The symphonies and much of the chamber music of Niels Gade have been made available in multiple versions over the years, but one important area of the composer’s output that is not well represented on disc is his piano music. That’s what makes this release of a choice selection of Gade’s beautiful piano works so welcome. Danish pianist Christina Bjørkøe plays Gade’s Piano Sonata, Op. 28 and Aquarellen Opp. 19 & 57 on this excellent release from cpo.
Niels Wilhelm Gade (1817-1890) is considered the most important Danish composer from the first half of the 18th century. He was also a violinist, conductor and an influential teacher whose students included Carl Nielsen and Edvard Grieg. Having spent his early career in Copenhagen, he later moved to Leipzig, befriending Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann there. In 1844, Gade became assistant conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra where he conducted the premiere performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concero in E minor. When war broke out between Prussia and Denmark in 1848, he returned to Copenhagen, remaining there until his death in 1890.
Like Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words and Schumann’s Novellettes, Gade produced many brief character pieces for piano under the name Akvareller. There are three sets of these on this recording, occupying about half the total time of the CD. They are lovely examples of his work in the genre. In addition to the Akvareller and his Piano Sonata is a discarded movement from the sonata and a brief and beautiful Andantino. I have two short samples from the album for you to enjoy. They are the opening Humoreske of Aquarelle, Op. 57 and the aforementioned Andantino.
Gade was not a pianist himself and this music does not present to the performer the technical challenges of Schumann’s or Mendelssohn’s keyboard works. Nevertheless, it is music of uncomplicated beauty that will be a wonderful discovery for anyone who enjoys exploring the Romantic piano literature.
The Copenhagen-born pianist Christina Bjørkøe was awarded the Danish Music Prize for the best solo production of the year for her recording of piano music by Knudåge Riisager in 2005.
Niels Wilhelm Gade (22 February 1817 – 21 December 1890), composer
Gade was a Danish composer, conductor, violinist, organist and teacher. He is considered the most important Danish musician of his day.
He began his career as a violinist with the Royal Danish Orchestra, and saw his concert overture Efterklange af Ossian (“Echoes of Ossian”) premiered with them in 1841. When his first symphony was turned down for performance in Copenhagen, he sent it to Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn received the work positively, and conducted it in Leipzig in March 1843, to enthusiastic public reaction. Supported by a fellowship from the Danish government, Gade himself moved to Leipzig, teaching at the Conservatory there, working as an assistant conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and befriending Mendelssohn, who had an important influence on his music. In 1845 he conducted the premiere performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor.
At Mendelssohn’s death in 1847, Gade was appointed to his position as chief conductor but was forced to return to Copenhagen in the spring of 1848 when war broke out between Prussia and Denmark.
Christina Bjørkøe, piano
Christina Bjørkøe received her first piano lessons at the age of five with her mother. In 1978 she became a student of Therese coupling, she taught until 1990. She continued her studies at Seymour Lipkin at the Juilliard School in New York and continued with Anne Øland at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, where she made her debut as a soloist in 1987.
Christina Bjørkøe is an assistant professor at the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music Odense.
1987 and 1990 won Christina Bjørkøe each first prize in the “Steinway Competition”. In 1995, she represented Denmark as a finalist in the “Nordic Soloist Competition” in Reykjavík. She has received several awards and grants (eg the “Victor Borges Legat” in September 1994, the “Carl Nielsen Rejselegat” in June 1995, the “Bikubens Kammermusikpris” in August 1995, the “Annie og Eigil Harbys Fund” in October 1995 and the “Gladsaxe Music Award” in February 2000).