The music of Niels W. Gade is largely neglected, particularly in the United States. Even though he was 19th century Denmark's most famous composer, Gade is relatively unknown, despite the fact there are some wonderful recordings available for a number of his works.
In what might well be a first for Salt Lake City, violinist Hasse Borup and pianist Heather Conner team up to perform all three of Gade's violin sonatas today in Libby Gardner Concert Hall as part of the University of Utah's ongoing Sundays@7 concert series.
Borup and Conner met with the Deseret Morning News recently to discuss the program.
"These sonatas are absolutely striking," Borup said. "There is so much in them. And you can see how Gade developed as a composer."
The three violin sonatas span Gade's entire creative life. The first was written when the composer was a young man living in Germany, while the last was composed a few years before his death in 1890.
Gade was influenced by Felix Mendelssohn. And Mendelssohn was an early champion of Gade's music in Germany.
In fact, the young composer sent Mendelssohn, who was then the conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, the score of his first symphony. Mendelssohn was impressed with the work and premiered it with his orchestra.
Gade moved to Germany and eventually took over as conductor of the Gewandhaus after Mendelssohn died in 1847.
"(Gade) was the most influential person in Leipzig after Mendelssohn's death," Borup said.
Gade would probably have remained in Germany if war and politics didn't alter his life. "He had to leave and return to Denmark, where he became the most important composer of his day," Borup said.
In Denmark, Gade started a distinct Nordic tradition that was perfected by later generations of composers. "Composers such as Grieg, Sibelius and Nielsen would not have developed as they did without Gade," Borup said. "Gade was one of those people in history who facilitated much but who aren't known."
Yet it's difficult, if not impossible, to pigeonhole Gade's music. "You can't peg him down to one particular style or direction," Conner said. "You hear traces of Mendelssohn in these sonatas, but also Schumann and Beethoven." In fact, Gade dedicated his first two sonatas to Clara Schumann and Robert Schumann, respectively.
Clara Schumann was a formidable pianist, which is reflected in the piano part of the sonata dedicated to her. "The piano part is huge," Conner said. And that's actually true for the other two sonatas as well. "They all have big parts," she said. "They're not as virtuosic as the Franck (violin) sonata, but they're substantial."
And even though Gade wasn't a pianist he was a trained violinist who played in the Royal Orchestra in Copenhagen the piano writing is idiomatic, Conner said. "They're comfortably written for the piano. They're lovely parts and satisfying to play."
This will be Conner's first time playing these sonatas. She hadn't even known about the violin sonatas until Borup asked her to be his partner.
"It's interesting music," she said. "I jumped at the chance to play them with Hasse."
"I didn't have to twist her arm, that's true," Borup added.
Surprisingly, this will also be Borup's first time playing the complete set of Gade's sonatas. Born and raised in Denmark, Borup grew up with Gade's music. But he's never played the violin sonatas in their entirety. "I played part of one of the pieces while I was at the Royal Conservatory (in Copenhagen)," he said.
When the opportunity arose last fall to play these sonatas in a U. recital, Borup didn't hesitate to make the most of it. He contacted Naxos about recording them, and they were interested. "I was actually talking with a representative from Naxos about something else when I mentioned that I was interested in recording the complete Gade violin sonatas.
"To my knowledge, these sonatas have never been recorded on a major label."A week after today's concert, Borup and Conner will record the pieces in Libby Gardner Concert Hall. Borup expects the CD to be released in the fall. "I hope we can keep to that schedule. Record companies are notorious for delays. I want to finish it and get done with it."
If you go . . .
What: Hasse Borup, violin; Heather Conner, piano
Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah
When: today, 7:30 p.m.How much: Free