King Frederik IX Conducts
King Frederik IX Conducts
The Danish King Frederik IX's (1899-1972) preoccupation with music must be described as atypical, in fact, unique for a member of a royal house, since it is hardly possible to cite other examples of ruling monarchs with orchestral conducting as their favourite pastime. As a conductor, King Frederik IX was self-taught, yet he favoured technically difficult challenges in the great symphonic repertoire; in particular music from Wagner's operas gave the King's musical activities a certain aura. This limited edition set celebrates the close monarch/orchestra relationships between King Frederik IX and the Royal Danish Orchestra and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.
King Frederik IX as Conductor
by Claus Røllum-Larsen
For centuries artistic and musical activities were part of everyday life in the great princely houses of Europe. Usually, such artistic expression belonged to private life, and only became public to a limited extent; but in some cases, the contributions to cultural history were so striking that the princely artist made a name for himself and stepped out of the private sphere with his works. Two such striking cases were the Swedish Prince Eugene, whose painting was already highly regarded by his contemporaries, and in music King Frederick the Great of Prussia, who won fame in musical history both as a patron of the arts and as a composer. For these and innumerable other prominent royal artists, their artistic work could, in reality, be kept within the private sphere and as such could avoid the public criticism that is normally the lot of an artist, for better or for worse.
The Danish King Frederik IX’s preoccupation with music must be described as atypical, in fact, unique for a member of a royal house, since it is hardly possible to cite other examples of ruling monarchs whose favourite pastime was orchestral conducting. That the work of conducting, even if it is sporadic, requires a large number of other participants goes without saying, and King Frederik IX’s cultivation of music was indeed a rare combination of something extremely private and something to some extent public since only a few chosen spectators were able to watch the King work with the orchestras, while a considerable number of the Danish professional orchestral musicians of the day were able to make music with the King. This paradox, and the fact that as a conductor King Frederik IX, although self-taught, favoured technically difficult challenges in the great symphonic repertoire, in particular music from Wagner’s operas, gave the King’s unusual musical activities a certain aura. At the same time, the musicians always had the most profound respect for the humility the King showed at rehearsals and private concerts. This is the clear impression that is confirmed by the musicians who worked with the King, and it is a description that accords well with the general view of his personality.
A Lively Interest in Musical Life
Frederik IX was born at Sorgenfri Palace on 11 March 1899 as the eldest son of Prince Christian and Princess Alexandrine. It was not from his father, King Christian X, that Prince Frederik had inherited his musicality. As barrister Eugen Olsen is once said to have remarked that the King was unable to sing:
‘No one, at any rate, has ever heard him do so.’ Despite this, music had a central place in the home, since Princess Alexandrine played the piano and in general, had a lively interest in musical life both inside and outside Denmark’s borders. She often went to concerts and gave musical life her support, including being a patroness of various concert organisations, in particular the Musical Association, Aarhus Philharmonic Society and the Danish Richard Wagner Association. Also, she was a frequent guest at the Bayreuth Festival, as she was a great admirer of Richard Wagner.
The princess did not get her musicality from strangers either. Her mother, Anastasia, later Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, was born Grand Duchess Anastasija Michailovna of Russia. Her family, the House of Romanov, included various musical personages, and the grand duchess herself was greatly interested in music, especially opera, and the theatre. Queen Alexandrine’s father, Grand Duke Friedrich-Franz III gained merit for having ensured that the major music festivals in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, which had been established at the beginning of the 19th century, could be revived in 1860 and continued to thrive. Like his wife, he was an admirer of Richard Wagner, and in 1882, the year before Wagner’s death, the couple paid a visit to Wagner and his wife, Cosima. It is thus apparent that Queen Alexandrine grew up in a musical family as well as in the residential capital of the Duchy, Schwerin, where musical culture flourished at both music festivals and the opera and where Wagner’s works were presented early on.
When young, Queen Alexandrine had received instruction in piano-playing, and to such an extent that she had a piano teacher both at home in Schwerin and in Cannes on the French Riviera, where the family had its summer residence, ‘Villa Wenden’. We are fortunate enough to have a description of the Queen’s piano-playing – the writer Else Moltke wrote as follows in 1937: ‘To sight-read, to shape the material with musical talent, great astuteness and a sure sense of taste – the princess had been born with this ability and she developed it with perseverance and industry.’
