Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Biographies of Poets & Composers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Bach & Other Composers

Niels Wilhelm Gade (Composer)

Born: February 22, 1817 - Copenhagen, Denmark
Died: December 21, 1890 - Copenhagen, Denmark


The Danish composer, conductor, violinist, organist and teacher, Niels Wilhelm Gade, was born into a musical family; his father was a cabinetmaker who turned to making musical instruments. As his family was poor, Gade received no formal music schooling until he was 15. He studied violin with F.T. Wexschall, a violinist in the Royal Danish Orchestra, and theory and composition with Andreas Peter Berggreen. Berggreen was also a noted folklorist and passed along to Gade an interest in Danish folk music and literature. Gade made his debut as a violinist in 1833, and the following year became a junior player in the Royal Danish Orchestra.

His earliest compositions date from his teens. His official Op. 1, the overture Efterklange af Ossian (Echoes of Ossian, 1840), premiered with the Royal Danish Orchestra in 1841, was much praised and won Gade a Copenhagen Musical Society prize. When his Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 5 (1841-1842) was not accepted for performance in Denmark, Gade sent it to Felix Mendelssohn in Leipzig, who received the work positively, and conducted it in Leipzig in March 1843, to enthusiastic public reaction. That same year, Gade was given a government grant that allowed him to travel to Leipzig. He met F. Mendelssohn, who engaged him as assistant conductor of the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and as a teacher at the Leipzig Conservatory. Not surprisingly, many of Gade's compositions of the time, such as the Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 15 (1847), strongly reflect F. Mendelssohn's influence. In 1845 Gade conducted the premiere performance of F. Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor. He also became friends with Robert Schumann. After F. Mendelssohn's death in 1847, Gade became principal conductor of the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig but was forced to return to Copenhagen in the spring of 1848 when war broke out between Prussia and Denmark. In Copenhagen Gade became acquainted with the composer Cornelius Gurlitt, and they remained friends until the latter's death.

In Copenhagen Niels Gade became director of the Copenhagen Musical Society (a post he retained until his death); under his direction, the Music Society reached its peak. He was always very much engaged in Copenhagen's musical life, settled in to a career as the most prominent musician in Denmark. He conducted concerts, played the organ in churches, and provided music for ceremonial occasions. He also founded an orchestra and choir that in later years gave many significant performances, including the premieres of many of Gade's own compositions. He also worked as an organist; though he lost the prestigious position of organist at Copenhagen Cathedral to J.P.E. Hartmann, he served in the Church of Holmen in Copenhagen from 1850 until his death. In 1852 he married Emma Sophie Amalie Hartmann, the daughter of composer J.P.E. Hartmann, and composed two works for her: the Spring Fantasy, Op. 23 for voices, piano and orchestra; and as a wedding present, the Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 25. She died just a few years later, however, and Gade remarried in 1857.

Niels Gade was joint director of the Copenhagen Conservatory with J.P.E. Hartmann and Holger Simon Paulli. In 1866, he became the director of the new Copenhagen Academy of Music, where for many years he taught composition and music history. An important influence on a number of later Scandinavian composers, he encouraged and taught both Edvard Grieg and Carl Nielsen, as well as lesser figures such as Otto Malling, August Winding and Asger Hamerik. Gade’s teaching and administrative schedules allowed him to compose only during the summer months. He died in Copenhagen.


Niels Gade is considered the most important Danish musician of his day. His orchestral music includes eight symphonies, a Violin Concerto, several concert overtures, and the evocative A Summer’s Day in the Country (five pieces for orchestra). His chamber music includes the mature String Quartet in D, two string quintets, a String Sextet and String Octet, the Fantasiestücke for clarinet and piano, and three violin sonatas. Piano music by Gade, items of which once formed a general part of popular amateur repertoire, includes a Piano Sonata, Fantasy Pieces, and Akvareller (‘Water-Colours’) - attractive brief sketches.

Niels Gade specialized in cantatas (or as he sometimes called them, Koncertstykke ("concert pieces")) for soloists, chorus and orchestra, many taking their themes from Danish folklore. His vocal and choral music ranges from the Wagnerian Baldur’s Dream to the cantatas Zionand Psyche, Op. 60 (1881-1882), written for the Birmingham Festival, testimony to Gade’s international reputation. The earlier Comala (1846) reflects his interest in Ossian. Perhaps the most popular of these is Elverskud, Op. 30 (The Elf-King's Daughter, 1853), Scandinavian in choice of subject and treatment. These products, embraced post-1848 as works of Romantic nationalism, are sometimes based on Danish folklore. In his later music Gade’s nationalism was subsumed in the German musical idiom that he had experienced in Leipzig. Apparently Gade never rated Brudevalsen (The Bridal Waltz), and assigned it to the waste paper basket from where, it is rumoured, it was rescued by August Bournonville, to become an essential part of a Danish wedding.

Source: Wikipedia Website (May 2013); All Music Guide (Author: Chris Morrison)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (May 2013)

Niels Wilhem Gade: Short Biography | Bach-inspired Piano Works: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Niels Gade (Wikipedia)
Niels Gade - Biography (AMG)
Niels Wilhelm Gade (Dacapo Records)
Niels Wilhelm Gade - Bio (Naxos)

Gade Niels Wilhelm (Bärenreiter)
Niels W. Gade (Gyldendal - Den Store Danske) [Danish]
Niels Wilhelm Gade (Classical Archives)



Biographies of Poets & Composers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Bach & Other Composers


Back to the Top

Last update: Tuesday, June 20, 2017 23:30