At the beginning of the 1840s the Danish composer Niels W. Gade achieved sensational success in Leipzig where Robert Schumann notably attributed a “decidedly Nordic character” to his works, in particular his Overture “Efterklange af Ossian” op. 1 and his First Symphony op. 5, thereby setting a precedent: for the first time in the history of symphonic music, a folkloric idiom from the European periphery found its way into art music opening the way for the emergence of the national symphony.
A crucial question arises: what are the supposed compositional constituents of Gade’s early works that confer this “Nordic” imprint and to what extent is this reception a product of the longings and ideals of German Romanticism. Indeed, in Copenhagen Gade had originally not
been quite so successful and was even accused of composing in a too “German” manner.
In order to shed light on the phenomenon of the so-called ‘Nordic tone’ not only the works themselves will be analysed, but also abundant documents concerning their reception within the social-political and historic-generic context. This discursive study aims to reconstruct the
former concepts of ‘Nordicity’ in order to uncover the prevalent thought mechanisms and topoi of the time. Finally the reception of Gade’s later works will be discussed and
explanations sought for the Danish composer’s fall into oblivion after 1900.