He received his general education at the Metropolitanskolen and then studied music at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and zoology at the University of Copenhagen.
He later taught histology and embryology at the university and published two books in his field: Forelæsninger over den almindelige Udviklingshistorie (1887) and Forelæsninger over den dyriske Celle (1892). In 1903 he abandoned his science career and moved to Germany to focus solely on his work as a composer. After World War I he returned to his native country to teach at the Royal Danish Academy of Music.
In 1898 he was appointed a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters.