Christian Sinding - Biography

Christian Sinding

Christian Sinding (1856-1941) is often regarded as Grieg’s heir. With respect to compositional style, however, this view is incorrect. Although one certainly can find traces of Grieg’s earlier style in Sinding’s music, the pricipal influence was German Romanticism. That most of Sinding’s music later was left in neglect may be owing in large measure to the general reaction against Romanticism but also, perhaps, to the fact that during his lifetime he was somewhat overrated. The Grieg legacy could only be passed in to another Norwegian composer of similar international stature, and Sinding was expected to fill this role even though he probably was not equal to the task. Nonetheless, in his best works he displayed fine compositional skill.

Sinding was born into an artistically gifted family in Kongsberg, a small city near Oslo. His brother Otto was a painter, his brother Stephan a sculptor, and Christian’s musical talent was recognized at an early age. He first planned to become a professional violinist, taking violin lessons from Gudbrand Böhn and instruction in music theory from L.M. Lindeman while still a schoolboy. In 1987 he went to the Leipzig conservatory, where his teachers included Henry Schradiek in violin, and Carl Reinecke and Salomon Jadassohn in theory and composition.

He soon realized that his greater talent lay in composition, and he began to empasize this aspect of his education. Except from a few brief interruptions he remained in Leipzig for about four years. His studies did not lead to immediate success as a composer, however.

Sinding’s first successful work was his Piano Quintet in E minor (Op. 5), which was premieres in 1885. This was followed by his Variations in E-flat minor for two pianos (Op. 2), which was premiered in 1886, the Piano Concerto in D-flat major (Op. 6), which appeared in 1889, and his Symphony No. 1 in D minor (Op. 21), a work in progress for many years before it was premiered in 1890. These works won for Sinding a central role in the music life of Norway, and they were played frequently on the continent as well. He reached full artistic maturity, therefore, in the latter half of the 1880s after a lengthy period of development. Therefater he became a highly productive composer, eventually completing 132 works.

From 1880 onward Sinding received grants on a fairly regular basis from the Norwegian government. These grants, in addition to his income from C.F. Peters of Leipzig, the editorial firm that published his works, gave him some degree of financial stability. In 1910 he was awarded an annual government stipend, and in 1924 he was given Henrik Wergeland’s home, Grotten, as an honorary recidence (in Oslo). In 1921 he also received a special cash award from the government. That year he became professor of composition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, but he remained in this position for just a few months.

Sinding spent almost forty years in long periods of residence in Germany and was closely tied to German music and German cultural circles in general. This undoubtedly explains in large part why, at the age of eighty-four (1940), he allowed himself to be exploited by the Nazis in the political propaganda that attended the German occupation of Norway.

Christian Sinding died in Oslo on December 3rd 1941.

From A History of Norwegian Music by Nils Grinde,
translated by William H. Halverson and Leland B. Sateren
by permission of the University of Nebraska Press.
Copyright 1991 by the University of Nebraska Press
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