There Is Just One King!


On a bitingly cold morning on February 12, 1877, an orchestra of professional and amateur players waited in the dining room of the royal palace in Christiania. They were less than enthusiastic about the invitation to perform for Norway’s King Oscar II.

The king had recently heard about the success of the Symphony No. 2 in B-flat of Johan Svendsen, and had invited the composer to give a concert of his works for a few invited guests at the palace.

Dressed in white ties and tails, the shivering musicians gathered in the empty dining room where they were to perform. There was no orchestra platform, only a bare floor with a distant semi-circle of elegant chairs. The most seasoned of the orchestra members were particularly unimpressed.

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On the verge of the king’s entrance, Svendsen had a morale problem on his hands.

He jumped onto the cloth-covered conductor’s podium and announced, “Gentlemen, when the royal entourage enters this room, there is just one king–and that is–me.”

“There were sparks in his eyes,” recalled one of the players, “and that caused sparks in our minds as well.”

As a result, the orchestra greeted Oscar and his circle with a particularly rousing rendition of the Coronation March.

The program continued with Svendsen’s Second Symphony and a more rustic Norwegian offering, the orchestral song Last Year I Was Tending the Goats.

During the symphony, in the tradition of royalty, Oscar walked around the room talking with his guests as they drank chocolate and ate cakes.

But apparently he was listening to the music. After the concert, he approached Svendsen and said, “Maestro, I consider you one of the greatest composers in the world. I was thinking about giving you the Royal Vasa Order, but everyone who has a medal has that one. You deserve a more distinguished medal, and so I hereby confer upon you Oscar II’s Medal of Honor in gold.”

Johan Svendsen was the first musician to receive it.