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Symphonic Sidebars: The Dane whose Musical Mentor Was Mendelssohn - Niels Gade

Courtesy of the Artist

Courtesy of the Artist

Composer Niels Gade is as important to the cultural history of Denmark as is the author Hans Christian Andersen. It’s unfortunate that Gade’s music is not as widely recognized beyond his homeland as Andersen’s work, since there is so much to like. Gade composed songs, choral works and sacred music, an opera, several cantatas, overtures, chamber music, and eight symphonies. He was a fine violinist and an excellent conductor.

When Gade’s First Symphony was not chosen to be performed in Copenhagen he sought the advice of Felix Mendelssohn, who was then the conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Mendelssohn conducted Gade’s First Symphony in Leipzig where it was received with enthusiasm. Gade obtained a fellowship from the Danish government, moved to Leipzig and soon befriended Mendelssohn.

It was Gade, as assistant conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, who directed the premiere of Mendelssohn’s famous Violin Concerto in E minor. Upon Mendelssohn’s death, Gade assumed the post of director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, further deepening the connection. As an instructor at the Leipzig Conservatory, Gade paid forward the support and advocacy he received from Mendelssohn by encouraging a number of composers, notably Edvard Grieg and Carl Nielsen.

Mendelssohn’s influence on Gade’s harmonic, rhythmic and melodic language can easily be heard here in the last two movements of his Symphony Number Four. The sound is typical of Gade’s tuneful style, a romanticism that is often filled with light and forward momentum.


Recommended: Gade – Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7; Overture No. 3. Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra; Christopher Hogwood, conductor. Chandos Records, CD #9957


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