C.F.E. Horneman by Inger Sørensen
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.
Horneman wrote very little pure orchestral music. He never attained the large forms such as symphony and concerto. Almost everything is tied to theatrical works. This youthful work from 1867 is the exception. It was written during his stay in Munich, and nothing has survived to tell us what the title refers to. This is left to the listener.
In May 1890 Horneman entered into an agreement with the director of the Dagmar Theatre, Chr. Riis-Knudsen, who had just enjoyed a success with Holger Drachmann's play Esther, for which Horneman had also composed the music. Before 15th September he was to write the music for Fr. Paludan-Müller's tragedy Kalanus, about the encounter between the Greek and the Indian philosophies of life - the same legend as Gade had used in 1869 as the basis of a choral work of the same name to a text by Carl Andersen.
The ascetic Indian sage Kalanus is on a pilgrimage in Persia when he meets the Greek conqueror Alexander the Great, who makes such a profound impression on him that he believes he has found in him the reincarnation of the god Brahma, the divine liberator who will establish the kingdom of justice on earth. Alexander gives him a friendly reception and wishes to make friends with him, but when Kalanus sees at a grand feast how Alexander, in extremely worldly fashion, becomes intoxicated with wine and women, he discovers his terrible mistake and wishes to take his own life. Alexander tries to talk him out of this decision; the ruler of the world falls on his knees before the sage, who regards death as a purgation and the gateway to true bliss, and Kalanus voluntarily ascends the pyre.
Kalanus is a philosophizing poem whose conflict is at the spiritual level, and it is an open question whether Paludan-Müller, when he published his drama in 1854 in the collection Tre Digte (Three Poems) had at all imagined that it would be performed on stage. At all events, it had not yet happened in 1890, and this time too nothing came of it. Although Horneman had submitted his manuscript before the end of the year, the performances were abandoned because the theatre lacked the proper actor to play the title role. Not until September 1906, three months after Horneman's death, was the piece played on stage with Adam Poulsen as Alexander and Riis-Knudsen's co-director Martinius Nielsen as Kalanus. And it only ran for ten performances.
"And yet it was a feat - a feat in spite of all. For ‘Kalanus' has been performed." So began Herman Bang his review in the newspaper København. He rejoices that it has finally come to the stage, as he had already proposed 25 years earlier, for in his view it was the most profound work in all of Danish literature. He made no mention whatsoever of Horneman's music. Nor did his colleague on Politiken, Sven Lange, feel called to write about the music; but "A.G." did write in Nationaltidende: "‘Kalanus' was accompanied throughout by Horneman's music, for the performance of which the composer waited years, until death snatched him away; dramatically, it only plays a crucial role in the -Bacchante act and in the pyre scene in the last act."
Thankfully, as early as 1890 a suite had been written so that the music was not completely lost.
The Contest with the Muses (Thamyris)
Even before the music for Kalanus had been finished, an even larger project was in the pipeline, a work that was to have almost as long a period of gestation as Aladdin. In the mid-eighties the poet Karl Gjellerup had planned a long dramatic poem on a subject from ancient Greece about King Thamyris, who embarked on a contest with the Muses and ended up blind and mad. The prologue, called The Contest with the Muses, was finished in 1886, while the second part, Helicon, which was divided into the pastoral play Myrtis and the satyr play Marsyas, appeared in print in 1887. In February Gjellerup sent a greeting to the composer Niels W. Gade on the occasion of his 70th birthday, where he announced that he would shortly be sending him the first part of a major dramatic poem. Perhaps it had been Gjellerup's secret hope that Gade would set it to music, but it was Horneman who took on the task. This was to be a fateful decision.
In May 1890, when Gjellerup's text had been accepted by the Royal Theatre on the condition that the music was also approved, he immediately went to Horneman, who was enthusiastic because the text was so far from the modern opera plots which he described as: "Two lovers undergo a succession of love troubles with alternating suspicions of each other's honourable intentions, interlaced with the evil machinations of a rival male or female, which end with a murder. It seems to be carved into the consciousness of the modern public that such content is inextricably bound up with the concept of opera. If the lovers are not incessantly all over each other on a chaise-longue or a grassy bank in moonlight, it is no true opera."
However, the composition process was to be drawn out for almost as many years as Aladdin.
Two years later, when Gjellerup settled down in his wife's native Dresden, he got into financial difficulties and hoped that he could soon submit his finished work to the Royal Danish Theatre and thus ensure himself a certain income. Year after year he repeated the same question: "When will the score be finished?" At last, in April 1896 - six years after the acceptance of the text - it was submitted, but this was to make the matter even more problematical, for at the end of October Horneman finally received the official letter from the Royal Theatre, in which the theatre director P. Hansen told him that the theatre's censor, the conductor Johan Svendsen, had greatly praised the artistic value of his music, and that they therefore had no scruples about accepting it for performance. But at the same time it was emphasized that over time the various censors had drawn attention to Gjellerup's poem's "great theatrical shortcomings and the difficulty of any effective staging." This was true not least of the third part, the satyr play Helicon, to which Horneman had set music. The Theatre therefore reserved the right to defer until later the decision whether the whole trilogy was to be performed or perhaps - with the consent of the author - only the last part, out of consideration for Horneman's music.
