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Donald Macleod considers how Nielsen’s years of crisis led him to create his Fifth Symphony.

Donald Macleod considers how Nielsen’s years of crisis led him to create his Fifth Symphony.

You’ll find a clue as to Carl Nielsen’s character in any number of photographs that show him smiling; they include snaps of him taken as a young man in which he’s cheekily pulling funny faces for the camera. They’re far removed from the formal portraiture one might expect of Denmark’s foremost composer. As well as a good sense of humour, these unselfconscious poses reveal an open, inquisitive fascination with the world around him. Looking back at his life in 1925, at the age of 60, Nielsen recognised this trait in himself. “From my childhood”, he wrote, “I have been full of an oddly intense curiosity which has made me see something interesting in every human creature.” His talent for observation acted as a powerful stimulus to Nielsen’s musical mind.

Across the week Donald explores how the world around him fed into Nielsen’s music. Excerpts from five of his symphonies reveal some of his most profound thinking on life, while his major choral works Hymnus Amoris and Springtime in Funen - which directly relate to his rural childhood - show a more personal side of his character. Ever the keen observer, there’s comedy and drama and even a musical portrait of chickens to be found in his operas.

The years surrounding the First World War were difficult personally and creatively for Nielsen. Coming out of this troubling period, deeply affected by the conflict, his Fifth Symphony depicts a struggle between good and evil.

Jens Vejmand (excerpt)
Grammophon Orchestere Copenhagen
Carl Nielsen Jazz Trio
Zenobia
Halfdanskerne
Copenhagen University Choir Lille Muko
Jesper Grove Jørgensen, conductor

Suite, Op 45 for piano (Allegretto un pochettino)
Martin Roscoe, piano

Saga-Dream
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Järvi, conductor

Saul and David (excerpt Act 4)
Jørgen Klint, bass, Abner
Aage Haughland, bass, Saul
Kurt Westi, tenor, Jonathan
The Danish National Radio Choir & Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Järvi, conductor

String Quartet in F major, Op.44 (1: Allegro non tanto e comodo)
The Young Danish String Quartet

Symphony no 5 (Allegro – Presto – Andante poco tranquillo – Allegro (tempo 1))
London Symphony Orchestra
Colin Davis, conductor

24 days left to listen

59 minutes

Music Played

  • Carl Nielsen

    Suite for piano, Op 45 (1st movement)

    Performer: Martin Roscoe.
    • HYPERION : CDA-67591/2.
    • HYPERION.
    • 1.
  • Carl Nielsen

    Saga-Drom, Op 39

    Performer: Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Neeme Järvi.
    • DG 447 757-2.
    • DG.
    • 6.
  • Carl Nielsen

    Saul and David: Act IV

    Performer: DR SymfoniOrkestret. Singer: Jorgen Klint. Singer: Aage Haugland. Singer: Kurt Westi. Choir: Danish National Radio Choir. Conductor: Neeme Järvi.
    • Chandos CHAN 891112.
    • Chandos.
    • 13.
  • Carl Nielsen

    String Quartet No 4 in F major, Op 44 (1st movement)

    Ensemble: Danish String Quartet.
    • DaCapo: 6220521.
    • DaCapo.
    • 5.
  • Carl Nielsen

    Symphony No 5, Op 50 (4th movement)

    Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Colin Davis.
    • LSO LIVE : LSO-0694.
    • LSO LIVE.
    • 7.

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