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Harmonious Families Volume 1
Danish Compositions by Fathers and Sons

Emil Hartmann (1836-1898)
‘Haermaendene på Helgeland’ Overture Op.25 (1878)
‘Hakon Jarl’ – symphonic poem Op.40 (1859-1898)
Cello Concerto in D Op.26 (1879)

Johann Peter Emilius Hartmann (1805-1900)
‘Hakon Jarl’ – Overture Op.40 (1844)
‘En efterårsjagt.’ An Autumn Hunt Overture Op.63b (1863)

The Danish Philharmonic Orchestra, South Jutland
Jean-Pierre Wallez – conductor
Kim Bak Dinitzen – cello
Recorded Musikhuset, Sønderborg November 1998  
Danacord DACOCD 508 [70.34]

The Hartmanns are less of a ‘Harmonious Family’ than a ‘melodious dynasty’ within Danish music. Without wishing to indulge in a lecture on genealogy it is fair to say that we have at least four generations of this family all actively involved in music making. If we take Johann Peter Emilius (J.P.E.) as the baseline, we find out that his father, August Wilhelm, (1775-1850) was a violinist in the Royal Chapel Orchestra and latterly choirmaster and organist in the Garnisons Kirke. August Wilhelm’s father was the great Johann Ernest Hartmann (1726-1793) who came to Denmark from Germany and was to be one of the most important composers of his generation. He wrote symphonies, chamber music, cantatas and much incidental music.

Johann Peter Emilius Hartmann was born in Copenhagen on the 14th May 1805. A few years later his mother was appointed as governess in the Royal Household and soon the young lad became playmate to the future King Frederik VII. Naturally, coming from such a musical background and also from reasonably secure family circumstances, he was encouraged to indulge in music from an early age. He was taught to play the organ, piano and violin. Musical theory came easy to him and before long he was composing his own tunes. However, he was also persuaded to pursue a career in law before finally being allowed to follow a musical vocation. He was married to Emma Sophie Amalia Zinn who was to the perfect companion for J.P.E. Emma was a composer too and wrote songs under the name of Frederik Palmer.

J.P.E Hartmann was born in the same year as the great Hans Christian Anderson, and it is therefore fitting that his first operatic production was to a libretti by this author - ‘The Raven.’ There were two more operas to follow.

In 1836 he was touring Germany, France and Switzerland. He was to become well known in musical circles throughout Europe. Soon he was appointed as the director of the Copenhagen Conservatory. His career was further recognised by the coveted post of Royal Kapellmeister.

On the 21st February 1836 Emma gave birth to Emil; this was the next link in the family’s musical chain that persists to this day in the composer Nikolaj Bentzon (b1964) who is himself a pianist and composer.

J.P.E produced much music through his long life: the catalogue includes two symphonies, songs, chamber works and much incidental music.

The two works given on this CD are a perfect introduction to those listeners who are unaware of this composer’s achievement. One of these pieces is a concert overture, An Autumn Hunt and the other was written for a play by Oehlenschlager – Hakon Jarl.

The programme notes describe the Hakon Jarl overture as one of the masterpieces of Danish Romantic music – and therefore one of J.P.E’s finest creations. It is scored for the normal orchestra of the day, but with added harp and gong. Hartmann was seemingly left cold by the progress of music in the rest of Europe. Although he had met Franz Liszt, he was not influenced by that composer’s extrovert style. I find this overture to be quite ‘Beethovian’ in many ways – tempered by developments since of course. The scoring is quite dark at the start and only later does the music break out into an heroic finale. There is no doubting Hartmann’ skill in handling both form and orchestration. It is a totally satisfying piece. The balance between Scandinavian Nationalism that was coming to the fore at that time and mainstream romantic music is perfectly maintained. It is great piece that deserves recognition. But that is a sentiment that I will be pressing home throughout the review of this series of five CDs.

The overture ‘An Autumn Hunt’ (1863) certainly does not let the composer down – even if the music is somewhat lighter in construction than the preceding work. It is a piece of music that has been inspired by nature as much as by anything else. Critics see it as specifically ‘Danish’ – a ‘merry orchestral piece without the problematical sharp edges that sometimes bothered Copenhagen audiences.’

