During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the generation of Danish composers born in the 1860s started to make an impact. Among them, Fini Henriques, who had a special gift for beautiful, well-shaped melodies, and his popularity rested firmly on a generous output of single pieces, usually strung together in collections such as those presented here by Christina Bjørkøe. Billedbogen (The Picture Book) is a collection for children and proved one of his absolute bull’s eyes, whereas Erotik (Eroticism) and Melodiske profiler (Silhouettes) see the composer exploring the world of adult life. Henriques’s best works maintain a high level with their honesty and that brilliant touch which few of his contemporaries could rival.
The Charming Tempter
by Claus Røllum-Larsen
During the final two decades of the 19th century, the generation of Danish composers born in the 1860s began to make their impact. This was especially true of three names that made their mark in the stylistic renewal within instrumental music – in their distinctive and separate ways. The eldest of these, Louis Glass, devoted himself to piano music, chamber music and, in particular, the large late-Romantic symphonic form. The next-eldest, Carl Nielsen, mastered practically all current genres and soon distanced himself from the Romantic style – and thereby aesthetically from the fellow composers of his generation. The third and youngest was Fini Henriques, whose production comprised stage music, piano and chamber music and, in addition, a large number of songs. Furthermore, Fini Henriques had a veritable soloist career as a virtuoso violinist. Henriques’ development as a composer seems to have been easy, playful and completely carefree. Hardly one would guess, the whole truth, but this was the way in which a large section of the population viewed Fini, who became one of the best–known Danes of his age, one who appealed to practically everybody, high or low.
Valdemar Fini Henriques was born in Frederiksberg on 20 December 1867. He came from a prosperous home, one where music–making was a natural part of everyday life. At the age of seven, supported by his mother, he composed his first piano pieces, and from the age of eight, he had instruction in violin playing. After having been advised not to seek admission at the Royal Danish Academy of Music – its leader, Niels W. Gade, felt quite simply that it was not something for him – Fini Henriques became a pupil of the violinist and teacher Valdemar Tofte. To teach him the theory of music, he was given the Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen, who since 1883 had been the conductor of the Royal Danish Orchestra. During the 1888–91 period, he studied at the Königliche Preußische Hochschule für Musik in Berlin under the guidance of among others Woldemar Bargiel, and where Tofte’s teacher, the famous violinist Joseph Joachim, substantially raised the professional level that Henriques had reached during his violin studies in Copenhagen.
After having returned to Copenhagen, Fini Henriques went on a trip to Vienna, Dresden, Leipzig and Bayreuth on a grant from the Ancker Scholarship which he had been awarded in 1891. The following year, he became a member of the Royal Danish Orchestra, where he initially played as a violist until 1895, and then as a violinist until 1896. As this reveals, his stay was short-lived, for the compulsory work involved did not harmonise well with Fini’s restless temperament. On the other hand, he was extremely active within chamber music – founding his own string quartet, the Fini Henriques Quartet, which had a good reputation, and, in 1911, founding the chamber music association Musiksamfundet, of which he was chairman until 1931, and of which his string quartet formed the nucleus. Apart from occasional engagements as conductor for theatre orchestras, Henriques earned his living as a violin soloist. Although he mastered the great works, such as Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, to which he had written his own cadenzas, it was his performance at solo evenings, where he mixed his equilibristic playing with various gags, that made him known and loved. Fini Henriques died in Copenhagen on 27 October 1940.
Henriques’ oeuvre is comprehensive. Some of the main works in the larger genres are the opera Stærstikkeren (The Cataract Surgeon, 1926), the ballet Den lille havfrue (The Little Mermaid, 1909), the music for the melodrama Vølund Smed (Wayland the Smith, 1896) which he converted into an opera shortly before his death – as well as the music for the play Prinsessen og det halve kongerige (The Princess and Half the Kingdom, 1905). Among his works for orchestra and chamber ensemble are his Suite for Oboe and Strings (1894), String Quartet in A Minor (1910), Chamber Quartet for flute, violin, cello and piano (1937), the Chamber Duos for two violins and piano and the Violin Sonata in G Minor (1893, later revised and shortened). In addition, there are many piano works, works for violin and piano and numerous songs.
Apart from the stage music, it is mainly within the lesser formats that Fini Henriques has made an impact. The broad symphonic canvas was not for him. One gets a clear impression of this from listening to his one symphony. On the other hand, he was almost unrivalled in his ability to compose small pieces with a sharp characterisation – works with charm and warm-heartedness. This also applied to Fini as a person, so there was complete agreement between the man himself and his music. This is perhaps part of the explanation of the honesty and the brilliant touches that characterise his best works.