Although it was undoubtedly the influence of his mother that encouraged the musical interests and activities of Frederik IX, it should be mentioned that on his father’s side too a strong musical tradition can be demonstrated. For example, his paternal grandmother, the Swedish-born Queen Louise, and his great-grandmother, King Christian IX’s queen Louise, who came from Hessen, were both very interested in music.
The young Prince Frederik was by no means pressed to play a musical instrument, but in 1911 Crown Princess Alexandrine considered the time was ripe to engage a piano teacher for him. The choice fell on Lizzy Hohlenberg, who for the next six years introduced the Prince, who on the accession of his father, Christian X, in 1912, had become Crown Prince, to the literature of the piano. At an early stage, a warm friendship arose between the teacher and her pupil, and even after the actual piano teaching had stopped, the Crown Prince and Lizzy Hohlenberg met to play piano duets.
A quite crucial event occurred on 16th March 1913. In the evening Queen Alexandrine had taken her eldest son to the Royal Danish Theatre for a performance of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt with Edvard Grieg’s music. The Queen had brought along the score for the stage music, and the experience of this and the instruments of the orchestra, and perhaps the combination of the sounds with the printed music, made a great impression on the Prince. The conductor for the evening was the Royal Danish Orchestra’s kapellmeister Georg Høeberg, and after a Royal Danish Orchestra concert two years later, the Queen and Crown Prince Frederik contacted Høeberg to ask him if he would have a talk with the young music-lover: ‘He is so interested in music’, as the Queen said. Høeberg agreed, and in the years ahead he and the Crown Prince met frequently to talk about music, including interpretations of the great masterpieces. At no point, however, did these meetings develop into lessons in conducting. At a very early stage, the Crown Prince had in fact set his heart on conducting but putting this into practice was not so straightforward. An opportunity was to arise, however.
At the palace of Amalienborg, Queen Alexandrine liked to play piano duets, and in 1915, with this as a basis, she gathered a small group of musical family members, friends or close members of the court, who came to function as a whole small orchestra. It was with this ensemble Crown Prince Frederik rehearsed and conducted several works ranging from opera overtures to Beethoven’s 1st Symphony. At one of the first concerts, Joseph Haydn’s Children’s Symphony was on the programme. One of the members of the orchestra, Aage Hannover, has given an amusing description of the concert in his diary, at which the conductor’s father, Christian X, was present: ‘The King, who sat in the front row, was in excellent humour and cried out encore and da capo, and when the Crown Prince was about to start on a new section of the symphony, he called out: Let us have a few pauses, and when that did not help: Oh, oh, that didn’t help either. In the Marche funèbre, when those playing comb-and-paper rose to their feet during their solo, the King also got up, which meant that everyone else also had to – it looked extremely amusing.’
There can be no doubt that for the individual members of the orchestra it was a both enjoyable and honourable affair to play under the Crown Prince’s baton. For one of them, one of Christian X’s Aides-de-Camp, C.A. Kraft, there was another important reason for taking part in the work of the orchestra. For Kraft, as the historian Tage Kaarsted mentions in his doctoral thesis, apart from serving under the King, was linked to the intelligence service of supreme high command, and during the Easter Crisis, a political crisis in 1920, Kraft functioned as an intermediary between the circle around Lieutenant-Colonel With and the King. By this time, Kraft was no longer an ADC, but via his participation in the Crown Prince’s small orchestra he had access to the King and in that way was able to pass on news from the With circle.
Not Only Skilled Amateurs
Right up until 1921, the Crown Prince worked together with this small orchestra, but to expand both his repertoire and his prowess as a conductor, the Crown Prince began to conduct gramophone recordings. He thus came to carry out concerts lasting up to a couple of hours, solely based on gramophone records. For practical reasons, he marked in his score where the records would have to be turned or exchanged. This was no small project at a time when shellac records imposed strict limits on playing time!
It was not only skilled amateurs the Crown Prince was able to work with. At an early juncture, he contacted the Band of the Royal Lifeguards, and it soon became a regular tradition for him to conduct the ensemble in a concert on his birthday. The young conductor performed with the Band of the Navy too, but many years were to pass before the Crown Prince had the chance to play the role of conductor with a symphony orchestra.
