Carl Nielsen

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Carl Nielsen around 1908

Carl August Nielsen (born June 9, 1865 in Sortelung with Nørre Lyndelse on Funen ; † October 3, 1931 in Copenhagen ) was a Danish composer and conductor .


Carl Nielsen was the seventh of twelve children of a poor house painter. At the age of eight he received violin lessons from his father and a local teacher. In order to get a job in the military orchestra, he learned the trumpet and then got a job as a military musician in Odense at the age of 14 . He later described these childhood and youth years in his autobiographical book Min fynske barndom (A Childhood on Funen) (1927).

In 1883 he was able to study in Copenhagen. He majored in violin at the Royal Conservatory and studied other subjects with Niels Wilhelm Gade and Johann Peter Emilius Hartmann, among others . In 1888 he had his first success as a composer with the Small Suite for Strings . In 1889 he got a job as a violinist at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen and was also able to continue his studies in Germany in 1890 thanks to a scholarship.

1891 Nielsen learned in Paris , the sculptor Anne Marie Brodersen , whom he married in the same year. The marriage lasted until his death, but also went through some crises. In 1892 he wrote his first symphony, in 1898 the hymn Amoris , a declaration of love to his wife. In 1902 Nielsen made his debut as a conductor at the world premiere of his opera Saul und David . In the same year his second symphony The Four Temperaments premiered.

In 1903 he traveled with his wife to Greece , where the Helios overture was written. In 1905 Nielsen resigned his position as a violinist, but worked as a conductor at the Royal Theater until 1914 and then at the Copenhagen Music Association . In 1906 the cheerful opera Masquerade , based on a comedy by Ludvig Holberg , premiered. It later became Denmark's “secret national opera”. But it was not until the third symphony, Sinfonia espansiva, premiered in 1912, and his violin concerto from the same year that he gained greater recognition, which has now also reached abroad.

During the First World War , when he wrote the fourth symphony, The Inextinguishable , Nielsen experienced professional and personal crises. He overcame it only with the fifth symphony and the cantata Spring on Fyn , a work very popular in Denmark, both of which were premiered in 1922. In the same year he edited the songbook Folkehøjskolens Melodibog with fellow composers Thorvald Aagaard , Thomas Laub and Oluf Ring . Also in 1922 Nielsen wrote a wind quintet for five musician friends and even planned to compose a solo concert for each of them. Only two works were created, the Flute Concerto (1926) and the Clarinet Concerto (1928).

In 1925, on his 60th birthday, Carl Nielsen was celebrated like a folk hero. He was appointed commander 2nd class of the Dannebrog Order.

Nielsen's appearances as a conductor abroad increased. In his later works, such as the two wind concertos, the idiosyncratic Sixth Symphony (1925) and the Three Piano Pieces op. 59 (1928), Nielsen's tonal language became increasingly modern. His last major work was Commotio (1931), his only major organ composition. On October 3, 1931, Nielsen died of heart failure.

The Carl Nielsen Museum in Odense was named after Nielsen . In 2016 an asteroid was named after him: (6058) Carlnielsen .


In addition to the opus numbers, sorting according to the FS directory is also used. The abbreviation stands for the catalog of works published by Dan Fog and Torben Schousboe in 1965. In 2014 the Carl Nielsen Works Catalog was published online as the first complete directory of his works.

