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Johan Peter Emilius HARTMANN (1805-1900)
Six Character Pieces composed in the form of studies for piano with Poems by Hans Christian Andersen, op. 50 (1848) [13:09]
Bellman Pictures - Menuets in G minor (1852) [7:42]
On a motiv from a Swedish folk-tune in G minor (1874) [1:37]
Three piano pieces - no. three with a poem by Hans Christian Andersen (1848) [5:58]
Eight Sketches, op. 31 (1840) [24:06]
The Swan: A Humoresque in D minor (1882) [1:06]
Album Leaf: Stork Long Legs in D major (1847) [0:36]
Like the Polka in D major (1857) [2:04]
Like a Danish Folk Song in E minor (1870) [1:27]
Three piano pieces, op. 38 (1845) [11:21]
Thomas Trondhjem (piano)
rec. August 2020, Concert Hall, Holstebro Music School and Music Academy, Denmark

In July 2020, I reviewed the first volume of Danacord’s cycle of Johan Peter Emilius Hartmann’s piano music, which included brief biographical details about the composer.

The template for enjoying Hartmann’s piano pieces has three elements. He composed a wide range of music, including several symphonies, overtures, incidental music, a violin concerto, operas and cantatas. He also wrote three large-scale piano sonatas, but the selection of miniatures on this present CD was designed more for the drawing room than the recital hall, so we accept that these pieces are for enjoyment and pleasure rather than presenting a profound exposition of the human condition.

Secondly, Hartmann’s music is clearly influenced by several Romantic composers dating from the early to middle 19th century. These include Robert Schumann, Stephen Heller, Felix Mendelssohn and Niels Gade. Hartmann is equally competent at producing viable smaller forms that rely on subtlety of design, melodically, harmonically and structurally.

Thirdly, I wholeheartedly agree with Claus Byrith in his liner notes that this disc needs to be explored in small doses. It is so easy just to slip the disc into the player and listen through them, but in the case of these 26 short pieces, that just blurs into a mass of notes and phrases all sounding very much alike.

I chose to listen to the grouped pieces in three sittings. The Six Character Pieces op.50 (1848) are conceived as a set of studies based on short poetic texts by Hans Christian Andersen, which Danacord has included in the booklet. Each presents a childlike (but by no means childish) image of butterflies, travel by ship, a rocking horse, angels, castles and playing tag and they deserve to be read. Despite this naïve labelling, these studies are not for tyros; they are imaginative and technically quite demanding. 

Equally satisfying are the Three piano pieces - no. three with a poem by Hans Christian Andersen (1848). The first of these is a little character piece reflecting on Swedish Homesickness: Summer 1848. No information is given as to Hartmann’s whereabouts at that time. The second is a vibrant Capriccio. The set ends with another reflection on a poem by Hans Andersen. This time it is a heartfelt little romance; the poet is looking at his beloved playing her piano, with “the music overflowing with happiness.” 

I turned then to the Eight Sketches op.31 (1840).  These are provided with mundane titles, such as Scherzo, Canzonetta, Allegro assai and a Mazurka. Once again, these are straightforward pieces to play - no pyrotechnics. But the old rule applies, what is easy to play, is often hard to interpret. Thomas Trondhjem gives a rewarding account of these Schumannesque pieces.

The final grouping is the Three Piano Pieces op.38 (1845). The first of these, the Ballo Militar (Military Dance), is the longest on this CD. It is a little clichéd and probably overstays its welcome. The second, a Cantilena elegiaca, is hardly an elegy, but more of a meditation. The final number is a sunny little Allegro grazioso, which gently bounces along.

A few other pieces add interest to this CD. One delight is the 36-second Album Leaf: Stork Long Legs in D major dating from 1847. Hartmann’s take on The Swan, is more robust than Saint- Saëns’ gliding creature presented in his Carnival of the Animals. Finally, the Bellman Pictures from 1852, has something of Scott Joplin about it, especially in the opening bars.

The liner notes give particulars about the composer and provide a general assessment of his piano music. On the other hand, few details are given about individual pieces. Both notes and poems are given in Danish and English. I did find the font a little small for ageing eyes. Two charming 19th century paintings of Copenhagen, and some scans of Hartmann’s scores complete the booklet.

I enjoyed this CD of small-scale piano works. They are all convincingly played by Thomas Trondhjem, who clearly enjoys this music. The recording is excellent. I look forward to subsequent releases in this project. Hopefully, there will be one of the major Sonatas to get to grips with and perhaps a little more musical commentary to help the listener.
John France