Crown Prince Frederik first visited the Bayreuth Festival in 1927. He was accompanied on his journey by his mother, and during his stay, he also met his maternal aunt, Crown Princess Cecilie of Prussia, and his maternal uncle, Grand Duke Friedrich Franz IV. In the Crown Prince’s copy of Das Handbuch für Festspielbesucher for the year 1927, one can find crosses against all the cast lists, which possibly indicates that the Crown Prince was present all of the season’s six productions: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Tristan and Isolde and Parsifal. During his visit to Bayreuth, Crown Prince Frederik incidentally also met Richard Wagner’s daughter-in-law, Winifred Wagner.
In 1938, the Royal Danish Orchestra, the trustees of its Pensions Fund and the Royal Danish Orchestra Society decided at a meeting to ask Crown Prince Frederik whether he would take over the patronage of the so-called Widows’ Pensions Fund Concerts, and on the same occasion, they offered him the chance to conduct one of the rehearsals for the upcoming Royal Danish Orchestra concert. The Crown Prince accepted the offer and thus for the first time conducted the Royal Danish Orchestra on 9th March 1938. The programme consisted of the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique, and the Prelude to Wagner’s opera The Master-Singers of Nuremberg. And thus, a tradition had been founded, since the Orchestra continued, until the death of the King, to hold an annual private concert with him wielding the baton. The event had the character of a birthday present and was thus placed as close to 11th March as possible.
The first collaboration between the Crown Prince and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra took place on 3 May 1941. On the programme was one of the prince’s favourite works, Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony. Contact with the orchestra was renewed twice as early as the following year. In June, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony was performed, and in October it was the turn of Weber’s Euryanthe Overture. The collaboration continued in June 1943, when the Crown Prince had chosen to rehearse Sibelius’ Second Symphony – one of the few works from the 20th century which was included in his predominantly classical and German Romantic repertoire.
It Must Be Cavalleria!
In the late summer of 1943, the political situation under the Occupation developed in such a way that collaboration with the orchestras had to cease, and it was not until summer 1945 that the Crown Prince was able once more to take up with cooperation with the orchestras.
After World War II, the collaboration with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra became a permanent and important part of the King’s activities as a conductor. As was the case with the Royal Danish Orchestra, the King was invited to conduct one or more private concerts each year. This allowed him to nurture the repertoire that was closest to his heart: Beethoven’s symphonic works and orchestral pieces from Wagner’s operas. This enabled him to perform no less than seven of Beethoven’s symphonies with the Royal Danish Orchestra and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. In this connection, it can be noted that the Pastoral Symphony was on the programme no less than four times, and in 1959 the Ninth Symphony was performed – though with the omission of the choral finale.
Shortly after the Occupation, Crown Prince Frederik was to have his most demanding assignment to date as a conductor – one that perhaps was the most demanding he ever attempted and that marked a climax of his conducting career. The Crown Prince had received an invitation from the theatre director Cai Hegermann-Lindencrone to conduct an afternoon performance at the Royal Danish Theatre, and the Crown Prince’s immediate reply was: ‘In that case, it must be Cavalleria!’. As early as 1909, he had attended a performance of Pietro Mascagni’s one-act opera Cavalleria Rusticana at the Royal Danish Theatre, since when it had occupied ‘a large place in his heart as a musician’.
The opera was part of the repertoire of the theatre, and Egisto Tango carried out the musical rehearsals, but it is impressive that after a few piano rehearsals and a dress rehearsal, the Crown Prince managed to leave his imprint on the performance to such a degree than the interpretation differed considerably from Tango’s. In the daily newspaper Politiken, one could read the following about the performance, which took place on 14 March 1946: ‘The performance went off excellently. The Crown Prince proved to be an extremely knowledgeable opera conductor, with an interesting and personal interpretation of Mascagni’s work.’
It has been mentioned earlier that Frederik IX throughout his time as Crown Prince had wished to keep his musical activities within the sphere of his private life. Only on one occasion was this principle not strictly adhered to. In 1948, the United Nations was at the head of a large collection campaign in aid of refugees after the end of the Second World War, and in this connection, King Frederik and the Royal Danish Orchestra placed themselves at the disposal of the organisation, since a set of gramophone records, often known as the TONO records – now available in this CD box – was to be recorded and raffled off as lottery prizes in support of the refugee collection. It should, however, be emphasised that even though the King thus appeared in public as a conductor, it was nevertheless in the form of an incognito, since the King’s name does not figure on the records; only the crowned royal monogram on the labels indicates who the conductor is.
