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Peter Heise

Peter Heise © Royal Danish Library

Peter Heise holds a place of honour in the pantheon of Danish music for his "romances" (i.e. Danish Lieder) and for the national opera Drot og Marsk (King and Marshal). It is often overlooked that Heise was an internationally oriented composer, and that he also composed a symphony and a score of outstanding chamber works. In Heise's several hundred romances melody, harmony, accompaniment and the choice of texts together reach the zenith of this genre in Denmark. This was already acknowledged in his own time, and his romances have never been out of the Danish repertoire. Drot og Marsk is undoubtedly the best Danish opera of the nineteenth century, and apart from a few folk ballad elements the opera, about the murder of a medieval Danish king, is in the international style and format. Heise's piano quintet of 1869 is probably also the best Danish example of this genre. Heise was a modest man, lived a financially independent life in the provinces, and died far too early at the age of 49. These are crucial factors explaining why his output did not make as much of an impact as it might, either in terms of quantity or of familiarity with his music abroad. If Heise's romances had been written to German texts, he would have been sure of international fame.