New recording leads Peter Heise's forgotten string quartets out of obscurity
Heise was a popular and beloved Danish composer, whose string quartets have lived a hidden existence after his death. On 9 June, the first recording in a new series with world premiere recordings performed by Nordic String Quartet will be released.
Even though Peter Heise (1830-1879) was one of Denmark’s most popular and beloved composers, his six string quartets never gained recognition and succumbed to a quite exceptional oblivion in 170 years. In the first installment of their two-part series, the Nordic String Quartet revives these elegantly fluid works with a spacious and lyrical approach, infusing a sensibility attuned to Heise’s distinctive poetic touch.
You can already now listen to a single from the upcoming album, that is the second movement from String Quartet No. 1, a larghetto with a slow main section and a tumultuous middle section. Listen via this link.
Hidden youth works
Peter Heise was seen, to a high degree, as a vocal composer. Shortly before his death, he had experienced success with his opera Drot og marsk (King and Marshal), arguably the best Danish opera of the 19th century, and his hundreds of songs and romances were very popular.
Between 1851 and 1857, Heise wrote six string quartets for the intimate musical soirées of Copenhagen’s refined upper class. The string quartets did not become part of the public music scene in his own time, and after his death, they were packed away, probably by his widow who wished to protect her husband’s high posthumous reputation from disturbing, unknown works from his youth. The sheet music for the String Quartet No. 1 found itself in a folder with other works which were labelled, ‘Heise’s hand-written music from old times, not to be printed, maybe better burned’.
In the 1950s, the quartets began circulating again, but none of them embedded themselves into the repertoire in Denmark. This is quite strange, as there is certainly not an abundance of Danish quartets from the 19th century to compete with. After a long period of dormancy, the works were printed for the first time in 2017 in a collaboration between the Royal Danish Library and the University of Copenhagen, so they can now finally be played, heard and enjoyed.
Charming works with a witty spirit
Although Heise was active in the high Romantic period, he was essentially a Classicist at heart. He sought to imbue his compositions with clarity, precision and transparency, which is evident in his charming string quartets. Though they were composed in Heise’s formative years, even the early quartets already shows that it has been made by a composer who is skilful in this genre.
The String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 are refined works with a humorous character. We hear elements reminiscent of Schubert, Mozart and Haydn, pervaded with Heise's entertaining and witty temperament.
String Quartet No. 3 significantly raises the level of ambition and moves away from the entertaining. The dramatic wingspan is expanded and in true Romantic
fashion, the qualms last until the end in the stormy last movement, with elements reminiscent of Nordic folk music.