Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen!

The National Gallery of Denmark apart, a visit to Copenhagen is incomplete without seeing the Tivoli Gardens.

A statue of the writer Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75) gazes admiringly at the second-oldest amusement park and pleasure garden in the world, which opened on 15 August 1843.

The park was first called “Tivoli & Vauxhall” – “Tivoli” from the Jardin de Tivoli in Paris (actually a succession of pleasure gardens from 1795 to 1842, none of which remain today) and “Vauxhall” from London’s even older Vauxhall Gardens.

Tivoli’s founder was Georg Carstensen, an army officer and entrepreneur who persuaded King Christian VIII to grant him a charter to create Tivoli by telling him that “when the people are amusing themselves, they do not think about politics”.

Tivoli’s musical director was the composer Hans Christian Lumbye (1810-74), who was inspired by the Viennese Strauss family and wrote many compositions for the gardens, including “Champagne Galop”, “Salute to the Ticket Holders of Tivoli”, “Carnival Joys”, and “A Festive Night at Tivoli”. In 2005, the Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky recorded 18 of them with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.

On 15 August 1843, Tivoli opened its gates for the first time to guests that included Hans Christian Andersen. The writer liked the park’s Chinese-style buildings and gardens, which inspired him to write the fairy tale “The Nightingale” at the end of the first season:

In China, you know, the emperor is a Chinese, and all those about him are Chinamen also. The story I am going to tell you happened a great many years ago, so it is well to hear it now before it is forgotten. The emperor’s palace was the most beautiful in the world. It was built entirely of porcelain, and very costly, but so delicate and brittle that whoever touched it was obliged to be careful. In the garden could be seen the most singular flowers, with pretty silver bells tied to them, which tinkled so that every one who passed could not help noticing the flowers. Indeed, everything in the emperor’s garden was remarkable, and it extended so far that the gardener himself did not know where it ended. Those who travelled beyond its limits knew that there was a noble forest, with lofty trees, sloping down to the deep blue sea, and the great ships sailed under the shadow of its branches. In one of these trees lived a nightingale, who sang so beautifully that even the poor fishermen, who had so many other things to do, would stop and listen. Sometimes, when they went at night to spread their nets, they would hear her sing, and say, ‘Oh, is not that beautiful?’ But when they returned to their fishing, they forgot the bird until the next night. Then they would hear it again, and exclaim ‘Oh, how beautiful is the nightingale’s song!’

In 1952, the irrepressible Danny Kaye starred in Hans Christian Andersen, the film directed by Charles Vidor in which any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, was entirely coincidental. The film was a smash hit, in part due to songwriter Frank Loesser’s words and music:

“With a welcome so warm and so gay
Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen
Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen
Friendly old girl of a town
’Neath her tavern light
On this merry night
Let us clink and drink one down
To wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen
Salty old queen of the sea
Once I sailed away
But I’m home today
Singing Copenhagen, wonderful, wonderful
Copenhagen for me.”


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Philip Lee

Writer and musician who tries to join up the dots.

One thought on “Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen!”

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