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ClassicsOnline Home » NIELSEN, C.: Violin Concerto / Clarinet Concerto / Flute Concerto
By Andrew Achenbach
By John W. Barker
American Record Guide
By Julian Haylock
Nielsen began to conduct at this time and in 1908 became the conductor
of the Royal Opera, a post he held until 1914, when he left to concentrate more
on composition. From 1915 he was the conductor of Copenhagen's Philharmonic
Orchestra and the director of the Copenhagen Conservatory, where he taught
theory. Nielsen retired from the Conservatory in 1927. He died of a heart
attack on 3rd October, 1931.
Nielsen was the leading Danish composer of his generation with six
symphonies, two operas, three concertos and other orchestral works to his name.
Other works include choral works and songs, a wind quintet, three violin
sonatas, some piano pieces, five string quartets and one string quintet.
The Violin Concerto was started in the summer of 1911 on a visit
to the home of Nina Grieg, the widow of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.
Nielsen composed in an idyllic setting at Grieg's hut in Troldhaugen, near
Bergen. He completed the work in December of that year and conducted its first
performance in February 1912. Nielsen had wanted the concerto to be 'popular
and showy without being superficial': the result is a work that is relaxed and
affable. It eschews the conventional three-movement form in favour of two
movements, each of which starts with a slower section. The first movement
begins with a Praeludium (Largo). This is largely improvisatory in
flavour with its cadenza and gypsy-like flourishes, but a period of repose ends
it and leads into the noble Allegro cavalleresco. The Poco adagio of
the econd movement takes on the role of a classical concerto's slow movement.
It pays tribute to Bch, the oboe playing the notes E flat, A, C, E natural (B A
C H in German nomenclature). Nielsen considered the Rondo, marked
Allegretto scherzando, that follows to be 'vacillating, almost aimless,
but nice and charming like an earnestly smiling layabout on a better day'.
The concertos for flute and clarinet are the only fruits of Nielsen's
desire to write a work for each member of the Copenhagen ensemble for which he
had produced the Wind Quintet in 1922. Nielsen knew the players well,
and each of their personalities was recorded for posterity in the respective
The Flute Concerto was originally written with Paul Hagemann in
mind, but Gilbert Jespersen inherited it when he replaced Hagemann in the
Copenhagen Wind Quintet: it is Jespersen's meticulous, refined nature that
permeates the piece. A trombone plays the fool throughout in contrast to the polite
flute. As Nielsen had played the trombone in his military band days, this might
be considered to represent the composer himself. The concerto is in two
movements. Nielsen described the beginning of the first movement (Allegro
moderato) as being gently dissonant and 'if anything, kept in a free,
improvisatory style, and the solo instrument moves about as if seeking
something, until it takes hold of a more decisive motive'. The amiable second
movement (Allegretto) was changed after the first performance in Paris
on 2lst October 1926, now giving the trombone one final expression of crudity.
The Clarinet Concerto was instigated at the request of Nielsen's
friend Carl Johan Michaelsen in 1928 and written for the Copenhagen Wind
Quintet's Aage Oxenvad. Nielsen apparently considered the clarinet to be an
instrument of almost schizophrenic personality, being both warm-hearted and
gentle, and hysterical and troll-like. Oxenvad himself was an irascible
character. The resultant concerto has a roughness not found in the Flute
Concerto. Oxenvad said that Nielsen must have been able to play the
clarinet himself, or he could not have found all the hardest notes to play. The
concerto is in one movement but this is broken up into a number of parts:
nevertheless, the overall pattern is in keeping with the quick-slow-quick
regime of a classical concerto. The weighty and peasant-like theme heard at the
start makes a number of appearances in various forms, thus helping to give
unity to the work throughout its various sections. A side drum plays an
important rôle in a kind of mini-battle with the soloist. Nielsen's son-in-law
Emil Telmányi conducted the first performance on 14th September 1928. The
strange bleak landscape inhabited by the concerto prompted Telmányi to refer to
it as 'music from another planet'.
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