In 1952 King Frederik participated in the festivities for the seventieth birthday of his father-in-law King Gustav VI Adolf of Sweden. At a concert at the Swedish Royal Theatre in Stockholm the King, as a birthday present for the Swedish King, conducted a programme consisting exclusively of Wagner compositions, with the soloists Brita Hertzberg and Joel Berglund. Although the banquet and thus the concert thus had a certain private character, it was attended by several Swedish music critics, who in their reviews of the concert emphasized the Danish king’s evident love of the music and his familiarity with the score. In the newspaper Morgontidningen, one could read for example: ‘His leadership of the orchestra was assured, and his understanding of what he played was personal. On the conductor’s stand, too, he was an extraordinarily charming revelation.’
The Crown Prince conducted several concerts with the Tivoli Concert Hall Orchestra during the 1940s, and in 1955 the King was for a single concert at the head of the Aarhus City Orchestra. But the great majority of the concerts took place in collaboration with either the Royal Danish Orchestra or the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. The King continued to work with these two orchestras as late as until March 1971 – only nine months before he died. The succession of soloists who played under the King’s baton includes Danish artists like Johanne Stockmarr, Elvi Henriksen and Charles Senderovitz as well as the international soloists Edwin Fischer and Wolfgang Schneiderhan. It was a quite special event, too, on 8th March 1970, when the King conducted the Royal Danish Orchestra in the middle movement of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with his son-in-law Prince Henrik as soloist.
The King’s Repertoire
King Frederik’s repertoire very clearly reflects his musical taste. In 62 registered concerts, 107 programme items were performed, amounting to 51 different works by 18 composers. Of the total number of performances, works of Beethoven and Wagner alone account for almost half – the two composers are represented by 36 and 17 performances respectively. Then comes Tchaikovsky with nine performances and Schubert and Weber with six each. Of Beethoven, the King performed all the symphonies except No. 4 and the last movement of the Ninth. The Wagner works were orchestral pieces from the dramatic works, with the Prelude and Isolde’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde as an absolute favourite. Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony was conducted by Crown Prince Frederik with the Orchestra of the Tivoli Concert Hall in 1943 and with the Royal Danish Orchestra in 1947. Kuhlau’s Overture to Elverhøj (Elves’ Hill) was on the programme of a concert with the Tivoli Orchestra in 1945, and of two concerts with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in 1945 and 1952. Lumbye’s Drømmebilleder (Dream Pictures) was conducted by the Crown Prince with the Orchestra of the Tivoli Concert Hall in 1945 and with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in 1948. By all indications, the King only conducted Lumbye’s Salute to August Bournonville in December 1948 in connection with the recording of the TONO charity records. The other works in the set were recorded in the same month.
The King’s repertoire concentrated mainly on musical works composed in the 19th century – in fact, the repertoire only includes two works from the 18th century: Selections from W.A. Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and his Symphony No. 40 in G minor. Only three works date from the 20th century: Jean Sibelius’ Second Symphony, composed in 1901-1902, Giacomo Puccini's opera Gianni Schicchi from 1918, and Hakon Børresen’s prelude to the opera The Royal Guest from 1919.
Brought a Magnetic Tape Along
In conclusion, a brief mention should be made of the procedure that underlay the King’s orchestral rehearsals and concerts. The rehearsals for the Danish National Symphony Orchestra were usually held on Saturday mornings between 10 am and 1 pm, with a coffee break of 20 minutes, during which the King sat with the management of the orchestra, the concertmasters and the head of music. The concert was normally held that same afternoon. A memorandum concerning the King’s concerts with the Royal Danish Orchestra reveals that here too the rehearsals were usually held on Saturday mornings between 9.30 am and 12 noon, followed by a concert at 2 pm. Sometimes the King also brought a magnetic tape along with him: ‘[Apart from his baton] the Royal conductor has with him the score and the tape that is taken up to the technicians’ room for the wire-recorder. During the morning of the real concert, the entire concert is recorded, and the King can take the recorded tape home with him. He has reproduction equipment at the palaces of Amalienborg and Fredensborg, and at Gråsten Castle.’ This could be read in Aftenbladet, 17 May 1952.
