John Fellow: When Danish musicians reverted to childhood. On the so-called dispute and the links to the Danish Association of Musicians from Charles Kjerulf to Carl Nielsen and Louis Glass.

In the autumn of 1909 and well into 1910 the so-called Wüllner dispute was rampant in the press and in musical institutions. The dispute had nothing to do with the german singer Ludwig Wüllner, as one might have imagined, but rather with the music critic at the advertising paper Programmet and the daily paper Politiken, Charles Kjerulf, who had been publishing Programmet since 1903 when founding the Danish Association of Musicians, and who had been mixing private economy, association work, his role as a critic and the management of an advertising paper. Wüllner just happened to become the catalyst which made the dispute erupt in full glare of publicity.

At his concerts in Copenhagen Wüllner refused to use Programmet as a cover for his concert programmes. It was common practice to use the paper for this purpose at most concerts in copenhagen, not least because the influential concert organizers, Wilhelm Hansen and Nordisk Musikforlag recommended it. In certain cases they even put pressure on the artists to make them use Programmet despite the economic disadvantage this would entail, as the artists normally financed the programmes themselves and recieved a profit from the sale.

The public dispute was only the top of the iceberg and the culmination of a rift that had occurred at the time of the establishment of the association in 1903. When the first board of directors, consisting of Kjerulf and some of the most illustrious names in music at the time, was overthrown in the spring of 1907, Carl Nielsen had been appointed chairman with a view to tackling the Kjerulf inheritance. This he did with rather limited success, and two yers later Carl Nielsen’s board also had to resign following internal disputes about the relationship with the press. The dispute was bound to become a public issue, and it developed into an attempt to remove Kjerulf from his influential post as Politiken’s leading music critic, but in the end Programmet stopped publication by the end of the season 1909-10, and Kjerulf got away with a verdict of libel.

Kjerulf is known to have found it difficult to appreciate Carl Nielsen as a composer, but after the 4. Symphony in 1916 he publicly proclaimed his total conversion. Prior to this event an unexpected personal approach had taken place between the composer and the critic, as can be seen from the preserved exchange of letters.