J.P.E. Hartmann was a quite central figure in the Danish music of the nineteenth century. He composed in all genres, and his music spans three cultural epochs. In addition he held the most important posts in the Danish musical world: organist at Copenhagen Cathedral, court composer to five generations of the Danish Royal Family, co-founder of Musikforeningen (Copenhagen's leading concert centre), director of the Royal Danish Academy of Music and chairman of the student choral association Studentersangforeningen.
J.P.E. Hartmann's grandfather was the German-born composer J.E. Hartmann. Now in its third generation, the dynasty was solidly established among the Copenhagen bourgeoisie, and despite J.P.E. Hartmann's great interest in music, it was a natural step for him to study law to consolidate his status with a position in the civil service. He kept this administrative post until retirement age.
J.P.E. Hartmann's earliest works still have links with Vienna Classicism, while his last works from the turn of the century have features from the dawn of Modernism! In between these came Danish National Romanticism, of which Hartmann became the leading representative. With a special "Nordic" sound, distinctive and with folk music elements, he achieved striking results in works with Norse subjects: the choral work Vølvens Spådom (based on the Old Norse Völuspá); the opera Liden Kirsten, the overtures to National-Romantic plays, and the ballets Thrymskviden (The Agony of Thrym) and Valkyrien.
J.P.E. Hartmann was to become a national monument in his lifetime. His nationally oriented works have, until our own day, overshadowed his considerable symphonies and sonatas. Hartmann also composed organ works, songs and cantatas.