Christian Frederik Emil Horneman (1840-1906) was born into an artistically gifted family. His grandfather was the once-famous miniature painter Christian Horneman, best known today for his portrait of his friend the composer Friedrich Kuhlau and the often-reproduced miniature of the young Beethoven, whom he had got to know during his stay in Vienna. His father was Johan Ole Emil Horneman, the composer of the well-loved Danish songs Dengang jeg drog afsted and Højt fra Træets grønne Top and co-owner of Copenhagen's leading music publisher Horneman & Erslev.
Already as a teenager C.F.E. Horneman had tried his hand as an opera composer with his cousin Asger Hamerik as librettist, and since his father was a prosperous man in the 1850s he was allowed to travel to Leipzig to study at the famous Conservatory. This was where he formed a close friendship with his fellow student Edvard Grieg, a friendship that was to be of great importance to the development of both men.
Unfortunately, after two years of studies Horneman had to return to Copenhagen in 1860, because his father was on the verge of bankruptcy, so from the age of 20 Horneman had to struggle to make ends meet, primarily by teaching. But to contribute to the support of the family he also founded a new music publishing house with his father as general manager. For the publishing house he wrote a long succession of piano arrangements under foreign-sounding pseudonyms such as Pierre Lenoir and Victor Willy, to demonstrate the ‘international' tendency of the publisher. In 1867 he was awarded the grant Det Anckerske Legat so he could travel and make the acquaintance of dramatic music in various parts of Europe. His precise route is unknown, but according to Horneman's own information, it was in Munich that he composed his Ouverture Héroique, and it was there too he was living when his Aladdin overture, which he had begun in 1864, was performed at a Gewandhaus concert in Leipzig under the baton of Carl Reinecke.
Throughout his life Horneman was full of ideas and initiatives, but unfortunately few of them endured very long. For example in 1865, with among others Grieg, he formed the music society Euterpe as an alternative to the established society Musikforeningen, because they thought that the young Nordic composers should have their own platform. Although there was great interest in the society, they had to close it down just two years later because of financial problems, but as early as the autumn of 1868 Horneman was ready with a new concept: Saturday soirées at the popular -establishment Casino. Here the idea was to give a wider public the opportunity to hear good music inexpensively, but unfortunately this time too the revenues were substantially less than the expenditure, so this concert project soon met its demise.
Finally, in 1873, Horneman became a co-founder of a new music society, Koncert-foreningen, where he was to be the conductor, alternating with Otto Malling. Horne-man was no great shakes as a conductor, so although the concert society turned out to be more viable than the other two concert ventures, his own participation was short-lived; as early as 1876 he resigned after disagreements with his co-conductor.
Not until 1875 does Horneman seem to have found his own niche, when he started a course in music-reading, a discipline he considered to be a very important stage in musical education. In this he was so successful that in 1879 he expanded the courses to include other subjects, so that his music institute became a true alternative to the Copenhagen Academy of Music, which was headed by the composers Gade, Hartmann and H.S. Paulli.
Horneman devoted heart and soul to his music-teaching activity, but it took up so much of his time that he hardly had any opportunities to compose, even though he regarded this as his true vocation. It is therefore symptomatic that he worked for almost twenty years on his masterpiece, the opera Aladdin, which he had to radically rework after a scandalous premiere in 1888 marking the 25th anniversary of the accession of King Christian IX, before it was re-premiered fourteen years later and enjoyed its well merited success.
Horneman's overall output is therefore regrettably small. Although he composed a number of songs, the main emphasis is on theatre music of various kinds, among other reasons because his daughter became an actress at the Dagmar Theatre, and his later son-in-law, P.A. Rosenberg, was a theatrical producer. In addition he composed several occasional cantatas, and thus came to share the fate of J.P.E. -Hartmann: that a number of their compositions - regardless of the quality of the music - can no longer be performed, because they are tied to texts that can no longer be used.
Horneman was a controversial personality in the Copenhagen music world. In his later years in particular he felt persecuted by everything and everyone, so much that it assumed a pathological character. As Einar Christiansen, the director of the Royal Danish Theatre, put it: "He possessed an innate facility for falling foul of people, even those who wished him the best, such that he sometimes fell into the comical situation of being unable to remember who was his enemy and who was not". This also cost him his friendship of many years with Grieg, because he felt inferior and looked down on, which was not the case. On the contrary, Grieg often said that Horneman was a great source of inspiration to him. Horneman was a composer of rich talents, but never had the opportunity to unfold them as they deserved.