Wednesday 16 August 2023

Shot through with sheer delight & joie de vivre: the sounds of 1840s Copenhagen from Concerto Copenhagen as the perform music by 'The Strauss of the North'

Champagne! The Sound of Lumbye and His Idols; Concerto Copenhagen, Lars Ulrik Mortenson; Da Capo Records
Champagne! The Sound of Lumbye and His Idols; Concerto Copenhagen, Lars Ulrik Mortensen; Da Capo Records

An academic project shot through with sheer delight and joie de vivre as the Danish period instrument ensemble recreates the sounds of H. C. Lumbye's orchestra from the 1840s Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen

Like many who work in the classical music industry, during lockdown Lars Ulrik Mortensen and Nikolaj de Fine Licht, respectively artistic director and managing director of Concerto Copenhagen, spent the time doing research. But not into further Baroque music, instead one of the areas they looked at was Hans Christian Lumbye (1810–1874) who gave concerts of his own and others’ music from the 1840s onwards at Hotel d’Angleterre and later in the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. The question they have tried to answer is what did Lumbye's orchestra actually sound like, back in the 1840s. Lumbye's main inspirations were Johann Strauss I (1804– 1849) and Joseph Lanner (1801–1843) and it is the music of these that features on Concerto Copenhagen and Lars Ulrik Mortensen disc Champagne! The Sound of Lumbye and His Idols from Da Capo Records [released 18 August 2023], a disc that eschews the modern, symphonic approach to this repertoire and returns it to its more vivid roots.

The concert hall in Tivoli as it appeared when The Tivoli Gardens opened in Copenhagen in 1843.
The concert hall in Tivoli as it appeared when The Tivoli Gardens opened in Copenhagen in 1843.

Lumbye was a huge star in 19th-century Copenhagen. He and his ensemble were very much associated with the concert hall at the Tivoli Gardens, and he quickly gained a reputation abroad, especially after a successful tour to Paris, Vienna and Berlin, earning the nickname "The Strauss of the North". With his compositions and their successful performances, he was both an artist and an entrepreneur. Inspired by the music of Johann Strauss I, he composed over 700 works, mainly galops, polkas, mazurkas and marches, but comparatively fewer waltzes.

In June 1839, a 29-year-old Danish military musician, the trumpeter Hans Christian Lumbye got his first taste of Europe's new craze, the dance music spreading from Vienna which was performed in Copenhagen by an Austrian ensemble. When the Austrian ensemble departed, Lumbye gathered colleagues and friends to fill in the gap. In  February 1840, Lumbye’s 20-member orchestra presented a concert at the Hotel d’Angleterre featuring music by Strauss and Lanner, as well as music by Lumbye himself. From 1843, Lumbye and his orchestra were the main attraction at the new concert hall in the Tivoli Gardens.

Nowadays, Lumbye's music is played in Denmark by symphony orchestras, but on this disc Concerto Copenhagen go back to those early days, with 11 string players and 13 wind players, a strikingly different balance to modern day. Research, thanks to knowledge about the Royal Danish Orchestra (the only employer of symphonic musicians in the city) the sound and style of the ensemble was created. But over and above that important sound world is the joyous feeling that Mortensen and his musicians were having glorious fun when making the disc.


The disc begins in sparkling style with Lumbye's Champagne Galop, a work that could not help but put a smile on your face. Crisply directed by Lars Ulrik Mortensen it is full of wonderful orchestral colour. This is followed by Lumbye's rather longer Andante cantabile e Tarantella, gentle delight at first as the opening has a lovely swaying horn melody, leading to a perkily bouncy tarantella full of colourful percussion.

Lumbye's concerts often included popular operatic excerpts, and Joseph Lanner’s 1842 waltz Die Mozartisten (‘The Mozartians’) features themes from Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute, reworked in waltz time. It is completely mad and rather wonderful.

Johann Strauss I was one of Lumbye's idols and in 1845, when Lumbye was working as a guest conductor in Vienna he even managed to draw applause from the great man for Lumbye's own Vemodsvals (Melancholy Waltz). Here we hear Strauss' Champagner-Walzer, a lively and enjoyable romp with what sounds like very characterful high clarinet writing.

