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Carl August Nielsen

Carl August Nielsen

Carl August Nielsen (1865-1931) was one of the major symphonists of the postromantic epoch and Denmark's most eminent composer. His works are characterized by Iyricism, accomplished contrapuntal skill, mastery of form, and a fresh approach to tonality.

Carl Nielsen was born on June 9, 1865, in Nørre-Lyndelse on the island of Fünen, the seventh of 12 children of Niels Jørgensen, a poor house painter and country fiddler. His poor but not unhappy rural youth Nielsen described in a moving memoir, My Childhood (1927), a classic of Danish literature. Introduced early to music, though with limited training, he entered a military band at 14. Growing interest in music and composition led to scholarship study at the Copenhagen Conservatory (1884-1886).

Nielsen won his first public success with Little Suite for Strings, Opus 1 (1888), and the following year he acquired a steady job as a second violinist of the Royal Orchestra. In Paris he met and married the sculptor Anne Marie Brodersen. Their marriage inspired his First Symphony (premiered 1894) and his choral work on the varieties of love, the Hymnus amoris (1896). The next decade witnessed the appearance of two operas, the majestically tragic Saul and David (produced 1902) and the deliciously comic Masquerade (produced 1906) after Holberg's play, and two of his most appealing orchestral works, the Second Symphony (The Four Temperaments, 1901) and the concert overture Helios (1903), the latter inspired by the Athenian sun during a visit to Greece.

In 1908 Nielsen became the conductor of the Royal Theater. Though he met with some criticism and public resistance for his continued departure from the traditions of romanticism in such works as his Third Symphony (Sinfonia espansiva, 1910-1911) and his Violin Concerto (1911), he was emerging to undeniable predominance in Danish music. He was also perfecting his techniques of what analysts have called "progressive" tonality, a pattern of composing not in but toward a basic key, which allowed new possibilities for exploring the harmonic and structural expression of conflict and resolution in musical terms. This technique he put to particularly telling use in two orchestral reflections of his reactions to World War I and its aftermath: the Fourth Symphony (The Inextinguishable, 1915-1916) and the Fifth Symphony (1921-1922), both affirmations in abstract musical terms of positive human values against the forces of negativism and brutality.

The bold Chaconne, the Theme with Variations, and the Luciferic Suite (1919) are among Nielsen's finest original and unconventional contributions to the literature for solo piano. He wrote the richly inventive Wood-wind Quintet (1922) for five wind-playing friends, for whom he also planned to compose individual solo concertos. However, he completed only two: one for the flute (1926) and the other for the clarinet (1929).

Though Nielsen's prestige mounted at home and brought him at the end of his life the conservatory's director-ship, the international fame he desired still eluded him. The first signs of the heart trouble that would kill him seem to have added to the unusual mood that produced his Sixth Symphony (Sinfonia semplice, 1924-1925), which enigmatically combines tender poetry with grimly sardonic whimsy. His exploration of new possibilities continued, as exemplified in his austere, Palestrina-like Three Motets (1929) and monumental organ work Commotio (1931).

Notwithstanding the wide-ranging development of his style, from the romanticism of his youth to the "modernism" of his later years, Nielsen's enduring directness of personality and his patriotism found regular expression in his output of Danish song. His tuneful, folksy choral work Springtime on Fünen (1922) is a loving tribute to his home island; and his lifelong production of simple, melodious songs contributed many a popular classic to the Danish heritage.

Further Reading

Nielsen's set of short essays, Living Music (1925), and his memoir, My Childhood (1927), are available in English translations by Reginald Spink (both 1953). The volume of penetrating analysis by Robert Simpson, Carl Nielsen: Symphonist, 1865-1931 (1952), includes a biographical essay by Torben Meyer. Johannes Fabricius, Carl Nielsen: A Pictorial Biography, in Danish and English (1965), is a vivid evocation of the man. Jürgen Balzer, ed., Carl Nielsen, 1865-1965: Centenary Essays (1965), is comprehensive in scope. □

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Nielsen, Carl (August)

