The Grandmother of Electronic Music (You Didn’t Know You Had)
Updated: Sep 13, 2021
Else Marie Pade (1924-2016) was a Danish composer, pianist, and the first Danish
composer to write electronic music in 1954. During her music education, she studied with Vagn Holmboe and Jan Margaard at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. In her composition practice, she took inspiration from Pierre Schaeffer’s A la recherche d’une musique concréte. After first learning of Schaeffer through a radio program, she wrote to him and eventually traveled to Paris to study under his guidance. She also worked closely with composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez. But despite this success, Pade’s musical accomplishments and connections stem from a difficult past that led her to discover her love for music.
In 1944, Pade, just 19 years old, was taken prisoner by the Gestapo and sent to Frøslevlejren, after distributing illegal newspapers and joining an all-female explosives group, led by her piano teacher, Karen Breig. The group’s aim was to blow up telephone wires to prevent German invaders from using them, but the plan was called off after the invasion at Normandy. Once in prison, Pade’s life took a turn toward music composition. In an autobiographical article she wrote for the Lettre Inernationale, she described a turning point in prison: “one night when everything was chaos in my mind, I screamed out loud in fear and helplessness in my solitary cell – but no one came. It was then I promised myself that if I survived this I would work with music for the rest of my life.” So, the next day she used the buckle from her girdle to scratch the music that she heard in her head, now known as Du og jeg og stjernerne (You and I and the Stars), into the cell wall. She continued to compose in prison, and her songs were used to raise the morale of the other prisoners. After her release, she was unable to continue studying piano due to the physical effects of Frøslevleiren, and thus decided to focused her efforts on music composition.
Pade is credited as providing Denmark with its first musique concréte and electronic music. Musique concréte is an experimental composition technique which uses “recorded sounds as raw material…[that] represent the combination of varied auditory experiences into an artistic unity.” Or in Pade’s words, musique concréte is “ based in recordings of already existing sounds which are treated electroacoustically— that is, they lose some of their recognizability through filtering, changes of speed, etc.” Pierre Schaeffer is credited as bringing musique concréte to the global stage in the 1950s. Soon after, Pade worked with Schaeffer and found her own popularity and fanbase. In 1959, she hosted a series of radio lectures that introduced musique concréte and electronic music to listeners. From 1958-1960, she was a chairman of Aspect, an association for experimental arts. Additionally, she attended Darmstadt four times from 1962-1972, where Stockhausen used her composition Glass Bead Game as an example in one of his lectures on electronic music.  Yet, her popularity was short-lived. For decades, Pade fell into historical obscurity, with most of her contributions to electronic music forgotten and unacknowledged. It was not until the 2000s that she was rediscovered by a “a couple of DJs…who call her their electronic music grandmother they never realized they had.”
Yet, Pade is rarely ever mentioned in music history courses alongside Schaeffer and Stockhausen, let alone taught as a pioneer in electronic music. For example, Peter Manning’s Electronic and Computer Music is widely considered to be a classic in the field and provides a “definitive” account of electronic music history. Yet, Manning dedicates one singular paragraph to electronic music in Denmark, stating “although the output from [Denmark] studios were relatively modest during these early years, the contributions of Per Norgaard and Arne Nordheim should not be overlooked” (pg 146). Unfortunately, Manning fails to mention Pade at all, despite Grove Music Online providing two separate entries that credit Pade as the first electronic music composer in Denmark.
As one of Pade’s earliest works, Glasperlespil I Og II (Glass Bead Game I and II), was written in 1960 and resulted from her time working at Danish broadcasting company. Pade remarked that her time there “allowed [her] to experiment when the studios and the technical staff were not busy with their every day work.” Like her experience hearing music within herself in prison, Pade described a sound of glass bead tones she would hear in her inner ear that she was unable to find the sound for on regular instruments. After creating these sounds electronically, she realized the sound was like the glass beads of a childhood game she remembered playing. Glasperlespil I Og II was ultimately inspired by Herman Hesse’s novel The Glass Bead Game. Pade connects the novel to her composition through the electronic sounds that sound like glass beads ringing or clinking against each other in the opening of both movements. Additionally, she connects the game itself to serialism through their shared used of the laws of mathematics and physics. These connections result in “sounds never heard before,” an idea that Stockhausen coined the nie ehörte klang . Glasperlespil I Og II, and other works by Pade are available for listening on youtube here.
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2018, April 27). Musique concrète. Encyclopedia
Bruland, Inge. "Pade, Else Marie." Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 12 Sep. 2021.
Manning, P. (2004). Electronic and computer music. Oxford University Press.
Mills, E. (2016, August 2). Musique NONSTOP: MEET ELSE marie pade: Sunset Media Wave. Sunset Media Wave. Retrieved September 12, 2021, from http://www.sunsetmediawave.org/2016/04/musique-nonstop-meet-else-marie-pade/2/.
Pade, E. M. (2017, June). The compositional possibilities are endless. BY ELSE MARIE Pade - the wire. The Wire Magazine - Adventures In Modern Music. Retrieved September 12, 2021, from https://www.thewire.co.uk/in-writing/essays/the-compositional-possibilities-are-endless-by-else-marie-pade.