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Playlist provides an introduction to the themes in ‘Peter Heise: The Song Edition’

Playlist provides an introduction to the themes in ‘Peter Heise: The Song Edition’

The pianist Christian Westergaard has organised Peter Heise’s almost 300 songs into no less than 11 CDs, each with its own particular theme. We have asked Westergaard to compile a playlist with one song from each theme, so as to provide an introduction to the mammoth release.

27 October 2021

The Peter Heise: The Song Edition release – much praised by reviewers – is with its 11 CDs one of the largest musical compilations ever released in Denmark. Christian Westergaard, who took the initiative for, and is the pianist on, the release has organised the 11 CDs on the basis of various themes.

To provide an introduction to the large release, we have asked Westergaard to select one song from each theme for the playlist Peter Heise: The Song Edition Condensed. Read more about the themes below.

Stream the playlist Peter Heise: The Song Edition Condensed.

Theme 11: Gudrun

The theme of the eleventh and last CD is 'Gudrun', named after Heise's song cycle Gudruns sorg (Gudrun's grief) with lyrics from the old Nordic Edda. On the playlist, one can hear Johanne Højlund sing the English translation of the sixth of these songs, Then said Gudrun, Gjuki’s daughter.

»The Song Edition was initated with a woman's story and ends with a woman's story, here seen in contrast to the violence of the male sagas. Heise's psychological masterpiece is presented here in both the Danish original edition and in an English translation that hopefully brings Heise out into the international world, where his ingenious songs belong«, says Christian Westergaard.

Theme 10: The Initiation

The tenth CD bears the name 'The Initiation': »How did Peter become Heise, Denmark's great songwriter? Very aptly, we in the Royal Library's archives have found the young Peter's song for Schack Staffelt's iconic poem The Initiation (Indvielsen), which heralds Romance in Danish literature«, Christian Westergaard says about the theme. »Hear The Initation and Heise's songs to another of Romance's banner bearers, Oehlenschlæger, including an early highlight in Heise's song treasure: Gulnares aftensang. Follow a master's first but sure step.«

Gulnares aftensang, which can be heard on the playlist, is sung by Bo Kristian Jensen.

Theme 9: Visions

'Visions' is the title of the ninth CD, referring to Heise's romantically and dreamy songs with the title Farlige Drømme (Dangerous Dreams). On the CD, the six songs in the collection is recorded in both Danish and German, and for the playlist, Christian Westergaard has selected Gefährliche Träume: No. 2, Die Wiese sich breitet, dem Moore nah, sung by Bo Skovhus. 

»How big a star could Heise have become in Germany, the great motherland of the lied genre?« asks Christian Westergaard. »Perhaps just as great as his masterpiece of small Drachmann aphorisms, the six swarming moments that make up his Farlige Drømme. What if Farlige Drømme had been in German? Listen to this dream experiment, where the sight of the international Heise reappears.«

Theme 8: Narrative poems and vaudeville

The eighth CD carries the title 'Narrative poems and vaudeville' and presents a lighter side to Heise's song production. On the playlist, the theme can be heard in the song Viser og sange fra ‘En nat mellem fjeldene’: No. 4, Stev, sung by Astrid Nordstad and Aleksander Nohr. 

Christian Westergaard says: »'The big in the small' could be a fitting motto when Heise expresses himself in the poetic form of the narrative poem and in the entertaining and light theatre genre vaudeville. Peter Heise could be light and fun when that was the case, so come onboard for an entertaining ride with Heise the charmer.« 

Theme 7: Dyveke

The theme of the seventh CD is 'Dyveke', with reference to Heise's The Songs of Dyveke. For the playlist, Christian Westergaard has selected No. 4, Wild, wild, wild braust, ihr Weste!, sung in German by Clara Cecilie Thomsen. 

»Peter Heise could have done as Edvard Grieg and had his songs published in Germany, the motherland of the song, in singable German translations«, says Christian Westergaard. »But Heise did not do that and his songs have been a Danish secret ever since. The year after Heise's death, Dyvekes Sange's own poet Holger Drachmann arranged for the lyrics to be translated into singable German, but the German version has never been particularly widespread and has not placed the perhaps strongest storytelling in Nordic songwriting a place on the international stage. Now the German Dyveke is recorded and ready to give the pigeon hawk wings.«

Theme 6: There be None of Beauty's Daughters

'There be None of Beauty's Daughters' is the title of the sixth CD. The theme can be heard in condensed form on track no. 6 with the song of the same name, sung by Adam Riis. Christian Westergaard says about the song:

»A visit to Peter Heise's manuscripts at the Royal Library in Copenhagen revealed that one of Heise's best known and absolutely most beautiful songs was possibly not written for a Danish translation, but for the original English poem by Lord Byron. And suddenly Peter Heise stands as an English songwriter.«

Theme 5: Kennst du das Land

The fifth CD carries the title 'Kennst du das Land'. From the CD, one can listen to the song Frühlingslied im Herbst (Vårsang i høst) on the playlist, sung by Elsa Dreisig.

»Schumann had Heine, Hugo Wolf had Mörike, Debussy and Faure had Verlaine - composers and poets in particularly close association. The list could also include Heise and Christian Winther« says Christian Westergaard. »Heise connected early on with Winther's verses singing after being put to music, and Heise put more of Winther's lyrics into music than any other poet. Winther's lyrics vibrate with anxiety and eroticism, always understated, always flawless.«

Theme 4: Echoes

'Echoes' is the theme of the fourth CD, which can be heard in condensed form in the song Ossians sang til aftenstjernen, sung by Lars Møller. The song is inspired by Heise's mentor Niels W. Gade's first opus, Echoes of Ossian.

»How did the fabled bard Ossian's song sound?« asks Christian Westergaard. »Many romantic composers, i.a. Heise's mentor Niels W. Gade, felt the longing for a music whose purity and power could carry into any future. Gade wrote his first opus as Echoes by Ossian, and as echoes of echoes stands one of Heise's most original and stand-alone songs, Ossians sang til aftenstjernen. The same key, the same archaic beauty and pride as in Gade's orchestral overture - purity, power and an homage to the older composer. Music of great impact created as a longing for a poet who was never more than a phantom.«

Theme 3: Images from the Golden Age

The third CD carries the title 'Images from the Golden Age'. The theme can be experienced in condensed form on track no. 3 on the playlist, that is 4 Folkeviser: No. 4, Husker du i høst sung by Bo Kristian Jensen. Christian Westergaard elaborates:

»You are standing at a museum, looking at a Danish Golden Age painting of rural everyday life. You take a scanning glance over the different situations depicted in the painting and linger at a young woman and man. This is the starting point of Peter Heise's and Carl Ploug's Husker du i høst, a perfect encounter between an unpretentious poem and Heise's masterly compositional craft: A simple melody you will remember after hearing it once.

The melody is repeted to every verse of the poem, but continues to open itself up with new possibilities to the specific contents of each verse. And as you move on to new pictures, the situation on that specific painting has burnt an impression of itself onto you eyelids. And the song won't leave your brain again.«

Theme 2: Erotic poems

The theme of the second CD is 'Erotic poems' which can be experienced in the song Erotische Gedichte (Sung in German) No. 1: An eine Freundind, which is track no. 2 on the playlist. Erotische Gedichte is sung by Jakob Bloch Jespersen. Christian Westergaard says about the theme:

»The second CD takes its title from Heise's collection of Emil Aarestrup's vivid depictions of the erotic moment, the snapshot of the sensation, the second which dies in a little while, but which gives everything, including death, its value. Heise's encounter with Aarestrup's musical verse becomes a highlight in his song-writing, and Til en veninde is perhaps the best love song any Danish classical composer has written.«                        

Theme 1: The North

The first CD has the theme of The North as its point of departure. The theme is present in condensed form in the song Bergliot No. 1: I dag Kong Harald må holde Tingfred, which on the release is sung by Johanne Thisted Højlund. Westergaard says this about the music to Bergliot:

“The first CD takes you on a tour of Heise’s Nordic universes: Finnish-Swedish folklore, Norway’s great writers, personally known to Heise, and finally a journey very close to reality into the distant past of the Kings’ Sagas: Peter Heise’s neglected masterpiece Bergliot, which on the release is sung by Johanne Thisted Højlund.”

Westergaard relates the following about the music for Bergliot:
“To me, his music for 
Bergliot is a time-machine back into the landscape of the sagas. The first song is an almost filmic inflight that gives me gooseflesh every single time. And from the first notes I am entranced by the story of a woman who is stronger than all the mighty men put together who surround her. It is Heise’s first great musical portrait of a woman. And, along with those which came later, a cornerstone in Nordic music.”

  • Peter Heise

    Peter Heise: The Song Edition