Nielsen, Carl (August) (b Nørre-Lyndelse, 1865; d Copenhagen, 1931). Danish composer, violinist, and conductor. Showed mus. talent as child and became military trumpeter at 14 at Odense 1879–83. Formed str. qt. in 1882. Joined th. orch. as violinist, 1886, and was violinist in Royal Chapel orch. 1889–1905. Studied at Royal Cons., Copenhagen, 1884. Made some appearances as cond., and became a cond. at Royal Th., Copenhagen, 1908–14. Cond. Copenhagen Mus. Soc. 1915–27. On staff of Royal Danish Cons. from 1915, becoming dir. 1931. Visited Berlin 1921, London 1923, and Paris 1926 to conduct his own works. For many years his mus. was little known outside Denmark, but after World War II the power and originality of his syms. spread to other countries. The 5th Sym. contains an early aleatory feature, when the side-drummer is instructed to improvise so as to drown the rest of the orch. His First Sym. of 1891–2 is one of earliest examples of ‘progressive tonality’, i.e. it begins in one key and ends in another. Prin. comps.:OPERAS: Snefrid, melodrama (1893); Saul and David (1898–1901); Maskarade (1904–6).INCIDENTAL MUSIC: Hr. Oluf han rider ( Master Oluf Rides) (1906); Tove (1906–8); Willemoes (1907–8); Foraeldre (1908); Hagbarth og Signe (1910); St Hansaftenspil (1913); Faedreland (1915); Løgneren (1918); Aladdin (1918–19); Cosmus (1921–2); Ebbe Skammelsen (1925); Amor og Digteren (Love and the Poet) (1931); Paaske-aften (1931).ORCH.: syms.: No.1 in G minor (1891–2), No.2 (The Four Temperaments) (1901–2), No.3 (Sinfonia espansiva) with sop. and bar. (1910–11), No.4 (Det uudslukkelige, The Inextinguishable) (1915–16); No.5 (1921–2), No.6 (Sinfonia semplice) (1924–5); Little Suite, str. (1888); Helios, ov. (1903); The Dream of Gunnar (Saga-Drøm) (1908); vn. conc. (1911); Franz Neruda in memoriam, speaker, orch. (1918); Pan and Syrinx, pastorale (1917); 7 Pieces from ‘Aladdin’ (1918–19); fl. conc. (1926); En Fantasirejse til Faerøerne (An Imaginary Trip to the Faroe Islands), rhapsody (1927); cl. conc. (1928).CHORAL: Hymnus Amoris, sop., ten., bar., bass, children's ch., male ch., mixed ch., orch. (1896); Søvnen (Sleep), ch., orch. (1904); Fynsk Foraar (Springtime on Fyn), sop., ten., bass-bar., ch., orch. (1921); Hyldest til Holberg (Homage to Holberg), solo vv., ch., orch. (1922); Hymne til Kunsten (Hymn to Art), sop., ten., ch., wind instr. (1929); 3 Motets, unacc. ch. (1929); various occasional cantatas, incl. one for the 50th anniv. of Danish Cremation Union (1931).CHAMBER MUSIC: str. qts.: in D minor (1882–3), in F (1887), No.1 in G minor (1888), No.2 in F minor (1890), No.3 in E♭ (1898), No.4 in F (1906/19); str. quintet in G (1888), wind quintet (1922); vn. sonatas: in G (1881–2), No.1 in A (1895), No.2 (1912); Ved en ung Kunstners Baare (At the bier of a young artist), str. qt., db. (1910); Prelude and Theme with Variations, solo vn. (1923); Serenata in vano, cl., bn., hn., vc., db. (1914).PIANO: 2 Characteristic Pieces (c.1882–3); 5 Pieces (1890); Symphonic Suite (1894); 6 Humoresque-Bagatelles (1894–7); Festive Prelude to the New Century (1899); Chaconne (1916); Theme with Variations (1916); Suite (1919); Tre Klaverstykker (3 Pieces) (1928); Piano Music for Young and Old, 24 5-finger pieces (1930).VOICE & PIANO: 5 Poems by J. P. Jacobsen (1891); 6 Songs and Verses by J. P. Jacobsen (1891); 6 Songs (Holstein) (1894); 7 Strophic Songs (1905–7); Tove, 3 songs for Holstein's play (1906–8); Willemoes, 5 songs for L. C. Nielsen's play (1907–8); Hymn to Denmark (1917); 3 Songs from ‘Aladdin’ (1918); 20 Popular Melodies (1917–21); Balladen om Bjørnen (Ballad of the Bear) (1923); 10 Little Danish Songs (1923–4).ORGAN: 29 Short Preludes (or for harmonium) (1929); 2 Preludes (1930); Commotio (1931).

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Nielsen, Carl

Carl Nielsen (nēl´sən, Dan. nĬl´sən), 1865–1931, Danish composer. Nielsen was a pupil of Niels Gade at the Royal Conservatory in Copenhagen. Considered Denmark's foremost composer, he is known internationally primarily for his six symphonies. Nielsen also composed one concerto apiece for flute, clarinet, and violin; two operas, Saul and David and Maskarade; a woodwind quintet; four string quartets; songs; incidental music; and many other chamber, choral, and piano pieces. His orchestral writing is extremely dense in texture. His music is frequently polyphonic and often strongly melodic. Although he never abandoned tonality, he built works from contrasting key centers, so that they give little sense of a tonic key. Nielsen's books include Living Music (1925, tr. 1953) and My Childhood (1927, tr. 1953).

See M. Miller, The Nielsen Companion (1995); biography by K. Eskildsen (1999); studies by R. Simpson (1952 and 1965).

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Nielsen, Carl August

Nielsen, Carl August (1865–1931) Danish composer. He developed the principle of progressive tonality. Nielsen wrote six symphonies, of which the fourth, “The Inextinguishable” (1914–16), is perhaps the best known. He also composed concertos for violin, flute and clarinet, two operas, a woodwind quintet and four string quartets.

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Nielsen, Carl (August)

Nielsen, Carl (August)

Nielsen, Carl (August), greatly significant Danish composer; b. Sortelung, near Nrre-Lyndelse, June 9, 1865; d. Copenhagen, Oct. 3, 1931. He received violin lessons in childhood from his father and the local schoolteacher, and played second violin in the village band, and later in its amateur orch. After studying cornet with his father, he played in the Odense military orch. (1879–83), serving as its signal horn and alto trombone player; also taught himself to play piano. While in Odense, he began to compose, producing several chamber pieces; then received financial assistance to continue his training at the Royal Cons. in Copenhagen, where he studied violin with Tofte, theory with J.P.E. Hartmann and Orla Rosenhoff, and music history with Gade and P. Matthison-Hansen (1884–86). He was a violinist in Copenhagen’s Royal Chapel Orch. (1889–1905); in the interim, he achieved his first success as a composer with his Little Suite for Strings (1888); then continued private studies with Rosenhoff. In 1901 he was granted an annual pension. He was conductor of the Royal Theater (1908–14) and the Musikföreningen (1915–27) in Copenhagen; also appeared as a guest conductor in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland; taught theory and composition at the Royal Cons. (1916–19), being appointed its director a few months before his death. The early style of Nielsen’s music, Romantic in essence, was determined by the combined influences of Gade, Grieg, Brahms, and Liszt, but later on he experienced the powerful impact of modern music, particularly in harmony, which in his works grew more and more chromatic and dissonant; yet he reserved the simple diatonic progressions, often in a folk- song manner, for his major climaxes; in his orchestration, he applied opulent sonorities and colorful instrumental counterpoint; there are instances of bold experimentation in some of his works, as, for example, the insertion of a snare- drum solo in his 5th Sym., playing independently of the rest of the orch.; he attached somewhat mysterious titles to his 3rd and 4th syms. (Expansive and Inextinguishable). Nielsen is sometimes described as the Sibelius of Denmark, despite obvious dissimilarities in idiom and sources of inspiration; while the music of Sibelius is deeply rooted in national folklore, both in subject matter and melodic derivation, Nielsen seldom drew on Danish popular modalities; Sibelius remained true to the traditional style of composition, while Nielsen sought new ways of modern expression. It was only after his death that Nielsen’s major works entered the world repertoire; festivals of his music were organized on his centennial in 1965, and his syms. in particular were played and recorded in England and America, bringing him belated recognition as one of the most important composers of his time. In 1988 Queen Margrethe II dedicated the Carl Nielsen Museum in Odense. His writings include Levende musik (Copenhagen, 1925; Eng. tr., London, 1953, as Living Music) and Min fynske barndom (Copenhagen, 1927; Eng. tr., London, 1953, as My Childhood). A new ed. of his works commenced publication in Copenhagen in 1994 as The New Carl Nielsen Edition.

