Who was Jacob Gade

Jacob Thune Hansen Gade (called Thune in his early years) was born in the Danish town of Vejle on 29th November 1879. He came from a family of local musicians. His father had a small music shop, where he sold music and sold and repaired instruments, in addition to which he led a ten-piece orchestra that played for local dances and celebrations. It was natural that Thune should continue this musical tradition and to begin with, he was taught the trumpet by his father.

At the age of nine he made his debut with his father’s orchestra and the following year he was invited to Copenhagen to perform as a guest soloist with the band of the Tivoli Gardens. At the age of twelve or thirteen he began to take lessons on the violin, first with his father and then with a local organist. However,at an early stage he realized that he would have to go elsewhere if he were to get on in the world: “

It became clear to me that I would not make sufficient progress as things were, so I quietly conceived a plan to go to Copenhagen. I had also by this time begun to compose country dances, ‘hopsa’-waltzes, polkas and such like. Now I thought the time had come to make an assault on the nation’s capital. My purpose was clear. I was determined to be a conductor and a composer - by which I meant a composer of waltzes, since that, I thought, was a finer and more beautiful kind of music than anything else.”

Sixteen yeears old, with a modest starting capital of 80 kroner [Danish crowns, hereafter DK], Jacob Gade set off for Copenhagen. His funds did not last long; engagements were limited to small public houses and cafés and in the early days he spent many a night sleeping on staircases round about in the city. The first real step up the ladder of success came when, at the age of 17 or 18, he was engaged to play in the “Operetta”, Lorry Feilberg’s music hall in Allégade in Frederiksberg, then the centre of the popular entertainment scene in Copenhagen. Gade’s first published compositions date from these years; the very first appeared in the year 1900 - a drinking song, “Der er sollys i modne druer” [There is sunshine in ripe grapes], the text of which was written by his employer, Lorry Feilberg. The song became very popular and was sung by, among others, Elna From, an actress ten years Gade’s senior with whom he had his first real love-affair. With her he had three children, but the couple never married and by 1906 they had parted. During a stay in Oslo in 1908 he married the actress Mimi Mikkelsen, who remained his wife until her death in 1950.

Jacob Gade played for Lorry Feilberg until 1901, then for a year or two he played the violin with various orchestras in Copenhagen. He advanced to the position of conductor in 1903 and for the next few years he led several different orchestras playing light music for entertainment and dancing. In 1909 he became director of music at the fashionable Hotel Bristol on the City Hall Square and here, leading his orchestra with his violin as “Stehgeiger” in the light and concert music of the period, he acquired a reputation as a second H. C. Lumbye or Johann Strauss.

Alongside these engagements Jacob Gade began taking violin lessons from the very highly-regarded violin teacher Max Schlüter, who, after concertizing all over the world, had settled down in Copenhagen around 1909. However Gade later said that already by this time he was too old for even the best teaching to enable him to achieve a career as a classically-trained concert violinist. He had tried a few years earlier to gain admittance to the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music but without success.

His long career as a theatre and cinema conductor began in 1914 with an engagement at the Dagmar Theatre (1914-19). In this period he also gave a number of concerts (playing, among other things, one of Paganini’s violin concertos and Bach’s solo sonatas) and was at the same time very productive as a composer. Several waltzes with French titles (Valse Ravissante, Douce Secrets), as well as his “Gypsy Romances”, date from this time. These works were moreover published under the pseudonym “Maurice Ribot” - foreign names made a good impression and helped to give both the music and the composer an international flavour. Works like these were very successful and when the newspaper Politiken named him “the Danish Waltz King” his youthful dream was realized.

In 1919 Jacob Gade went to New York where he got a job as a violinist in a small cinema orchestra. Later he joined the 80-member orchestra of the Capitol Cinema and finally he competed successfully for a place in the National Symphony Orchestra (the New York Philharmonic). There he played for two years under the batons of the conductors Artur Bodanzky and Willem Mengelberg. This was the only time in Gade’s life when, as a performing musician, he was able to devote himself to the classical symphonic repertoire for any length of time.

While on holiday in Denmark in 1921 he was offered the position of conductor at the Palads, the largest cinema theatre in northern Europe. Here, until 1926, he conducted a 24-member orchestra. The experience Gade had gained at the Capitol cinema in New York now stood him in good stead when he had to put together the music to accompany films. This consisted of pieces of classical music mixed with original film music, the so-called “Cinothèque” music, which was designed to express various moods in the silent films. To this repertoire he added his own independent compositions, such as, for example, Jalousie, Tango Tsigane, unquestionably Gade’s masterpiece in this genre.

In 1926 Jacob Gade took over the management of the Nørrebro Theatre in Copenhagen while at the same time providing the music for the theatre’s shows and revues. However he was not a great success as a theatre director; as early as the end of 1927 he returned to the Palads Theatre as conductor and here he experienced the final flourish of the great silent-film era. When the sound film was introduced in Copenhagen in 1929, it was not long before he had to face the fact that the new medium had made the cinema orchestra superfluous.

Jacob Gade left the Palads Theatre in the autumn of 1929 but his popularity continued unabated and for a time he and his orchestra were engaged by the World Cinema Theatre. Then came a season at the large establishment National Scala, which opened in 1931. There he had an orchestra of 30 under his baton in the daily performances of light music. This was Gade’s last important engagement as a conductor: A new age was on its way and with it came new sounds - the sounds of jazz. This was one of the factors that caused Gade to withdraw from public performance at the beginning of the 1930s in order to devote himself to composition.

Gade had bought Tibirke Mill, in the north of the island of Sealand, as a summer house in 1925. He liked to get away from the hectic life of the city and now, free from public engagements, both the Rhapsodietta and the tango Romanesca were composed. Both these works, besides being published by a Danish publisher, were also published in Paris by Max Eschig. The same tendency to look beyond the national boundaries is evident with regard to some of the larger orchestral works which followed in the late 1930s. When Gade went to the United States again in 1939 he contacted American publishers with a view to having his works published there. He had with him several of his newest compositions, including Leda and the Swan, which was accepted for performance at a Broadway theatre. During his stay in New York he was lionized by the American radio stations and the big cinemas as an international celebrity.

He returned to Denmark on 8th April 1940 - the day before Denmark was occupied by the German army. In 1943 he and his wife went to live in the small fishing village of Thorøhuse, near Assens on the island of Funen. Here he lived out his final years in retirement, though he continued to compose - among other things the Valse Capriccio (1943), the tango El matador (1947) and Tango glamour (1950). His wife Mimi, whom he had married in 1908, died in 1950 and Jacob Gade died 20th February 1963.