First Symphony, an early example of his use of 'progressive tonality': finishing in a different key to that at the start of the work. This technique was to become a common feature of his compositions.
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 concerto.
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 r�le in a kind of mini-battle with the soloist. Nielsen's son-in-law Emil Telm�nyi conducted the first performance on 14th September 1928. The strange bleak landscape inhabited by the concerto prompted Telm�nyi to refer to it as 'music from another planet'.
ReviewsYou won't find a better collection of three concertos on one disc. ...Carney reveals a flair for Nielsen's quirky humour-who but Nielsen would have given the first movement a hair-raising concert ending, then rounded off the finale with a brusque 'That's all folks!'? If that's the reason this Concerto has never been as popular ass the Sibelius, it probably says as much about the expectations of concert-goers as it does about Nielsen's genius. - Stephen Johnson, BBC Music Magazine, July 2000