Works

(all first perf. in Copenhagen unless otherwise given): dramatic:Saul og David, opera (1898–1901; Nov. 28, 1902); Maskarade, opera (1904–06; Nov. 11, 1906); Snefrid, melodrama (1893; April 10, 1894; rev. 1899); incidental music to A. Munch’s En aften paa Giske (1889; Jan. 15, 1890), G. Wied’s Atalanta (Dec. 19, 1901), Drachmann’s Hr. Oluf han rider— (Master Oluf Rides—; Oct. 9, 1906), L. Holsteins’ Tove (1906–08; March 20, 1908), L. Nielsen’s Willemoes (1907–08; Feb. 7, 1908), O. Benzon’s Foraeldre (Feb. 9, 1908), J. Aakjaer’s Ulvens sn (Århus, Nov. 14, 1909), A. Oehlenschlaeger’s Hagbarth og Signe (June 4, 1910) and Sankt Hansaftenspil (June 3, 1913), Christiansen’s Faedreland (1915; Feb. 5, 1916), H. Rode’s prologue to the Shakespeare Memorial Celebrations (Elsinore, June 24, 1916), J. Sigurjónsson’s Lgneren (Feb. 15, 1918), Oehlenschlaeger’s Aladdin, op.34 (1918–19; Feb. 15 and 22,1919), Rode’s Moderen, op.41 (1920; Jan. 30, 1921), Christiansen’s Cosmus (1921–22; Feb. 25, 1922), H. Bergstedt’s Ebbe Skammelsen (June 25, 1925), S. Michaelis’s Amor og Digteren, op.54 (Odense, Aug. 12, 1930), and N. Grundtvig’s Paaske-aften (April 4, 1931). orch.:Little Suite for Strings, op.1 (Sept. 8, 1888; rev. 1889); Symphonic Rhapsody (1888; Feb. 24, 1893; not extant); 6 syms.: No. 1, op.7 (1890–92; March 14, 1894), No. 2, op.16, Die fire temperamenter (The 4 Temperaments; Dec. 1, 1902), No. 3, op.27, Sinfonia espansiva (1910–11; Feb. 28, 1912), No. 4, op.29, Det uudslukkelige (The Inextinguishable; 1914–16; Feb. 1, 1916), No. 5, op.50 (Jan. 24, 1922), and No. 6, Sinfonia semplice (Dec. 11, 1925); Helios, overture, op.17 (Oct. 8, 1903); Saga-drm (Dream of Saga), op.39 (April 6, 1908); Violin Concerto, op.33 (1911; Feb. 28, 1912); paraphrase on “Naermere Gud til dig” (“Near My God to Thee”) for Wind Orch. (1912; Aug. 22, 1915); Pan og Syrinx, op.49, pastorale (Feb. 11, 1918); Flute Concerto (Paris, Oct. 21, 1926); En fantasirejse til Faererne (A Fantasy-Journey to the Faroe Islands), rhapsodic overture (Nov. 27, 1927); Clarinet Concerto, op.57 (Humlebaek, Sept. 14, 1928); Bohmisk- Dansk folketone (Bohemian and Danish Folk Tunes), paraphrase for Strings (Nov. 1, 1928). chamber: 2 numbered violin sonatas: No. 1 (1881–82) and No. 2, op.35 (1912); 1 unnumbered violin sonata, op.9 (1895); 5 string quartets: No. 1 (1882–83), No. 2, op.13 (1887–88; rev. 1897–98), No. 3, op.5 (1890), No. 4, op.14 (1897–98), and No. 5, Piacevolezza, op.19 (1906; rev. as the Quartet in F major, op.44, 1919); Duet for 2 Violins (1882–83); Piano Trio (1883); String Quintet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas, and Cello (1888); Fantasistykke for Clarinet and Piano (c. 1885); Ved en ung kunstners baare (At the Bier of a Young Artist) for String Quartet and Double Bass (1910); 2 Fantasistykker for Oboe and Piano, op.2 (1889); Canto serioso for Horn and Piano (1913); Serenata in vano for Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, Cello, and Double Bass (1914); Wind Quintet, op.43 (1922); Prelude and Theme with Variations for Violin, op.48 (1923); Preludio e presto for Violin, op.52 (1927–28); Allegretto for 2 Recorders (1931). keyboard: piano:2 character pieces (1882–83); 5 pieces, op.3 (1890); Symphonic Suite, op.8 (1894); Humoreske-bagateller, op.11 (1894–97); Fest-praeludium: “Ved Aarhundredskiften” (1900); Drmmen om “Glade ]ul” (1905); Chaconne, op.32 (1916); Theme and Variations, op.40 (1917); Suite “Den Luciferiske,” op.45 (1919–20); 3 pieces, op.59 (1928); Klaviermusik for smaa og store, op.53 (2 vols., 1930). organ: 29 Little Preludes, op.51 (1929); 2 Preludes (1930); Commotio, op.58 (1931) vocal: cantatas:For the Lorens Frlich Festival (1900), the Students’ Assn. (1901), the anniversary of the Univ. of Copenhagen, op.24 (1908), the commemoration of Feb. 11, 1659 (1909), the national exhibition in Århus (1909; in collaboration with E. Bangert), the commemoration of P. Kryer (1909), the centenary of the Merchants’ Committee (1917), the centenary of the Polytechnic H.S. (1929), the 50th anniversary of the Danish Cremation Union (1930), the 50th anniversary of the Young Merchants’ Education Assn. (1930), and Digtning i sang og toner, for the opening of the swimming baths (1930); also Hymnus amoris for Soprano, Tenor, Baritone, Chorus, and Orch., op. 12 (April 27, 1897); Svnen (Sleep) for Chorus and Orch., op.18 (1903–4; March 21, 1905); Fynsk foraar (Springtime in Funen), lyrical humoresque for Soprano, Tenor, Bass, Chorus, and Orch., op.42 (1921; Odense, July 8, 1922); Hyldest til Holberg for Solo Voices, Chorus, and Orch. (1922); Hymne til kunsten for Soprano, Tenor, Chorus, and Wind Orch. (1929). unaccompanied choral:Sidskensang (1906); Kom Guds engel (1907); Aftenstemning (1908); Paaske-liljen (1910); Der er et yndigt land (1924); 2 school songs (1929); 3 Motets, op.55 (1929; April 30, 1930); Til min fde (1929); 6 Rounds (1930); etc. solo vocal: 2 melodramas: Franz Neruda in memoriam for Speaker and Orch. (1915) and Island for Speaker and Piano (1929). songs: 5 Songs, op.4 (1891); Viser og vers, op.6 (1891); 6 Songs, op.10 (1894); Du danske mand (1906); Strophic Songs, op.21 (1902–07); De unges sang (1909); Hymns and Sacred Songs (1913–14); 20 Danish Songs (vol. 1, 1914; in collaboration with T. Laub); 20 Danish Songs (vol. II, 1914–17; in collaboration with T. Laub); Studie efter naturen (1916); Blomstervise (1917); 20 Popular Melodies (1917–21); 4 Popular Melodies (1922); Balladen om bjrnen, op.47 (1923); 10 Little Danish Songs (1923–24); 4 Jutish Songs (1924–25); Vocalise-étude (1927); etc.

