Friday, April 6, 2018

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)

No. 276 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT  series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


Music is the Soind of Life

I wish I had come up with that one - it's so true. The quote comes from today's feature composer, Carl Nielsen, who stands atop the composers of his native Denmark,  a lot like SIbelius does for Finnish composers.

We have featured some of Nielsen's music in the past, notably his symphonies no 2 and 5. Today's post - feeding future listener guides in our Project 366 - begins our attempt at completing his complete cycles of symphonies, by adding today his 3rd.

Nielsen wrote his Symphony No. 3 "Sinfonia Espansiva"between 1910 and 1911 following Nielsen's tenure as bandmaster at the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen. Nielsen himself conducted the premiere of the work (along with the premiere of his Violin Concerto) on February 28, 1912 with Copenhagen's Royal Danish Orchestra.

The character designation of the first movement (Allegro espansivo) serves as the symphony's subtitle, but it is not clear what Nielsen meant by 'espansiva'. It has been suggested that it implies the "outward growth of the mind's scope".The symphony is unique in Nielsen's symphonic  output for having vocal parts, specifically wordless solos for soprano and baritone in the second movement.

In 1921, Nielsen heard the Copenhagen Wind Quintet rehearsing some music by Mozart. He was struck by the tonal beauty and musicianship of this group, and he soon became intimately acquainted with its members. That same year, he wrote his Wind Quintet expressly for this ensemble. Nielsen planned to write a concerto for each of the five players. Only two of these compositions ever came into being. For Gilbert Jespersen, who succeeded Paul Hagemann as flautist of the Copenhagen Quintet, he wrote his Flute Concerto in 1926; two years later, he composed his Clarinet Concerto for the group's clarinettist, Aage Oxenvad.

The Clarinet Concerto was conceived during the most difficult period in Nielsen's life. He was sixty-three, and had achieved considerable renown throughout Scandinavia; yet he was disappointed that his music had not reached a wider audience, he was deeply concerned with the unsettled state of the world, and he knew that his days were numbered. Perhaps this accounts for the bitter struggle which occurs throughout this concerto—a war between the tonalities of F major and E major. Every time hostilities seem to be at an end, a snare drum incites the combatants to renewed conflict. Another explanation for this is that the clarinetist for whom he was writing the concerto had a bi-polar disorder. Therefore, the concerto was poking fun at his constant mood swings.

To complete today's montage, I added two short works. The Helios Overture stems from Nielsen's stay in Athens which inspired him to compose a work depicting the sun rising and setting over the Aegean Sea. At the Bier of a Young Artist for string orchestra was written for the funeral of the Danish painter Oluf Hartmann in January 1910 and was also played at Nielsen's own funeral.

I think you will love this music too!

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