Gjellerup was furious, for in his desk drawer he had an official document that unequivocally announced that the text had been accepted. True, this was now six years since, but if Horneman had also been told in writing that his music had been accepted, Gjellerup thought they could force the Royal Theatre to keep their promise. However, this was not the case.
After several compromise proposals, such as omitting the two introductory plays and only performing Helicon, the matter came so much to a head that Gjellerup sat down and wrote a 15-page irate letter to Horneman, whom he considered the sole miscreant in the wretched affair, because he had been so extremely tardy in composing the music and moreover had been complicit in suggesting the amputation of Gjellerup's text. He ended by writing: "And now I am done, both with the letter and with you. The letter was long, although I am no zealot for writing long letters, since I have other uses for my pen, but this letter renders all further correspondence superfluous."
A once warm friendship had turned to hostility, and this came to determine the further fate of the work. Under the next theatre director, Einar Christiansen, too, the arguments raged back and forth, and the end of it all was that Thamyris, as the two authors had always called the work in their correspondence, was not performed at the Royal Theatre until February 1908, under the title The Contest with the Muses, and with a new prelude by P.A. Rosenberg, which Gjellerup had resignedly approved. The piece was only played three times, but Horneman was thankfully spared that disappointment, since he had died in June 1906.
In May 1900 Horneman was called to a meeting with the director of the Royal Theatre, Einar Christiansen, and arrived in happy anticipation that it would be either about the re-premiere of Aladdin or about Thamyris. It was none of these. Instead he was handed Holger Drachmann's play Gurre, with the question whether he would set it to music. He was given the book to take home and was asked to reply within no more than three days. Already on the way across the square Kongens Nytorv he conceived the idea that this was no more than a kind of consolation prize. So the same day he went to see Einar Christiansen at his private home and handed the book back with the information that he could not compose, for with one word the latter had shattered all the hopes of his youth and manhood. He was a corpse, and corpses could not compose.
However, Horneman was persuaded a few days later when he had a letter saying that they did in fact intend to re-premiere Aladdin. True, the Theatre had already given the Gurre job to Fini Henriques, but the stage director Julius Lehmann, who functioned as an intermediary, thought that Henriques could be persuaded to give up the task, since at the same time he had been given another commission. And so it was after all Horneman who was given the chance to write the music for the famous plot, which was also to prove so well suited to him.
Legend has it that King Valdemar Atterdag was so fond of his castle at Gurre that he had said that God could keep Heaven, as long as the King had Gurre. For this blasphemy he was punished by being condemned to hunt eternally with his retainers in the area around Gurre. This legend went all the way back to the medieval ballad of Valdemar and Tove, according to which Queen Helvig, jealous of the King's love affair with the young Tove, locked her in the bathhouse, ensuring that she died. In this version, though, it is not Valdemar Atterdag, but Valdemar the Great, who lived several hundred years earlier.
This romantic material had already fascinated many Danish poets before -Drachmann's time. One need only mention names like Oehlenschläger, B.S. Ingemann, Carsten Hauch, Henrik Hertz, Hans Christian Andersen, Christian Winther and J.P. Jacobsen. The story had also been seen on stage before, as Johan Ludvig Heiberg had chosen the legend of Valdemar and Tove for his festival play Syvsoverdag (Seven Sleepers' Day) with music by J.P.E. Hartmann on the occasion of the Coronation of King Christian VIII at Frederiksborg Castle in 1840. In January 1878 P.E. Lange-Müller's opera Tove had been performed at the Royal Theatre, and during his study period in Paris in the mid-1860s Horneman's cousin, Asger Hamerik, had worked on an opera entitled Tovelille, which had ben performed in extracts at the Salle Pleyel and later in its entirety at a soirée in Copenhagen in 1869.
There were thus plenty of models in 1898 when Drachmann was inspired to write his drama during a stay at the Marianelund Inn near Gurre.
Drachmann concentrated on the love triangle of King Volmer, Queen Helvig and the young Tove. The King meets the Count of Holstein, who will lend him money if he is reconciled with his queen, which he refuses, instead falling in love with Tove, whom he gets to know when she is searching for a lost ring. They meet on a summer evening by Lake Gurre, where she gives him her love; but soon he goes off campaigning and rejects Tove's plea to go with him. As soon as he has gone, Helvig takes her revenge by locking Tove in the overheated bathhouse, where she suffocates. When the King returns home, he kills Helvig's lover in revenge and imprisons her, but in the end reconciles with her for political reasons. Finally, Volmer meets the shade of Tove by Lake Gurre.
Horneman too knew the romantic castle ruin at Gurre. In August 1865, with his friends Grieg and the Sleisner brothers, he had been on a walking tour from Fredensborg to Marianelund and Gurre. Grieg wrote afterwards in his diary: "A marvellous tour. Never have any ruins put me in such a splendid mood." Perhaps Horneman remembered this tour when he started to compose his music in the summer of 1900.
The music consists of a total of ten numbers, of which the overture and the four pre-ludes form the suite, which is one of Horneman's best known works. It demonstrates his own conviction that romantic music was his true domain.
Inger Sørensen is a research librarian at the Danish Library of Education and has written the books Horneman - en kunstnerslægt (2011) and Et venskab. C.F.E. Hornemans korre-spon-dance med Edvard Grieg (2011).