Bibliography

H. Seligmann, C. N. (Copenhagen, 1931); T. Meyer and F. Schandorf Petersen, C. N.: Kunstneren og mennesket (2 vols., Copenhagen, 1947–48); H. Riis-Vestergaard, C. N.s symfoniske stil, dens forudsaetninger og saerpraeg (diss., Univ. of Copenhagen, 1952); I. Mller and T. Meyer, eds., C. N.s breve i udvalg og med kommentarer (Copenhagen, 1954); J. Balzer, ed., C. N. i hundredåret for hans fdsel (Copenhagen, 1965; Eng. tr., 1965); J. Fabricius, C. N. 1865–1931: A Pictorial Biography (Copenhagen, 1965); D. Fog and T. Schousboe, C. N.: kompositioner: En bibliografi (Copenhagen, 1965); R. Simpson, Sibelius and N.: A Centenary Essay (London, 1965); A. Telmányi, Mit barndomschjem (Copenhagen, 1965); T. Schousboe, ed., C. N.: Dagboger og brevvesling med Anna Marie Carl Nielsen (2 vols., Copenhagen, 1983); M. Miller, C. N.: A Guide to Research (N.Y., 1987); J. Jensen, C. N.: Danskeren: Musikbiografi (Copenhagen, 1991); B. Bjrnum and K. Mllerhj, eds., Kongelige Bibliotek (Denmark): C N.s samling: Katalog over komponistens musikhãndskrifter i Det kongeligeBibliotek: The C. N. Collection: A Catalogue of the Composer’s Musical Manuscripts in the Royal Library (Copenhagen, 1992); M. Mogensen, ed., C. N.: Der dänische Tondichter: Biographischer Dokumentationsbericht (5 vols., Arbon, 1992); M. Miller, ed., The N. Companion (Portland, oreg., 1995); D. Fanning, ed., N.: Symphony No. 5 (Cambridge, 1997).

—Nicolas Slomnisky/Laura Kaun/Dennis McIntire

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