The few listeners invited to be the audience at King Frederik IX’s private concerts with both orchestras have related that there was a very distinctive atmosphere, characterised by a joy of music-making. It was here that the King could test his interpretations in a professional milieu, and where he was also able to experience the dedication of the musicians and enjoy their sympathetic understanding. This box set hands on a selection of recordings from a number of these concerts.
From Gramophone Record to Compact Disc
by Claus Byrith
Today it is widely assumed that the hard-pressed situation in which the record companies found themselves during the final years of World War II returned fairly quickly to normal. This is only partially true. The number of releases increased swiftly, but the quality of the individually pressed records varied considerably because of the raw materials situation, which for several years was typified by shortages. Supplies of pressing material from abroad were subject to rigorous restrictions from the Ministry of Supply, which kept an eye on the country’s currency reserves, which were rather low and under pressure.
It was not until after 1950 that conditions can be referred to as normal. This situation meant that newly released gramophone records were pressed using material that was mixed with old, melted-down records which partly consisted of less fine-grained shellac and partly were polluted by dirt and dust and, not infrequently, bits of labels. This led to surfaces with a lot of noise and often blisters, formed by impurities that swelled up during the pressing process. King Frederik IX’s TONO gramophone records with the Royal Danish Orchestra (CD I) are no exception.
However, the pressing matrices found in the Royal Danish Library's collection are made of metal and can be regarded as dies which are pressed down into the warm shellac, thereby forming the grooves. In other words, the grooves on the matrix are not depressions but ‘mountain ridges’. To be able to play such a matrix, one, therefore, has to use a needle that does not go down into a groove but, on the contrary, can ride on such a ‘mountain crest’. The collection consisted of matrices from the record labels His Master’s Voice and Columbia, all unreleased. However, after the transfer of all of these, a small pile of TONO press matrices appeared. They turned out to be the complete set for the pressing of King Frederik IX’s TONO recordings from 1948. When these were played, one had a result that far surpassed the previously released reissues – practically all the noise was gone and the clarity of the sound was far more satisfying, even though the matrices also showed signs of having been stored under less than favourable conditions.
A few words about the two Weber overtures from 1942 and 1946 (CD IV) also seem necessary in this context. While the Euryanthe Overture from 1942 is of a quality that very well corresponds to the best possible at the time of recording, perhaps except for the middle section, where the background noise is louder than in the outer parts of the piece, the sound quality of the Der Freischütz Overture is somewhat poorer than what one might have expected. The reason for this is that the recording level is extremely low, so there is a tendency for the noise to be ‘mixed up’ in the quieter passages. It is clearly audible that these passages are muzzy, whereas the louder ones sound reasonably good. However, it is natural for these recordings to be included here, despite their deficiencies, because they are the earliest recordings with King Frederik IX and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra to which we have access. They thus represent an important step in King Frederik IX’s development as a conductor.
The recordings with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra (CD II-III) were all made in the Concert Hall of Danmarks Radio in Copenhagen (now the Concert Hall of the Academy). They are all of high quality, considering when they were recorded. However, they were not all made in the same way: Before 1950, tape-recording technology was not common, so Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture, Gade’s Echoes of Ossian and Grieg’s The Last Spring were not recorded first on tape but cut directly on gramophone records which turned at 78 rpm and had a maximum playing time of 4.5 minutes. This meant of course that the works filled several record sides.
The procedure was that the microphone signal was conducted at the same time to two cutting machines. Machine No. 2 was then started in good time before Machine No. 1 ran out. It was normal to have an overlap of a half to three-quarter of a minute. When the recordings were to be played for broadcasting purposes, two gramophones were used in the same way, and Gramophone No. 2 was started at the point where Cutting Machine No. 2 had been started. This can be read off on the records, which were given a synchronization mark between the grooves at this point. When both gramophones were running, one could thus go from No. 1 to No. 2 to get the music reproduced without breaks or overlapping. However, it is not so straightforward a matter to carry out this manoeuvre with complete accuracy, and on the tape recordings of the original records that formed the basis for the production of the present CDs, the side changes are in many cases audible. On the CDs, this has been corrected everywhere possible, and they can now only be heard faintly in a couple of cases. After the transition to magnetic tape technology this problem disappeared, since the playing time now became around half an hour per reel. The recordings on this CD thus reflect the technological revolution ushered in by magnetic tape around 1950.