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Christian Sinding

Christian August Sinding, born on 11 January 1856, hailed from Kongsberg, Norway, a community known especially for its silver mines. In fact, his father, Matthias Wilhelm Sinding, a mining engineer, founded his own sulphuric acid factory in 1859. When Sinding's father died shortly thereafter in 1860, his mother, Cecillie Marle Mejdell (1817-1886), and her five children moved to Kristiania (now Oslo) to be closer to her relatives. There Christian and his artistic brothers, Otto (1842-1909), an author and painter, and Stephan (1846-1922), a sculptor, honed their skills, eventually achieving considerable renown.

Coming from an artistic family, Sinding benefitted from the privilege of studying with some of the most distinguished teachers in Oslo, including Gudbrand Bøhn (violin), Betzy Fischer (piano), and Ludvig Mathias Lindemann (organ and harmony). At the age of 18, Sinding continued his studies at the estimable Leipzig Conservatory, where the music of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt greatly influenced him. A stipend from the Norwegian government allowed him to continue his education in Germany (1882-1885), namely in Dresden, Munich, and Berlin. Upon returning to Leipzig in 1886, Sinding met Russian violinist Adolf Brodsky (1851-1929) and Italian composer, pianist, conductor, writer, and teacher Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), both of whom would have a significant impact on his success as a composer.

Following his formal education, performance of Sinding's compositions were well received, particularly in Germany and Norway. On 19 January 1889, Brodsky and Busoni played Sinding's Piano Quintet in Leipzig,[1] and one month later on 23 February 1889, famed Norwegian pianist Erika Lie-Nissen performed his piano concerto in Berlin. Sinding's success in Berlin continued in 1921 with a performance of his Third Symphony by the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of principal conductor Arthur Nikisch. This and other performances of his compositions throughout Europe proved pivotal: in 1921, the Norwegian government awarded Sinding an honorary stipend and three years later offered him a house on the premises of the Royal Palace in Oslo. This house, known as the "Grotten," became his first permanent home since Sinding's childhood, and the stipend ended years of pecuniary anxieties.

Publications of his music also provided Sinding financial stability. A sizeable amount of his 132 opus numbers[2] include piano and chamber music, despite his preference for writing symphonic music. Of his piano oeuvre, his "Frühlingsrauschen" ("Rustle of Spring") from 6 Stücke, op. 32, no. 3 (1896) was wildly successful in his lifetime and is his best-known work today. His vocal music – some of which sets Norwegian texts – comprises some 250 songs, several cantatas, and choral music.

Sinding eventually enjoyed tremendous popularity, so much so that in an article published in the November 1894 issue of Song Journal, French violinist and composer Henri Marteau emphatically asserted that

"Sinding is in my opinion one of the greatest of contemporary musicians, and I can assure you my artistic conscience does not permit me to say this of many composers. It is not his learning, his skill, that I admire, but it is the vast and powerful organization with which he is naturally gifted. With such a genius questions of craft remain in the background, and Sinding's learning could be still greater and appear not less pale by the side of his superb and potent inspiration. A grandeur, an incomparable elevation of ideas, such in particular are the qualities that my admiration for his talent has recognized."[3]

With compatriots Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) and Johan Svendsen (1840-1911), Sinding ranks as one of the great composers from the golden age of Norwegian music (1890s-1920s).[4] Having become a member of the Order of St. Olav in 1905, he later secured the title of Commander (1916) and ultimately was bestowed the Grand Cross (1938). Also in 1905, he was appointed Commander of the Order of Vasa and became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. In 1915, he received a life pension of 4,000 crowns for "distinguished service," and the next year, to commemorate his sixtieth birthday, the Norwegian government awarded him 30,000 crowns, recognizing him as the heir to Grieg and celebrating his fame throughout Europe.

Despite Sinding's success, the legacy of this distinguished composer has been shrouded in politics and controversy. This may have been precipitated by poor health: beginning in the 1930s Sinding suffered from a severe form of dementia. Eight weeks before his death, he joined the Nasjonal Samling (the Norwegian Nazi party). Whether or not he was completely cognizant of this decision is debatable, considering his concerted fight for the rights of Jewish musicians in the early 1930s and the comments he had made challenging the Nazi occupation of Norway. Nevertheless, following Norway's liberation from the Nazi party at the end of World War II, the Norwegian national broadcasting system boycotted Sinding along with others who were associated with the Nazi party, leaving him in relative obscurity during the remaining decades of the twentieth century.

Fortunately, Sinding's music has experienced a renaissance over the past few years. His most famous composition, Frühlingsrauschen, has been recorded several times. Recently EGSOD vice president Dr. Jean Marie Hellner published a preface for a reissue of his Rondo Infinito, which he composed in 1886. Click here for a catalog of Sinding's compositions and here for a discography.

[1] The brilliant performance of this quintet prompted a local critic to write: "The work demonstrates in all of its four movements a simply astounding talent for invention and combination as well as a wonderful sense of sound effect. At the same time, the ideas are so masterfully disposed and such a splendid opposition of themes is in evidence throughout, that one cannot cease to voice one's admiration for this very important musical talent that expresses itself, daring and individual everywhere." ( [2] A complete list of his works was published by Ö. Gaukstad in Norsk Musikkgranskning arbok (Oslo: 1938). [3] Henri Marteau, "Christian Sinding: Man and Musician," in The Great in Music: A Systematic Course of Study in the Music of Classical and Modern Composers, ed. by W. S. B. Mathews (Chicago: Music Magazine Publishing Company, 1900), 103. [4] Edward Burlingame Hill noted that "with the exception of Edward [sic] Grieg, there is no Norwegian composer at the present time who enjoys so great a popularity and reputation among his countrymen as Sinding." Edward Burlingame Hill, "Christian Sinding," The Etude 23, no. 8 (August 1905): 314.

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