The Horn

Contact Me

Receive Email Updates

Today Is The 150th Birthday Of The Great Danish Composer Carl Nielsen .

   The great Danish composer Carl Nielsen was born a century and a half  ago on June 9th , 1865  and died in 1931 , honored as the foremost

composer of that small but charming Scandinavian country .  Unless you're fairly knowledgable about classical music , you may not have

heard of this  highly individual  composer  , who  was almost totally unknown in America  until  Leonard Bernstein  discovered his music  

in the mid 1960s and began to  perform and record it with  his then orchestra , the New York Philharmonic .

   His music was not even  that well known in Europe outside of Scandinavia .  But things have changed , and  Carl Nielsen has been 

generally recognized as a truly great composer everywhere .  Unlike his great contemporary   Jean Sibelius of Finland , who was born the same 

year ,  no  leading conductors  championed his music until fairly recently  .  The music of Sibelius  had powerful champions in  such great

conductors as Leopold Stokowski , Sir Thomas Beecham , Sir John Barbirolli ,  Serge Koussevitzky and others .  

    Nielsen is a difficult composer to pidgeon-hole .  He  neither began nor followed any "isms".   The only ism he ever followed  was

individualism .  Perhaps this  caused  the relative lack of  appreciation he  received during his lifetime .  He was born on the island of

Funen in the Danish archipelago , the son of  humble  parents  , one of 12 children .  His father was a house painter and amateur  

folk musician  , and  the young Carl grew up in  the idyllic Danish countryside .  He learned to play  several instruments ,including

the trumpet  but concentratted on the violin and studied at the Copenhagen  conservatory  under the leading Danish musicians of the day .

   He became a member of the second violin section of the Royal Danish orchestra , which  is the orchestra of the Royal Copenhagen opera  

as well as playing regular concerts ; the orchestra still exists  in the same capacity today .  He also began to conduct opera and concerts  there

while producing a wide variety of orchestral works, chamber music, choral works,  two operas ,  etc  and  began to make a name for himself

as a composer in his native country and   nearby Sweden , where he regularly conducted  , including his own works .   

    Nielsen's most famous works are his six  brilliant  ,powerful and highly original symphonies ; they have finally gained a place in  the

international orchestral repertoire and have been  recorded fairly often  by a wide variety of different   conductors .  His woodwind quintet , for 

flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn  is probably the greatest work for that combination of instruments  . (There are more than you may 

realize ).  

    The delightful, witty and  sparkling comic opera "Maskarade ", which  takes place at a Copenhagen masquerade ball  , is considered the 

Danish national opera ,  is probably the only opera by a Scandinavian composer to  be performed with any frequency outside of  Scandinavia 

and is available on DVD .  

   The clarinet concerto  is probably the greatest concerto for that instrument  , and the delightful violin concerto is finally coming into its own '

The flute concerto is also delightful .  Orchestral works include  the  radiant concert overture "Helios" which  evokes the sun rising and falling

on the Agaean sea , based on Nielsen's visit to Greece ,  the  symphonic poem "Pan & Syrinx " based on Greek mythology ,  and  the

"Imaginary journey to the Faeroe Islands  " . as well as the scinitlating overture to "Maskarade ."  The choral works are very interesting

but  totally unknown outside of Scandinavia  . They have been recorded , though .

    The music of Carl Nielsen is  full of  energy ; it is optimistic  and life-affirming  ,although it can be grindingly dissonant at times .  It  is

the exact opposite of the brooding , mystical  and  dark  music of his Finnish friend Sibelius , who was inspired by the  specatacular  

forests  and  primitive  countryside of his  homeland as well as its ancient pagan   Finno-Ugrian  mythology .

    Nielsen's music mixes  joviality , humor  and  optimism  with  stark, angular dissonances  in a highly personal way .  One of his greatest and

best known works is his 4th symphony , subtitled "The Inextinguishable "  was inspired by the horrendous carnage  of the first world  war and 

was premiered  at  the time .  The concept of the symphony is that  life is indestructable  and there is an elemental  life force in the universe

which would preserve life despite  the  horrifying destruction of the war .  The work itself is not " inextinguishable ;  it  represents

the elemental will to life .  The work is in four continuous movements without a break  and is  filled with  fierce conflict  and  clashing

dissonances  ; there is no  central key such as C   major or minor ;  different keys clash with each other  and   fight  for dominance .

In the 4rth movement . ther eis a fierce battle between two  antiphonal sets of tympani which  thunder at each other in an almost

terifying way . But the symphony ends with fiercely defiant optimism .  

    The even stranger 5th symphony has no subtitle . It is in two movements .  Nielsen conceived of this unique work as a  representation of the

elemental struggle between good and evil , chaois and order .  Again, there is no central key and the symphony wanders from key to key

in a way which may seem  chaotic at first but  which proves to be highly logical . In the first movement a solo snare drum beats  away

relentlessly amid whatsounds lile random noise and chaos ; eventually the player is directed by Nielsen to  begin playing  as though he

had gone berserk and all hell breaks loose in a  terrifying  battle ; but  the drum is  soon silenced and the movement  ends in quiet

contemplation  a  clossal battle which has ended .  The  frenetically energetic  2nd movement  is an attempt to rise above the  

chaos of the first and ends again, in fiercely defiant triumph .  No symphony  like this had ever been written before .

     You can easily obtain recordings of Nielsen's music  led by such eminent conductors as Leonard Bernstein ,  Herbert Blomstedt,

Simon Rattle,  Paavo Berglund . Sir Colin Davis and others , as well as his  non-orchestral works . Check  to order 

them or .  You'll wonder where this wonderful music has been all your life !

Posted: Jun 09 2015, 03:51 PM by the horn | with no comments
Add to Bloglines Add to Add to digg Add to Facebook Add to Google Bookmarks Add to Newsvine Add to reddit Add to Stumble Upon Add to Shoutwire Add to Squidoo Add to Technorati Add to Yahoo My Web