In the 19th century, two Funen boys, the storyteller Hans Christian Andersen and the composer Carl Nielsen, set off to make their fortunes in the world. Learn more about these two of Denmark’s famous sons.
Two of Denmark’s most noted literary and musical figures, Hans Christian Andersen and Carl Nielsen, were born on the island of Funen. At the height of his fame, the composer Carl Nielsen (1865-931), told an audience that his mother had always said to him: “Don’t forget that Hans Christian Andersen was a poor boy like you.”
There may have been something in the Funen air that inspired poor boys to rise to fame, but it is more likely that Nielsen was inspired by Andersen, 60 years his senior. Both came from humble homes, both left Odense to seek their fortune in Copenhagen.
Hans Christian Andersen
Andersen (1805-75) was born in Odense, the son of a shoemaker and a washerwoman, and spent his childhood in a small half-timbered house in Munkemøllestræde, now a museum. Quite apart from his skill as a writer, Andersen had a good singing voice and was a gifted artist. At the age of 14 he set off to Copenhagen to attend the Royal Theatre School. The Theatre Board recognized his skills, and he was found a place at a grammar school in Helsingør.
After school, Andersen traveled widely. Shadow Picture of a Journey to the Harz Mountains and Saxony (1851) was the result of his early adventures.
Throughout his life he continued to write poems, novels and plays. His autobiographical novel, The Improvisatore, described the rise to fortune of a poor Italian boy. His early fairy tales, including The Tinder Box and The Princess and the Pea (1835) brought him immortality.
In spite of his worldwide fame and extensive travels, Andersen’s personal life was a lonely one. In 1840, he met and fell in love with the singer Jenny Lind, “The Swedish Nightingale”, but his love was unrequited – she always called him “brother”. His fairy tale The Nightingale was inspired by her. When he was made a honorary citizen of Odense in 1867, Andersen said it was ‘an honor greater than I had dreamt of.”
Carl Nielsen was born in Nørre Lyndelse, where his childhood home is now a museum. His father was a folk musician and Carl played the violin. His earliest compositions, at the age of eight, were two dance tunes.
Like Andersen, Nielsen wrote an autobiography, My Childhood in Funen. At the Royal Theatre Orchestra in Copenhagen, where Nielsen became second violinist, the Norwegian conductor Johan Svendsen encouraged him to compose. At 25, Nielsen won a fellowship which allowed him to travel and went to Dresden to steep himself in Wagner’s ideas. Nielsen composed two operas, the dark drama Saul and David and a comic opera, Maskarade along with symphonies and choral works, such as Hymnus Amoris.
Two of Denmark’s Famous Sons, written by Tor Kjolberg