Jewish Trilogy op.19 for orchestra
(b. Frederiksberg, 8 April 1843 – d. Copenhagen, 13 July 1923)
Jewish Trilogy op.19
Sinfonia Trionfale p.65
Asger Hammerich was born in Frederiksberg near Copenhagen. He changed his family name to the less German Hamerik after the Prussian-Danish war of 1864.
His first studies were in Copenhagen with J. P. E. Hartmann and Niels Gade, writing a symphony in 1860 that was lost before it could be performed. The Hammerich family moved in influential social circles and Hans Christian Andersen was an old friend. Andersen became a regular correspondent of the young composer, who left Denmark in 1862 on a grand ‘musical tour’ of Europe, beginning in London, where he met Arthur Sullivan. He went on to study in Berlin with Hans von Bülow, and then (after the outbreak of war in 1864) in Paris. He was armed with letters of introduction to Hector Berlioz from Gade and von Bülow. In a letter to Hans Christian Andersen, he wrote, “Thanks a million for funding my stay in Berlin, thank Gade for his positive remarks about Berlioz, I hope I will bring you and my country honour in the times ahead”.
It was in the French capital that he met and became a protégé of Hector Berlioz, who accepted him as a pupil (Hamerik often said that he was the only ‘pupil’ of the French composer, but that was an exaggeration and it seems likely that Berlioz did not regard him in quite that way. Hamerik nevertheless deputized for Berlioz in conducting or preparing the French master’s performances). Berlioz admired the young Dane and wrote of him that he was “un jeune compositeur Danois de beaucoup d’ardeur et de talent” (a young Danish composer of much ardour and talent).
Hamerik left Paris in 1869 for Italy, although he returned for Berlioz’s funeral. By this time, he had established a reputation as a capable and willing musician, and in 1871, the American consul in Vienna offered him the post of Director of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore (now part of John Hopkins University). Hamerik accepted, and he spent the years until his retirement in 1898 in Baltimore, where he was visited by many influential figures, including Sullivan and Tchaikovsky. He wrote most of his large-scale works for the Peabody Institute’s 80-strong orchestra and became influential in the development of American musicians. He returned to Denmark in 1900 with his American-born wife, Margaret Williams, who was a concert pianist. He left 41 opus numbers, including seven symphonies, four operas and a Requiem that was probably his biggest success.
The Jewish Trilogy dates originally from 1868 but was revised before its publication in 1879. Hamerik prefaces each movement with an ancient Jewish chant that is the basis for the music. For instance, the last movement is based on the Ashirah, a Sephardic chant based on the words of Moses but which has also been applied to many other texts, particularly the psalms of the Hallel.
The whole forms a particularly beautiful meditation. Hamerik programmed it often when he was a professor at the Peabody Institute. For these concerts he also added English titles to the three movements, The Wandering, Dirge and Consolation, and Hymn of Victory.
Phillip Brookes, 2014
For performance material please contact Hansen, Copenhagen. Reprint of a copy from the collection Phillip Brookes, Roxas City.