C.F.E. Horneman & Asger Hamerik: String Quartets by Inger Sørensen
C.F.E. Horneman (1840-1906) and Asger Hamerik (1843-1923) were cousins. Horneman's mother, Agnes Horneman, née Scheuermann, was the sister of Hamerik's mother, Julie Hammerich, and the two sisters were also cousins of the composer J.P.E. Hartmann's wife Emma Hartmann, who was herself a composer and the mother of the composer Emil Hartmann. That is how close the family connections were in the Copenhagen music milieu of the time, and they were all members of the Zinn clan that has meant so much for Danish musical life. Horneman and Hamerik both grew up in musical homes which were thus closely connected. So Horneman made his first attempts at music drama in close collaboration with his cousin Asger, who wrote the libretto for Horneman's first opera, The Iron Key, which was about robbers. As far as Horneman himself remembered, he was then 12-13 years old and his cousin was thus 9-10 years old! The little opera was a big success when it was performed on the birthday of Asger's father, the theology professor Frederik Hammerich. A few years later Horne-man and Hamerik parted company, and their lives went very different ways.
In the 1850s C.F.E. Horneman's father, the composer and music dealer Emil Horneman, earned a good deal of money, partly as a music publisher, partly through property investments with his second wife. So he could afford to fulfil his son's fervent wish to be allowed to study at the famous Conservatory in Leipzig, which had been founded in 1843 by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, and where Niels W. Gade had been a teacher from 1844 until 1848. There he had a number of famous names from the German musical establishment of the time as teachers, such as the Gewandhaus Orchestra's concertmaster, Fer-di-nand David, the music theoretician Moritz Hauptmann and the pianist Ignaz Moscheles.
It was during his studies in Leipzig that Horneman composed his String Quartet in G minor. It was submitted as an examination work for the final exam in 1860, and according to Horneman's own account it was performed at one of the ordinary evening entertainments at the Conservatory, but no record of this has survived in the official annals.
Unfortunately, after two years of study, 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 hard to earn a living, primarily by teaching. But in order to contribute to the maintenance of the family he also started a new music publishing house with his father as manager. For this he wrote a long succession of piano arrangements under foreign-sounding pseudonyms like Pierre Lenoir and Victor Willy to show the ‘international' approach of the publisher.
The year after his return Horneman also composed his second String Quartet in D major, which already shows clear signs that he wanted to go his own way.
In 1867 he was awarded the grant Det Anckerske Legat, enabling him to travel and make the acquain-tance of dramatic music all over Europe. We do not know his exact travel route, but according to Horneman's own information it was in Munich that he composed his Ouverture héroïque, and it was there too that he was staying 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 life Horneman was full of ideas and initiatives, but unfortunately few of them lived very long. For example in 1865, with among others Edvard Grieg, whom he knew from Leipzig, he formed the music society "Euterpe" as an alternative to the Copenhagen Music Society, because they thought that the young Nordic composers should have their own platform. Although there was great interest in the society, it had to close its doors two years later for financial reasons; but as early as the autumn of 1868 Horneman was ready with a new concept: Saturday soirées in the popular Casino establishment. Now the idea was to give a wider public the opportunity to hear good music at afford-able prices; this time too, unfortunately, the income was substantially less than the expenses, so this concert project also soon went to the wall.
Finally, in 1873, Horneman co-founded the concert society "Koncertforeningen", where he was to conduct alternately with Otto Malling. Horneman was no great conducting talent, so even though the concert society proved more viable than the other two concert enterprises, his participation was short-lived, since by 1876 he had taken his leave after disagreements with his co-conductor.
Not until 1875 does Horneman seem to have found his own niche, when he started up a course in music-reading, a discipline he considered a very important element in musical cultivation. He expe-rienced such great success with this that in 1879 he expanded the educational options to include other subjects, so that his music institute became a true alternative to the Copenhagen Academy of Music, which was headed by Niels W. Gade, J.P.E. Hartmann and H.S. Paulli.
Horneman put heart and soul into his music-teaching career, but it took up so much of his time that he hardly had the opportunity to compose, although he regarded this as his true vocation. It is therefore symptomatic that he toiled for almost twenty years on his principal work, the opera Aladdin, which he then, after a scandalous premiere in 1888 on the occasion of Christian IX's 25th jubilee, reworked radically. Fourteen years later it was taken up again and enjoyed a deserved success.
Horneman's total production is therefore regrettably small. Although he composed a number of songs, the main emphasis is on stage 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 stage director. In addition he composed several occasional cantatas, and thus came to share the fate of J.P.E. Hartmann: that many of their compositions - regardless of the qualities of the music - can no longer be performed, because they are associated with texts that are no longer relevant.
Horneman was a controversial personality in Copenhagen musical life. Especially in his later years, he felt persecuted by everything and everyone to a degree that took on a pathological character. As the director of the Royal Danish Theatre, Einar Christiansen, said: "He possessed an inherent, effort-less talent for falling foul of people, even those who wished him well, so that he sometimes fell into the comical quandary of being unable to remember who was his enemy and who was not." This also cost him his close friendship of many years with Grieg, because he felt inferior and looked down on, which was not the case. On the contrary, Grieg often stated that Horneman was a great source of inspiration to him. Horneman was a composer of rich talents, but he never had the opportunity to unfold his abilities as they deserved.
