Works for Violin and Piano
Works for Violin and Piano
During the last two decades of the 19th century, the generation of Danish composers born in the 1860s started to make an impact. Among them was Fini Henriques, who also had a veritable soloist career as a violin virtuoso and became one of best-known Danes of his age, appealing to virtually everyone, both high and low. Johannes Søe Hansen and Christina Bjørkøe explore here his shorter pieces for violin and piano, both individual pieces and those in the collections Kleine bunte Reihe and Novelletter (Novelettes). Short pieces with a sharp characterisation – works with charm, warm-heartedness and gravity.
With Honesty and a Brilliant Touch
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.
Apart from the violin sonata, Fini Henriques has only written shorter pieces for the violin. Some of them have been included in collection, two of which have been recorded in their entirety on this release. These are Kleine bunte Reihe, op. 20 and Novelletter, op. 26 (Novelettes). The former was published in 1899, the same year as Billedbogen (The Picture Book). The German title can be translated: Small mixed series or collection. The introductory piece, Hyrdedrengen (The Shepherd Lad), is a quiet, evocative character piece, while Pantomime is downright cheerful.Nikke-dukker (Yes-men) is full of elegance and refinement. Menuetto is one of the works where one at times feels a certain affinity to Carl Nielsen. The extremely short Myggedans (Mosquito Dance) was one of the regular numbers on Fini Henriques’ solo performances around the country. A highly original piece, it allows the violinist to hold his audience spellbound. The final piece of Kleine bunte Reihe has the popular title Erotik (Eroticism), but unlike Erotikon, dealt with below, this piece feels subdued, almost resigned.
The collection Novelletter, op. 26 (Novelettes), is from 1905. The four pieces it contains diverge considerably from the pieces already discussed. In this collection, Henriques makes no compromises: here there are no effects for the sake of virtuosity or traits from salon music. Nor do the individual pieces have names. The novelettes are dedicated to the French-born master violinist and composer Henri Marteau, who visited Copenhagen in the mid-1890s, and who succeeded Fini Henriques’ violin teacher Joseph Joachim as professor at the Königliche Preußische Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. Incidentally, Carl Nielsen got to know Marteau and dedicated his Sonata for Violin and Piano, A Minor, op. 9 to him in 1895. We do not know if, and if so when, Henriques met Marteau, but it is certain that the serious nature of the pieces and the considerable technical demands must derive from a wish to have Marteau include them in his repertoire. Whether this actually came about is a matter of conjecture.
The stylistic expression of Novelletter differs a great deal from that of the individual pieces in Kleine bunte Reihe. The four pieces are quite short – lasting 3-4 minutes – but compressed in terms of material and in general charged with great energy and drive. While Fini Henriques, in a certain sense, is the composer of lovely, well-shaped melodies, he displays a side of himself in Novelletter that seldom found expression. In the outer sections of the first piece, a four-note motif in semiquavers occurs repeatedly, first in the melody, later also in the accompaniment. The motif is exposed in the violin in bar 13, and right towards the end it is extremely prominent. The second piece is dreamlike in a kind of ‘1890s style’, i.e. with dark harmonies also found in works by Louis Glass and Carl Nielsen, but already in the third piece, which has almost a ‘fiddler’ feel to it, the four-note motif reappears in bar 3, only to take a break in the ultra-short intermediate section and then return with great strength and conclude the piece in unison in both instruments in forte fortissimo. The motif occurs once more in the fourth and final piece, but here it is gradually suppressed and is absent from the conclusion to the piece. The short motif is identical to the beginning of the Dies Irae melody in the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. The fact is mentioned here because this melody – or rather sections of its opening – have been used from the Romantic period well into the 20th century as recognisable motif material that refers to a greater or lesser degree – often none at all – to where the melody originally comes from. What induced Henriques to use this work and whether or not it refers to Dies Irae, must, however, remain uncertain.
Ballerina , op. 51 from 1921 is an example of the elegant character piece that expands the expressive aspect considerably, with the violinist making use of both double stoppings and harmonics. One senses that Edvard Grieg discreetly raises his head here and there, which is not so strange since Grief was a considerable source of inspiration to the 1860s generation of Danish composers; this applies to the rhythmical, melodic and harmonic qualities of Grieg’s music. Canzonetta, op. 27 was composed as early as 1905, and it offers sophisticated harmonic touches in contrast to the elegant, cheerful outer sections of the piece. Erotikon, op. 56, like Ballerina, is from 1921 and it has a highly expressive melodic quality which seems to portray both the simpler and more profound aspects of the title of the piece. Hexedansen (Witches’ Dance) is a virtuoso piece where the violinist once more makes use of various ways of playing the instrument. It is not difficult to imagine that pieces like these, where a Hungarian touch also adds colour to the music, have satisfied Fini Henriques. One finds the same qualities in Mazurka, op. 35 from 1911 – one of his best-known pieces.
Nordisk dans (Nordic Dance) and Petite Valse are from the years around 1920: the first piece, unlike most of Henriques’ violin pieces, has a calmly, “rolling” pulse, while the other piece is more reminiscent of the elegant, piquant and carefree salon music of the time. The beautifully spun-out and euphonious Religioso, op. 34 also approaches salon music and presumably, in a quiet fashion, depicts how religious thought could be both slightly harrowing and invite reflection. Fini Henriques wrote a number of instrumental romances. Romance, op. 43 is a generously scaled piece with a violent culmination half-way through, while Romance, op. 50 (Late Summer) in D Minor from 1909 is a singable, delectable, and far more simply organised piece. Singable too is the piece called Sorg (Grief), and with good reason, for Henriques here makes use of his own popular song tune of the time Det døende barn (The Dying Child), ‘Mother, I am tired, I would be sleeping’, from 1899, to a poem by Hans Christian Andersen.
Fini Henriques is, however, probably best-known for his lullaby, Wiegenlied, and it was this genre that he mastered to an extent few others could hope to rival. He wrote a number of lullabies – one, for example, is included in both the piano collection Billedbogen (The Picture Book) and Børne-Lyrik (Poems for Children), and there is a further one in Miniature-Akvareller (Miniature Watercolours), apart from the two pieces for violin and piano recorded here: Berceuse and Wiegenlied. The latter, which also exists in a piano version, is probably Fini Henriques’ most-played piece. It develops naturally and beautifully in its melodious phrases, and – typically for the composer – the harmonic setting for "the song" is exquisite.
Claus Røllum-Larsen, senior researcher at the Royal Danish Library, 2019.