Evidently, Lumbye's musical programmes provided advertisements for the other attractions in the Tivoli Gardens including a shooting range, restaurants, skittle-bowling and many others. In 1844 Lumbye wrote a galop aimed at improving ticket sales for the island which lay in Tivoli’s lake. So here in Echo from the Old Gods at Tivoli Island, Galop, we have galop in which we find the gods of song and wine enjoying themselves in the singers pavilion on the island. Again this is a charming piece full of extraneous colours in the orchestra and sounds like the sort of thing that would have delighted an audience. Mortensen keeps things fast and tight, and there is nothing for it but to sit back and smile, including the ending where Vulcan's forge conjures up a storm.

The Lumbye's Silver Wedding Waltz was written to mark the celebration of the Silver Wedding of King Christian VIII and Queen Caroline Amalie. The longest work on the disc it is string of charming waltzes where sound, timbre, colour and sheer élan conjure a lovely period feel. During the 1840s, the idea of reuniting the Scandinavian region led to student collaborations including the exchange of songs. Related to this, Lumbye gathered eight of Carl Michael Bellman’s popular Fredman’s Epistles into a suite which he performed first in the Tivoli concert hall to mark the celebration held by the Swedish Bellman Society every year on the Djurgården Island in central Stockholm. Whilst the music doesn't sound that much like the Bellman songs I know from performances with just voice and guitar, this suite provides a welcome variant from the constant waltz form.

Lumbye's Figaro Waltz is something of a musical pun. It was written for one of the special parties arranged by the editor of the magazine Figaro, which happened in Kongens Have (King’s Garden). For the waltz, Lumbye punningly refers to Rossini's musical character. The disc ends with the Tivoli Bazaar Tsching-Tsching Polka, again an advertisement, this time for the Bazaar selling snaps, chocolate, cigars, flowers and fruit, a pair of gloves, conch shells decorated by French galley slaves and things Chinese.

Lars Ulrik Mortensen & Concerto Copenhagen in rehearsal for the Lumbye programme (Photo:Mathias Løvgreen, © Concerto Copenhagen)
Lars Ulrik Mortensen & Concerto Copenhagen in rehearsal for the Lumbye programme (Photo:Mathias Løvgreen, © Concerto Copenhagen)

Now, I will be the first to admit that I have generally avoided all things Viennese waltz and started to listen to the disc out of sheer curiosity because of the academic exercise of recreating that 1840s sound world. But I was entranced, the results combine colour and movement with academic rigour and entertaining delight. There is little that is self-indulgent here, and some of Mortensen's speeds are wonderfully bracing. Try it and be transported to 1840s Copenhagen

Champagne! The Sound of Lumbye and His Idols
Hans Christian Lumbye (1810–1874) - Champagne Galop, Op. 14 (1845)
H.C. Lumbye - Andante cantabile e Tarantella (1843)
Joseph Lanner (1801–1843) - Die Mozartisten, Walzer, Op. 196 (1842)
Johann Strauss I (1804–1849) - Champagner-Walzer, Op. 14 (1828)
H.C. Lumbye - Ekko fra de gamle guder på Tivoliøen, galop (Echo from the Old Gods at Tivoli Island, Galop) (1844)
H.C. Lumbye - Sølvbryllupsvals (Silver Wedding Waltz) (1840)
H.C. Lumbye - Bellmans fest på Djurgården (Bellman’s Feast on Djurgården) (1844)
H.C. Lumbye - Figaro Vals (Figaro Waltz) (1841)
H.C. Lumbye - Tivoli Bazaar Tsching-Tsching Polka (1843)
Concerto Copenhagen
Lars Ulrik Mortensen (conductor)
Recorded at Dronningesalen, Den Sorte Diamant (The Black Diamond), Copenhagen, on 13–16 November 2022
DA CAPO 8.224750 1CD [65:14]

The album is available to download [link tree] and is released on 18 August 2023
Support Planet Hugill: Pre-order Champagne! The Sound of Lumbye and His Idols from Amazon

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