  • Operas
  • Incidental music
    • Aladdin (1918–19; text: Adam Oehlenschläger )
    • Moderen (The Mother) op. 41 (1920; Text: Helge Rode )
    • Amor og Digteren (Cupid and the Poet) op.54 (1930; text: Sophus Michaëlis )
    • numerous other theatrical music: En Aften paa Giske (Andreas Munch), Snefrid (Holger Drachmann), Hagbarth and Signe (Adam Oehlenschläger), Mr. Oluf han rider (Holger Drachmann), Tove (Ludvig Holstein), Willemoes (LC Nielsen), Ebbe Skammelsen (Harald Bergstedt).
  • Symphonies
    • Symphony No. 1 in G minor op. 7 (1890–92; WP 1894; duration: 30 minutes; movements: Allegro orgoglioso; Andante; Allegro comodo - Andante sostenuto - Tempo I; Finale. Allegro con fuoco): The symphony is in Denmark understood as an expression of national romanticism, but with its arabesque-like episodes and stylized ornaments it is also a symbol of its time, namely the emerging Art Nouveau. It is designed entirely out of the tension between tradition and progression. The opening chord of the first movement in the orchestral tutti (C major) is followed by the presentation, and then the harmoniously contoured development of the main motif in G minor. The second movement is characterized by a simple, self-renewed melody spanning the entire movement in six-eight time. The third movement stands for the progressive tendency of the work. Reminiscences of previous movements shape a clear final effect for the last movement.
    • Symphony No. 2 De fire Temperamenter (The Four Temperaments) op. 16 (1901-02): According to his own descriptions, a naive visual representation of the four human temperaments inspired Nielsen in 1901 to write his 2nd symphony “The Four Temperaments”. The second is thematically more concise and at the same time more densely worked than the first. The first movement Allegro collerico is determined by the dualism of the impetuously quick-tempered main theme and an expressive side thought. The Allegro commodo e flemmatico conveys the impression of a pastoral idyll with its melodies characterized by small, elementary intervals. In Andante malincolico, Nielsen explores the spiritual realms in large waves of increase and with previously unattained intensity. The finale also pauses for a moment when a double fugato, darkened to minor, interrupts this otherwise fiery storming Allegro sanguineo - Marziale. The symphony premiered in Copenhagen in 1902.
    • Symphony No. 3 Sinfonia espansiva op.27 (1910–11)
    • Symphony No. 4 Det Uudslukkelige (The Inextinguishable) op. 29 (1914-16)
    • Symphony No. 5, Op. 50 (1921-22)
    • Symphony No. 6 Sinfonia semplice (1924–25): The title Sinfonia semplice is deceptive, because the simplicity of the Sixth is both reflective and complex. As simple, almost childishly naive as the material of the first movement Tempo giusto appears, its processing in canon or fugato is extremely artistic, the harmony with its excursions into bi- and polytonal realms is highly advanced. The humor is reminiscent of the satirical cheekiness of the young Shostakovich, for example in the desolate trombone glissandi, which ironically comment on simple homophonic passages. Almost as if he wanted to put a stop to this hustle and bustle, the third movement (Proposta seria. Adagio) is followed by a serious suggestion in the form of a fugato. The formal rigor corresponds to the instrumental rigor, which counteracts any mixed sound, juxtaposing the most diverse sound spheres as equally important. The Finale Tema con variazioni takes up this gesture of potential equality of all material. Allegro on. Fugato and waltz, chromatic chorale and fanfare take turns before the coda summarizes all of these moments. The symphony premiered in Copenhagen in 1925.
  • Concerts
    • Violin Concerto op.33 (1911)
    • Flute Concerto (1926-27)
    • Clarinet Concerto op.57 (1928)
  • further orchestral works
    • Lille Suite / Small Suite for Strings, A minor op. 1 (1887–88)
    • Symfonisk Rapsodi (Symphonic Rhapsody). First movement of a planned symphony, F major, FS 7 (1888)
    • Helios . Overture op.17 (1903)
    • Saga-Drøm (Sagatraum) op.39 (1907-08)
    • Pan og Syrinx (Pan and Syrinx) op. 49 (1917-18)
    • En Fantasirejse til Færøerne (A fantasy trip to the Faroe Islands) . Rhapsodic Overture (1927)
    • Bøhmisk-dansk Folketone (Bohemian-Danish folk tune) . Paraphrase for strings (1928)
  • Chamber music
    • String Quartet No. 2 in G minor, Op. 13 (1887–88; reworked 1897–98)
    • String Quintet in G major (1888)
    • Two Fantasistykker for oboe and piano op.2 (1889)
    • String Quartet No. 1, F minor op.5 (1890)
    • Violin Sonata (No. 1) in A major op.9 (1895)
    • String Quartet No. 3, E flat major op.14 (1897–98)
    • Andante lamentoso Ved en ung kunstners baare (On the bier of a young artist) for string quartet and double bass (1910)
    • Violin Sonata No. 2 op.35 (1912)
    • String quartet No. 4 in F major op.44 (1919; revision of the string quartet Piacevolezza op.19 , 1906)
    • Serenata in vano for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violoncello and double bass (1914)
    • Wind quintet op.43 (1922)
    • Prelude and theme with variations for violin solo op.48 (1923)
    • Preludio e presto for violin solo op. 52 (1927-28)
    • Canto serioso for horn and piano (1913)
    • Allegretto in F major for two recorders (1931)
  • Piano music
    • Five piano pieces, op.3 (1890)
    • Symphonic Suite op.8 (1894)
    • Humoresque Bagateller op. 11 (1894–97)
    • Chaconne op.32 (1916)
    • Theme and Variations op.40 (1917)
    • Suite [ Den Luciferiske ] op. 45 (1919–20) " Dedicated to Artur Schnabel "
    • Three piano pieces, op.59 (1928)
    • Klavermusik for Smaa og Store (piano music for young and old) op.53 (1930)
  • Organ music
    • 29 little preludes op.51 (1929)
    • Two [postponed] preludes (1930)
    • Commotio op.58 (1931)
  • Choral works
    • Hymnus amoris op. 12 (1896–97; text: Axel Olrik, Latin by Johan Ludvig Heiberg )
    • Søvnen (Sleep) op.18 (1903-04; text: Johannes Jørgensen )
    • Cantata for the anniversary of the Copenhagen Op. 24 (1908; Text: Niels Møller)
    • Fynsk foraar (Spring on Funen) op.42 ( 1921; text: Aage Berntsen)
    • Three motets, mixed choir a cappella op.55 (1929)
    • numerous other unpublished cantatas as well as many individual choral pieces
  • Songs
    • Five songs (JP Jacobsen) op.4 (1891)
    • Viser and verse (JP Jacobsen) op. 6 (1891)
    • Six songs (Ludvig Holstein) op.10 (1895–96)
    • Strophic songs op. 21, two volumes (1902-07)
    • Psalms and spiritual chants (1913-18)
    • 20 Danish songs, vol. I (1914; in collaboration with Thomas Laub : "En Snes danske Viser")
    • 20 Danish songs, vol. II (1914-17)
    • 20 popular melodies (1917-21)
    • Four Popular Melodies (1922)
    • Ballads om Bjørnen (Almquist / Berntsen) op.47 (1923)
    • Ten Little Danish Songs (1923-24)
    • Four Jutland songs (Anton Berntsen; 1924-25)
    • about 250 more individual songs

Individual evidence

  1. Carl Nielsen “Masquerade” ( memento of December 23, 2014 in the Internet Archive ), Bregenz Festival 2005, at summa cultura , accessed on December 23, 2014.
  2. Carl Nielsen Museum (website)
  3. ^ Carl Nielsen Works Catalog , website
  4. Text booklet for the CD Complete Symphonies on DGG 00289 477 5514 with Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra; the concert guide - Attila Csampai / Dietmar Holland - Rowohlt Verlag 1987
  5. a b Bertelsmann concert guide, ed. by Christoph Hahn and Siegmar Hohl. Bertelsmann Lexikon Verlag, Munich 1997

Web links

Commons : Carl Nielsen  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files