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Peder Gram


Peder Jørgensen Gram was born in Copenhagen in 1881, the son of a prominent mathematician, actuary and insurance director. After taking his school-leaving examination Peder Gram embarked on studies at Polyteknisk Læreanstalt (now the Technical University of Denmark), but music soon took hold of him and after taking lessons from the organist at Christiansborg Palace Chapel, Hermann Kallenbach, he became a student in 1904-1907 at the Conservatory in Leipzig. His teachers there were Stephan Krehl in composition, Karl Wendling in piano and Hans Sitt and Arthur Nikisch in orchestral conducting. That Peder Gram's studies bore fruit can be seen from among other things the fact that he won the Conservatory’s compositions prize (the “Nikisch Prize”) for his string quartet op. 3.

After a further six months of study, this time in Dresden, Peder Gram settled down in Copenhagen, where he worked as a teacher of composition and theory. In addition, from 1908 until 1913 he organized two annual symphonic concerts, mainly with contemporary music on the programmes. In 1912 Peder Gram was awarded the grant Det Anckerske Legat, and with the funding this gave him he travelled through Germany and Austria, finally visiting Paris. In 1914 he gave a concert in Berlin with the Philharmonic, where his First Symphony was premiered, and in 1918, as the experienced and enterprising conductor that he was, he took over the post of conductor at the society Dansk Koncert-Forening after Louis Glass. Since 1902 the society had been an important forum for new Danish orchestral music, and in Peder Gram’s time it kept up this function until the beginning of the 1930s, when it had to discontinue its independent concerts and merge with the young composers’ society Det unge Tonekunstnerselskab (DUT).

Alongside these activities Gram made a strong mark in his organizational work. For example he was a member of a number of boards and chairman of several important ones: the Danish Composers’ Society 1919-24; the Arts Committee of the Danish Olympic Committee, 1925-29; the Society for the Publication of Danish Music, 1931-38; the musicians rights association KODA, 1930-37; the Nordic Union for Composers’ Rights, whose president he was in 1931-32 and 1935-36; and finally – and not least – the Danish Composers’ Society again, where he was Chairman in 1931-37.

Peder Gram took over what was absolutely his most influential post in 1937, when he was appointed Head of the Music Department of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (now DR). Gram’s work was by no means easy, and he had to suffer much criticism for his dispositions. But as the conductor Jens Schrøder has written in the work celebrating the 75th anniversary of the corporation, Peder Gram promoted the reforms and innovations that he thought the age was ready for, and it was in Gram’s period as head of the department that the Danish National Symphony Orchestra was expanded to full philharmonic size, as Schrøder has also pointed out.

In 1951 Peder Gram retired from his post and on that occasion received a gift from the Symphony Orchestra: a finely bound score book with the inscription 'Peder Gram: Symphony No. 3.' However, the music pages were empty; the ‘cunning’ plan was of course to prompt the newly-fledged pensioner to return to his composition work and continue his series of symphonies, which had stopped more than 25 years before with the Second Symphony. Gram ‘paid for’ the gift and composed his Third Symphony, of which he himself conducted the first performance at a Thursday Concert in 1955. The symphony was to be one of Gram’s last works and was given the opus number 35, which shows that his oeuvre was quite small in quantity.

Peder Gram composed three symphonies, a symphonic fantasy, a tone Poem, two ouvertures, a violin concert, chambermusic, pianoworks and songs.