At the time when Horneman had gone off to Leipzig in 1857, Asger Hamerik still thought he would follow in his father's footsteps and study theology, but in 1859 he began instead to study music theory with Gottfred Matthison-Hansen, who was then the organist at the German church Frederiks Kirke in Chris-tians-havn, the present day Christians Kirke. This was the same year as he wrote his Quartetto in A minor (still under his original name Hammerich), a distinctive piece that alternates between a strongly rhythmic theme and more lyrical passages. Whether it was intended as an independent piece or Hamerik had conceived it in several movements, we do not know. The next year he arranged his cousin's G minor string quartet for piano duet, but also composed a symphony which has however been lost.
Hamerik also had his relative J.P.E. Hartmann and Niels W. Gade as his teachers in compo-sition, and it was they who urged him to study abroad like his cousin. At first he went to London and from there on to Berlin, where he studied piano and conducting with the famous pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow; but perhaps he was not very comfortable there, for among the many compositions from those years there is also one entitled Homesickness, composed and dated 1862. In Berlin Hamerik got to know Bülow's father-in-law Franz Liszt, and through his wife Cosima also Richard Wagner, with whom she embarked on an affair in those years and whom she later married. Wagner took an interest in the young Danish composer and wanted Hamerik to visit him in Munich, but when the war between Denmark and Prussia broke out in 1864, Hamerik left Germany and travelled on to Paris, where he became part of the circle around Hector Berlioz. The latter came to regard him as a substitute for the son who had died shortly before this, and he too took a keen interest in the Dane. During the stay in Paris Hamerik composed busily and with the support of Berlioz mounted a concert of his own works at the Salle Pleyel in 1865, including extracts from the opera Tovelille. Two years later he enjoyed great success with his Hymn for Peace during the World Exposition in Paris - a -giant work for soloists, choir and brass band, 12 harpists, organs and church bells as well as a chorus of 700 singers!
When Berlioz died in 1869 Hamerik left Paris and travelled around Europe. During a stay in Italy, where his opera La Vendetta had been performed in Milan, he was contacted by the American Consul, who offered him the post as director of the large Peabody Institute in Baltimore, which had been founded in 1857 as the USA's second music conservatory. The conservatory also had a symphony orchestra with 80 musicians and a choir with 150 members, and in the building there was a concert hall with room for an audience of 1500.
The decision to leave and settle in the USA was hard to make, but it proved to be the right choice, for Hamerik was to hold the post for 27 years, teaching music theory and conducting a number of symphonic concerts every year. He made a great effort to promote Scandinavian music by performing music by his Nordic contemporaries, but also by composing a number of Nordic Suites over a period of five years. He engaged several Scandinavian teachers at the conservatory, which until then had been dominated by Germans.
But Hamerik did not forget Denmark, and although his music was not performed in Denmark, he was not forgotten in his native country either. In April 1890 Niels W. Gade was in poor health for an extended period, so he consulted with the chairman of the Music Society, J.P.E. Hartmann, on whether they should approach Hamerik to see if he would like to "take up a new post - in smaller dimensions; - Fragen ist frei!", as Gade wrote to Hamerik's brother, the music historian Angul Hammerich - that is, whether Asger Hamerik would like to come home and become Gade's successor as the conductor of the Society. Gade and Hartmann agreed that it was worth a try. In the summer Hamerik was back home in Denmark, when he was on his way to St. Petersburg, and took the opportunity to visit Gade in Fredensborg. What exactly was agreed between the two men is unknown, but after Gade's sudden death in December 1890 the situation was still unresolved. Hartmann wrote to Angul Hammerich that the last he had heard about the matter from Gade was: "We shall probably have to give up on Asger, since he is tied up over there and cannot get away", and as the lawyer he was, he also pointed out that Gade by no means had the authority to enter into binding agreements on his own about who might be his successor - that was a matter for the administration of the Music Society and the board, and Gade had not contacted them.
Whatever had been agreed or not agreed, Hamerik travelled back to Baltimore, where they were celebrating the centenary in 1895 of the birth of the founder of the Peabody Institute with a performance of Hamerik's Requiem, opus 34, composed in 1886-1887. In 1898 they decided to discontinue the symphonic concerts, which prompted Asger Hamerik to leave Baltimore. With his wife, the composer and pianist Margaret -Williams, he then travelled around Europe for some years perform-ing his own works in the European music metropolises Vienna, Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, Paris and Milan, before he definitively settled down in Copenhagen in 1900. During the last 23 years of his life he composed little. On his return he had composed music for the ancient lur-horns of the National Museum, which were of great interest to his brother Angul Hammerich, but otherwise all he produced was Ballad with Variations, opus 41, which was performed in Copenhagen in 1913, and the reworking of the large Choral Symphony which had been performed in Baltimore in the spring of 1898, just before he had left the city.
Besides the family relationship, C.F.E. Horneman and Asger Hamerik shared the fact that their music was never really appreciated as it deserved in their native Denmark during their own lifetimes. Horne-man's because his output was very small and because of his difficult character; Hamerik's because his main activities took place abroad, and in his youth he fell under the influence of Berlioz and Wagner, no great recommendation in the Copenhagen of the time. True, Horneman was rehabilitated in the very last years of his life with the revival of Aladdin and the large Cantata for the University's Memorial Celebration for Christian IX, while Hamerik's Requiem was received with enthusiasm with perfor-mances in Copenhagen in 1908; but later in the century their music was considered old-fashioned. Only with the renewed interest in Late Romanticism has Horneman's and Hamerik's music again seen the light of day.
Inger Sørensen er 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-spondance med Edvard Grieg" (2011).