It is an attractive number – full of beautiful phrases and tunes, fine scoring and formal balance. Once again I hear Beethoven – the Pastoral perhaps – but then again there are glimpses of a hundred works both before and after. One work that springs to mind (for comparison only) is Smetena’s Ma Vlast. It has that same kind of feel; outdoor, water and sunshine and a touch of the bucolic- without ever ceasing to be great music.

Naturally Emil Hartmann studied music with his father. Soon he was playing the organ and writing songs. (Were these under his mother’s influence, one wonders?)

He had lessons with the great Niels Gade who happened to be his brother in law. He had a period of study in Leipzig and on his return to Copenhagen he took the post of organist at St John’s Kirke. In 1871 he was organist at the Christianborg Palace Church. He remained here till his early death in 1898.

It is easy to regard Emil as being a ‘church’ composer, simply because he spent most of his life in the organ loft. However a glance at his catalogue reveals a substantial amount of music in the secular field. It would be inappropriate here to mention more than his seven symphonies (three only published), concerti for violin, piano and cello, chamber music and a number of operas.

One of the problems that Emil had was being overshadowed in Copenhagen by his father’s achievement. Apparently his father had a blind fear of being accused of nepotism and therefore did nothing to help his son in the musical circles of Copenhagen. However, this was not to keep Emil down – he made quite a name for himself in Germany.

It is ironic that the son died two years before his father.

There are three fine works by Emil on this CD. We are presented with a tie in to his father’s opus with another work based on the play ‘Hakon Jarl.’ This is not to be seen as competition or encroachment. For Hartmann père was writing incidental music, whereas Emil managed to compose the very first tone poem in Danish musical history. It is quite a long work at 19 minutes, but every minute is filled with fine music. There is no doubt that this is an excellent example of the genre. There is no way that this can be defined as parochial Danish folk music. It is international in style.

Perhaps it is best to say that the influence of Leipzig and Mendelssohn is more important than that of his father. The music of Gade seems to be influential too. And perhaps there is even a touch of Liszt’s symphonic poems in here somewhere for good measure.

The Cello Concerto (1879) is an absolute treasure. It is not fair of me to dispose of it a handful of words. It is one of these pieces that leave me wondering why cellists often complain of having so few concerted works to play. There is no doubt that this is a concerto nearly in the same bracket as Dvorak’s masterpiece (1895). It is full of singing melodies and perfect balance between soloist and orchestra. Much of the music could be classified as ‘not fast.’ It is almost perfect in its sense of meditation and reflection. The slow movement is perhaps the most attractive thing on this CD.

Like many works the weakest movement is the last- but in spite of a slight dropping off of inspiration this work manages to retain the listeners’ interest to the very last bar.

The other piece by Emil on this disk is his overture to Ibsen’s play ‘Haermaendene på Helgeland’. The programme notes define this piece as Emil’s masterpiece and it certainly does have much to recommend it. The composer’s style is pushing away from Mendelssohn and Gade towards that of the Russians- the programme notes suggest Tchaikovsky. And perhaps, at last, the son is beginning to come to terms with his father’s music - for here is a tale full of Danish heroism. It is an overture full of musical battles and romantic vistas. A fine piece that again deserves to be accommodated into the repertoire of many more orchestras.

This is a bold series of CDs that Danacord have produced. It allows us to consider two things – family influence and Danish Romantic music at its very best. Of course there are going to be works on these disks that are in the ‘second eleven’ when considered on an international scale. Yet what is given in Volume 1 are five works that any composer would have been proud to call their own. We have a couple of undoubted masterpieces as well.

The disk is well produced and the sound quality is second to none (as I expect from this record company). The programme notes are good although perhaps a slightly longer essay would have been helpful, bearing in mind that most of these works will be unknown to the majority of non-specialised listeners.

The playing by the Danish Philharmonic Orchestra of South Jutland under Jean-Pierre Wallez is first rate. As I said, the Cello concerto is a masterpiece and it is played convincingly by Kim Bak Dinitzen.

One final thought. Musical generations are well spanned by this family – especially J.P.E. Hartmann. He was four years old when Haydn died and when J.P.E himself died George Gershwin was still in ‘diapers.’


John France

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