwig Uhland's words in 1840 as a motto for Efterklange af Ossian, op. 1"Formula does not keep us bound, our art is called poetry" could also be programmatic for Gade’s entire oeuvre. With this overture and his first symphony, he brought a new kind of sound to Central Europe, which Schumann later called the "Nordic tone".

His Nordic, folk-song-like melodics contributed to the rapid success of his works. An episode in Theodor Fontane's novel The Stechlin shows how popular Gade was in Europe in the 19th century: a "Bohemian music doctor" here bears the strange name Niels Wrschowitz because his father, a Slavic music director, was so fond of Niels Gade.

The years of study and work in Leipzig opened the composer Gade's eyes. He dealt intensively with the Leipzig School, which had universal aspirations in its compositions. His harmony became bolder under the influence of Robert Schumann, and Mendelssohn can be found as a model in the clear, linear voice-leading and the freer handling of formal layout.

In 1853, in his famous article "Neue Bahnen" (New Paths) in the Neue Zeitschrift r Musik, Schumann referred to the Danish composer as a "sprightly striding harbinger" of a modern musical development and a forerunner of Brahms.

Thus, Gade was now caught between national and international aspirations. He was considered an epigone of Mendelssohn and voices were raised that felt the need of a stronger reference to folklore. Gade's late works were then more strongly criticised for being too concerned with classical balance, but this was countered, for example, by his idiosyncratic use of the piano in the orchestral movement of the Fifth Symphony and the cantata Baldur's Dream, in which he approaches the tonal language of Richard Wagner, who was born in Leipzig.

Gade is considered to have inspired the early work of Edvard Grieg, who was also closely connected with Leipzig through his studies and his publishing house,Edition Peters.

Many of Gade's song compositions are still popular in Denmark today.

5. Works

Orchestral Music(Selection)

Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 5 (1842)
Symphony No. 2 in E flat major, op.10 (1843)
Symphony No. 3 in A minor, op. 15 (1847)
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, op. 20 (1850)
Symphony No. 5 in D minor with piano, op. 25 (1852)
Symphony No. 6 in G minor, op. 32 (1857)
Symphony No. 7 in F major, op. 45 (1865)
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, op. 47 (1871)
Efterklange af Ossian (Echoes of Ossian, Overture, 1840)
Hamlet op. 37 (Concert Overture, 1861)

Chamber Music (Selection)

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra op. 56 (1880)
Holbergiana op. 61 (Orchestra suite, 1884)
Quintet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas und Violoncello (1837)
Sonata for Violin and Piano op. 6 (1842)
Octet for 4 Violins, 2 Violas und 2 Violoncellos op. 17 (1848–49)
Sonata for Violin and Piano op. 21 (1849)
String Quartet (1851)
Piano Trio op. 42 (1862–63)
String Sextet op. 44 (1863–64)
Fantasy Pieces for Clarinet and Piano op. 43 (1843)
Sonata for Violin and Piano op. 59 (1885)
Folkedanse for Violin and Piano op. 62 (1886)

Dramatic Works and Cantatas(Selection)

Agnete og havmanden (Agnete and the Merman, stage music, 1838–42)
Elverskud (Erlking’s Daughter, cantata, 1853)
Baldurs drøm (Baldur’s Dream, cantata, 1858)
Psyche (cantata, 1880–81)
Der Strom (The Stream, cantata after Mahomet by Voltaire in Goethe’s translation, 1889)

Piano Music (Selection)

Sonata in C minor (1840, rev. 1854)
Folkedanse (Folk Dances, 1855)
Fantasistykker (Fantasy Pieces, 1862)

Organ Music (Selection)

Drei Tonstücke op. 22 (Three Tone Pieces, 1851)
Variations on the partita “Sey gegrüsset Jesu gütig” by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 768) for organ four hands (1859)

Audio Samples

Symphony No.1 in C-minor op.5 "On Sjoland's Fair Plains" (1842) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ns9WDGH6LzQ
Fantasiestücke op. 43 (1862) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3avelEttlM
Hamlet Hamlet op. 37 (Konzertouvertüre, 1861) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Lcq8YbR_fk

6. Sources and Links

Kortländer/Joseph A. Kruse/Bernd Witte (Hrsg.): Übergänge. Zwischen Künsten und Kulturen. Internationaler Kongress zum 150. Todesjahr von Heinrich Heine und Robert Schumann, J. B. Metzler 2007.
Matter, Michael:
Niels W. Gade und der "nordische Ton". Ein musikgeschichtlicher Präzedenzfall. Bärenreiter 2015.
Wasserloos, Yvonne: Kulturgezeiten. Niels W. Gade und C.F.E. Horneman in Leipzig und Kopenhagen, Olms Verlag 2004.
Wasserloos, Yvonne: „Formel hält uns nicht gebunden, unsre Kunst heißt Poesie“. Niels W. Gade und Robert Schumann. Übergänge zwischen Poetischem und Nationalem, J. B. Metzler 2007.
Werke von und über Niels Wilhelm Gade im Katalog der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek
Werke von und über Niels Wilhelm Gade in der Deutschen Digitalen Bibliothek
Noten und Audiodateien von Niels W. Gade im International Music Score Library Project


Niels Wilhelm Gade, lithograph by Johann Georg Weinhold, 1845, Von Johann Georg Weinhold - Dieses Bild stammt aus der Digitalen Bibliothek Gallica und ist verfügbar unter der ID btv1b84180818, Gemeinfrei, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11376735