Of the works for piano, the majority are contained in collections which, broadly speaking, can be divided into music for children and music for adults. The former category comprises Billedbogen (The Picture Book, 1899), Miniature-Aquareller, op. 21 (Miniature Watercolours, 1900), Børne-Lyrik, op. 30 (Poems for Children, 1908),Melodisk album, op. 50 (Melodic Album, c. 1912) and Tommeliden (Tom Thumb, 1914) – a total of 106 pieces. The collections for adults comprise the early Aphorismer, op. 6 (Aphorisms, 1876ff.), Sex klaverstykker, op. 1 (Six Piano Pieces, 1888), Lyrik, op. 11 (Poetry, 1893), Erotik, op. 15 (Eroticism, 1896), Karakterstykker, op. 28 (Character Pieces, 1905) and Melodiske profiler, op. 38 (Silhouettes, 1911) – a total of 55 pieces. The main emphasis, then, is on music for children. Of the collections contained on this release, Billedbogen and Erotik were written in the late 1890s – a musically fruitful period for Henriques, during which the weighty music for Vølund Smed was composed. Melodiske profiler, on the other hand, is from 1911, i.e. it comes in the wake of the comprehensive score for Den lille havfrue, which had its premiere shortly after Christmas 1909.
Fini Henriques played and composed from childhood onwards. The small piece with the title Jeg elsker (I love) from Aphorismer, op. 6 was written when he was nine years old. Twenty years later, he was able to present his collection with the catchy title Erotik, op. 15 (Eroticism). In 1886, Grieg had composed his Lyriske stykker (Lyric Pieces, op. 43), where one of the pieces also has the title Erotik. And three years earlier, in Copenhagen 1883, Emil Sjögren in Copenhagen had published his collection of piano pieces, Erotikon. Fini Henriques is sure to have known these two collections, and he would seem to let one of his pieces allude to them with the title Valse d’amour. The introductory piece, Melodie, with its mobile harmonics and intimate expression, is typical of Henriques. Even so, it is probably Papillon (Butterfly) that is the most original piece of the collection. Fini does not portray the butterfly as a slightly flighty, fluttering being, as Grieg does in his Lyriske stykker from op. 43; in Henriques’ piece it is the butterfly’s supernatural lightness and graciously quivering being that one encounters. The piano piece seems to be influenced by Franz Liszt’s piano style, with tremolos and equilibristic broken chords.
There can hardly be any doubt that the collection Billedbogen is one of the composer’s absolute bull’s eyes. The original title was Billedbogen. Tyve Billeder af Børnelivet fortalte for Gamle og Unge af Fini Henriques (The Picture Book. Twenty Picture of Childhood Life told for Young and Old by Fini Henriques). The work is a continuation of, in the first instance, Robert Schumann’s Album für die Jugend, op. 68 from 1848. And yet Fini’s 20 small pieces display an originality that gives them a special place in the Danish piano music of the period.
Already in the introductory piece for two voices, ABC, we note his ability to create charming and yet effortless musical sequences using simple means. Den lille jockey (The Little Jockey) is a fine continuation of the numerous Romantic “riding pieces”, such as theReiterstück in Schumann’s collection. Also original is the piece Bolden (The Ball), which bounces around and is clearly hard to “catch”. Among the most beautiful are Hjemve (Homesickness) with its gentle harmonic fluctuation, and På moders skød (On Mother’s Lap), which yet again shows Fini Henriques’ flair for the perfectly simple that nevertheless contains a fine little world of delicate sounds and expressive movement of the parts. It is hardly surprising that Fini often had excerpts from Billedbogen included in his concert programmes as a violinist with pianoforte accompaniment. At such performances in all corners of Denmark he often took over the piano and played about half a dozen of the pieces in an order chosen specially for the occasion, and – as can be heard on the preserved recordings with Henriques – he then often took liberties by spontaneously “improving the pieces a little” or “making them a little longer”.
Melodiske profiler , op. 38 (Silhouettes) appeared in two booklets, each containing 10 pieces. These are not the best known of Henriques’ works, but they absolutely deserve our attention. Here we are in a different universe from that of Billedbogen. And yet he seems to grab the popular children’s collection and from there move out into adult life. The first piece,Vedbend (Ivy), recalls slightly the mood of the introductory piece ABC from Billedbogen, but in the course of the twenty individual pieces, we pass through a great catalogue of moods and types of pieces. Sorgens vals (Valse triste) is characterised at the beginning and end by distinctive harmonics: static and monotonous, while the middle section has a boulevard-like mood. Gedebuk (The Playful Goat) is a fine example of Fini Henriques’ ability to deliver a sharply drawn characterisation – here, an unpredictable billy-goat. The final piece of the collection, Resignation, allows us glimpses of what he perhaps might have further developed in his works. There is a clear broadening of the harmonic dimension which could possibly have marked the way to a completely new style. But it remained just a hint, for Fini rarely allowed himself to be tempted by the harmonic “excesses” of his age.
Claus Røllum-Larsen, senior researcher at the Royal Danish Library, 2019.