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Hans Christian Andersen and Music A Night in Roskilde

In the course of his long and deeply felt love for the theatre, Andersen wrote a number of plays in the popular genre of the day, the vaudeville – spoken dialogue with interspersed songs of different origin. It was the Royal Theatre’s most prominent playwright, Johan Ludvig Heiberg, who had both formulated the genre’s characteristic features and himself written a number of popular vaudevilles. The genre covered light, dramatic plays incorporating songs that were a natural part of the action. The music for the songs was derived from the period’s folk ballads, romances, operas, ballad operas, national anthems, etc.

With his feeling for the trends of the period, Andersen wrote a total of four original vaudevilles and a vaudeville monologue as well as three adaptations of other plays, all French. A Night in Roskilde is among the latter, but even his romantic comedies also include music. Andersen was good at finding foreign plays that would lend themselves to adaptation for the Danish stage, and his adaptations are very thorough. At the same time, audiences demanded that the plays should include good songs.

But when he tried to interest the Royal Theatre in them, several of his vaudevilles were severely criticized, as usual. An example is the viewpoint expressed by Christian Molbech, a member of the theatre’s board of directors, in connection with a vaudeville Andersen had submitted in 1840.

“That Herr Andersen calls this a vaudeville can only be termed abuse and misunderstanding of the term, and Herr Anndersen has not the slightest grasp of how to write a Danish vaudeville in the way that we have come to appreciate this dramatic genre through the works of Professor Heiberg. He thinks he can resolve matters in every scene by allowing one or another of the characters to sing one or several verses to the music of especially well-known opera melodies, but in general the effect of this is a complete failure. Between the musical and poetic (or unpoetic) components there is no harmony; or else the author produces at most an ironical effect, to the extent that one hears a charming melody used in a false way just to provoke laughter amongst members of the audience whose musical taste is no better than Herr Andersen’s.”

But many of the plays became popular in due course and were appreciated by the public. A contributory factor was that with the imminent introduction of a the Constitution it became possible to break the Royal Theatre’s monopoly of theatrical performances, and only somewhat later was it indicated that its repertoire types were not to be performed. The director of a travelling theatre company, H.W. Lange, reached an agreement with Andersen towards the end of the 1840s to perform several of his plays.

In 1848 the Casino Theatre opened – first as a winter tivoli, but from 1849 it produced comedies, farces and vaudevilles – with Lange himself as its director. Here the emphasis was placed on light plays with music, and this theatre’s more mixed audiences found pleasure in Andersen’s works. Andersen became closely associated with the Casino Theatre, to which he submitted several plays that became major successes.

The text
Andersen said his play A Night in Roskilde was a vaudeville joke. It was an adaptation of a French play Un chambre à deux lits by Charles Victor Warin and Lefèvres. Andersen began to translate and adapt the play in April 1847, probably at the suggestion of his friend and patron Jonas Collin, who was also the director of the Royal Theatre. Collin showed it to two of the theatre’s leading actors, Christian N. Rosenkilde and Ludvig Phister. Andersen had previously written a vaudeville monologue for Phister, so it was possible that he might also be pleased to accept this play as well – we do not know. But Rosenkilde was not very enthusiastic, so the plan had to be shelved. Collin therefore apologized to Andersen, saying that “it is to a certain extent my fault that you, perhaps in vain, have spent some time on this work”.

But the work was in no way in vain, because in the long run the vaudeville was well accepted. It was performed for the first time in the Students’ Society early in December 1848 and later Andersen was able to attend a performance in connection with a private entertainment at Bregentved Manor, where he was spending Christmas. Shortly afterwards he submitted the play to the Royal Theatre and once again he had the experience of having his work rejected. The censor Johan Ludvig Heiberg described it as being “in rather simple taste, most suitable for a performance in private”.

The theatre therefore decided to pass on the vaudeville to the actors’ private summer performances, but in the meanwhile Andersen withdrew his work. Other opportunities for performing it had arisen. A Night in Roskilde therefore had its public première at the Casino Theatre on 6th May 1849 in connection with the actor Christian Schmidt’s evening entertainment. In September that same year it was included in the Casino Theatre’s regular repertoire, and was performed 46 times until 1862.

The libretto, which was only seven pages long, was published in January 1850 and became so popular that it had to be reprinted in 1869. Several editions were also published later. In 1874 the music publishers Wilhelm Hansen wanted to reprint the songs because – as Andersen mentions in his diary – “there was constantly a question in the provinces of these melodies being available in the case of the play being performed in private circles”. Right into the twentieth century the play was often performed, no doubt also because of the characters and the good music.

[ See the Casino Theatre’s original prompt book here (pdf)]

[ See the libretto here (pdf)]

The music
A Night in Roskilde contains a great many songs, and Andersen chose his melodies from amongst the entire musical repertoire that was popular in Copenhagen around 1840–50. Here he conforms well with the Heiberg vaudeville tradition, but it meant that he had to know – and remember – a wide range of music. It was the composer and conductor Carl Malmquist who arranged the music to suit the texts and the capabilities of the performers and also attended to the orchestration – a collaboration which continued in Andersen’s next big success, the romantic comedy Meer end Perler og Guld (More than Pearls and Gold) (1849). H.C. Lumbye’s orchestra from the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen played at the Casino Theatre’s performances, and the material used in connection with these is still in the Royal Library’s collection of music MSS and orchestra library. Here, judging by the parts, one can see that the group of strings in Lumbye’s orchestra was relatively small, whereas the flute, clarinet and bassoon are represented by the normal two parts each.

Songs and arias from musical comedies are one of the areas from which Andersen abstained from. This applies to both the French musical comedies and operas such as Daniel François Esprit Auber’s La Muette de Portici (The Dumb Girl of Portici), Danish operas such as Frederik Kuhlau’s Lulu and new Italian operas like Vincenzo Bellini’s La Sonnambula (The Sleep Walker), the first two of which had been performed at the Royal Theatre. Andersen had heard Bellini’s opera in Rome in 1833 and later in various places in Europe, also with Jenny Lind in the lead.

Frederik Kuhlau’s opera Lulu (1824) was one of the major Danish musically dramatic works of the first half of the nineteenth century, and it was published as a piano arrangement in 1825. Here Andersen used one of the songs in A Night in Roskilde.

The interest in folk ballads displayed during the period is also represented by the Italian melody “Te voglio bene”, which was used in several of the dramatic works of the time, and which was one of the numbers Andersen liked to sing himself at private parties. The composer Henrik Rung’s folk ballad romance “Herr Peder kasted Runer” (“Herr Peder made runic magic”) was used by Andersen both before and later in his plays. Malmquist’s orchestra version was reused almost unchanged in More than Pearls and Gold. The slightly older club and party songs are represented by “Min Søn, om du vil i Verden frem” (“My son, if you want to get on in the world”) to an older German melody, and other melodies have also been borrowed from another vaudeville, for example “Nej, intet i Verden kan lignes med et Bal” (“No, nothing in the World can be compared with a Ball”) with music by Johann Strauss the Elder. Finally, melodies mentioned in the text point to several generally popular songs such as, for example, “Kom Maj, du søde, milde” (Come May, so sweet and mild”) by W.A. Mozart. And then Andersen shows in the text his topical musical knowledge by characterizing the Swedes, the Norwegians and the people of Schleswig-Holstein by typical songs, namely Westermark and Tegner’s popular national song “Kung Carl, den unga hjälte”“ (“King Carl, the young Hero”), L.M. Ibsen and Wolff’s Norwegian national anthem “Hvor herlig er mit Fædreland” (“How Splendid is my Fatherland”) and C.G. Bellmann and Chemnitz’s “Schleswig-Holstein meerumschlungen” (“Schleswig-Holstein enwrapped by the Sea”).

[ See original MS of the vaudeville songs here (pdf)]

[ See text and music of the vaudeville songs here (pdf)]

[ Listen to an excerpt from A Night in Roskilde here (RealPlayer) (credits)]


During the years from 1848 onwards Andersen wrote and adapted several dramatic works for his good friend H.W. Lange, director of the Casino Theatre. Of these, the best known is probably the magic play Meer end Perler og Guld (More than Pearls and Gold) from 1849 and in the following years the romantic comedies Ole Lukøje (Wee Willie Winkie) and Hyldemor (The Elder-Tree Mother). In addition, the Casino Theatre performed several of his older works, for example Mikkels Kærlighedshistorier i Paris (Mikkel’s Love Stories in Paris) and En Komedie i det Grønne (A Comedy in the Open Air).













It was probably Jonas Collin who persuaded Andersen, to adapt the French play Un chambre à deux lits, but despite good intentions he failed to get the vaudeville accepted by the Royal Theatre.

























Andersen characterizes the Swedes, the Norwegians and the people of Schleswig-Holstein by their respective songs in the play. One of the characters, Graah, discovers the other person snoring in the bed next to him and tries to find out where he comes from by singing excerpts from various national anthems. Among them is “Wanke nicht” (“Do not waver”) (“Schleswig-Holstein meerumschlungen”) (“Schleswig-Holstein enwrapped by the Sea”), which was written for a big festival for singers in Schleswig in 1844 and more or less became the province’s national anthem. The big old double oak on the front page symbolizes the two provinces’ union from the oldest times, with the sea closing in on them on both sides.


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